CrossFit Games

Steph Chung Gets One Last Shot in Her Final Season, Makes Last Chance Qualifier Despite Elbow Injury

June 10, 2021 by
Credit: NOBULL
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Last weekend, Steph Chung stepped onto the floor as a favorite for a podium position. Nearly three years after her first appearance at the Games in 2018, she was poised for a comeback following two seasons marred with injuries and COVID shutdowns.

One big thing: The weekend for Chung did not go as planned. As she snapped the bar overhead in the snatch event on Friday evening, a weight that would tie her all time PR if she made it, she felt a pop in her elbow.

  • After meeting with her physical therapist and determining that it was safe to continue competing, she went for damage control in the second event of the evening.
  • Despite failing multiple dumbbell thrusters and cleans from the ground, she finished the event and dove her left elbow into the ice bucket for a moment of relief.
Credit: NOBULL

Just keep swimming: Despite being unable to bend her arm Saturday morning, she was determined to see the competition through.

  • After working with her physical therapist to tape her elbow and regain some range of motion, she made it her goal to just complete every event safely.
  • “We took it movement by movement and I was grateful for any chance to continue competing,” she said in an Instagram post thanking her fans for their support this weekend.
  • “Before every event, I questioned whether or not I should withdraw,” she continued.
  • “But I continued, because quitting isn’t in my DNA, and I love competing. It helps me discover my body’s capacity under the toughest circumstances.” she concluded.

A strong finish: By event five, Chung had edged her way back into the final heat with the top athletes.

  • After a sixth and seventh place finish in the final two events, Chung pulled herself into eighth place overall, earning herself a spot at the Last Chance Qualifier next month.
  • “Hearing my name called for a Last Chance Qualifier position was a shock,” she said.
  • “I never thought I’d cry from happiness at the idea of another online competition,” she added.

Shuffling the deck: This wasn’t in Chung’s plan for this season. In fact, going into The Granite Games after a 105th place finish worldwide in the Open and 54th in North America despite a back injury, she was still a favorite to punch her Games ticket.

  • “I wanted to get one of the top five spots. The goal was definitely to get a qualifying spot,” said Chung.
  • “I actually really liked the programming for me, it doesn’t always work like that,” she continued,”
  • Despite battling a back injury in the back half of 2020 and going into 2021, she came into the Granite Games pretty healthy, considering that six months ago, she couldn’t do a burpee.
  • But no matter how healthy an athlete is coming into competition, there’s always the chance for an injury to throw a wrench into their season. 

One last shot: Despite this setback, she has decided to push through and put her all into making it through the last chance qualifiers.

  • Her goal right now though? Get her elbow as healthy as she can before diving back into training.
  • “It doesn’t make sense to try and grind through it now with training and be in low level pain for the next four weeks,” Chung said.
  • “I’ll keep doing whatever I can within the realm of being reasonable [with my injury],” she continued.
  • “I have quite a bit of experience training with injury,” Chung said, recounting the various injuries from broken ankles to injured backs that have put roadblocks in her training and competition goals.
  • “It’s a little bit different, because I haven’t had an elbow injury before and because it’s different, it’s a little bit more painful,” she noted about her current injury.
  • However, with just a few weeks until the Last Chance Qualifier event, Chung is more motivated than ever to push through.
  • “It’s always easier to push yourself through something uncomfortable if there’s a short time to the target,” Chung commented, noting that she likely would not be training through this injury if Last Chance Qualifiers weren’t right around the corner.
  • “Doing a little bit of suffering now to earn that spot in the last chance qualifier is worth the pain,” she noted, adding that she definitely does not advise people to push through pain or injury.

The mindset of a champion: For Chung, the next few weeks of training leading into the Last Chance Qualifiers will be some of the most challenging of her career.

  • With so few spots available in the Last Chance (just two men and two women will advance forward to the Games), the stakes are high.
  • “We’ve done so many online qualifiers this year, but this one’s different, because there’s so few spots and so many people who almost qualified for the Games,” Chung said about the pressure to perform in the Last Chance Qualifier.
  • “It’s like The Open, but it has to feel like every workout is all out, because there’s so few spots available for so many really talented athletes,” Chung continued.
  • Despite the high stakes and the enormous amount of pressure to be one of the two athletes who earns a spot through the last chance qualifier, Chung knows that her mind is in the right place.
  • Because this will be her last year competing before she commits full time to Physician’s Assistant school, her drive has risen to a whole new level.
  • “Because of PA school, this season feels like the last chance for me for a while,” Chung said.

Intensity over volume: With full-time Physician’s Assistant school looming on the horizon, being a full-time CrossFit athlete will soon be pushed to the back burner for Chung.

  • Even this year, leading into the Granite Games, she needed to adjust her training schedule to accommodate her new school schedule.
  • Instead of being able to train three to four hours a day, her training sessions were swapped for long days assisting at the hospital and studying for classes.
  • Her new schedule left her with just about 90 minutes per day to get her training in.
  • While an outsider looking in at the transition might assume a drop in her performance, the adjustment in volume actually paid off for Chung.
  • “I’ve always been a middle of the road volume person,” Chung said on her reduction in training volume.
  • “There’s so many ways to skin the cat and it’s just about what works best for you, but I could never do high volume, high intensity all the time,” she continued.
  • “It was always a little bit more difficult when I had two sessions a day, because it was in the back of my head that I had something later that day, so it made it hard to go all out on what I was doing in the moment,” she said.
  • “I think if I could take those breaks off and do that multiple times a day, I would certainly be fitter,” she added.
  • “But one shorter session, that’s what gets me that dose of intensity,” she noted.
  • “The popular opinion has always been that you had to train twice a day and be a full time athlete [to compete at the highest level],” Chung commented.
  • “But the best thing about CrossFit is that it’s a great workout in very little time so long as you can commit the energy and intensity to it and send it,” she concluded.

The future of the comeback kid: As she transitions into a new phase of her life, Chung hopes to continue to stay an active member of the CrossFit community.

  • “I think I’ll always do CrossFit, because I love the style of training,” she said. It will always have a place in my fitness routine,”
  • “CrossFit is great, because you never really have to age out. In gymnastics, there was always an endpoint in sight of when you had to stop competing,”
  • “In CrossFit, I could take 5 years off and come back and compete as a masters athlete,” she said, hinting at a potential future as a masters competitor.
  • “I also love the community,” she said, commenting on her recent role in kickstarting the Professional Fitness Athlete Association with fellow Games athletes.
  • “I hope to have some hand in that. Whether I take a few years off and come back to it later or continue to work on it, it’s something I believe in really strongly and I want to continue to contribute to that,” Chung said.

The big picture: On June 28th, Steph Chung will begin down her final road to the CrossFit Games in the Last Chance Qualifier, competing amongst the other elite athletes who barely missed their shot to qualify for the CrossFit Games. Whether or not she makes the Games this year, there is no doubt that Chung has had a profound impact on the CrossFit community from her work in the PFAA to the inspiration she has brought to those who look up to her. 

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