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#SeoulStrong

Photo from The CrossFit Games

Photo from The CrossFit Games

I looked up from my computer screen to survey the competition floor for the last heat for Event 6 of the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Asia Regional in South Korea. My fingers were tense and hovering above my keyboard as I waited to see who would get up from the rower first.

Spotting the current leader on the Women’s leaderboard, Marlene Andersson, leaping up and moving to the box jumps, my fingers went to action. “Marlene Andersson is first off the rower!”, I typed furiously, “Followed close behind by Crystal Sullivan!”. As soon as I hit enter to post my tweet, my social media boss, Lynn hurriedly pointed out to me that Yuko Sakuyama was next off the rower.

No rest for the wicked. I realized I was holding my breath. I let it go and typed out what Lynn had pointed out to me, even as my eyes went back to survey the competition floor, looking for my next tweet.

Live tweeting is hard. Live tweeting without a live stream is harder.

Without a live stream, the onus was on the social media team to provide up to the minute play-by-play action on Twitter for the audience at home. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. After all they were just moving weights and going through complex movements, right?

Boy, was I wrong.

I forgot there was only one reason why I was looking at the athletes down in front of me from my social media booth. Why they were here in the first place.

They were amazingly fast. Which meant that we had to be faster. Only God knows how much Lynn and Jen, the Regional Media Director, were screaming in their hearts for me to type faster when they were hovering over me during the Heats where I was covering the play-by-play action.

I had never tweet as fast as I did before that weekend and admittedly, it was stressful, but at the same time I was happy that I volunteered. I learned so much from Jen and Lynn, who both had amazing leadership throughout the whole weekend.

I was inspired by the athletes too. From my vantage point in the social media booth, I had a bird eye view of the whole arena. What I saw on all three days proved that Asia can hold its own amongst other bigger regions.

Granted, Asia is not where you get to see the likes of Rich Froning or Samantha Briggs compete. We still get made fun of for having caucasians on the podium. We only get one spot to the Games.

However, what Asia lacked in terms of super-human strength statistics and star names, the crowd made up for it in their never wavering and endearing support for the athletes. I witnessed the crowd cheering every rep for athletes, whether they were struggling or about to finish first. Who they came to support was immaterial. First or last, all the athletes taking part were already heroes in their mind.

The athletes too, had never-say-die attitudes.

I saw athletes like Jaki Kan from Team Asphodel, struggling with his overhead squats during Event 7 and yet refusing to give up. I saw the hours athletes put in to train their weakness finally paying off, like Eric Carmody, when he won Event 7 and qualified for Carson. They were just two of the many athletes who gave nothing but their all.

It was also very easy to not give your full effort as a volunteer when your region is an obscure region. This was my second surprise that weekend.

Starting with the media team, we hailed from 7 different nations and despite most of us meeting each other for the first time, we instantly gelled like glue. We were not paid, we had to be the first at the arena and the last to leave. But every task we were given, we did it with our full effort.

As for the rest of volunteers, from Security to the Judges to the Equipment guys, they worked as though this was their full-time job. I was very impressed especially with Security. They had a million and one things to do, from crowd control to making sure that no one brought in banned camera lenses. Yet, whenever the Media team had any issues with the crowd, they would drop everything and helped us.

All the volunteers were united for two reasons: We love CrossFit and we wanted the athletes to only worry about their performances on the competition floor and nothing else.

We decided beforehand that the hashtag for the 2014 Asia Regional would be #SeoulStrong. Amazingly, the hashtag has  887 posts and rising on Instagram.

I can’t help but marvel at how apt this hashtag has been. The story about the Asia Regional this past weekend was about teamwork and fluid coordination. Everyone, from the spectators, to the athletes, to the volunteers were a collective unit. We were, #SeoulStrong.

This article represents only my views and is not sanctioned or endorsed by The CrossFit Games and CrossFit,Inc

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Bringing out the bully

Photo from The CrossFit Games

Photo from The CrossFit Games

I don’t care if you don’t like or made a vow never to try CrossFit. Just stop telling the whole world why.

CrossFit is not without it’s faults. There’s a thousand and one things that can make CrossFit better and CrossFitters know it. They do not have to be subjected to a public service announcement (PSA) every other day. Critics and haters justify their constant PSAs as “being concerned for the general public” or “to prevent people from being brainwashed by CrossFit boxes”.

