CrossFit Games

National Champion Profile: PD Savage, Ireland

February 12, 2020 by
Photo courtesy of PD Savage
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Through stubborn grit, PD Savage overcame an injury and salvaged his opportunity to become Ireland’s national champion

Four months before the 2019 CrossFit Open, PD Savage was among Ireland’s top athletes, but he knew he wouldn’t be going to Madison. Instead, he would have surgery to fix a torn medial ligament in his elbow, an injury that stemmed from his 14 years playing Gaelic football.

  • Savage: “There was always a small niggling in it, but it actually got to the point where the nerves had attached themselves to the ligament, and that’s when the real pain started.”  

Up until this point, Savage had always been able to grit through the discomfort of CrossFit. Six months after starting the sport, he entered his first competition, and by the second day, he was “absolutely smashed.” But then, the adrenaline hit. Though Savage’s one-rep max clean and jerk was 220 pounds at the time, he finished a workout with 15 reps at that weight and attracted the attention of the man who would become his training coach.

  • Savage: “You know when you have to go to that dark place? I just hang out there, and I think that’s what he saw. He saw I was willing to go where I needed to go. And people will still say, ‘Oh, I’m just stubborn for longer.’ I would like to be known for something else, but that seems to be what I have.”
Photo courtesy of PD Savage

However, after the surgery, Savage lost a major outlet for that competitive energy.

  • He dropped from ten weekly training sessions to three, almost all of them either sprint intervals or long rides on the stationary bike in his living room.
  • As he drenched his wrist brace in sweat, he’d watch “Gotham” or documentaries about American history to numb his mind.
  • Savage: “I really wasn’t in a very good mental place because it’s almost like your whole identity is taken away from you. So it was a readjustment, too. You probably let CrossFit become all-consuming, so it was a good lesson that I need to have other interests.”

Though the surgery was ostensibly successful, problems remain. Savage still has fairly severe golfer’s elbow, which has also affected his wrist. And at six-feet, 220 pounds (185 centimeters, 100 kilos), he’s taller and heavier than most of the other elite athletes, meaning more strain on his joints.  

Regardless, entering this season’s Open, he was happy to discover that he’d retained his grit.

  • Going into 20.1 (10 rounds of 8 ground-to-overhead at 95 pounds and 10 bar-facing burpees for time), Savage hadn’t really done any burpees since the surgery and had started to snatch again just eight weeks beforehand.
  • Still, he scored 9:23, placing him 89th in the world and 1st in Ireland.
  • Savage: “I remember doing the repeat and really, really wanting to stop about four minutes in. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die, but with burpees and that light of a barbell, you can always keep moving.”

Savage finished the Open in 41st place, 11th among the national champions, and he’s aiming for a top-ten finish at the Games. That’s a surprising goal, not because Savage isn’t physically capable, but because he was at a crossroads before this last Open. He’d just turned 30 and wondered whether his time might be better invested at work or competing on a team.

Photo courtesy of PD Savage

He told himself that if he couldn’t punch his ticket to the Games, that would be it. He’d move on.

  • Savage: “Thankfully, I didn’t have to make that decision. But to be honest, if I didn’t qualify, I think I still would’ve come back for more next year — just because I did believe that I could do it.”

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