I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of a WOD, my mid-30s body heaving and feeling like the potential for death is near, and wished that I had started CrossFit much MUCH younger.
I know I’m not alone. While many of the big-name athletes I’ve interviewed over the years like Talayna Fortunato, Mat Fraser, Jeff Evans or Jared Enderton had sports backgrounds in gymnastics, weight lifting or wrestling, they also have significant gaps in their programming that resulted in weaknesses they’ve since worked hard to overcome to be at the top of their game.
Imagine if Rich Froning had been doing CrossFit from the age of 13. What if Camille Leblanc-Bazinet got her braces the same year she started doing WODs? — Because let’s face it, no one’s teeth are that perfect without braces.
When it comes to the athletes whose names we readily recognize now a days, those are just “what if” questions. But with the new wave of athletes we will see develop in the next five to 10 years, these questions are a reality.
At a box in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, owner Aaron Weedo has an extremely active and popular program for kids and teens. The classes have been running for over three and a half years, and their core group of 10 or so are dedicated to every aspect of the program, he said.
While Coach Aaron says that he and his teen coach at the time, Mike Kerul, had a feeling that they had two athletes who might qualify, they didn’t push them or bog them down with the pressure of competition.
They just did the workouts to have fun.
Not only did athletes Tessa Marquette and Jen Heil have fun, but they ended up qualifying in their respective teens divisions for one of the largest CrossFit competitions in the country. We caught up with them after the weekend for a Q&A on what it was like competing on such a large scale, their thoughts on the competition as well as some great stories and some laughs.
It was everything you would expect from “typical” teenage girls with a few huge exceptions. One, they can both overhead squat more weight than me. And two, when it comes to CrossFit and excelling in the sport, they are as serious and as passionate as they come.
FHQ: Let’s start with the basics! How old are you? How long have you been doing CrossFit? Did you do any sports before CrossFit?
Jen: I’m 13 and have been doing CrossFit for two years and one month. I was doing gymnastics for nine years before CrossFit.
Tessa: I’m 14 and have been doing CrossFit for one year and four months. I also did gymnastics for nine years. Jen and I knew who each other were, but weren’t necessarily friends, weren’t ever together or never really talked.
Jen: We were at different levels, but now we’re really close friends.
FHQ: What’s your favorite thing about CrossFit?
Jen: I like competing. Wodapalooza was my first big competition. All the others were small, local competitions at other boxes. I love the whole atmosphere of CrossFit, it’s my favorite part.
Tessa: Same for me. This was my first big competition. I love the atmosphere, and it’s fun!
FHQ: What are your favorite movements?
Jen and Tessa: Muscle ups!
FHQ: Sweet! When did you get your first one?
Jen: I got my first muscle up two months after I started Crossfit.
Tessa: I got my first one in last year’s Open.
FHQ: Who are your favorite athletes? Who do you most admire in the sport?
Jen: We have a LOT of people! But the first one is Alex Smith. He’s really nice.
Tessa: James Hobart and Dan Bailey are both really nice too.
Jen: For the women, I like Chyna Cho.
Tessa: And Lauren Fisher!
FHQ: Wodapalooza is a big competition! Tell me how you decided to qualify and how you reacted when you learned you made it?
Tessa: Our coach asked if we had signed up for Wodapalooza and I said, “What the heck is Wodapalooza?” I had no idea what it was. I didn’t know how big of a deal it was until I qualified.
Jen: We signed up and did the workouts and ended up qualifying. We had to do 2 workouts per week for three weeks.
Tessa: And just like the Open, you submit your scores online every week with videos. As we got closer to the competition, on the Facebook page they would put what athletes were coming and I thought, woah, that’s awesome!
Jen: Most of the workouts were typical WODs but a few were really hard. The one with thrusters and double unders was really hard.
Tessa: The closer it came, Coach Aaron was training us and giving us hard workouts but we didn’t really know it.
Coach Aaron: (who happened to be in the room at the time) Funny you realize that NOW.
Jen: I got the email saying I qualified at 9:45 and I was screaming and running around the whole house I was so excited.
Tessa: I realized what a big deal it was as it got closer and I was really excited too.
Jen: The first day we checked in, played with puppies, made guacamole and had a rest day.
Tessa: When we checked in we got custom Reebok Nano Shoes with WZA on them. We sort of felt like a Regional athlete getting free stuff.
FHQ: The second day was when the competition started, right? How did the rest of the weekend go?
Tessa: The first event was in the afternoon on Friday at 1:30. We didn’t really watch the other athletes who were competing that much, we had to make sure we were warmed up and made our group.
Jen: The first event was the big chipper. It was pretty intense! We only did one workout on Friday.
Tessa: The goal was to just have fun and do the best you can.
Jen: Exactly! Pretend you are just in the gym and working out against other girls who are really really good.
Tessa: Then the little chipper was Saturday
Jen: And the bike…the assault bike!
Tessa: That was the WORST workout I’ve ever done!
FHQ: Why was it so hard?
Jen: It was quick. You had to move. You didn’t take a break, you can’t even breathe.
Tessa: At one point Jen and I were looking at each other and we both looked like we were about to cry, it was so hard.
