It was 2013 and CrossFit Maven’s first Regional appearance. Though the affiliate had been open for less than a year, it took 11th in the Open, and the team had its sights set on the podium.
The rookie team started the weekend with a veteran team’s rank, taking first place in the opening act, “Jackie” in pairs. But then came the rings.
While Maven’s men worked to establish a three-rep max overhead squat, the women struggled through a seven-minute AMRAP of burpee muscle-ups. The minimum work requirement was six reps per gender, each athlete working in sets of three. Teammates could not rotate until the working athlete had finished his or her third rep.
For seven minutes, Maven’s women kipped wildly, arching their backs as they fought to press out. But when the clock ran out, they had not met the six-rep minimum, and just hours after celebrating its first event win, Team Maven found themselves packing their bags, two scores and a DNF to their name.
“Our team was extremely young and very new to CrossFit,” said Brad Berlin, affiliate owner and Maven team captain. “Things just came unglued on the (third event), and they sent us home.”
But “maven” is derived from the Hebrew word mebhin, meaning “one who understands,” and these Mavens weren’t ones to shirk a lesson. By 2014, one of the same women who had struggled with muscle-ups the year prior was sent to do the most work in Event 1’s descending ladder of muscle-ups and clean-and-jerks.
Still, even in 2014, the team was made of more fresh meat than not, with two of its top athletes forced to back out of the competition because of injury and pregnancy. Though their replacements had the physical strength and skill to compete, the big stage and screaming fans at Fifth Third Arena at the University of Cincinnati proved unnerving to the new competitors. One male missed his conservative opener of 135 pounds in Event 2, a one-rep max hang snatch, and was forced to repeat the lift at the same weight. Two minutes later, the team’s top handstand walkers ate dirt, unexpectedly falling heels over head just 11 feet in.
“The wheels just came off,” Berlin recounted.
CrossFit Maven went on to take 20th overall with five top-20 finishes at the regional last year, including a tie for seventh in Event 6, where they showcased their strict handstand push-up skills.
According to a fellow affiliate owner and friend of Berlin’s, the Regional competition had just grown too tough. It was over for small-fry affiliates like Maven, the friend said.
“When he said that, it was really all the motivation I needed for the year,” Berlin said.
“My brother and I have chosen to spend every minute and dollar we could have spent on advertising serving our members, and the consequence is that we’ve had some members get extremely good at CrossFit,” he continued.
Part of getting good at CrossFit meant getting used to competing under pressure.
“All year long, I’ve encouraged these athletes to compete in as many competitions as possible,” Berlin said. “Not only in [fitness] but in weightlifting, powerlifting and other sports, as well.”
The efforts have paid off with podium finishes at many local fitness competitions, including the 2014 Pure Michigan Invitational, where four out of six of the team’s 2015 Regional roster took top-five spots in August. The team also focused on building a sense of mental calm, something that Berlin says comes from trust in one another.
“So much of it comes from shared confidence in the team,” he said. “When the team is all on the same page and just cohesive with each other and respectful of each other, you have a ton more confidence in your teammates, and ultimately I think that gives you a lot more confidence with yourself.”
To build trust, Berlin models vulnerability by sharing his own struggles and weaknesses with his athletes.
“Me communicating really openly with the team … has allowed everyone else on the team to feel comfortable with communicating,” he said. “Because of it, this year, we’re all really good friends.”
Berlin believes their friendship will serve as an advantage when the team hits the floor in less than a week for its third Regional appearance, in Minneapolis.
“There [are] lots of good athletes on lots of good teams out there, but if they don’t interact well as a team, just like us in past years, it doesn’t matter how good someone is as an individual,” he said. “You could have a 600-pound deadlift, but if you can’t time [it] with your partner, your strength is totally nullified.”
And whether or not this is the year the Mavens make it to the Games, Berlin says the work has been worth it.
“I think this is the first year we’re going to go to Regionals and compete,” he said. “In the past, we made it there and it was cool to make it, but this year, we’ve made it and we’re going to compete with everyone there … there’s nothing this year that we’re not prepared for.”