CrossFit Games

Games Veterans Prep for 2021 Season At The Fittest Experience

January 28, 2021 by
Image - Nic Johnston
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Most CrossFit Games athletes have been waiting close to a year for a live, in-person competition. This weekend a handful of those athletes will get the chance to knock those competition cobwebs off at The Fittest Experience in Taylor, TX.

Why it matters: With the start of the 2021 Open just six weeks away The Fittest Experience (or TFX) is an opportunity for athletes to test their fitness on the competition floor against others. This will allow them to establish a baseline and formulate a plan when it comes to training heading into the upcoming season, especially with so many questions regarding the qualifying process after the Open. The two-day TFX essentially becomes what preseason games are for other sports like basketball, baseball and football.

A labor of love: Event organizer Jeremy Thiel, recognized the shortage of live, in-person events and was keen on continuing his popular competition this year. However he stressed he wanted to do it safely and within the lawful guidance of national, state and city mandates in regards to COVID-19 restrictions. 

  • Working with officials from those entities he was able to continue one of the longest-running competitions in the world, playing host to their 13th-straight year. 
  • A total of 625 athletes competing in 30 different divisions will converge in the 76,000 square foot Williamson County Expo Center in Taylor, TX. 
  • At stake is a prize purse of $25,000 that will payout to the podium finishers for 12 of the divisions including $4,000 to the winners of the Pro men’s, women’s and team divisions.
  • Thiel was able to secure sponsors including the Army Warrior Fitness Team and many local Texas businesses to make the event possible.
  • The Buttery Bros will also make an appearance, hosting a pancake breakfast on Saturday, January 30.
  • Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Thiel had to cut the number of competing athletes in each division dramatically with the Pro men’s and women’s divisions only having 11 competitors each.
  • Only 1,400 spectators are allowed to attend each day and must also adhere to the mandates regarding social distancing and mask-wearing.

A long-time coming: Among those 22 total Pro athletes are eight who have competed at the Games as either an individual or on a team. We reached out to a few of them to ask why they chose TFX?

  • Danielle Brandon (Two-time Games individual athlete): “I actually didn’t know about the event until my roommate told me she was going to compete on a team, so I reached out to compete as an individual! It’s a two day event and the events looked fun so I thought it would be a good, lighter volume competition especially with where we’re at in the season and the Open coming up.”
  • Christine Kolenbrander (Two-time Games team athlete): “The week before signing up for the qualifier I was telling Jared (Wayne Stevens) that since it’s been so long since I’ve competed individually that I would like to do something before the competition season starts just to dip my feet in the water again. So for me, this event is all about gaining experience, getting back out there, getting the nerves out, and just remembering what it’s like to compete individually before the actual season starts this spring.”
  • Travis Williams (Six-time Games qualifier): “This is my 6th year competing at TFX. It’s always a really fun, heavy-based competition that favors me, so obviously I have to come compete.”
  • Paige Semenza (Three-time Games qualifier): “Ultimately, I’m looking to have some fun and see where my fitness is. I wanted to get something under my feet to gain momentum heading into the 2021 season. The Fittest just so happened to be a good fit based on the timeline. Plus, there is a great group of competitors heading down which always makes for a good time!”
  • Michelle Suozzi (Three-time Games qualifier for Masters Division 40-44): “I chose the Fittest because it kicks off the New Year getting my competition blood flowing for this coming season. I wanted to see if I could qualify in RX versus competing Masters. And I ended up qualifying second in the Pro Division. So now I’m using this as part of my training to prepare me for the Open and Age Group Qualifier.”

Warming up for the 2021 season: The athletes have taken the same approach in how they are using this live competition.

  • Brandon: “I am training through this competition because it wasn’t super planned out in regards to the season. But after this competition it will be all Open focused and no more traveling.
  • Suozzi: “This event fits in perfectly for 2021 games season. It’ll put where my fitness is right now to the test. Giving me several months to prepare for the Games and identifying what I still need to work on, especially against the young athletes. It’ll really put me to the test.”
  • Williams: “This is the first step for my 2021 games season. Training started in January and I’ll celebrate Sunday night and Monday all day, then I’ll go right back to training and dieting all the way through the Open.”
  • Semenza: “I’m looking to use this as momentum into the 2021 season. I want to get the jitters out and remind myself of what I love to do! I’ve been itchin’ to get my feet wet again and compete! The roster this weekend is also nothing short of fierce, and I’m excited to compete and push hard alongside these ladies.”
  • Jacob Pfaff (Two-time Regionals athlete, member of the Army Warrior Fitness Team): “It’s perfect now that the Open has been pushed back another month. It hasn’t interrupted any training for the Open. It’ll be good to see where some people are at going into the Open and maybe I can adjust some training and see where I’m weak at.”

The bottomline: 2020 Games athletes Andrea Nisler and Roy Gamboa along with Carrie Beamer (2019 Games) and Mitchel Stevenson (2018 Games) round out the Games athletes in the individual divisions that have all the competitors excited to get on the competition floor. The level of athletes and competition at TFX should be a good litmus test for them and give them all an idea of how the last year has affected their fitness both mentally and physically as well as what they need to improve on and sustain for the upcoming season.

  • Brandon: “I am excited but also super anxious to be back out on the competition floor! I haven’t competed alongside someone in a long time so I’m excited to feel the adrenaline and compete!”
  • Williams: “I’m fired up to go do a live event. It’s been a really boring year.”
  • Semenza: “Have you ever left your dog at home to go on a long vacation (or even just one day, really) and they greet you with so much excitement when you get home!? I’d say it’s pretty close to that, if not more.”

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