Jen: I think we were looking at each other thinking “When will the pain end?” It was so brutal!
Tessa: I had someone cheering me telling me to go faster and I thought, “I can’t go any faster!” We had done Airdyne workouts before, but not as many short fast efforts.
FHQ: Was there anything you were ready for that you ended up not having to do over the weekend?
Jen: We didn’t have to swim this year, but Coach Aaron made us do swim practice leading up to the event. It was horrible. It was every Tuesday and the water was like 50 degrees.
Tessa: You’re in the water and you can’t feel anything. You’re practically numb.
Coach Aaron: We found out the final workouts ahead of time, so I wanted them to be prepared. But in hindsight I actually feel really bad about making them swim when it was so cold!
FHQ: What was your favorite workout of the competition?
Tessa: I LOVED the snatch medley workout! That was my favorite workout. I did well on that workout. Those are the kinds of workouts I like because I’m in the middle of the pack, but in the end I do better. I got second in the time for that workout.
Jen: I hated that workout. Snatching man, I need to work on those snatches.
Tessa: And see I’m the opposite, I hate cleans.
Jen: I love cleans, they’re my favorite. But I need to work on my technique for snatches. I’m not old enough for the Open this year, so I’ll be working on that for next year for the Open. Double or nothing was my best event, I felt really confident on the rope climbs and squat cleans. It was my gymnastics stuff that really helped me on that one.
FHQ: What were some of your most memorable moments of the weekend?
Jen: Oh my gosh, I have so many! The first moment was when we were getting ready for the little chipper workout. Coach Aaron did some mobility with us and then had us lay on our stomachs and told us to visualize the workout.
Tessa: Now you should know, we LOVE Aaron Hanna.
Jen: So somehow Coach Aaron got Aaron Hanna to come over and talk to us. At first, he just tapped us on the shoulder and said, “How’s it going” and we both just said “Fine” because we thought it was Coach. Then, Coach Rachel told us to open our eyes, and when we did and saw who it was Tessa just screamed and jumped up and ran and I was totally speechless. I literally don’t think I said one word!
Tessa: But then he talked to us about the little chipper –the assault bike — so he talked to us about that workout. He had already done it, so it was awesome to get his encouragement.
Coach Aaron: I knew he had just finished the WOD and he was cooling down at the rig. I went over and asked if he would come talk to the girls getting ready to do the WOD. He was totally cool about it, he was a good sport. Even when they totally flipped out, he was just looking at me and smiling. It was great to make a connection with a local elite athlete.
Tessa: So moment two was Dan Bailey. We were at Starbucks and saw him and James Hobart in line. We waited for them to get their food and then asked for a picture. But when I went to take a picture the phone had flipped over to the timer mode, so instead of just taking the picture it was doing that count down flashing so I kept saying “Wait, wait, it’s coming!” And Dan Bailey was saying hilarious things like, “Wait, is this a fire alarm? In five seconds is your dad going to come over here and beat me up?” He was such a good sport about it.
Jen: And believe it or not, we got one special photo that was perfect.
Tessa: It was really about meeting the people you idolize. You see them in the CrossFit Games but you never expect to meet them. It’s not like you’re going there just to watch them, your’e going there and you’re competing in the same events that Games athletes and Games champions are competing in.
Jen: We got a picture with Rich Froning too. He was super nice, everyone wanted a picture with him so it was great to meet him.
FHQ: What do you think were some of the most important things you learned from the competition? Has Wodapalooza made you want to compete again?
Tessa: You can always do a workout harder than you think you can. Sometimes you test a workout here, but then when you go to competition you do better because you’re going up against other girls. It’s kind of a training thing. You can always train harder than you think you can.
Jen: Stay happy. You have to have a good spirit. If you have a non-positive attitude, or if you’re upset you didn’t do well in the workout, it’s not going to get you anywhere.
Tessa: I really need to work on squat cleans, or just weightlifting in general. I want to improve my technique.
Jen: For me, it’s weightlifting in general too. Because I started as a gymnast, I’m really good at the body weight movements, but lifting is probably my main concern. My weight is light, I’m not as big as the other girls so I have to really work at it.
Tessa: The whole thing with the teens we see do CrossFit, you either have a weight lifting or a gymnastics background. So everyone has to work on something. For training, I’m going to start doing previous Open workouts. Today I’m actually going to do 15.2 and 14.2.
Jen: I have another year to get better than where I am now.
FHQ: Is there anything you want other teens or girls to know about the sport?
Tessa: It’s a good mixture. It’s not just about lifting weights. It’s endurance, it’s weightlifting, bodyweight movements and gymnastics. It’s a lot of great sports combined into one. You’re not going to lift weight and be super manly, you’re just going to be strong.
FHQ: What goals do you have now in the sport?
Tessa: I want to qualify for the Games. And not just one time, but multiple times. I want to be there and be consistent through all the years, like Dan Bailey.
Jen: Me too. I want to make it out there more than once.
FHQ: Anything else you’re dying to say?
Jen and Tessa: Big thank you to Coach Aaron, Rachel, Alexis and Coach Mike and all the people who came down to watch us. So basically Crossfit Lakewood Ranch.