March 1, 2012
Defying the Odds: Aja Barto

 by Julia Martinez & Amy Duchene

Every now and then, a figure comes along who challenges existing notions about sport. Sometimes they change the rules on how a game should be played, and other times, their success can be a statement on its own.  That’s where Aja Barto, reigning fittest man in the South Central Region, comes into CrossFit.

At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Barto’s tall, powerful frame serves as an advantage to most athletic endeavors. For Barto, it helped bring about a stint as a college and minor league baseball player. In the CrossFit arena, however, height is not a common advantage.

When an athlete such as Chris Spealler could likely perform two squats for each one of Barto’s, one can’t help but wonder what makes Barto different. Not only has he defied the odds in competitive CrossFit, he’s managed to become one of the fittest men on earth.

Barto started CrossFitting in 2010, only one month before that year’s Sectionals. Despite his lack of training in certain skills, his coach insisted he join the competition. In the face of uncertainty, Barto excelled and went on to finish in 11th place in the South Central Region. A newcomer to the CrossFit scene, he made an impression.

For the 12 months that followed, Barto’s passion for competition and successive drive to win was unshakable. He trained his weaknesses and focused on his then-ultimate goal of making it to the 2011 CrossFit Games. With another year of training under his belt, Barto secured a 3rd place finish in the region during the 2011 Open and that June, he stepped out onto the hot Texas Regional competition arena, and won. 

As Barto entered the 2011 Games, many wondered how his uncommon size would play out against the world’s best.

At his first trip to the Games, Barto excelled in activities, which played to his strengths such as the softball, throw and snatch workouts. At the same time, though, the infamous 210-meter swim and other endurance and gymnastics activities tested his resolve. While his 28th place finish was impressive overall, for Barto, it was simply a stepping-stone to his future pursuits.

“Coming back from the Games, I sat down and realized I deserved to be among that top 50. I think that’s the big light bulb moment or epiphany for people,” he says. “You know, you get out there and you’re overwhelmed, or you don’t necessarily finish as great as you want to, but you realize, hey, I deserve to be here and I can do this.”

With that realization, Barto has spent another season applying his efforts to his weaknesses and directing his attention to the title of “Fittest Man on Earth.” With the podium in mind, Barto is now more relentless than ever, yet onlookers remain puzzled. How is it that, as the field of CrossFit competitors continues to evolve and become more competitive, Barto still continues to improve and impress? Most are left wondering if his success and continued climb up the ranks will continue into 2012.

To them, Barto says, “My goal this year—is to go win the Games.”