Time is on Their Side. The masters of CrossFit

Cheryl Brost Paul Smith of Simply Perfection Photography__

In case your image of the over­40 generation is fat old farts in triple­knit polyester bulging through the slats of their rocking chairs, consider this: Martina Navratilova won a mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open when she was 49. And baseballer Jamie Moyer, at the same age, pitched a winning major league game. Over half the runners in the NYC marathon are past the 40­year mark. (Heck, when Ontarian Ed Whitlock was 73, he ran a marathon time of 2:54!)

Over­40 athletes are changing the way we think about middle age and beyond, and the CrossFit masters division provides some great examples. In fact, when it comes to these well­seasoned performers, we’ll all need reading glasses to see the boundary between youth and age. A look at the Masters leader­board for the 2013 Open competition leaves little doubt that Games spectators are in for another banner year, as they watch these ageless athletes battle it out for the top slots.

Here are the top Masters competitors at the end of Open Week 4:

Men’s, age

40­-44 Chris Dozois (Front Range CrossFit)
45­-49 Ronald Thomas (CrossFit New Albany)
50­-54 Gord Mackinnon (CrossFit BC)
55­-59 David Hippensteel (CrossFit Sola Fide)
60+ Scott Olson (Front Range CrossFit)

Women’s, age

40­-44 Amanda Allen (CrossFit Adelaide)
45­-49 Lisa Mikkelson (CrossFit Never Doubt)
50­-54 Colleen Fahey (CrossFit Black Box)
55­-59 Catherine Madden (CrossFit Freedom)
60+ Donna Walters (CrossFit Academy)

We talked to front runners Chris Dozois and Scott Olson, as well as a few other noteworthy athletes across the Masters age categories, to find out what the voice of life experience has to say about CrossFit.

Athlete profiles

Chris Dozois. At the time of this article (end of Open Week 4), Dozois was the top­ranked man in his Masters division and 16th worldwide among Individual men.

Scott Olson. Olson came second in his 50­59 division in the 2011 Games and first in the 60+ division in the 2012 Games.

Becky Conzelman (Front Range CrossFit). Conzelman came into the fifth week of the Open to place second worldwide among women aged 40­44.

Cheryl Brost (Eugene CrossFit). Brost trails Conzelman by just two points at the end of Week 4, taking third place in their 40­44 age division.

Robin Kline (Crofton CrossFit). Kline, after just one year in CrossFit, competed in last year’s Games and placed fifth worldwide in the women’s 60+ division. This year, she comes into the fifth week of the Open in fourth place.

SRX: First, congratulations on your achievements, which are impressive at any age. You’re undoubtedly inspiring many people. So let’s go back in time. Were you active as a child or as a young adult?

Olson: I played sports all my life. I grew up in southern California and surfed, water skied, and snow skied. I received an athletic scholarship to San Diego State University for football, then moved to Colorado after graduation, got married, and had four kids. We never stopped moving as a family.

Dozois: My parents joke quite a bit about the fact that I was an extremely active child. As an infant/toddler they would put me in my crib at night, and in the morning they would find that I had [shaken] the crib so hard during the night that it would be on the opposite end of the room. I was the kid who played sports year round from the time I could walk. My Dad, also a lifetime athlete, had me doing the Herschel Walker workout (hill sprints, pushups, situps) at a very young age. I played hockey, football, and lacrosse into college. I played linebacker at CSU in college but sustained a career­ending injury to my neck [in my] freshman year. I’m fortunate to come from a family with great genetics. I have aunts and uncles in their 90s who do cartwheels on the beach before going surfing (for real). My dad is 70 and runs around like he’s in his 40s.

Conzelman: As a young child, athletics was my saving grace. My parents divorced when I was three and I was raised by my mother, who supported us as a hairdresser. I grew up swimming, diving, and playing soccer, [and] was the only girl on a boys’ knothole team for a few seasons.

Brost: I have always been active! As a youth, I was a national champion on the Appaloosa show horse circuit. I found success in both high school soccer and basketball and continued in both sports, winning the national collegiate soccer championship twice. Four years ago I would have never thought I would be a professional athlete at the age of 41.

Kline: I didn’t play organized sports as a kid or young adult. At 18, I went skiing for the first time and loved it. Four years later I became a part­time ski instructor. Skiing was my main interest for years.

SRX: So why CrossFit, especially when so many of your ‘age mates’ are shifting away from fitness altogether, or at least transitioning to a—shall we say—“milder” form of exercise that’s a bit kinder to an aging body?

Kline: Because it’s fun and never gets boring. Like a lot of people who start CrossFit, I was going to a regular gym on and off for years and got bored. [With CrossFit,] I just show up, do the WOD, and the coaches are there to help and motivate [me]. I like that everyone is doing the same thing, just at different levels. The intense workouts and clean eating have made me feel terrific and stronger than I have ever been.

