It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about someone in the Awesome People files – heck, it’s been a while since I’ve posted *anything*, but my recent vacation several great reasons to dust off my blog and write something.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the North Central Crossfit Regional competition in Chicago, IL. While the primary thing that drew me to attend Regionals was to watch the (utterly amazing) team from my gym compete, once I got there I found so many more reasons to enjoy myself. There were elite Games level athletes, like Elizabeth Akinwale, Stacie Tovar, and Kyle Kasperbauer who were amazing to watch. There was also Jacob Heppner, who I got to watch become the first KC metro area athlete to qualify for the worldwide CrossFit Games. But for me, the weekend was won by a college kid named Kenny Brown.
Kenny’s athlete profile lists Power Cat CrossFit in Manhattan, KS, where he studies at Kansas State University, as his affiliate. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though – Kenny is from Olathe, KS. He graduated from Olathe South High School and previously was a member of CrossFit On Track, where I was privileged to get to know him a little bit. I’ve met many young athletes in the 2 years I’ve done CrossFit, but I have always held Kenny in high regard because unlike a lot of people his age, he doesn’t just hang out with the highly competitive, elite athletes or people in his age group. He has always been willing to have a real conversation with anyone, even someone like me who has little athletic skill, has been derailed multiple times by injuries, and who battles the demon in my head that says “YOU ARE ONLY PRETENDING, YOU CAN’T BE AN ATHLETE”. Perhaps that’s because Kenny knows injury. A few years ago, he severely broke his leg – I have heard the word “shattered” used by more than one person – and got an infection during his recovery and had to have some bone replaced by a titanium rod. I’ve heard of others having breaks that severe that ended up barely being able to recover enough to walk correctly, let alone compete in The Sport of Fitness.
I’ve watched Kenny in competitions practically since I started CrossFit. He often competed with his girlfriend Grace and his dear friend Colton as a team, and have always been impressed by his positivity. When he qualified to go to Regionals this year – something only about 1% of entrants in the CrossFit Open manage to do – I was thrilled. As I watched him compete in event after event during the weekend, I just became more and more proud of him, not just because I could tell he was giving it his all but because he persevered through something that I don’t think I could handle – riding the bottom of the leaderboard. And the wildest part of all is that the crowd showed him all kinds of love while he was doing it.
The first day, the men had to do the following events:
1 rep max Hang Squat Snatch
Max Distance Handstand Walk in 3 minutes
Nasty Girls V2, which is 3 round for time of 50 alternating pistol squats, 7 muscle ups, and 10 power cleans at 175 pounds.
Kenny was one of the smaller guys there, and wasn’t the strongest in the room. He put up a 175 pound snatch, which would make most people ecstatic but at this level of competition put him in last place for the event. He followed that up with only making 5 feet on the handstand walk, which was another last place finish. At this point, I personally would have been ready to pretend that I had somehow contracted the bubonic plague or something – but not Kenny.
When Nasty Girls V2 rolled around, people who knew about Kenny’s injury expected the pistol squats to present a problem but I am not sure anyone, including Kenny, knew how difficult it would be.
For those of you unfamiliar with the pistol squat, it is basically CrossFit equivalent of “Shoot the Duck” at the roller skating rink, minus the skates. You have to squat down on one leg, getting your hips below parallel. If you lose your balance and your foot touches the floor, or you don’t get low enough, the rep doesn’t count in competition and you have to do it again. Here’s a picture of a good pistol.
I can’t think of more than a couple of CrossFitters I know who would tell you that doing pistols is easy. There are a few competitors this weekend that made them LOOK easy, but even those people would tell you that they are not exactly a piece of cake. Most people I know, including myself, can do exactly zero pistol squats. So imagine being told you have to do that move eleventy billion times in a competition and THEN imagine that one of your legs has a titanium rod in it, reduced mobility, and is likely to be in pain during the whole event. Personally, that would make me want to curl up in a corner in the fetal position, but Kenny isn’t most people. He busted his tail to do the WOD, got several no reps on those pistols that he accepted with grace, and kept on plugging. He got through two rounds of the workout and partway through the 3rd set of pistols before time ran out, and the crowd yelled for him during that event almost as much as they yelled for any of the big names throughout the weekend. And for the workout he earned another 43rd place finish.
As the weekend progressed, Kenny continued to show his grit. He posted a 42nd place finish on Event 4, which involved heavy front squats that I’m sure also hurt his leg. And he showed his determination to do his best no matter what by posting a 13th place finish on Event 5, which was rope climbs and sprints – and I swear it looked like his favorite part of that event was the fact that he finished first in his heat, which gave him the opportunity to go encourage his fellow competitors through the rest of the workout, just like they did for him on prior events. Day 3 threw a soul crushing 21 minute workout that was dubbed The Fifties as well as a sprint workout comprised of 64 pullups and 8 overhead squats for time. By the time these events rolled around, the standings were such that it would be almost impossible for Kenny to improve his standings by very much, so Day 3 was a day of trying to complete work and not get DQd from the competition – again, something I would not have the fortitude to do. But yet again – he did it. And it wasn’t just the people from Power Cat or On Track or that had met him in other regional competitions that recognized his competitive spirit. CrossFit HQ recognized it well, publishing two competition recap articles (here and here) that gave him almost as much coverage as athletes who have gone to the Games multiple times.
Throughout the weekend, as Kenny gutted out these workouts, he wore the weight of the physical and emotional strain on his face. He spent a lot of time looking like this during his events:
That is the face of something saying “This hurts. This hurts so bad that I wish almost any other exercise in the entire universe had been programmed for this moment. This hurts so bad I wish I could punch Dave Castro in the face, then murder him with my bare hands and chop him into little bitty pieces and jump up and down on top of him and then bring him back to life and do it all over again because it sucks so much that I think dying twice would be easier. But it does NOT hurt bad enough to make me quit. I. DON’T. DO. QUITTING.”
And you know what? I love everything about that. Everything.
There is a thing in CrossFit called the Spirit of the Games award. It’s given to someone who embodies the spirit of the sport – who fights through the events with everything they’ve got while also embodying the CrossFit community by encouraging and uplifting fellow competitors. I don’t know whether they give out this award at the Regional level, but I know that for me, the hands down winner of the 2014 CrossFit Regional is Kenny Brown.
Kenny, I’m proud to say I know you and I can’t wait to see you compete next year.