Now, what qualifies someone to be “a fitness authority” when there are millions of coaches in the world? Is there such a thing as “Fitness Police”? Can they actually ban someone from doing CrossFit instead of just merely writing or posting on Facebook about why someone should stay away from CrossFit? Do they have the powers to persecute someone for doing CrossFit?

Imagine a school setting. CrossFit is the new kid on the block. The rest of the kids (Bodybuilding. Running, Cycling, etc) have been there for ages. They see CrossFit as a threat because suddenly their best friends forever (BFF), Gymnastics, Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman, Powerlifting have started hanging out with CrossFit and do cool stuff with them. They start to desperately scramble to show their BFFs why they are “cooler” by whispering to them nasty things about CrossFit, picking a fight with CrossFit over the tiniest issues, using Social Media to create fake accounts to spread rumors.

Sounds familiar? I might not be a behavioral expert, but I think it’s safe to say that the behavior these people are portraying is similar to bullies. I know, because I used to be one. Not my proudest moment, but hey, everyone makes mistakes right?

You want to do tricep curls and have 5 different ways of doing it? Cool. Here’s to bigger arms. Run 42km every weekend? Sure, if it makes you happy! Don’t hate me because I rather be doing cleans and snatches, learning to walking on my hands and trying to PR my 30 muscle-ups for time.

I think golf is boring, racing around a race track for 60+ laps is stupid and running marathons is the bad for the knees. Do I see the need to let the whole world and the people doing it know why every other day? No, because I rather be training hard, improving myself and enjoying watching people who don’t CrossFit enjoy what they are doing.

CrossFit is not perfect. But so is every other sport or exercise program. The bottom-line is: Do you legitimately want to warn people about the dangers of not doing CrossFit properly? Or do you simply just fear CrossFit?

If you are a fitness professional who genuinely wants to improve CrossFit and warn people about what not to do in CrossFit, then it’s time to embrace CrossFit. Because let’s face it. CrossFit is here to stay. As Lift Eat Get Big put it simply in this article: “If you truly want your sport to grow, embrace all of the people that are introduced to your way of lifting by Crossfit. Gyms and coaches who put their heads in the sand when it comes to CrossFit are gyms and coaches that will struggle greatly to make ends meet, for the most part..”

However if you are a fitness professional or an individual who fears the influence of CrossFit, do me a big favor and keep your hatred to yourself. When you open your mouth, write a “100 reasons why CrossFit sucks” article or write that Facebook status condemning CrossFit, you are showing the world that you are nothing but a bully, a coward and a paranoid pain in the ass.

Enough of the CrossFit bashing.

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Seeking Redemption: Stephanie Liew

My interview with Stephanie was originally intended for The CrossFit Games website, but the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Open results and timing sensitivity meant that it went unpublished. I decided to publish the interview here instead because I love Stephanie’s fighting spirit and wanted to share it with everyone.

Photo taken by Pauline Yong

Photo taken by Pauline Yong

By her own admission, 26-year old Stephanie Liew feels that her path to redemption is about to end, after a poor showing at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Asia Regional.

The writing was already on the wall during the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open when she failed to attempt any muscle-ups in Open Workout 13.3, which was 150 wall-balls, 90 double-unders and 30 muscle-ups.

As a result, she did not qualified for the Regional as an Individual, but instead was chosen to compete as a member of Brunei’s GETFIT CrossFit team after helping them to qualify.

To her dismay, she found out that muscle-ups were penciled in for the Team Events after the workouts were announced ahead of time; she scrambled to work on the complex gymnastic movement. However, time ran out on her.

Her worst nightmare came to pass when she failed to attempt a single muscle-up in Team Event 3, which was a 7-minute AMRAP of burpees muscle-ups, which meant that her team got a DNF, thus preventing the team from advancing in the competition.

“Mentally, I felt that I could do the muscle-ups, but physically, my body didn’t agree,” she said.

It was cold comfort to Liew that out of 20 teams that competed in the Regional, only 3 teams managed to finish Team Event 3. Her inability to perform the gymnastic movement crushed her, and she went back to the drawing board with her coaches to re-evaluate her training as a whole after Seoul, with the ultimate goal of mastering muscle-ups.

