One Mother’s Journey: From Olympic Trials to CrossFit Games
When her one-year-old son, Patrick, was crying in the childcare room at Three Kings Athletics, Laura Redman was mid-metcon with her teammate, Elyse Kile. The two are in the middle of intense training for 2018 Central Regionals, where they are representing the gym together in Nashville.
They are both new moms, Laura with 15-month-old Patrick and Elyse with 9-month-old Theo — both attempting the biggest comeback of their lives athletically. They may be post-partum, but that monumental experience has only served to motivate and inspire them to be the best they can be.
“I admire any mother in any sport, out there, still killing it,” said Laura.
She goes to take care of her little boy’s tears, as Elyse continues training. No sooner does Patrick calm down, than Elyse needs to tend to Theo. They swap roles — and though there is a lot of work to be done still today — they are moms first.
“We have this back and forth dynamic and we are there for each other because we understand each other,” said Elyse, referring to limited training time, juggling schedules and managing post-partum elite athletic life.
“I admire any mother in any sport, out there, still killing it.”
Being a mom is how Laura defines herself above all. She says motherhood has given her a necessary sense of balance, forcing training into more rigid time frames and allowing her to get her mind off of training when she’s at home with Patrick.
It’s put fitness in perspective for the one-time collegiate runner for Purdue, a woman who qualified for the Olympic marathon trials and ran semi-professionally for the wildly popular Brooks running brand.
Her running days over are over now, having transitioned to what so many like to call “the sport of fitness,” CrossFit.
“Do you ever miss running?” I asked her, and the answer is a fast “no.” Going from the days of running 100 miles a week for marathon training to the intensity and variety of a CrossFit box wasn’t immediately easy for Laura, who says on her first day of class, she wondered why the athletes took breaks during the workouts.
“I used to run before CrossFit,” she said, referring to the trend of some newer, more athletic CrossFitters who don’t feel like workouts are long enough when they are used to hours-long running sessions or maxed out cardio classes.
A natural athlete, Laura’s passion for fitness quickly found a home at the CrossFit gym, where she began packing strength and skill onto the 105-pound runners body that walked in on day 1. It wasn’t long before she felt like she could be competitive in this realm as well, but she had a long way to go in terms of learning the ins and outs of form on the barbell and becoming skilled at Olympic lifting, most notably. With that in mind, she ultimately took time off from her CrossFit box to spend the majority of her time at an Olympic Lifting gym and work on perfecting lifts and increasing her strengths in that area.
In normal street clothes, you might not believe Laura was a competitive CrossFitter. Her build isn’t that of strapping bulk stereotypical of some women in the same field. Laura’s hard earned muscular build can hide more easily beneath clothing than some. But today, on the gym floor, she’s stripped down to her black short shorts and a Lululemon sports bra that expands across the girth of her toned, muscle-packed upper back. It’s the back that takes her up rounds of legless rope climbs, helps her climb the peg board at record speeds and gets her through dozens of one of her favorite moves, butterfly pull-ups.
She may not lift the most weight, but pound-for-pound, she is the strongest athlete on the competition floor, says her coach at Three Kings, Bryn Jafri. Jafri encourages Laura and her teammates to employ their mental game equally as aggressively as their physical approach on the competition floor.
The average CrossFit Games athlete last year was 145 pounds, which is 15 pounds more than Laura weighs in at peak training, but her versatility and commitment to reaching her goals in the sport make her one of the most talented on the competition floor.
Those who know Laura emphasize her ability to “put in the work” in takes to be the best she can be. The daily grind of training, accessory work, gymnastic drills and mobility — she doesn’t take any shortcuts to success.
“Her perseverance through any challenge that’s thrown before is something I don’t know if I’ve seen out of too many people in all of my years as a competitive athlete or coach,” said Jafri, who has been working with Laura for nearly three years.
She also doesn’t let failure get in her way. Making her way to regionals for the fifth time, she knows she’s not guaranteed to set foot on the Games floor, but had she let it stop her in the past, she wouldn’t be here today, with a real chance of making it to 2018 CrossFit Games as a competitor.
A tattoo of three arrows adorns the top side of her right leg, just below the shorts line — an artful fierceness branding an athlete that friends, teammates, coaches and her husband say can endure pain better than most people. Her many years spent pushing through painful running drills and 20-mile training runs likely contributed to her capacity for prolonged pain management under pressure. At least with CrossFit, that pain is sure to be over far more quickly than her fastest marathon time, which was 2 hours and 41 minutes.
She pads her heavy lifting with a foundation of Nike Romaleos, switching off to NOBULLs for WODs — and works relentlessly to perfect lifts and accomplish her training goals within the new training time restraints of motherhood.
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Glowing with sweat and focused on finding perfect form for a set of cleans within one of three WODs during training, her skin gleams, accentuating the face of a woman who is absolutely gorgeous without a drop of make-up. She is strikingly pretty and exceptionally talented, as well as kind, passionate and generally optimistic about life. Laura Redman is a person you want to be friends with, a person you want on your competition floor, a person you want to do life with.
Her husband, Eric, confirms as much, conveying so between his own sets of individual heavy cleans at the gym on a Sunday morning.
“I love her loyalty and dedication to her family, her job, really any responsibilities,” he says, adding that Laura is a natural at always diligently and competent toward completing her goals, in a way that most people are not. “It just amazes me that she is just always doing the right thing to get it done.”
