Bethany Flores, The Comeback Kid

June 8, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Enrique Villaseñor @evillmediasports
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It has been a roller coaster for Bethany Shadburne over the past 2-3 years. First, she married, tying the knot with Randy Flores, a strength and conditioning coach for the LA Lakers. Now proudly a Flores, Bethany plans to rock the name on her competition jerseys moving forward. 

Beyond her personal life, Bethany has lived some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in CrossFit since 2021, culminating this season with her 6th qualification for the CrossFit Games after a 5th place finish at the NA West Semifinal. With a changed perspective regarding training and competition, Flores is refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on Madison.

Remind me: Leading up to the 2021 CrossFit Games, there was a lot of watercooler chat about Flores, along with her training partner at the time, Kari Pearce, to be one of the United States women’s best chances to podium. And then COVID happened.

  • Flores explains:  “I was so sick. We all got out there to Madison on Friday night and the next day trained light. But by the end of the training session, I knew something was wrong. The last thing we did was a 20-minute jog, super light. And I’ve never walked during any run. And I was walking.” 
  • “At that point, I didn’t feel bad; I just thought it was nerves. I returned to the hotel, went to bed, and woke up in the middle of the night with body aches, chills, and a bad headache. You know, all the symptoms that you would get with COVID.”
  • “I thought it was a dream. I woke up, and I was like, this isn’t happening. I’m going to take some Advil, I’ll wake up, and I’ll be fine in the morning. That was not the case; I woke up the next day and felt even worse. And I could like barely stand.” 
  • I just looked at Justin, and I was like, I can’t work out today, I can’t. I feel awful. So I just slept in the car while everybody trained. The next day was Monday when we got tested for COVID, and it came back positive.”

Although devastated to be unable to compete, the results made Flores feel something else. Relief.

  • “It was kind of like the silver lining. It was kind of a sense of relief. Because at that point, I didn’t know if I could compete because of how I felt. And for it to come back as COVID, I think people understood that more. She’s not scared to compete; she’s really sick,” she said.

So Bethany slept. For four days. Straight through the entire CrossFit Games. It wasn’t until she got home from Madison and watched the playback of the Games on YouTube that it began to sink in.

  • Flores: “I have a pretty religious background, so for me, I was just like, this isn’t happening for nothing–it is happening for a reason. And I just kept returning to the fact that I was prepared for a storm to hit. No one ever wants a storm to hit, but what are you going to do? No one’s immune to things happening, so it’s always a decision how you want to handle it.”

And so, she decided on how to handle it. But the hard part wasn’t over yet. After losing her taste and smell for six weeks, and being truly beat down by COVID, Flores made what she calls a rookie mistake. 

She decided to train for Wodapalooza and just jumped right into the level of training that her partners around her were already at. Those partners that had not been wrecked by sickness. This started Flores off on a domino effect of injuries. She had a high ankle sprain, and nerve damage in her neck, causing tingling down her fingers, and then her back went out.

She was desperately searching for an answer through frustration.

  •  “It was about eight weeks before Wodapalooza. And I was just like; I don’t know what to do. I looked at Justin and said, I’m supposed to feel healthy right now. Why? Why is this happening? Why do I feel this way? Why did this stuff happen to me?”

At the time, Flores was still training in Vegas. Her then fiancé was living in Los Angeles, and since Flores couldn’t really train, she took off to California for two weeks to seek support from her number-one cheerleader and recenter herself.

  • “I had a lot of epiphanies. I was putting a lot of unnecessary volume into my body. And I think that’s why it continued to break down. And it led to a lot of epiphanies with my back, too; there’s a reason why it’s chronic pain; I’ve had back issues since I was 12. So, this isn’t anything new; this is an ongoing issue.” 
  • “It goes out on me every year, so there’s got to be more of a connection, right? Like something that I’m doing that’s causing this to continue to happen. I had really looked inward, taking ownership of some stuff. If I want longevity in the sport, I have to change some stuff up.”

She was on the brink of a breakthrough but had to push it down because Wodapalooza was six weeks away, and she felt nowhere near prepared to get back out on the competition floor.

