Heart of America Team Competition’s “Community-Focus” Attracts Stars
Dan Bailey, Margaux Alvarez, Kristi Eramo O’Connell, Sam Dancer and Jared Stevens are names known throughout the CrossFit community. With a combined 24 Games appearances between the five of them, what would draw them to Springfield, MO to compete at the Heart of America Team Competition last weekend? Event organizer and host Jeremy Mhire believes he has the answers to that question.
Heart of America: Soon after starting his affiliate, CrossFit Springfield in 2008, Mhire hosted a watch party for “Every Second Counts,” the CrossFit-produced documentary of the 2008 Games. Inspired by that documentary, Mhire and his business associates felt the need to create a competition similar to the Games in the Midwest. At the time, CrossFit was in its infancy as a sport and primarily featured athletes and teams from the West and East Coast. Athletes like 2008 Games champion Jason Khalipa.
- “There was a sense in our community at the time that CrossFit grew from the West Coast and then skipped the Midwest and suddenly appeared on the East Coast,” said Mhire. “We were trying to show the early CrossFit community that we had a relevant, thriving, strong, authentic community in the Midwest. That was what HOA was birthed from. A desire to create a hub for competition for affiliates in the middle of the country, the heart of America. And that is how the name came about.”
In 2009, Mhire and his affiliate, now renamed Proximal Strength, started HOA to showcase not only the top athletes that the Midwest had to offer, but also to bring together affiliates and their communities. Under Mhire’s leadership, HOA, now in its twelfth year, is believed to be the longest-running CrossFit competition in the world after the Games.
Sponsorship growth and reach: One of the major factors in the success of HOA has been Mhire’s relationship with sponsors. Both his title sponsors, JUNK Brands and 1st Phorm have each been involved with the community since 2012. Those sponsors helped bring in the top stars with a promise to those athletes they would have a fun time and a chance to compete in front of the community.
- 1st Phorm fielded five teams throughout the three divisions. That led the supplement company to call on their growing stable of CrossFit and functional fitness athletes to give them a chance to compete for fun in front of the community. That’s what led Bailey, O’Connell and Alvarez to team-up. Fellow Games athlete Kelly Stone travelled from Colorado to compete on another 1st Phorm team with other sponsored athletes.
- Longtime friends Sam Dancer and Jared Stevens have been a part of HOA for a number of years competing together as opposed to against each other as they had at the Games the last two years. Junk Brands sponsored their team which also featured Christine Kolenbrander who has two Games appearances with CrossFit 417.
Community-based competition: By sticking to the belief that the desire for HOA is to continue a celebration of the strong community of athletes and boxes from throughout the Midwest that has led them from 13 teams in their first competition in 2009 to 120 teams this year during a pandemic and operating under health restrictions and protocols. In 2016, HOA had over 170 teams spread across three divisions, scaled, masters and elite.
They have used that community recipe to attract the huge names to compete at their competition. Promising elite athletes a fun competition that celebrates the sport and community. This year’s elite competition was stacked with Games, Regionals and Sanctional veterans.
- Half of this year’s Games-qualifying Mayhem Independence team was represented by Kristin Miller and Taylor Stried. After seeing their 2020 season end abruptly due to the pandemic, the two Games veterans decided to compete to give themselves a conclusion to their season. They also chose the competition based on past experiences at it and because it was in-person.
- The US Army Warrior Fitness Team had hopes of qualifying for the Games through a Sanctional. After competing at the Iron Games at the beginning of September they ended their season at HOA by standing atop the podium.
- “As events started popping off again, we noticed this was the only major team competition left in the season,” said Captain Brian Harris of the Army Warrior Fitness Team. “It was our goal this season to get out and compete against the best teams and show the country and the world that Army soldiers have hobbies and we are able to pursue them while serving our country. HOA provided us that opportunity to continue that.”
- “A lot of the competitions we have gone to are just solely about winning,” said Sergeant Jacob Pfaff of the Army Warrior Fitness Team. “HOA is unique in that it’s about the community just as much as it is about the leaderboard and the podium. That’s what we on the Warrior Fitness Team want to show people that we are about the community, not just protecting and serving it but also a part of the growth of the sport.”
- “HOA is a true, community-based event,” said Stevens. “It’s put together and run with love, which is what the world really needs right now. I’ve been a part of this competition since 2012 and will continue to be a part of it as it grows.”