“I went back to basics. I started doing strict gymnastic movements and focused on progressions to build strength. I also started training consistently, knowing that skills take hours of practice to master. At the same time, I kept strictly to my scheduled rest days to prevent burn out,” she explained.

It was a long and arduous 6 months, but Liew’s revised approach to her training has benefitted her tremendously. By the time 2013 came to a close, she could finally string together a couple of muscle-ups whenever it was programmed in a WOD.

She has been on a roll since Regional, winning Brunei’s Battle Royale 2013 and finishing in second place at the inaugural Sin City Invitational 2013 in Singapore. Even though these local competitions did not program muscle-ups in scored workouts, her performance at the Regional is all but a distant memory.

“When I competed in the local competitions, I focused on the pain I felt when I failed in Seoul, and I used it to fuel and push myself to do well because I never want to feel the same way again.”

She credits her head coach, Gavin Singh Sekhon, for keeping her rooted and not letting her successes get to her head.

“He spots my weaknesses and puts me through drills and progressions over and over again. He doesn’t have to remind me of what happened during Regionals because he knows it will always be at the back of my mind.”

Liew, who coaches the kids’ program at her box, feels that teaching the kids the fundamental movements of CrossFit has gone a long way in helping her cope with her new training directions.

“What I have learned and realized after every lesson I have with them is, when in doubt, revert to the basics,” she said.

Liew felt that her experiences since May last year, both good and bad, helped influenced how she approached the recently concluded 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open

“The competition is really steep, no doubt about that. But as the level of competition increased, the way I trained has also evolved. That was why I am confident of my chances.”

Liew felt that out of the 5 Open workouts, Open Workout 14.4, which was a 14 minute AMRAP of 60-calorie row, 50 toes-to-bars, 40 wall-ball shots, 30 cleans and 20 muscle-ups, was the hardest workout for her, both physically and mentally.

“I have never rowed more than 300m continuously before this, so it was truly a mental game. There were also a lot more pressure in this WOD because I expected myself to reach the muscle-ups without burning out during the row.”

In the end, Liew only managed to score 178 reps, 2 reps shy of reaching the muscle-ups, before the clock ran out on her.

Liew was confident of her chances of qualifying for this year’s Regional. In the event that she made it through; she was undecided on whether to compete with the GETFIT CrossFit team or as an individual

“The fundamental nature of CrossFit is to be ready for ‘the unknown and unknowable’. I will do my best to be prepared for whatever awaits me. Between now and Regional, I will concentrating more on my work capacity.”

Despite her valiant efforts, Liew will have to look ahead to 2015 for the chance to redeem herself after missing out on the ticket to Seoul, South Korea this year. With her exceptional work rate, she will definitely put up a strong challenge next year.

 

 

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A note on traveling solo

I walked out of Tai Cheong Bakery in Central, Hong Kong, holding a bag of egg tarts, the best I have ever eaten. Taking the escalator up to the Central Mid Levels walkway, I walked from one end of the walkway to the other end, slowly munching on my egg tarts and experiencing the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. All 800 meters of it.

It’s moments like this that makes my decision to travel solo worth every penny. I had the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I wanted to do it. My little “walkway egg tarts adventure” may not make much sense to others, but it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Traveling alone provides you the opportunity to live in the moment too. I did that by taking the Star Ferry in both directions, from Kowloon to Central and vice versa. The 10 min ride allowed me to take in the magnificent and breathtaking view and disconnect from the world for a moment. The sea was choppy and sometimes still, as though it could read the minds of all the passengers on board.

The biggest obstacle was finding directions. Google Maps was almost hopeless, but when technology failed me, the locals were very helpful. That was probably the only opportunity for me to talk to them, given the language barrier. You get a sense of achievement when you finally find a place by yourself or with the help of the locals.

Have the opportunity to travel alone? Do it.

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How I’m making CrossFit sustainable for myself

The very real possibility of getting injured in training is something that has been nagging at me coming in to 2014. As I arrive at the box everyday, I wonder to myself: “Is CrossFit sustainable” The answer to that, is yes, CrossFit is sustainable. The community and getting in to kick-ass shape is what makes CrossFit fun for me. However the only caveat is that I have the discipline to incorporate active recovery in to my training. .

