CrossFit Games

Standing Alone, Running Together

July 29, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Kay Weise
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As the women’s field of athletes finish their events, they hug and congratulate each other. But as you look down in lane 1, Danielle Brandon stands alone. She doesn’t get to share in those intimate moments but instead, she waits. She waits for her fellow competitors to get shuttled off the floor and is escorted by a CrossFit Games medical volunteer, at a distance and wearing a mask with hands on her hips, looking into the stands.

Remind me: On Monday morning the community was shocked when podium favorite Bethany Shadburne tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games.

  • Two days later it was announced that her teammate, training partner and fellow podium favorite Kari Pearce also tested positive for COVID-19, hours before the start of the individual competition.
  • Both Shadburne and Pearce are teammates of Brandon on the Underdogs Athletics training camp under the tutelage of Justin Cotler.
  • All three athletes had been sharing an AirBNB in Madison and due to contract tracing, Brandon has been isolated and tested twice daily. Once in the morning, and again before entering the Coliseum.
  • Part of the protocols that the Games medical staff put in place for Brandon includes her competing in a lane a safe distance from her fellow competitors as a precaution just in case she tests positive for the virus. This precaution will stay in effect the length of the Games for Brandon. 
Photo Credit: Athlete’s Eye

Individual Event 3: The 550-yard sprint would be completed in heats with fellow athletes. Because of the close proximity and mass start of the event, Brandon was expected to run the heat alone. Prior to the start of the event, General Manager of Sport Dave Castro asked Brandon’s fellow competitors if any of them wanted to volunteer to run in the heat with Brandon. And in CrossFit’s community fashion, competitors stepped up.

  • Games veterans Thuri Helgadottir, Laura Horvath and Samantha Briggs all stepped up one by one and said “I’ll run with her,” despite making her run alone which would have been an advantage to them.
  • Brandon would eventually win her heat and place 5th overall in the event.
  • After her heat win she was obviously emotional and thanked the athletes in her heat from a distance and behind a mask.
  • As the other athletes left, Castro thanked them for doing that for Brandon, recognizing the act of sisterhood among the group of competitive ladies especially for an athlete who has displayed what her coach Cotler describes, as “survivor’s guilt” as she is allowed to compete while her teammates sit in isolation, their season over.
  • “That display of support and love for a fellow competitor is so special in an extremely difficult and challenging situation,” said Cotler. “It meant so much to Danielle and we are incredibly grateful.”
Photo Credit: Athlete’s Eye

Fighting adversity: The stress that comes with competing in the Games is often overlooked. Add that on top to having your two teammates removed from the competition and you’re left to keep fighting by yourself, all alone, is unimaginable. Cotler said for Brandon though, she’s surviving the adversity and only going to come out of this stronger.

  • “Without question from a pride standpoint, I think she can take so much this weekend. So much has been thrown at her and I know she will endure and it’s going to be huge for her future as an athlete. When she gets through this, nothing will compare to this,” Cotler said.

Brandon sat in fifth at the end of day 1 on the overall leaderboard.

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