Come 9:59 a.m. on May 9, the odds-on favorite was nowhere to be found. Had he overslept? Did he not like the WOD? Had he been in an accident? The competitor I'm talking about is an absolutely superb, well-rounded athlete who's regularly willing to push himself near death to shave a few seconds off his times. But Tom is also a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and as fate would have it he was tasked to participate in an exercise hours before the first WOD. While we were sorry to lose his competitive spirit, the show must go on, and the remaining seven male and female athletes prepared for the contest.
Our first WOD was aptly described by Tony Budding of CrossFit HQ as a "slog"--seven rounds for time of seven 135-pound thrusters and seven burpees. Had I fouled in the programming? Was it too brutal? A thousand things were going through my head as I screamed out, "Three, two, one... Go!"
My first thought: "Holy shit! These guys are destroying this WOD, with two rounds down barely a minute in!" Enter the proverbial wall at the end of Round 3, and the workout started to turn into a grind, with Rob Gerdes inching ahead a few seconds with every rep. Terrance Gant's pace slowed, and Jason Downs started to bang out singles on the thrusters. Gerdes managed his pain and finished the WOD in a blistering 8:43, then collapsed to the floor and flopped around for about two minutes. For Gant and Downs it was slow and steady progress. They finished in 13:35 and 20:38, giving Gerdes a lead of almost five minutes going into the second WOD.
As the women threw down it was more of the same. Vicky Zimmerman pounded through the thrusters at 85 pounds, jumping out to a huge lead after doing the first two sets unbroken. Both Lindsey Barrish and Jaquelyn Roberts also attacked the WOD as RX'd. Our only Japanese competitor weighed a mere 100 pounds (that's being generous), but Yuko Futenma was crushing the WOD with 55-pound thrusters. She finished first in 11:40. Zimmerman was right behind her and took the overall lead by grinding out a time of 15:18. Roberts finished four minutes later at 19:51. The stopwatch on Barrish read 21:55.
After a three-hour break, we attacked the competitors' grip and upper-body strength. WOD 2 consisted of a 750-meter row, 25 pull-ups, a 400-meter jerry-can run (farmer's walk/run), and 25 pull-ups.
The men went first, and again it was Gerdes who was out to a commanding lead. All three competitors seemed to peel away from the rowers at the same time, but Rob managed to blow through the pull-ups and headed out with the jerry cans while both Gant and Downs struggled with the pull-ups. Coming back from the run, Gerdes calmly jumped back on the bar and methodically finished in 7:47. Downs was able to gain a large chunk of time when Gant returned from the run a bloody mess. On the fourth pull-up of the first set, Gant had ripped multiple calluses on both hands and was unable to maintain his grip. He finished WOD 2 in 10:42, while Downs finished in 9:33.
The women's heat was nearly identical, as Zimmerman charged out to a commanding lead, muscled through the pull-ups and pushed out well ahead of the other athletes on the jerry can run. The battle for third was between Futenma and Roberts. The former charged off with her two jerry cans (which totaled more than half her body weight) and tried to chase down Barrish, who came off the pull-up bars second and was stalking Zimmerman. For Futenma the weight was just too much, and midway through the run she was overtaken by Roberts. Zimmerman took a considerable lead into WOD 3 after finishing in 12:04, while Barrish finished in 12:12, moving her closer to a second-place finish by nearly two minutes. Roberts and Futenma closed out the day with times of 14:04 and 14:09.
While the competitors rested, I wondered about the hodge-podge I had put together for the last WOD. While it bore some similarities to the Catch-22 final WOD at the NorCal Qualifier, our third workout had been under revision for nearly two months. I finally settled on what I thought was a great mix of leg- and core-destroying exercises to test the competitors. The final prescription was a 900-meter run, 15 kettlebell swings (2 pood for men, 1.5 for women), 15 tire deadlifts (215/130 pounds), 15-meter dumbbell lunges (45/30 pounds), and 15 dumbbell cleans (45/30 pounds).
The 900-meter run was easy right? Wrong! While Okinawa is a pretty flat island for the most part, it just happens that our box sits atop some pretty steep hills. The first 350 meters are a mild decline, and then it's 100 meters of what could be considered a drop-off and climb. How do I know it sucked? Because of equipment limitations we had to run two men's heats, and an odd number of competitors meant someone had to volunteer to race against Gerdes. That someone was me.
I am not an elite athlete. I have decent times on run-centric WOD's that I attribute to constantly trying to adopt the Pose method, but I still tried to push Gerdes as hard as I could¬--get a lead on the run and hold onto as much of it as I could.
In the first men's heat, the competitors blazed down the street. They had both run the road before without the hill, and both had a look of dismay as they rumbled down and back up the drop-off. Both came to the kettlebell swings gasping for every bit of air they could take in. Gant finished the swings just before Downs and took a slightly larger lead with the tire deadlifts. The lunges were a thing of absolute terror, with hammies on fire and in some cases near failure. After the lunges, the cleans provided 15 reps of complete misery. Both athletes collapsed to the ground after finishing and spent about 10 minutes trying to recover enough to stand.
Then it was the ladies' turn to throw down. All four women went at the same time. All are pretty decent runners, so there were no surprises when Roberts came in a few seconds ahead of Zimmerman, with Futenma and Barrish in tow. Roberts hit the kettlebell first, but Zimmerman was determined and made up a lot of ground, pulling even as they stepped into the tires for deadlifts. The other competitors stayed within striking distance, and Futenma (who had scaled the kettlebell and dumbbell weights) was actually starting to pull even with the frontrunners. Zimmerman was out of the tire first but was having a lot of trouble with the lunges. Roberts was not. She remained steady through the lunges, pulling ahead with only the cleans to go.
As hard as Zimmerman pushed and as determined as she was, the WOD went to Roberts, who finished 37 seconds ahead. Roberts won the battle, but Zimmerman won the war, finishing first overall. Barrish was overcome with fatigue and finished two minutes back before collapsing to the concrete.
In my heat the adrenaline was pumping as we blazed through the run portion. I came out of the run with about a 15-second lead. It was all over but the crying: Gerdes overtook me on the kettlebells and pressed through the tire deadlifts. His tolerance for pain and ability to push through perceived limits were far superior to mine. He finished the WOD in a seemingly effortless 6:57, walking away with the title of Asia's Fittest Man.
In the end, the Day 1 leaders prevailed, although they were constantly tested and challenged. I think our athletes will do a great job representing our region, which has a total of four boxes and one affiliate that participated. What I'll remember most about the qualifier is the heart and determination of the athletes. Seven wonderful people gave their all, and while we may not have had a grand stage compete on, the athletes were a true testament to the sportsmanship, camaraderie, intensity and competitiveness of CrossFit.