How A 52-Year-Old Went From Not Being Able To Do A Push-Up To Winning The CrossFit Games
A one-hour CrossFit class at a gym, or a “box” as it’s known in the CrossFit world, starts with 15-20 minutes of weight lifting, where a coach leads the class through a strength movement that usually involves a barbell, like squats, deadlifts, or cleans. The second portion of the class is spent completing the “WOD” or “Workout Of the Day.” The WOD is short, usually no more than 10-20 minutes, and focuses on varied movements such as weightlifting, calisthenics, gymnastics, and sprints.
“I drove home after that first workout, and an hour later I still wasn’t recovered. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was still racing and I was shaky,” she says. “And I said ‘I’m not going back. I’m never doing that again.’ And the other side of my brain was like ‘You’re scared. So you’re going back.’ And that’s what did it.”
The road to the CrossFit Games
“In the beginning, it was just very humbling,” Edington says of her first few weeks of CrossFit. “You have to check your ego at the door and just realize that you’re going to suck at a lot of stuff. And that can be hard for people.”
But her background as a gymnast came in handy, and helped her to understand the progressions in movements that have deep gymnastic roots—like a pull-up, muscle up, or anything involving the rings. “Some people just refuse to listen to the coaches and take the necessary steps to building strength and stability before lifting that heavier weight or trying to do that new movement. It’s hard for people to understand that, but as a gymnast I learned all of these skills at a young age,” she says.
Her first goal was to master the push-up that had taunted her in that first class. She started by holding a plank position to build core and upper body strength. Once that became too easy, she practiced doing pushups on her knees, until she had enough strength to completely lower and raise her body from the full plank position.
After five months of attending classes, Potterf, who became Edington’s coach, recognized her natural talent for the sport and asked Edington how old she was. When she told him she was 47, he replied two simple words: “You’re competing.”
At the time, Edington had no idea you could even compete in CrossFit. “I paid no attention,” she laughed. “I’d go in, do the class, and leave.”
The CrossFit Games—essentially the Super Bowl of CrossFit—were created in 2007 in search of the “Fittest on Earth.” After a grueling qualification process, the world’s fittest 40 men, 40 women, 40 teams, 80 teenagers, and 240 masters are invited to the Games, an annual four-day event where the athletes compete in a variety of workouts.
Competitors who make it to the Games don’t know what the workouts will be until right before the competition. In Edington’s division, athletes compete in two events a day for four days straight.
In 2011, Edington participated in her first CrossFit Open—step one in the qualifying process to reach the Games—and placed 70th in the world for her age group. That might not sound impressive, but it takes some athletes years to place that high in their respective age groups. That’s when Potterf told her that she had the potential to compete in the Games.
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“I had no idea what the Games even were. The reason I started CrossFit was to be a better gymnastics instructor, and because I could really feel I was losing that strength I had when I was younger,” she says. “But when Mitch told me about the Games, winning became my goal.”
Potterf created a training plan for Edington that involved three days of Olympic weightlifting to build her strength. “I rearranged my life so I could go to these Olympic lifting classes,” she says. “I stopped teaching on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and hired teachers to take over my classes on those nights.” (If you haven’t strength-trained in a while, or ever, here are the 6 best moves to get started.)
In 2013, Edington placed 19th in the Games. She went on to place 3rd and 5th in the following years. And in 2016, she met her ultimate goal: She dominated her competition and placed first in the Masters Women 50-54 age group, winning the coveted $10,000 prize.
“Winning was just like Christmas. It was awesome,” Edington says. But she won’t let herself get too comfortable. “I can’t think about being first anymore. I have to train like I’m second or third. Or even 19th.”
It’s been six years since Edington was laying on that cheap, sticky black mat during her first CrossFit class, and she’s glad she stuck with it. Along the way, she’s also devoted some time to training her mind: The anxiety Edington dealt with as a young gymnast resurfaced when she started competing in CrossFit, but after working with a sports psychologist, she feels like she has the tools to cope.
One thing that really resonated was an exercise in which the psychologist had her envision what she might say to a child who fell off his bike and compare it to what Edington would say to herself when she didn’t perform well. It finally clicked that she was her own worst critic, and that her inner monologue was unnecessarily harsh and adding undue pressure.
With her anxiety under control and her body in peak condition, Edington is preparing to defend her title in the 2017 Games this August. She currently trains three times a day, five days a week—doing a mix of high-intensity cardio, CrossFit classes, and Olympic lifting—in an effort to defend her title. “I start my morning with 20 minutes on the air assault bike to build endurance, then do a typical CrossFit class in the afternoon, and focus on whatever other skills my coach has planned for me in the evening,” she says.
Edington realizes that CrossFit now consumes much of her world, but she’s OK with that.
“Sure, it requires more discipline and more focus to be a competitive athlete. It takes over large portions of your life,” she says. But after years of prioritizing a career, a family, and finances, this is her time to shine.
“I made the decision to become an athlete and it’s a different animal. It requires more dedication, more hours in the gym, more hours alone, more coaches yelling, much more of a sacrifice. It takes me away from my career, but this has became a second career,” Edington says. “It’s wonderful investing in myself.”