Sometimes we think more training is good, but that’s not true. Less training is sometimes good as well. After all, muscles grow when you are out of the gym. If you have just started CrossFit, going to the box every day is fun because PR-ing is liberating or getting the top of the world (literally) feeling when you finally get that muscle up. Nothing wrong with all that, but as much as we have discipline to turn up for training, we should also have the discipline to know how to “pull” ourselves away from the box too.

No doubt, CrossFit is an extreme sport. But CrossFit doesn’t cause injury. Bad or the lack of mobility and inflexibility causes injury. We think that lifting really heavy weights makes us strong, but what many of us, myself included, fail to realize is that strengthening our basic body movements is the key to making us strong and preventing us from getting injured.

For me, 2014 and the years ahead will not be about chasing more PRs or trying to qualify for the CrossFit Games. It will be about finding the balance of strength and flexibility. That will mean a balance of CrossFit and Yoga for me. Am I concerned that I will fall behind my fellow CrossFitters in terms of strength and faster timings? Yes. But that’s fine with me, because I am responsible for my own body and accountable to myself for making my training sustainable.

The time I spent away from the box, recovering, mobilizing and stretching will be the key to meeting the demands of the WOD when I’m in the box. My goal after all, is to CrossFit for life.

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My 2013 in a nutshell: “Overcoming challenges and obstacles”

I don’t want 2013 to end.

You may think that I have had a great year after making that statement. Well, it couldn’t be further from the truth. 2013 has been a year where I found myself being forced to deal with challenges and obstacles thrown at me from all directions. It almost broke me, but I refused to give up, which is what makes this year memorable for me. But I know 2014 will be much more exciting. Let’s start with my first challenge:

Entering the workforce

I graduated this year with a Diploma in Mass Communication, looking to enter the media industry and gain some industry experience before moving on to a Degree. This has always been a dream of mine. I started with an internship at a social media marketing agency, moved on full time to a social media role in an advertising agency and now I’m in corporate communications before 2013 ends.

It has been a whirlwind journey for me because I intended to go back to school after my internship ended. Somehow one thing lead to another, and I ended up having my first professional job, which unfortunately, I wasn’t ready for. I realised I was still tuned to the mindset of being in school and not tuned to the mindset that I’m actually in the workforce already.

I guess I’m lucky because I had never been in a bad spot in my life up to this point. Through the 3 months of struggling to keep my head above water, I came to the painful realisation that  it was time to stop being a kid who had no pressures in my life and become an adult who is able to cope with the challenges of life. I emerged out of this challenge with lessons that will be invaluable to me in the future.

Injury, CrossFit and Yoga

2013 is also the year my CrossFit journey began and I fell in love with it almost immediately. Unfortunately, my love for it was like a double edged sword. I was so obsessed with it that after I got injured during my powerlifting competition, I felt very depressed I couldn’t train for a month. Trying to deal with being injured for the first time in my life didn’t help either, which brings me to my next point about finding my CrossFit family.

I have said this before and I will say it again. This family is the reason why I CrossFit and they went a long way in helping me to learn to cope and overcome this challenge. That is why the picture below means a great deal to me. I’m the only one not in workout gear, but I still went to the box to cheer my family on because I refused to let my injury consume me. I owed it to them not to languish in despair and to come back stronger

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I sometimes struggle with not letting CrossFit take priority in my life because I want to enjoy the process. I deal with that by using what I learnt in CrossFit to help me PR my life. It has helped me get better at goal setting, discipline, self-motivation, reacting to failure, asking others for help, and many other life skills that are so valuable.

Taking up yoga lessons has helped me to deal with that struggle. For starters, yoga poses are a great challenge and obstacle for a inflexible person like me. However, it has taught me how to let go of things that don’t matter and learn to appreciate the little joys I experience or gain. I find myself starting to gain a little bit of flexibility and the breathing techniques I learned on the mat has helped me greatly in WODs. To me, CrossFit has helped me to become a better person while yoga makes me a better athlete.

