Stories of Heartbreak from the West Regional Competition

By: Emily Beers

After competing as an athlete at Regionals in five of the last six years, I watched the West Regional competition as a spectator in Portland last weekend.

The spectating experience had all the same elements of reading a good book. There were entertaining moments, like watching the unstoppable Carlen Matthews, who performed all weekend like a basketball team who couldn’t miss a shot.

Matthews soared all weekend long

And heartwarming moments, like when I ran into Lucas Parker’s mom in the concourse on Day 3.

“He’s going to do it again! Two more events to go. And they look like strong events for Lucas,” I said.

“Are they? I don’t know what they are. Is he good at these events? Are you sure?” she asked innocently with a mixture of mom-like anxiety and love.

There were inspiring moments. And heart breaking ones. And moments where I could relate so deeply to the characters on the floor. Just like a good book.

So often when it comes to competition, we focus on moments like Cole Sager in Event 7. And understandably so. He was sitting in 9th place heading into the last event with a Games berth unlikely at best. But in what was one of the gutsiest, single most impressive performances in Regionals history, the man took a massive risk and hit the event with speed he probably didn’t even know he had in him. He crossed the finish line at 2:31 and gave new meaning to the term “leaving it all on the floor.”

A triumphant Sager

But the stories I could relate to the most were the much less glamorous ones—the ones filled with struggle and disappointment. I don’t say this to be a ‘Debbie Downer.’ I say that because there is so much beauty and courage in those struggles.

Brittany Brown

She entered the competition feeling confident, feeling like this might be her year.

Having competed both against, and on a team with Brittany, (not to mention what social media tells me about her abilities), I certainly thought it was her year. But in the same way Matthews sunk every three pointer, every free throw, every jump shot all weekend (so to speak), Brittany's shots just wouldn't sink.

Even an 'off' weekend for Brown didn't stop her from finishing Event 1

For her incredibly supportive younger brother Parker Brown, it was simple.

“She could have done better in the second event. But she was tired because she didn’t have lunch before,” he said matter-of-factly.

Whether it was because of a skipped lunch or not, I knew she wasn’t happy with how the weekend was going. Still, though, even on Day 3, Brittany could be seen smiling, laughing, supporting others, putting on a good face as she did her best to hide her disappointment when people approached her to say, ‘Good job.’

But when I looked her in the eye and asked for an honest answer about her weekend before Event 7, she admitted to the pain she was feeling.

“This is what you train for all year, you know. You sacrifice so much, so not to do well and to disappoint yourself, it’s hard,” she shrugged, still trying to smile through her obvious pain. “There’s so much pressure for this one weekend. All your training, and all those hard, painful moments all year lead to this, so it’s hard.”

That girl will be back next year. Stronger than ever!

Tia Wright

Tia Wright was 26th in the Open and had to wait until the second round of invites to Regionals.

But there she was after Day 1 in first place. After Day 2, she was still easily in the top 5 holding her own against the West's big guns. After event 6, she looked safe in 4th place. She tasted the CrossFit Games all weekend.

She was unstoppable for most of the weekend

And then came Event 7.

A no-rep on a rope climb. And another no-rep. And suddenly her Games berth was in jeopardy.

When the horn sounded, I expected Tia to burst into tears. But she kept smiling. You could see in her eyes she knew the damage she had done, but she hugged the qualifiers and held her head high.

And already she is moving on from the disappointment. In fact, she called last weekend “one of the best weekends of my life.”

“It’s easy to feel defeated because there’s always someone better and you always could have done something a little better, but all in all it’s a victory if you enjoyed it the whole time,” she explained.

Anyone who has ever competed at Regionals knows that being able to have fun out there truly is a victory! Hell, even Lucas Parker, who always looks calm and collected, admitted to me it was “very hard to stay in it,” he said for the duration of the weekend this year. But Tia, Tia looked like a carefree child on a playground ALL WEEKEND LONG! 

Tia is already taking away positives from the devastation of almost making it.

