MARYSVILLE — Getting fit, that was the first goal. It was the reason six men and women from in an around Snohomish County took up CrossFit, a popular strength and conditioning program that combines weight lifting, running, climbing, throwing and other exercises into a vigorous daily workout regimen.
But CrossFit is also a sport, and in late July those same six athletes are headed to California for the CrossFit Games, an annual Olympics-like event that brings together fitness enthusiasts from around the world.
“We want to win, and now we’re putting in the work to make that happen,” said team member Noah Pester, who is also the founder and a co-owner of CrossFit Marysville, where the team trains. Come July, he added, “we just have to go down there and execute.”
It was about six years ago that Pester, a 32-year-old firefighter paramedic, founded a CrossFit club in the garage of his Marysville home. Ryan Swobody, another Marysville firefighter paramedic, became the club’s other co-owner about the same time, and as membership grew they moved the gym to its current downtown location.
Pester and Swobody eventually realized that CrossFit Marysville had the makings of an elite team that, by CrossFit rules, has three men and three women. The team going to California includes Pester, the 30-year-old Swobody; Kyle Flanders of Marysville, a 21-year-old Boeing assembly mechanic; Kelsey Nagel of Mill Creek, a 28-year-old marketing executive; Ashleigh Moe of Mount Vernon, a 30-year-old school teacher; and Melissa Dixon of Anacortes (formerly of Mountlake Terrace), a 31-year-old Navy rescue swimmer.
Earlier this year, the team posted the top score in the world for this year’s open competition, which is essentially an on-line qualifying tournament for the spring regional event. In May they finished first in the regional at Kent’s ShoWare Center to advance to next month’s CrossFit Games.
All six team members have athletic backgrounds, which probably explains why they excel at CrossFit. Pester, Swobody and Flanders were all high school football players, and played other sports, too. Nagel and Moe were high school and college soccer players, and Dixon played multiple sports.
All agree that competitive CrossFit compares and perhaps even exceeds the enjoyment and thrill they once found in other sports.
As Flanders explained, “I actually quit baseball (after high school) for this. This is so rewarding, and the more work you put in the more rewarding it is. … There’s just so much to this, like weight lifting, gymnastics and endurance. We work on so much and it’s cool to find stuff you never thought you’d be able to do.”
CrossFit “is an extension of my athletic career,” Nagel said. “It was this whole new world that I hadn’t explored yet. And having the chance to compete in an actual judged competition where there are people that come out to cheer for you, that’s really cool.”
At the upcoming CrossFit Games, the teams will be given a series of events to perform, with team members following each other in succession. The challenge is, no one knows what events are being planned. There will likely be weight lifting and running at some point, but there is also the chance of something unexpected and unusual. At the regional, participants had to walk on their hands as far as they could, up to 120 feet.
Given the uncertainty, the Marysville team members are preparing themselves with a variety of workouts. They train together whenever possible, and they are constantly pushing themselves and each other.
“We have six weeks to get as good at everything as possible,” Pester said. “And on a daily basis, we’re all beating each other at something. One day you might beat everybody, but the next day you’re last. It just depends on the (workouts) for that day. And if you’re not going hard, you’re going to get smashed and left behind by everybody.”
“We feed off each other and that’s really important, especially for me,” Flanders said. “I do so much better if I have people around that are better than me.”
And despite not knowing what events they will face, “the way we’re training right now, they could throw anything at us and we’d be ready for it,” Nagel said.
Competing in CrossFit “kind of means being prepared for the unknown and the unknowable,” Swobody said. “And we have to be prepared for whatever they come up with. … The only worry I have is that we don’t have as much experience in a game setting as a few of these teams. But as far as ability, pound for pound, I think we can take it.”
At the end of the competition there will be a podium and medals, and the honor of being called “The Fittest Team on Earth.”
“I get goose bumps just thinking about that,” said Pester, who added, “I’d be lying if I said our goal is to just go down there and have a good time. Our goal is to go down there and win.”