Passion and Excitement Help Gear James Sprague Up for the CrossFit Games
In a now long-buried video on FaceBook from check-in at the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games, 14-15 division competitors Tudor Magda and James Sprague stand dutifully (if awkward and tense) while an interviewer asks them questions. Both smaller and more scraggly, the boys–then training partners–described their check-in experience, the gear they received, and their backgrounds in the sport. When asked what he was most excited about during his first-ever Games appearance, Sprague replied,
“Run Swim Run. . . everything, actually! Everything is gonna be so fun!”
Six years later, Sprague is experiencing another first: the individual division.
The extroverted, jovial 15-year-old that showed up to the 2017 Games in his father’s shoes is a far cry from the Sprague that punched his first ticket as an individual at the North America East Semifinal. He’s taller and stronger, for one. He’s moved across the country, from his home state of Washington to Naples, Florida to train with the Brute Strength crew.
One thing hasn’t changed much over all the years: Sprague’s enthusiasm.
Happy to train, compete, encourage, and speak on his love for the sport, Sprague is a true representative of CrossFit. Now, he’s gearing up for his first individual appearance at the Games, after qualifying through the North America East Semifinal. Sprague highly prioritizes balance and making sure his mental health is where it needs to be right along with his physical health, so after taking a week off to go home to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and “reset,” he’s back in Naples to focus solely on being “CrossFit James.”
- “It’s a lot of learning, how to be 100% all-in for every aspect,” Sprague said on the transition from Semifinals to Games training. “Not taking any moment for granted and taking advantage of every part of the day. Everything revolves around the Games now.”
Of course, Sprague has trained for the CrossFit Games before. He competed as a teenager in 2017 (14-15 division) and 2019 (16-17 division), where he placed fourth and fifth respectively. However, Sprague says that with nearly double the events, volume, and time competing as the younger division, he’s training double the time.
Luckily, he says the training environment at the Brute Strength camp has made going all in as easy as possible.
- “It’s so surreal, I think, to train with the four other best complementary CrossFit athletes I could have in my corner (. . . ) I’ve learned so much from all of them, and it’s the dream team honestly,” Sprague said of training partners Emma Cary, Fee Saghafi, Dallin Pepper, and Danielle Brandon.
Another integral part of the Brute team is coach Matt Torres.
- Sprague: “(Matt) really knows how to keep me calm, he knows the right time to put the right things in, and he understands his athletes really well. Just being able to see me as a person is super important because he can make changes on the fly, he understands what’s happening in that present moment to make sure I’m doing my best.”
When it comes to his game plan during competition, Sprague stays consistent: it’s all about maximization. Getting the most out of the experience, for sure, but also making sure that he grabs every single point available to him. At Semifinals, this meant intentionally not looking to the events left ahead of him (or the events already passed, for that matter) and instead only focusing on what was directly in front of him.
At Semifinals, this plan ended up panning out. Sprague took 11th in Orlando and secured his trip to Madison. After all the years of sacrifice, commitment, and passion he’s poured into the sport, he says it felt like a dream come true hearing his name announced as one of the 12 men headed to the Games.
- Sprague: “It’s something you dream about all year, and honestly since I started CrossFit I’ve dreamed about that moment. Your first CrossFit Games qualification and the people you most remember seeing in that moment (. . . ) It felt surreal.”
Sprague says that for Semifinals, he had high expectations for himself. After just barely missing the Games in 2022, Sprague had something to prove to himself, and left room for no errors this time around. So when he did meet his goal of qualifying, it wasn’t a surprise. More of a “yes, we did it,” he says.
His goals for the Games are different, though. His “number goal,” he says, is to end the weekend in the top 15. While this is a tough ask for any rookie, Sprague knows that his best events are yet to be seen–odd objects, long timeframes, outdoor running, rowing, and swimming all work in his favor. As far as a more qualitative goal, Sprague is set on putting forth 100% effort throughout the entire competition, push through every workout and leave nothing on the floor. If he accomplishes this, he knows he will be satisfied.
With so much of his life already being dedicated largely to the sport, Sprague says he’s had to put a large emphasis on balance, having a level head, and preventing burnout. His life, at least on a basic level, is almost completely surrounded by CrossFit. That’s the only downside of moving to Naples, he says. It was solely a CrossFit decision. But he’s found one way that helps to keep him grounded.
- “Having a level head and understanding that CrossFit isn’t everything (really helps). I don’t put my identity into the sport and I think there can be a lot of danger in doing that, so the confidence that I’m James without CrossFit or James without CrossFit is a huge thing for me,” Sprague said. “Walking into a training environment like, ‘hey, I’m going to work hard and I love what I get to do, and I’m so excited that I feel called to do this right now’ rather than be like, ‘this is who I am,’ this is just something I pour my passion into.”
That passion has brought Sprague all the way from when he started (when he says he first found a passion and motivation for anything) to being one of the top 40 men in the world in the sport. And while he isn’t as awkward and is definitely more well spoken than he was when he first saw his name on a CrossFit Games jersey in 2017, that excitement and passion for the sport still remains.
And, as he said in that 2017 video,
- “I’ll be back,” Sprague said. “First year of many.”