“At the beginning of the weekend I just WANTED to make it to the Games...Now I know I CAN make it to the Games,” she said.

Ok, maybe she did shed a tear or two. Photo credit: Rob Wilson 

Sarah Haggerstone

Sarah Haggerstone started CrossFit in 2010 and qualified to her first regional competition this year by the skin of her teeth.

The elation of qualifying and training for regionals was put into perspective for Sarah when the regionals workouts were announced. She had never successfully completed a strict muscle-up and knew her regionals experience might come to an end after just one day of competition after the new eliminations .

Competition day arrived. Sarah felt humbled and intimidated, but also excited. At the same time, some mental demons crept into her mind.

“I was fighting to reset my mind so that I stopped doubting myself, to accept that I earned my spot at Regionals and deserved to be there,” she said.

“Warming up for Event 2, I was the only girl in the warm-up area using a band and working strict muscle-up progressions (to warm up). This was a teeny bit intimidating—kind of very intimidating—but I knew my goal for this event was one round plus one muscle-up, and had known that since the workout was announced,” she said.

Game time:

“The first muscle-up was way easier than I thought it would be.”

“I felt like I had conquered the event.”

‘I had this and was making it through,’ she thought.

Feeling good, Sarah decided to attempt a second one earlier than she had planned.

“I failed after the judge called a no rep because I bent my legs.”

Doubt crept in again.

“It (became) a mental battle of waiting and gauging my recovery, listening to my training partner who was there as my coach telling me when to go, and trying not to question whether I would have enough time.”

“I can’t remember how many attempts I made.”

Sarah in Event 2

With two minutes left in the event, Sarah realized it wasn’t in the cards for her this year to get to Day 2.

“I decided I would keep smiling and not cry while I was on the floor,” she added.

But after the event was over, Sarah couldn’t fight back tears any longer.

She left the floor and was greeted and consoled by her sister Taryn, who was waiting in the corral to give her red-eyed big sister a hug.

“I wasn’t moving on to the next day, and everyone who was there to cheer me on knew this. The next two hours after Event 2—getting treatment, getting hugs from so many people and letting it all sink in—was the hardest part of the weekend,” she said.

Instead of wallowing in her disappointment the rest of the weekend, though, Sarah shifted her focus to her sister: To doing everything she could to support her sister who was still competing.

“Watching (Taryn) win her heat in Event 6—the event she looked forward to the most—was awesome. I like to think she could hear me yelling at her from the stands as I moved from section to section to follow her progress," she said.

******

As a spectator watching Sarah from the stands, I felt her pain. It reminded me of an experience I had at the CrossFit Games in 2014 when I came dead last on the muscle-up biathlon event. I remember fighting back tears while I was on the competition floor, feeling utterly defeated.

But interestingly, when I watched Sarah on Event 2, I didn’t see a defeated athlete out there; I saw a courageous one putting herself out there with all that she had.

There were so many great stories that materialized last weekend: Cole Sager’s triumphant Event 7, Carleen Matthew’s brilliant dominance, Lucas Parker qualifying to his 6th CrossFit Games. But stories like Sarah’s are my favourite.

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Sheila

Sheila

Hi Emily, THANK YOU for such a sensitive and touching article. It was amazing weekend and full of incredible achievements for the athletes and their supporters. All of the athletes put their hearts into the competition and as you say there were many great stories. The obvious ones were the outstanding achievements of the winners, but also the athletes who achieved their own special victories: PR’s, finishing ahead of someone that’s always beat them; completing the heat; smiling brilliantly even when they are dead last. Your perspective and sensitivity in sharing some stories from “the other side” and some of the athlete’s bittersweet moments really struck home. I was there cheering Sarah on; holding my breathe; biting my fingernails as her arms shook and trembled trying to get her 4th muscle up, shedding a few tears when it became obvious she wouldn’t make it. But most importantly feeling incredibly proud as I watched her handle her defeat so graciously and immediately moved on to cheering her little sister on. Thank you so much. Sheila aka Sarah’s mom.

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