  • “So, I put my head back down and ignored all those thoughts. And luckily, my back kind of just let off its grip, and I could train for six weeks, which definitely wasn’t enough time.” 
  • “January 2022 at Wodapalooza was the first competition ever where I did not want to be on the floor, and I just wanted to quit the entire time. And it was awful. I was crying before each day because I didn’t understand why I felt that way.” 
  • “And I love competing; It’s my favorite place to be–I feel the most at home on the floor. But it was the first time in my whole athletic career, ever since I was five, where I didn’t want to be on the floor. I hated every second of it. And so, I honestly thought that after Wodapalooza that I was done, that my career was kind of just over.”

Bethany’s body didn’t help to prove her mind wrong. Her back was in a constant state of pain heading into the Open that year.

  • “My back went out on me three times and I had zero consistent training. I would be on a week, off two weeks. We did the open announcement, and I did not want to do that–I wasn’t in shape, and I didn’t feel good. It was not a great showing for me, and I felt terrible the entire time. I just wanted to quit during the entire workout, and I wasn’t having fun.”

The first workout in Quarterfinals was enough to seal the deal for Flores that year. Her back went out again. 

  • “But I think there is this part of me that needed it to happen because of how I felt internally. I was burnt out and not having fun. Not mentally prepared for the season and definitely not physically prepared for the season.” 
  • “And so, I went out during the total in the first workout. And I thought, there goes my season – I’m going to be out for two years now from CrossFit. I was in such a bad headspace mentally that I’m kind of glad it happened, but it was scary because this is my livelihood. This is how I make money.” 

The big picture: After pulling out completely from the 2022 season, everything finally started to change.

  • “I think for a while, I was kind of stuck in this mindset. You get into a victim mindset of ‘Why is this stuff happening to me.’ But then there was also this other part of me that needed the break. And so, I really took off away from the CrossFit gym for a long time because I physically couldn’t do anything.”
  • “At the same time, I continued this journey that I’ve been on since 2019, which is personal growth, working on the mental part and my side of the journey, and the storm. And the controllable, basically. Sometime in the fall, I just realized, okay, if I want to continue to have longevity in the sport, I’m going to have to do some stuff differently. Take some risks because I wanted to quit last year, and I always told myself that when I’m not having fun competing, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Her husband helped Bethany with the clarity she needed.

  •  “My husband reminded me that you never want to make a big life decision when you’re in pain or when things are going wrong. And so I got to that point sometime during last year. I’m not exactly sure when but I was like, I owe it to myself. And I need to respect myself enough to see this through to the other side. And when things are going well for me, then I can choose if I’m done or not.”

The change took time to embrace. Flores learned to trust her body, to know that it will remember what to do when it is called upon. She knew she had to attack competing in a different way. 

  •  “I mean, what is the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And that’s what I was doing. Every single year, I was doing the same exact thing and hoping for better results. I think going through the last two years and getting to the bottom of myself helped me realize that I was the definition of insanity.”

The end of the insanity: Flores knew going into the weekend at the North America West Semifinal mindset was everything. Physically she was feeling solid after working with a new doctor for about six months who was giving her different protocols that seemed to be starting to solve her problems instead of putting a band-aid on them. 

The protocols worked, and she finished the first day of the competition with a 5th place and a 16th place, and the eyes of the community back on her once again. Her smile all weekend was huge–it was clear that she was having fun again.

  • Flores: “After the weekend at Semis, I definitely have more faith in my back and my body. And I think this year was the first year where I feel like I can have healing over my back. I really feel that way for the first time. I’ve always been a victim of it and allowed it to control me and control my thoughts. And it’s really gotten me into some bad headspace. And this is the first year where I feel like I’m conquering that headspace and not allowing it to control me.”

The best part of the journey back to the Games for Flores is the happiness and contentment she has found within herself. There have been so many layers of wins, even in Semifinals weekend.

  • “But this year alone, I found joy in the gym again. That was redemption in itself. I found a way to have joy in training. And I didn’t have that last year. And that was a huge win. I wanted to be able to celebrate myself at the end of the weekend and just control the controllable.”

What comes next: Flores is excited to continue her physical, mental, and emotional recovery as she preps for Madison. And her goal for the Games? She thinks big picture now.

  • “It’s so much more important… that stuff goes away. Yeah, placements, money, etc., no one remembers that stuff. It’s a worldly want, right? And it’s okay to want! But it must be so much more than that. There has to be a deeper meaning for you and a reason why you’re doing this stuff, or you’ll burn out. And I experienced that last year. And honestly, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise because I feel like a lot of people this year, are starting to come out with that. One of my best friends said the theme this year for me is God can do a lot with a little. And I did a lot with my little this year.”

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