When I started my career in massage, I didn't exactly know where I was going to go with it. After several years of being in limbo, I finally decided that I wanted to work with athletes in the sports field. My dream goal is to someday work with an NFL team or at least with a specific NFL athlete. As I started down this path, I realized that much of the success that I was going to be seeing was going to be on the “amateur athlete” level. Being the head massage therapist for Western Michigan University’s football team has afforded me the opportunity to work with some NFL caliber athletes who have gone on to play in the NFL. I still have yet to have that breakout opportunity. But that's not to say that the athletes and teams I have been able to work with have not been wonderful in their own right.
The last three years I've traveled with Linda to the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. Last year was a “Cinderella Year” as she captured bronze for her age group – not an easy feat. This year, Linda came in looking really strong and healthy. There were some rule changes for qualifying. In the past, CrossFit would take the Top 20 athletes in the world for the various age group divisions. This year they narrowed that down to the Top 10. We knew that was going to be a challenge from the start as Linda had qualified 16th last year when she won bronze. So she knew that she was going to have to work really hard just in the qualifying round to make sure she secured a spot in the games. Linda turned it on both in the CrossFit open and the online qualifying round to qualify fourth. Needless to say, we were both feeling cautiously optimistic about her overall chances at the games.
One of the challenges about CrossFit at a competitive level is that the athletes don't know exactly what they will be doing until they’re just about to do it. So, we arrive in Madison two days before competition is to begin, only to find out that Linda won’t be competing for three days. This delay really threw Linda off mentally, but we found ways to distract her. We went kayaking, she did a light workout on the day that she would have started and watched some of the individual competition. From a massage standpoint, I did not want to do any work on her until after she was performing. She'd received a full body session just a week before the competition and I'm not a fan of someone receiving body work within 48 hours of having to compete, unless it's to recover from a previous competitive level performance. So we waited.
Friday was her first day of competition. The first event started slow. Linda is famous for knowing how to pace herself. She finds her rhythm early and then goes with it to the end. Often this makes it look like she starts slow and falls behind, but then as the other athletes fade out during the workout, she consistently catches up and passes. This time the approach didn’t work so well. All the other women looked like they were shot out of a cannon. Linda quickly fell behind. She was only able to catch up to a few and she finished 7th. Afterwards, when I was working on her, she explained that she was just getting her nerves out. She is ever the optimist!
We get to the second event, which was a ruck. A ruck is a hike or a walk with a weighted backpack. For this event, CrossFit had the athletes start without a backpack, run 3 laps of a 1500m course, adding a backpack with 20 pounds after one lap and then adding another 10 pounds for the final lap. In years past, running has been Linda's downfall. However, she has been working very hard to improve her running. When the first lap finished, and the mob of runners came to pick up their backpacks, I lost track of her – I didn’t see her come in and get her backpack. I start to panic. “What if she rolled her ankle, what if she fell, what if she passed out? " All these scenarios were running through my mind as I frantically ran up the bleachers and looked out over the field where she was running. After a couple of agonizing minutes, I turned around and saw Linda re-enter the stadium wearing her backpack. She ended up finishing very well and tied for fourth place at the end of Day One.
Day Two came on Saturday. We knew she had two workouts during the day. The first event would require her to handstand walk 90 feet, use an Assault bike for 25 calories, and then do a 100 lb sandbag carry another 90 ft to the finish line. We knew she would be strong in this one because of her gymnastics background - she was a solid handstand walker. Her biggest concern was the weight of the sandbag. The way CrossFit requires you to hold the sandbag is in front of you, which often can compress your chest and limit your breathing capacity.
The event starts with the handstand walk. Linda cruises right through it to an early lead. As she starts on the Assault bike, we have no idea how many calories she's going through and are waiting for the judge to raise his hand, which signifies Linda only has five calories to go. Laurie Mascheshnick, who was the current first place overall woman and eventual gold winner, started the bike later than Linda but is a stronger overall athlete. I could tell by watching her pace on the bike that she was catching up to Linda. Within seconds of Linda's judge's hand going up, Laurie's judge's hand went up as well. Linda popped off the bike first, went over and picked up her 100 lb sandbag and began to carry it along the 30-ft course. She gets to the end of one side turns around starts walking the other direction and begins to pick up the pace. I could tell the weight of the bag was heavy and that she was struggling just trying to get it done. I had a moment of concern that she would drop the sandbag at the end of 60 ft to rest, but when she turned around at the end of that 60 ft and started walking back for her final 30 ft, I freaked out! I knew she was going to rush to the end and get the win for this event. This was exciting as Linda had not had an individual event win in sometime.
One of the best parts about CrossFit is that while it is very competitive at the sport level, all the athletes respect and encourage each other as comrades. At the end of the event Linda and Laurie hugged, smiling at the excitement of the finish. This win boosted Linda up into second place where she would stay for the remainder of the games. Through her final four events Linda would not place less than 3rd, solidifying a Silver medal in the women’s 55-59 age group. This made her the only American woman to medal in her age group for the second year in a row. The Gold was given to Laurie from Canada and Bronze was awarded to Marion Valkenburg of the Netherlands.
The independent wellness professionals (like me) hang out in a separate area within the athlete village, where we work on our athletes. We are not in the same area as the sponsored sports med folks. Most athletes do not bring their own LMT, so since this was my third year, there were some familiar faces in the room. One thing I consistently see with the other therapists there is a wide variety of tools and toys they use for their athletes. This includes chiropractors and massage therapists alike. Some of the people at this event looked like they did both. I can remember the first year being there noticing this and feeling like I was under qualified to be there. I generally don't use a lot of fancy toys and my approach is very simple for a sports massage therapist. But this year I realized, what happens at the games is far more dependent on how ready the athlete is going in and my job is to simply keep Linda moving. So that's what I did, nothing fancy, just a little bit of cupping and Hypervolt. But mostly good old fashioned massage.
Nicholas Garman, LMT NSCA-CPT
|Kalamazoo Athletic Wellness||
tHE kaw bLOG