CrossFit Games

A Bad Back Wasn’t Enough To Stop Semenza From Qualifying For Her Fifth Ever CrossFit Games

June 13, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi @avakitzi
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Stoic. Steady. Solid.  These are the adjectives that come to mind for Games athlete Paige Semenza.

Given the Misfit Athlete’s demeanor, it should come as no surprise that if Semenza was struggling with an injury, her fans and competitors would never know. 

As it goes, her disposition during the North America East Semifinal wasn’t the tip off that she wasn’t 100-percent. Her uncharacteristically tight-margin finish during the event, however, was. 

The short of it: At the end of the weekend, there were just 3 points separating Semenza (386) from Anikha Greer (383). 

In a sport where milliseconds matter, 3 points was just enough to clinch Semenza the 11th qualifying spot in the North America East Semifinal. 

For frame of reference: While the field was 30 women more shallow in the 2022 Semifinals, Semenza easily came in third at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal. 

Further, last year she also finished all 6 of the tests in 8th place or better, while this year she finished just one test—Linda—inside the 10 top. 

Test 116thCap + 4
Test 2 29th22 Reps
Test 35th12:52.99
Test 4 13th190 lbs
Test 5 25th3:47.30
Test 6 17th13:46.45
Test 7 21st4:46.11

What gives: The issue? An injury. The injury? Back-related. 

  • “I didn’t have any imaging done, but ultimately I think it was a disc issue in my back,” Semenza told the Morning Chalk Up. “I knew as soon as I pulled the barbell off the bar.”

The collegiate hockey player (go Bucks!) turned competitive CrossFit athlete has successfully navigated a finicky back for years. 

Every now and then the old injury will make a re-appearance after pulling something heavy off the ground, she says. But with the help of physical therapy, other recovery protocols, and training tweaks, she returns to her healthy self in one week… maybe two. 

As the athlete—now 31—gets older, however, it takes longer and longer. “It can take 4 to 5 weeks now,” she says. 

North America East Semifinals took place 5 weeks after her most recent back-attack. 

While Semenza was physically on the mend by the time Orlando rolled around, she’d lost out on nearly a month of traditional Semifinals training. 

Most notably, she missed hell week, which is MisFit Athletics speak for ‘peak training week’. 

“[Not hitting hell week] leaves a lot of doubt in your head around if you’re going to be ready,” she says. 

Semenza, of course, didn’t sit on the sidelines twiddling her thumbs while the bulge (ahem) de-bulged. With the help of her coach Gabe Garcia, she continued training around the injury. 

  • “We communicated a lot about how to bring intensity into my training, while avoiding anything that could aggravate my back,” she says. 

And to be clear: A lot could aggravate her back. “At one point a few weeks ago, even just bending down to put on my socks hurt,” she says. 

Thankfully, by the time the tests were released, she was 90% healed. 

Taking on the tests: With a max snatch event, volume deadlift event, heavy ruck event, and event featuring a heavy sandbag carry, the 2023 Semifinal workouts certainly are not friendly to back injuries. 

Still, Semenza was able to test most of them ahead of time. 

  • “I knew if I didn’t test the waters ahead of the event, I would be going into the Semifinals weekend with a lot of unknowns,” she says. 

The two tests she didn’t trial-run ahead of time were tests 4 and 5. 

Notably, Test 4 was her second-best finish of the weekend. 

  • “Obviously girls are hitting 200+ pound snatches these days, but hitting 190 pounds was a huge win for me,” she says. 

Getting it done: Despite a deadlift that interrupted Semifinals training, Semenza was able to achieve her goal going into the weekend: Qualify for her 5th ever CrossFit Games. 
“It took a lot of communication, changes in programming, and help from my body work team, but ultimately we did what we set out to do,” she says.

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