One week after Joe Scali snagged one of the five qualifying spots to the CrossFit Games, he admitted it could just as easily have been Mitch Barnard or Brent Fikowski in his shoes.
“In fact, I don’t think I was one of the top five fittest men there,” admitted Scali, who placed fifth at the West Regional competition in Tacoma, Washington at the end of May.
In the two months leading up to the competition, Barnard made the trek from Edmonton to train with Scali at Scali’s new gym—CrossFit Semiahmoo—in White Rock, B.C.
Brent passes Joe on the "50s" event at the 2014 Canada West Regional
“When the workouts were released, we did every event together. He kicked my ass in every single workout,” Scali said of Barnard.
“But I had a plan,” Scali added.
Scali’s plan was simple in theory: To stick to his plan.
Simple in theory, but anyone who has competed at a Regional competition knows how difficult it can be to stick to a plan. The heat of the competition—the adrenaline, emotions and stress—can easily throw an athlete off his game.
But not Scali. Not in Tacoma.
Instead, the former semi-pro hockey player did pretty much exactly what he had done in practice leading up to the West Regional competition. Scali believes his ability to keep his mind calm and mimic his training so perfectly is why he’s going to California.
“I visualized like I was there. That’s what I used to do in hockey, so when you got on the ice it was second nature. It was the same thing with ‘Randy.’ You can’t just go out there and blow up,” Scali said. “You need to visualize how every rep is going to feel.”
“I think I was just good enough (physically) to qualify,” Scali added. “I’m not better than Mitch (Barnard) or Brent (Fikowski). But my mental ability got me there.”
Joe and Mitch with The Outlaw Way head coach, Rudy Neilsen who made the trip from the East coast to watch Joe compete.
The three men—Scali, Barnard and Fikowski—pushed each other publicly all year through social media. Their friendly banter and trash talk entertained not just the Canada West community, but even CrossFit Inc. took note and gave the men props for their fun, yet competitive banter on the March 19th Update Show.
“The whole trash talking thing started at last year’s regionals. It reminded me of my hockey days when you made fun of people,” Scali said before throwing a playful dig Fikowski’s way: “I always chirp that Brent (Fikowski) didn’t play a real sport. He played volleyball,” Scali laughed.
Despite their friendly rivalry, Scali said both Barnard and Fikowski played integral roles in his success this season.
“Brent and Mitch drove me to be better,” Scali said. “We competed against each other all year.”
Their rivalry didn’t help just Scali’s growth as an athlete. All three men benefited from the push. Fikowski placed 7th in Tacoma, while Barnard was 9th, in what ended up being one of the closest races in CrossFit regional history. The other four qualifiers included four men who have all competed at the CrossFit Games before: Canada West’s Lucas Parker and Tyson Takasaki, and the North West’s Cole Sager and Kevin Simons.
“When they were calculating the scores, I didn’t know if I had made it. I thought I made it, but I didn’t know. I was trying to figure out how I would celebrate if I did make it, or how I would deal with it if I didn’t. ‘Do I cry? Do I get mad?’” Scali remembered. When the scores were tallied, Scali found himself in the final qualifying spot, just one point behind 4th place Takasaki and one
point ahead of 6th place Cody Anderson, who missed out on a return trip to Carson by one point.
While Scali is the lucky one of the three this year—the only one who will be making the trip to Carson this summer—the friendships that have grown out of their rivalry are real and transcend the sport they love. “They’re both coming to my wedding next year,” Scali said of Barnard and Fikowski.
Before Scali starts thinking about his wedding next summer, he will devote this summer to preparing for the biggest competition of his life—an opportunity he knows is a chance of a lifetime.
“CrossFit has given me a second chance to be an athlete. I never made it to the NHL and the Games are like the NHL of CrossFit,” Scali said.He added: “When I found out I qualified, I felt like my whole life has been dedicated to this whole thing.”