For some, CrossFit is just a hobby. For others, like Marine Staff Sgt. Christen Wagner, it’s a way of life. Wagner, a training chief attached to III MHG in Okinawa, Japan, recently traveled to California to compete in the 2012 Reebok CrossFit games. The world famous competition is open to individuals from around the globe who qualify and challenges athletes to take home the title of “Fittest on Earth” by completing high-intensity combinations of weight and endurance training.
The 25-year old Marine began CrossFit in 2010 and was hoping to make her debut at the 2011 CrossFit Asia Open. Unable to attend because of an injury weeks before the qualifying rounds, she quickly set her sights on 2012. An athlete by nature (and the daughter of marathon running parents), Wagner said pursuing CrossFit seemed like a good fit. “By virtue of being in the Marine Corps and being around a bunch of guys, I picked it up pretty fast,” she told Marine Corps Times.
Wagner was awarded a scholarship by her CrossFit gym in 2010 that enabled her to get certified as a level one CrossFit Trainer. In addition to her own rigorous workouts, Wagner regularly volunteers as an instructor at the gym to both show her gratitude for the scholarship and to teach others about the fitness program. Wagner said her experience as a gymnast growing up made it easier to pick up CrossFit and provided a better understanding of the fundamentals and techniques, “gymnastics definitely gave me that overall understanding of momentum, how to do muscle ups on the bars, how to muscle up on the rings and how to apply force to an immovable object.”
Leading up to the California competition, Wagner had little time for anything else. Despite a busy work schedule, Wagner juggled training 5 days a week and coaching at the gym located more than an hour away from work. “Training taught me a lot about CrossFit. Putting in the time and research and then having to think about how you make someone else better perform – I became a better athlete for it,” she said.
In addition to an intense training schedule, Wagner adheres to a strict Paleolithic diet. “I originally started it to see what it was like and after having been on the Paleo diet for about two years now, I’m completely sold.” Her diet and fitness regiment enable her to snatch an impressive 162 pounds and back squat 285 pounds. When asked if there are any foods she misses, her response is immediate, “oh yeah.” While she no longer eats desserts and bread, she admitted she had a “cheat” meal following the competition (ice cream included).
Wagner placed 41st out of 45 competitors in the Reebok CrossFit games. Despite a bottom tier placement, Wagner said she’s pleased with the results considering the caliber of athletes she faced from around the world, “It’s amazing that I even placed over 43rd in any event.” Wagner said she was overwhelmed by the support not only from her battalion commanders but from fellow Marines. “I had been training for two years and I really didn’t think most people knew about it let alone cared about it.” Wager said that no one event stood out as the most challenging. Instead, she told Marine Corps Times she was surprised at how fatigued her body became from the quick turnaround of events and the way it impacted her performance on the lighter weight exercises. “It’s all very challenging. I was just in shock of how tough the triathlon and turnaround competition was…the hardest part was working under that fatigue…you have to give 100% on each of these workouts when your legs are so sore and tired that you can barely walk up stairs. That was the challenge mentally and physically, just making your muscles take that wear and tear and then turn around and exert 100% the next day.”
So, what’s harder: The 2012 Reebok CrossFit competition or being a Marine? Wagner laughed at my question but asserts they’re both challenging. “They’re completely different but the same in terms of the mentality,” she said, continuing that the mental fortitude an individual needs to excel is necessary for both. Drawing similarities between the mental toughness and dedication needed to be a Marine and to compete at CrossFit competitions, Wagner insists the sport’s core concept, functionality behind the movement, relates to the Marine Corps culture, “I think it applies so much to what we do as a military, not just the Marines but across the board.”
What’s next? Wagner is hopeful that she’ll compete on the world stage again. Just weeks after the competition, she’s already back at the gym training. “There’s a lot of roller coasters but looking back and I think having a clear head and a non emotional response, I absolutely do want to compete.” Wagner heads to Camp Lejeune, N.C. in the fall where she’ll likely face tougher regional competition. But with another year of training under her belt, she feels confident in her abilities, “I think right now what I need is a lot more time and energy to putting in the hard work to become great.”
Wagner’s advice for CrossFit athletes: With a growing fan following and a rapid spike in the number of CrossFit gyms opening around the world, she said she thinks the Reebok CrossFit games could become as renowned and competitive as the Olympics. Now that she’s returned to Okinawa, she shared some advice for current and potential CrossFit athletes.
To CrossFit newcomers: Wagner encourages individuals to look past personal doubt and try the sport. “I went in there with a mentality that was like, ‘what can CrossFit teach me that I don’t already know? I went in. I at least took the first step and was instantly hooked.”
To hopeful competitors: she believes it’s essential to have not only a competitive drive but something that consistently motivates you, “make sure that whatever made you get into the competitive scene resonates with you everyday because it’s going to get hard and you’re going to get beat down, but having that drive that keeps you going the entire year is so worth it once you meet your goal.”