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Growing Number of Washtenaw County Residents Competing in Crossfit Open

Mar 24, 2014

Nearly 200 people in the area are seeing where they stack up against the rest of the world in the Crossfit Open, which claims to be seeking the fittest on Earth.  The vast majority have no thoughts about advancing to the regional or world games, so why does the number of participants continue to grow?

Athletes training at Joust Strength and Conditioning practice deadlifts.
Credit Andrew Cluley / 89.1 WEMU

For trainers and athletes across Washtenaw County one reason comes up consistently no matter what gym or box they call home.  Rachel Meadows trains at Joust Strength and Fitness.  Meadows and others say it's a sense of community and everyone competiting together that drives people to the register for the Crossfit Open.

The Crossfit Open is a five week long competition with over 200-thousand people participating.  Each week a new workout is announced Thursday evening, and must be completed by Monday night.   The workouts have a time limit and generally include multiple movements, such as deadlifts and jumping on a box.

Athletes may never be able to compete one on one against a pro football or basketball player, but Aaron Brewer who owns Crossfit 734 in Ypsilanti notes that’s not the case with the Crossfit Open.  That's because every athlete in the competition does the same workout, whether you are expected to make it to the Crossfit Games or you have just started.

Aaron Brewer watches an athlete at Crossfit 734 doing a deadlift.
Credit Andrew Cluley / 89.1 WEMU

Brett Bourne trains at Wolverine Strength and Conditioning and is in the Crossfit Open for the first time.  He believes the open pushes people to beat their personal bests, since you are competing against people across the globe.

This year’s open started with some more challenging movements than previous years, so more people got that chance to accomplish something new.  Sheila Reeves trains at Crossfit 734 and thinks increasing the difficulty in the Open makes sense as the number of people competing grows.  Reeves believes the Open does a good job of letting you know where to focus your training on areas where you are struggling.

Doug Chapman owns Hyperfit USA, the 13th Crossfit gym to open in the world and has trained many athletes who have advanced from the Open to the regionals and the Crossfit Games.  However he believes Crossfit is valuable well beyond the elite one percent of what he calls freak athletes.  He says the games shows what these top athletes can do but Crossfit is really about getting normal people moving and working hard to improve.

Athletes carry yokes as part of their training at Hyperfit USA.
Credit Andrew Cluley / 89.1 WEMU

Joust trainer Melissa Gerharter thinks the popularity of the Crossfit games which are now televised on ESPN drives average people in two different directions.  They always see a spike in interest, but others are intimidated by what the top athletes can do.  Gerharter like all of the area trainers say Crossfit can be scaled to everyone's ability level.

One of the athletes that ended up on television is Merrill Mullis. She trains at Hyperfit, and finished third in the world for women in the Masters 40 to 44 age bracket last year.  Mullis loves cheering on other people at the gym, but looks at the Open with a completely different perspective than someone just trying to get their first chest to bar pull-up.  For here it's a stressful time of the year as it's the first hurdle to clear on the way to the Games.

Athletes pushing themselves to the max have led some critics to claim Crossfit isn’t safe, but trainers like Chapman disagree.  He says with the proper coaching it's actually very safe and will improve your quality of life.

Michelle Wolf has been working out at Crossfit 734 for about a year and says it’s changed her life.   Wolf has gone from being unable to do sit-ups and being overweight, to now competing in the Crossfit Open and working on becoming a trainer.  She thinks the psychological and emotional change Crossfit has given her is an even bigger benefit then the physical change.

Michael O'Brien leads a class in some core work at Wolverine Strength and Conditioning.
Credit Andrew Cluley / 89.1 WEMU

The fourth week of the Crossfit Open wraps up tonight, with the final workout to be announced Thursday.  Click here for more information on the Crossfit Open including the leaderboard.

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— Andrew Cluley is the Ann Arbor beat reporter, and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him acluley@emich.edu.