CrossFit Games

“A Tougher Journey Makes a Tougher Person:” David Shorunke on Returning to the CrossFit Games

July 6, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi
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It’s been a while since David Shorunke’s name appeared on a CrossFit Games leaderboard. Three years, to be exact. It’s been even longer since his first appearance at the Games on the team side in 2016. 

And in those years, Shorunke hasn’t had the smoothest relationship with the sport. He’s suffered from a recurring knee injury–one that instigated his withdrawal from the 2020 CrossFit Games–and struggled to align himself with the past values of the company. 

But watching the UK athlete at the European Semifinal, no one would know the bumpy road it took him to get there. It’s clear that Shorunke has turned challenges into resilience and is not just ready to compete but to enjoy the journey. 

His story: We all know what went down in 2020, the first year Shorunke qualified for the Games as an individual athlete. The world shut down due to COVID, and CrossFit was struggling with the “nonsense,” as Shorunke calls it, of Greg Glassman.

  • “It just kind of destroyed the process and the journey of qualifying for the Games… it ended up being months of questioning, ‘Are the Games on? If they are, what’s the format? Do I even want to take part, effectively affiliating myself with this company that doesn’t share the same values as I do?’” Shorunke said.
  • “Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. CrossFit has gone through the steps to resolve the issue, and it’s now a company I’m very happy to affiliate myself with,” he added.
  • “But the ongoing effect… soured the whole experience.”

That, combined with the knee injury that had plagued Shorunke throughout his career, made him want to step away from the sport.

But as Shorunke took time off, his partner and CrossFit Games athlete Emma Tall continued to compete. In 2021, she made it all the way to the Games, Shorunke attending for support.

  • “It was a cool experience to see firsthand. The only experience I had [at the Games] was a team in 2016. To see the individual side and to see… what that experience is like from the inside… even though I’d lost a passion for CrossFit, it peaked my interest,” Shorunke said.

In 2022, he followed and coached Tall at Wodapalooza. This is where he began to remember why he loved CrossFit in the first place: training and competing. 

  • “I realized that I was associating CrossFit with the pain and discomfort of the injury and the sourness of [my last] season and forgetting all the things that I loved [about it].” 

So, that same year, Shorunke jumped back into CrossFit, working up his training to see how his knee would handle competition. After attempting Quarterfinals and realizing that his knee “had enough,” Shorunke had surgery and spent the summer rehabbing and gaining his strength back.

Now, he says, his body feels the best it has in his entire fitness career.

Worth noting: When he took time off from CrossFit, Shorunke focused on strength training. This is part of the reason he believes to feel as fit as he does today–but not because he made huge gains, because he had the opportunity to understand how his body reacts to individual movements.

  • “When you’re training CrossFit, you’re training gymnastics and you’re running, jumping, squatting… but it’s very hard to understand how each thing affects you,” he explained.
  • “When I removed those things and then gradually reintroduced [them], I got to see how my body responded to each of those [movements], which… allowed me to understand… how to manage things like volume, frequency, [and] intensity.” 

The 2023 Season: Though Shorunke says he’s finding this season enjoyable so far, there’s no denying the stress of returning to the competition field after a few years off. 

  • “It’s been enjoyable in terms of getting back into the season… and feeling healthy and knowing I’ve got a solid period of training behind me. The negatives are really associated with the stress and the nerves of not having competed in so long.”
  • “You stress about ‘I haven’t gone up against these guys in so long, how am I going to match up, have I still got what it takes?’”

Acknowledging these stressors, Shorunke went into the European Semifinal with few expectations. Earning 7th place in the competition, he laughed, was a complete surprise. 

  • “I tried not to go in with an expectation of ‘I am going to get a Games spot,’” he said.
  • Smiling, he added, “What I said to Emma was, ‘I’d just be happy to get into the top heat and be in the top 20 over the weekend.”

Plans for Madison: At the Games, Shorunke plans to keep this no-expectations mindset. 

  • “My plan is to enjoy it as much as I can because it’s been a long road,” he said.
  • Having Tall at the Games is a big highlight for Shorunke. Over the past few seasons, the pair have missed the chance to compete with each other due to illness, injuries, and more. Being able to share the competition with her is a massive bonus, he said, noting that it feels almost like competing with a team to have Tall by his side.  

But, even with his return to the field and positive mindset this year, Shorunke doesn’t know what 2024 will bring. 

  • “[I’m thankful for] the obstacles that have stood in my way up to this point. A tougher journey makes a tougher person. I don’t wish it was easy, but it does still take a toll.”
  • “If I can find ways to enjoy the journey more from this point forward, with the comfort and confidence to know what I’ve been doing is working, then I will look ahead to the next season.”

“But at the moment, it’s just [focusing] on the CrossFit Games.”

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