How confidence fueled the biggest gains at the 2015 CrossFit Games

When I was in high school, my English provincial exam required me to write an essay. The topic was: “People can create their own realities.”

I remember hitting a mental road block on that final. I couldn’t think of anything to write, and ended up scribbling something onto the page that I wasn’t proud of.

I’m finally ready to write that essay. Here goes:

People can create their own realities

Like the rest of the CrossFit community, I was glued to the live feed of the 2015 CrossFit Games, blown away by what the athletes were fit enough to endure, and inspired by Ben Smith’s big win.

But there were two athletes who impressed me even more than Ben Smith; they were Margaux Alvarez and Emily Abbott (Click to follow them on instagram)

Both Emily Abbott and Margaux Alvarez jumped from the low 20s in 2014 to the top ten at the 2015 CrossFit Games. 

In 2014, I was there competing next to Alvarez and Abbott. During those four days of competition, we were often in the same heat, and at the end of the weekend the three of us finished much closer to the bottom than the top of the leaderboard. Alvarez was 34th, Abbott was 35th, and I was 37th (relieved to have accomplished my goal not to come last).

Competing in Carson with the best CrossFit athletes in the world—and feeling like each consecutive workout kicked my ass a little more than the last—shattered my confidence. Shattered my belief that I would ever be lucky enough to make it back the next year.

After that experience, I returned home to Vancouver, content that I got the chance to compete as an individual at the Games. In my mind, I had been lucky to be there, and unlikely to ever return.

And truthfully, I was totally OK with that. I was thankful for the experience and happy to be back training, as usual.

During the course of the next year, whenever people would ask me, “Are you trying to make a run at it again this year?” I was too embarrassed to say, “Yes, I am.”

I thought if I admitted I wanted to get back to the Games, the appropriate response would have been to rub my shoulders and sarcastically reply, “Good luck with that, Emily.” I simply didn’t feel worthy of even letting myself believe—or in even dream—about the Games again.

Instead, when people asked me what my 2015 intentions were, I would reply with something like, “No. I’m still training hard, but they combined our regions this year, so it’s even harder. I was lucky to get their once.” I thought I was just being realistic.

Emily Beers finished just below Abbott and Alvarez at the 2014 CrossFit Games.  

Clearly, coming 34th and 35th respectively didn’t have the same effect on either Alvarez or Abbott.

Last December, while at a Canada West training camp at CrossFit Calgary, Abbott stood up in front of the group of 25 or so girls and urged us to be more confident.

Women, more than men, tend to lack belief in their abilities, she announced. She was tired of it, she said with a desperate excitement in her voice, her fiery-red hair bouncing as she spoke. She wasn’t letting a lack of confidence hold her back any longer, and neither should we, she continued passionately. By the end of her rant, she was so riled up, I think she even threw a fist in the air.

Her words were contagious, her voice inspiring; there was nothing holding this girl back. We could all see that. And for a brief period of time after that day, I let myself believe I could return to Carson.

But then I forgot again. Forgot about Abbott’s plea, about the confidence she was able to muster—confidence that allowed her to not only win the 2015 West Regional competition, but also helped carry her to a world-class 8th place finish at the Games.

Alvarez has a similar story. After she finished 34th at the Games in 2014, she jumped to second at the South Regional in 2015 behind only Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, and went on to finish 9th at the Games, winning Most Improved Athlete in the process.  

On July 27th, just a day after the Games ended, Alvarez took to Facebook and boldly stated for the world to read:

“Today, the day after the Games, is typically a day when we reflect if doing this another year is possible…I don't need to reflect this year, I've decided to win the whole thing next year!”

Recently, I asked her about that post, about having the confidence to announce such a bold goal to the world.

First, Alverez laughed at me paraphrasing her Facebook status from July 27th, but then she sounded almost confused by my question.

“Um, I’ve never really given myself a limit, or never thought there was a limit on what I could achieve,” she said.

Going for what she wants has always been part of her. And she doesn’t give a shit if people judge her goals. Or at least, she doesn’t fear what others might think.

“In 2011, I volunteered at the Games, and I told a lot of people that weekend that I wanted to compete there one day. Maybe those people didn’t think it was realistic for me, but I never thought it wasn’t possible,” she said. “I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to at least give it everything I’ve got. At least I can say I’ve tried.’”

The same is true of her new goal—to win the 2016 CrossFit Games. She isn’t scared of how others will react to her publicly-stated goal, and she isn’t even scared of falling short of her ambitious Facebook post.

“Fear?” she asked. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Anyone who has met Margaux knows how she exudes confidence. This has been a major contributing factor to not only her success but also in determining the limits to the level of her progression. 

 She added: “As humans, there are a lot of unknowns. I don’t know how things are going to turn out tomorrow or the next day, but in terms of fear that I might not win the Games…Yeah, I may not win, but I went out there and publicly said it and I think it’s possible, and from now until then all I can do is what’s in my power to reach that goal.”

I am in no way taking away from Abbott’s or Alvarez’s physical potential and the hard work they put in day-after-day, but speaking to both of them, it’s quite obvious that their self-belief—the beautiful reality they have managed to create because they believe in themselves—is a huge part of what allowed them to propel themselves from the bottom of the leaderboard in 2014 to the top 10 in the world just one year later.

Alvarez added: “We have this one life only, so I try to believe in myself as much as I can. And put myself in an environment where people around me believe in me. Then it feels like I can achieve anything.”


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