Like Laura, Eric was a competitive runner in college when they met. Both were known runners on their respective rival track teams, he at Indiana University and she at Purdue. Thirty pounds ago of muscle ago,Laura qualified for the Olympic Trials, running her first marathon and then competed in the trials, cutting five minutes off her qualifying time.
She will go do a 12-hour shift of nursing, come home, spend time with the baby and then get outside and do an extra set of deadlifts or spend time working on handstand obstacles. She is going to put in the work no matter what it takes and sacrifice for herself and her teammates.
Marathon training is a grueling process, as runners spend hours pounding the pavement, doing speed drills, running hills, doing tempo runs, stretching, recovering and caring for the bodies they hope to shuttle them over that 26.2 mile finish line. After 5 years on the team and a short post-college running career (while also working full-time as a nurse), the thought of starting up another marathon training season was daunting.
It was around that time that Eric had discovered CrossFit – and was loving it. He encouraged Laura to join him for a class. She claims she even struggled to even get an air squat correct her first day, but she was strong enough to do a few pull-ups and adapt to new physical challenges. Turns out, she is a very versatile athlete with an inner drive rivaled by few.
“She has a maturity she’s developed to just be able to do the work, understand the process of getting to the goal in an unemotional way…knowing that if she takes the right steps, you can get where you want to go,” said Eric.
For Laura, it’s not about winning a title, but just being fulfilled by doing something she truly enjoys.
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“Some live and die to compete but I love the boring in and out and I think that comes from being an athlete my entire life,” she said.
Laura accurately points out that most women aren’t able to be out there competing in such high stakes events as the CrossFit Games at 34 years old, but here she is doing what she loves and excelling at it year after year.
That’s no accident, according to her coach.
“She will go do a 12-hour shift of nursing, come home, spend time with the baby and then get outside and do an extra set of deadlifts or spend time working on handstand obstacles,” said Jafri. “She is going to put in the work no matter what it takes and sacrifice for herself and her teammates.”
Getting to this position in 2018, poised to make her first appearance at the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin — hasn’t been easy. Incredibly, she whipped herself into shape for regionals last year, when her son was barely 4 months old. But this year is a turning point, as Laura claims she is stronger than she has ever been in her life, having put in hours of intense training, building on the foundations of post-partum strength she’s been honing since bringing Patrick home from the hospital after he was born 5 weeks early and spent a week in the NICU.
Both Laura and Elyse made qualified for regionals as individuals this year, but forfeited their invitations to participate on the team for Three Kings instead. Neither was wishy-washy about the decision, Laura insisting “It was always going to be team.”
She might not have imagined being here in the days after Patrick’s birth, when she suffered from a Hematoma over her uterus, a c-section incision infection and post-partum preeclampsia. The complications landed her back in the hospital, as Patrick was getting well enough to come home.
“I remember being in the hospital with him and looking down at my legs and thinking ‘I’m never gonna even workout again’ — because they were so skinny and I had lost so much weight,” Laura said through tears, recalling her first days of motherhood. “Then I told myself — ‘I don’t care’ — he is the most important thing to me and this [fitness] is just a bonus.”
Back home, things were still rough, as Laura recalls being home at night and still hearing the ghost-like sounds of NICU monitors in her mind — remembering that helpless vision of seeing her baby hooked up to the machines at the tiniest he ever was.
No one tells new moms that the most terrifying time in their lives will be those first days after the birth of their first-born, when you are going at it blind and without instructions. There is no “Newborn 101 guide” to answer all your questions — it’s guts and glory, love and instinct.
I remember being in the hospital with him and looking down at my legs and thinking ‘I’m never gonna even workout again’ — because they were so skinny and I had lost so much weight. Then I told myself — ‘I don’t care’ — he is the most important thing to me and this [fitness] is just a bonus.
A couple of months down the road, out of the newborn fog where light and rationality begin to live again, Laura was back in the gym — slowly working her way back. She consulted Birthfit, using their training program for weeks to start gaining back her core and prevent injury.
People constantly told her she “looked great” but the trauma of giving birth on a woman’s body is not always visible. Having worked out throughout her pregnancy, Laura’s pregnant and post-partum body still looked far fitter than the average woman’s — but she was just like everyone else recovering from C-section, returning to movements that once felt easy and adapting back to normal life in a body that would never be the same as it once was.
“I’ve had so many emotional days in here after the baby…that is just the grind and the reality of what moms to through no matter what level you are on,” she says, holding Patrick in our interview, feeding him fruit snacks and giving him a peck on the cheek.
The baby bond has certainly helped she and Elyse empower one another through good days and bad, helping each other be rational about body changes and expectations over the post-partum months.
Jafri is extremely cautious about not pushing post-partum athletes without proper conditioning and great concern for potential issues surrounding core work. And he takes seriously the example these elite women set for the other women at Three Kings who become pregnant and want to stay in the fitness game when they return. Last year at the gym, at least a dozen women were pregnant and these days, the childcare area is full of babies every single day — so ensuring people have a realistic view of returning to CrossFit postpartum is important here.
“[Laura] has a better balance now…she knows that she has to be even smarter about the way she trains and does certain movements,” said Jafri. “But the baby has been a blessing because it gives her a better mental balance.”
That strength will be on display in Nashville this weekend, as the ladies — along with a men’s team and a second women’s team from Three Kings — takes the floor at regionals. There are many reasons to realistically envision a podium victory that will lead to Madison this summer.
While so many factors play into a win on competition day, Laura will step onto the floor knowing she’s done everything she can to be her very best. That is the greatest win she can give herself.
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