A Burger and a Beer: Kelly Baker’s CrossFit Games
If you ask spectators what they remember about Saturday night in the Coliseum at the 2023 CrossFit Games, the first things that come to mind are, no doubt, the big lifts–Jack Farlow, Laura Horvath, and more.
But a memory that also sneaks in is the easygoing interview with Kelly Baker and learning the power of “a burger and a beer.”
Remind me: Kelly Baker squeaked into the 2023 CrossFit Games, pulling off a tenth-place finish at the NA West Semifinal, beating veteran Dani Speegle by two points. It wasn’t the weekend she was hoping for.
- “I didn’t have as great of a Semifinal showing, and I had a little bit of doubt in myself going into the Games. And before going into Semifinals, I had such confidence. I had a great offseason, with the Open and Quarterfinals. But then I just didn’t feel like myself at all at Semifinals.”
Even though she was in the last spot qualifying, it still meant a ticket to the CrossFit Games, and Baker settled in to prepare. But the Semifinal experience gave Baker a different mindset heading to Madison.
- “My whole mindset going into Games was okay, I’m just going to go there and make sure I’m just enjoying myself because I felt so off at Semifinals; I didn’t really enjoy myself, and I was kind of wishing the weekend away. So going into the Games, I felt like I didn’t really know how I was stacking up against some of these girls.”
Some (behind-the-scenes) details: Baker was almost apprehensive as the weekend kicked off.
- “For instance, I just stayed in my lane for the bike ride–I was timid to go with the top group. I felt like that’s how the first two days really went for me. I was just kind of playing it safe, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be in the top group.”
The rookie nerves were alive and well for Baker, which led to four finishes outside the top 25 in the first six tests.
- “Yeah, I’m sure every girl, even the best of them, still has a part of it. It’s like, I don’t know how I will stack up right now. It takes a little bit to step back and remind yourself that these girls didn’t do anything much different than what I did. I also trained six to eight hours every day, dialed in my nutrition, and I gave up a lot to be here. And I think it’s always easy to think they must be doing something more. And I think it’s just like the human body trying to protect itself.”
But she knew it wasn’t her physical abilities holding her back.
- “I realized the only thing holding me back is what’s between the ears right now. Even on the 5K, I still played it kind of safe. And once I was on my second lap, I thought, alright, I need to start making moves right now. I’m not even tired. What am I doing?”
- “I should have just gone with it and just trusted my fitness. Sometimes it’s hard to trust yourself with the fear of, oh gosh, if I fall flat on my face, this will look bad.”
Early departure: At the end of the tests on Friday night, cuts were made, and the top 30 men and women moved on to Saturday. As she waited for the leaderboard to finalize with her family after “Helena,” Baker knew it would be close. When the leaderboard was finalized, it was as close as possible– it showed Baker in 31st place, and her heart dropped.
- “That definitely was not what I thought this weekend was going to be like, but my family drove 13 hours to come to see me, and my husband’s parents came, and I said to myself, let’s put on a good face for all of them.”
The good face lasted long enough to get herself in the car with her husband, and then the tears came. And Baker wasn’t sure where they came from.
- “It’s not like I was mad at anything or anyone; I wasn’t mad because they had cuts. It just didn’t feel like what I wanted this season to feel like; I couldn’t leave. I felt like I was leaving there with nothing to be proud of, and I didn’t have a good taste in my mouth thinking about this experience. I just felt like this wasn’t how it should end.”
- “We got back to the hotel, and all the emotions kind of almost played a highlight reel in my head of all the things I’d done to get there, and I thought, I can’t believe there are two days left, and I’m just done.”
Plot twist: The Bakers headed to dinner with plans to go to the venue the following day to support the athletes still competing. Baker enjoyed her burger and beer with her husband finally returned to the hotel near 11 PM. She was about to turn in for the night, looked at her phone, and saw an email from CrossFit. Baker initially thought it was an error, and CrossFit had simply forgotten to take her off the email list. But then she read it.
- “It said, ‘congratulations on an amazing first two days. The briefing is tomorrow at 8 AM.’ I was still somewhat frustrated about getting the email, but then I scrolled to the top 30 males, then the top 30 females, and at the bottom was my name. My husband was sleeping, and I started slapping him. I immediately texted Angel, and she texted me back, letting me know Ellie withdrew and that they were sending 30 people along, and I was the 30th spot.”
Saying she was surprised was the understatement of the year.
Newfound freedom: Waking up the following day after crying the night before and not really physically preparing herself to move forward in the competition left Baker unsure of where the day would take her.
Running on pure adrenaline, she realized she had gotten a second chance. And with that second chance came a level of freedom Baker was not used to.
- “I knew I just needed to take advantage of this. I only had one more day, I needed to do something crazy to make it to Sunday, so I might as well just go for it. I was going to have fun with it. Like, even on my lifts, it’s out of character for me to start trying to pump up the crowd, but when else would I be in the Coliseum? During a one-rep max, I’m going to have fun with this. So I think my overall body demeanor was different.”
Baker was playing with house money, and she went all in.
On Saturday, she finished the tests in 8th, 22nd, and 9th and ended up being one spot away from the top 20 and moving on to Sunday.
The “Kelly Baker Rule”?: She didn’t know how close she was until she sat in the stands on Sunday and saw Jamie Simmonds’ empty lane on the floor.
Simmonds was battling an injury from the day before, showed up on Sunday to see if she could compete, and realized the risk was not worth the reward. Since the withdrawal was so close to the start of the competition, Baker was not called up as she had been the previous day.
Baker laughed to herself when she saw the empty lane:
- “It was the running joke to everyone–imagine if someone withdrew again, you would be the undertaker. Like, you can’t kill me. I wish there was a protocol for this; maybe call it the Kelly Baker rule. If you’re going to have cuts, the athlete in 21st or 31st place should attend the briefing. They should be there until the last minute if they want to. They would make it optional to be there, but you would have the chance to step in if it became available.”
Even though she didn’t make it to the final day, the freedom she was given on Saturday was priceless, and Baker has zero regrets.
- “There’s no part that felt like coulda, shoulda, woulda. I’m grateful that I even got the backfill because they could have just said Ellie withdrew, and that’s just how it works; only 29 now move on. But they didn’t. I was just happy that I had another chance.”
Worth noting: By competing on Saturday and improving her placement on the leaderboard, Baker also increased her prize earnings for the week. Had she finished 31st, she would’ve earned $4,500, but in moving up to 21st, she ultimately took home $7,000.