2014 Games Write-Up

Sorry for missing the past couple of installments. I've been preoccupied and away from my computer. For those who missed it, I was down in Carson, CA supporting our own Don King in the CrossFit Games. Don is in the 55-59 Masters division. This is his second time going to the Games and last year he took third place. This year unfolded a little differently. First is that the selection process for the athletes was different so there were some guys there who were wicked strong but weren't as skilled in other fitness domains like speed or endurance. So for example, the top lift on the deadlift ladder was 475, but three of the top five deadlifters finished in the bottom half of the field overall. The way it works ultimately is that each event is scored separately and the highest average finish after 8 events is the winner. You don't have to win every event, and the overall winner this year averaged about 4th.

After our first look at the schedule, we had some concern about the deadlifts and handstand walk events, knowing that Don probably wouldn't beat the field at those. Everything else we felt good about.

First event was deadlift ladder. Don got a personal best by 20 lbs, lifting 405, good for 10th in the event. Then was the handstand walk. We've avoided doing a lot of handstand work due to recurring shoulder pain. It was decided that it was better to keep his shoulder healthy and be weak at that skill, than to exacerbate a problem that could potentially keep him from competing. So we ended up getting stung by that, but it was the right call to make. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of men 55-59 who have great shoulder range and strength, so Don took 8th in that event.

The next two events, Don started to climb the ladder He got 4th in the sled drag sprint, then 3rd in the rope climb/run. At the end of the first day he was in the top 5 overall. A great finish after getting through his two weakest events.

Second day things changed. The first event involved 5 sets of 20 pull-ups among other stuff. The problem was two-fold. First, by the time Don's group went, the day had heated up the black pull-up bars. Second, Don's judge positioned himself poorly to observe the top of the rep. The place to judge pull-ups is to stand in front (on the same side as the athlete) at eye-level with the bar looking down its length. Every judge was doing this except Don's who kneeled on the ground a few feet behind the bar looking up, so at the top of the rep the bar obstructed his vision and he didn't have a good perspective to see the height of his chin. To be clear, I'm not blaming the judge for the outcome, everybody had that judge at some point, I'm just recounting what actually happened. Don got stung with a lot of no-reps which left him doing extra pull-ups on a super-heated bar. By the end of the workout, his hands were missing a gut-wrenching amount of skin. To get an idea, look at your hand and draw a horizontal line across the middle. Now, anything above that line, just rip off. You could see blood squeezing from between his fingers during the pull-ups. Despite this, he finished 6th on the event which was enough to push him into 2nd place overall.

Here is where the value of a good support team came into play. Had it just been me, I would have been loading him into the car to get to the ER. But Jared and Anja, both PT's, leapt into action. They knew how to protect the hands and get him taped up and ready for the next event which fortunately didn't involve any hanging or gripping. But he did have to do do 45 med ball cleans and burpees in ultra-padded gloves that looked like Mickey Mouse hands and with a lot of pain. To add a little twist to the dagger, the surface was so hot that he got blisters at the ends of his fingers (through gloves) while doing burpees. He got 13th pace in that event which was his worst of the week. This was tough because we'd have expected him to be able to hang with the top of the pack for that workout. He said he felt a little off due to slippage of the material inside the gloves.

That night he didn't sleep well. Back at the house, through Anja's connections we ended up Skyping with a sports medicine doctor from the Olympic Training Center. Among other things, he used to be the guy responsible to keep gymnasts in international tournaments. The guy knows tape, and he showed us how to fix Don up for the next day. Meanwhile we discussed the potential long-term harm of competing on those hands and at what point we would have to advise Don to withdraw from the event.

The following morning, his hands looked better than we had hoped. Not good, mind you, but not red and swollen, not agonizing. I swear Don is a cyborg. He's able to take that pain signal and lock it into some internal cell where it can thrash and scream, but won't stop him from moving forward. In fact, this was the most amazing and inspiring aspect of the week. He never made excuses, he never blamed anyone, he never felt sorry for himself. He still went into each event with the expectation to win, not just to do his best, but to win. The man is a gamer. He warmed up with his new bandages and cleared our criteria to continue.

The first event on the last day included 2 sets of 20 toes to bars, which are hard on your hands in the best circumstances. I was mentally allowing for the chance that he might be forced to do singles to get through them. Nope. Blasted through, only coming off the bar once in each set. He got 7th on that event.

The final event was a sprint followed by 4 burpee-muscle-ups and 5 snatches. The muscle-ups obviously hurt but he got through them. The snatches I think were the last nasty surprise. They were the first movement that significantly stretched the skin of his palms. He struggled for the first 2 or 3 reps, before mentally getting over that hurdle, at which point he finished all 5 reps in a row. He got 8th on the event and finished in 7th place overall.

Before I close I have to send love to a few people. Firstly is Jonathan Brown. JB has been Don's stalwart training partner since February, working shoulder to shoulder with him, coming in early, staying late, and coming in for second workouts. Second is Jared Williamson who was primarily responsible for Don's training program and who along with his girlfriend Anja, was able to keep Don in the game after the hand injuries. Lastly is Amy Honeycutt, who you may have heard us refer to as Ms. Magic Hands. She's the massage therapist who we want to send everyone in the world to. She prepped Don before every event and took care of him afterward. Without her, the cumulative effect of 8 events in 3 days would have worn him down and tightened him up.

Finally, I can't say enough about how amazed I am with him. Not only that he placed 7th in the WORLD in the perhaps the world's most physically demanding sport, not only that he overcame hardship and pain to do it, but that he did it with such gratitude and humility and an iron will to succeed. On character alone, I can't imagine a better person to have as our champion, to represent us. Long live the King!

By Morgan on Saturday, August, 02, 2014