Olson: I love all the random, functional movements we do. The clock brings back that competitive spirit that many of us thrive on. Also, the camaraderie and unity of the box is an incredible dynamic! It’s like family.

Dozois: CrossFit is a sport. I love competition and I especially love being tested physically and mentally.

Conzelman: It never gets boring. And the competitive nature of the sport is thrilling. Once a competitor, always a competitor, I suppose.

Brost: I’ve always been a competitor who is willing to do what others won’t. Honestly, never stepping foot again on a treadmill is fine by me. I just can’t take the boredom!

SRX: I’m sensing some themes here. So­­intensity, variety, and competition are big draws. But what about the potential for injury? Have you had injuries as a result of CrossFit, or are you working within the limitations of old injuries? How do you minimize your chances of getting hurt?

Dozois: I’ve had my aches and pains, but as a whole, I’ve been able to avoid injury in CrossFit. I believe that the injuries common in CrossFit are symptoms of poor technique, poor preparation (mobility, warm­up), poor recovery (cool down, rest), and poor programming (too much volume, redundancy). Unfortunately, I’ve found that in gyms with one of these deficiencies, the others tend to also be present.

Brost: I’ll be 42 by the end of the 2013 CrossFit Games season. Needless to say, I have both old and new injuries. I tore my knee apart in the early 2000s. I believe as CrossFit athletes, regardless of age or experience, we must always be mindful of technique, particularly in preventing shoulder and back injuries.

Conzelman: I am currently working with a PT on past injuries, as well as weekly chiropractic, massage, and PT for preventative treatment. We work on range of motion, flexibility, proper mechanics, and so on.

Olson: I have had some injuries but not directly related to CrossFit—just wearing a few things out. [I’ve had] some minor knee surgery and minor back surgery. Oh, I did tear my bicep at the 2010 Games doing a deadlift, but only because I bent my arm on the lift—a no­no! I pay attention to [certain areas] and back off if they start to get sore or feel overused.

Robin K: I have had minor injuries from CrossFit. Who hasn’t missed a box jump and banged a leg and just kept on going? [I’ve had] skinned [legs] from deadlifts or ripped hands from pull­ups and not known until I was done. It heals. I try to minimize my chances of injury by taping my hands and wearing a weight belt for heavy lifts. I try to think about my form as much as I can while working out.

SRX: When Jack Lalanne was almost 90, he said, “If I don’t know what I’m doing by now, I must be pretty stupid.” Has life experience given you an edge in approaching your workouts? Or to ask the question the other way around, has CrossFit given you any useful perspective on aging or on life?

Olson: I know what works for me and I truly enjoy working out, now more than ever because of CrossFit. I feel bad for those who get caught up in aging or just settling in. Their quality of life sucks. I strongly encourage anyone who will listen to do something. It’s amazing what some activity will do for your sense of well being, let alone your fitness!

Kline: You hear everyone say CrossFit has been a life­changing experience. It’s true. It’s not just a physical exercise; it’s mental. When I go into a WOD with a goal and confident attitude, I do great and sometimes PR. It’s helped me to be more confident and positive when faced with everyday challenges.

Dozois: I grew up in the era of movies like Rocky and Vision Quest (basically training montages with a story). “You just suffer more than your opponent and you will win” was the lesson. I was a huge Walter Payton fan and I remember reading about how his offseason hill sprinting workouts would break everyone. I found a hill and sprinted that hill seven days a week. I learned to suffer well. My experience has taught me that the majority of any competition takes place between your ears, and your opponent is yourself. This realization is an advantage.

Conzelman: I feel mental toughness is one of my strengths. My experience racing at the World level for the US National Track Cycling Team has helped me tap into “warrior mode,” as I call it. It’s that tunnel where I am aware of nothing else. I still get nervous, but usually when it’s game time I’m ready to go.

Brost: I believe my age and life experience offers me an edge in mental preparation. By no means have I “arrived,” but I could be “mom” to many of my competitors. In college, I was blessed to be mentored by Dr. Colleen Hacker, possibly the finest mental skills and performance enhancement coach in the world. My experiences have provided me a treasure chest of unique tools I regularly draw upon.

SRX: I remember a distance runner in her 70s who said that every day she wakes up, she looks in the mirror and says to herself, ” you’re 71­years­old and you look good, you devil!” What do you say to yourself when you wake up, especially on those days when the body might be reluctant to get going?

Brost: I tend to look at each day as another gift from God! Everyone has one shot at life; I intend to make the most of it, hopefully in a manner that portrays and honours Jesus. Of course I stumble at times—I’m human—but I know my purpose in life, no question.

Cheryl Brost Crossfit Eugene

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