Competing and organising a competition

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This year, I also competed in my first ever competition in powerlifting and help to organised a CrossFit competition. Being a newbie in both sports, it’s an achievement for me.

Relationship with God

My walk with God is always a challenge for me every year. Honestly, I have always struggled with making Him my priority. Getting injured was a reminder from Him that I was placing CrossFit first instead of Him. This year, I have learned a lot of surrendering everything to Him and learning to love Him with my heart instead of my mind. As I reflect back on the past year, I realised He has had a hand in every decision, every move I made. I have also learned the hard way that my plans aren’t set in stone, His plans are. I write my plans down in pencil, but He holds the eraser.

Final thoughts on 2013

There are still other things that happened in my life in 2013, but these topics are the ones that impact me the most. I’m also at crossroads. All these years, I have always thought that fitness was just an interest to me and working in the media industry is my passion. But after starting CrossFit and unexpectedly joining the workforce, I have come to realised that fitness has always always been my passion. This realisation will influence my selection of a Degree course and my career path after that.

I have no idea what 2014 holds for me other that an enticing opportunity to work with CrossFit HQ media team, which is currently still in the works. But I know that I have God, and with Him beside me, I can overcome all challenges and obstacles 🙂

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#SinCity2013 musings

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I fell really sick after #SinCity2013 ended, so in my downtime, I decided to break down the event on my own. So here it goes.

When Melanie and I sat down to plan for Sin City Invitationals about 3 months ago with full support from our coach, Uncle Sam, we didn’t have much resources to work with. All we had were three main goals:

1) For the Invitationals to be as stripped down as possible. Not flashy like the 2013 CrossFit Games. But like the 2007 CrossFit Games, which was held on a ranch in Aromas, California.

2) The focus will be on the athletes. We knew that given how strong and tight CrossFit’s Asian community were, they would carry this event.

3) To make this an event that Asian CrossFitters can proudly call their own.

I’m proud to say we managed to achieve all three goals. Sure, there were kinks and bumps along the way, but we preserved and pushed on, knowing that our love for CrossFit would see us through despite both of us not having participated in any CrossFit competition before.

Many have asked us why we didn’t have live streaming or why we didn’t reach out to the mainstream media to cover this event. Well, honestly, live-streaming was beyond our budget and we were also confident about the power of social media, given that we had come to a mutual conclusion on the second point of our main goals. And boy, did it turned out to be the right choice.  SingaSports was the first to approach us about covering the event, then Fitness Sutra. Even Brunei’s mainstream newspaper, The Brunei Times, covered our event. Not bad for an event that didn’t send out any press kits.

Now, I have a confession to make. As Director of Media, having a team to work with wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind. I’m not sure why, maybe there were voices in my head that told me I could do this all on my own or maybe I wasn’t expecting this event to be really big. That is why I’m so thankful to be working with Mel. She showed me how I wouldn’t be able to do everything on my own and how subconsciously, I was selfish and didn’t like to delegate stuff.

Which brings me to my next point about forming a team. To be honest, when I first picked Farhan, Alvin and Juven to be in the team, I was really hesitant to assign tasks for them. But when I did, they really shone through with their respective tasks. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and a boss like Mel, who showed me why having a team was important in the first place. Also, a shoutout to our official photographer, Norman, for the wonderful pictures.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the media coverage pre, during and post Sin City Invitationals. During the months and days leading up to the event, we decided to do athletes’ profiles on our Facebook page since focusing on the athletes was one of our main goals. That went a long way in helping the athletes bond during the event itself, as most of them were meeting each other for the first time. I was also pleased with event coverage, given that the Director of Media for CrossFit Asia Regionals informed us that she would be there as a spectator and would assist us in any way. That gave me an additional incentive to work harder and made sure the media team was top-notch.

What I really loved was the post event media coverage. I used to feel disconnected when I look at pre and post event pictures of overseas CrossFit regional events like The Primal Series and Granite Games, thinking that I would never experience such an event. But all that changed when the Invitationals ended. As I scrolled through my news feed, I realized that our goal of allowing CrossFitters living in Asia to finally have a competition that they can proudly call their own had been achieved. It had been a long time coming, but better late than never.

I can’t wait for Sin City Invitationals 2014. It will be bigger and more exciting!

 

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