Valerie Voboril: Grinding It Out for the USA

We’ve all been there. You game-plan your WOD. You practice and train the movements and you feel prepared to train or compete. But then, for some reason, things don’t go your way. Whether it’s physical,
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CrossFit Valerie Voboril

We’ve all been there.

You game-plan your WOD. You practice and train the movements and you feel prepared to train or compete. But then, for some reason, things don’t go your way. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, there are times when we just get crushed by a workout. At times it can happen in local competitions, and I’ve also seen it happen at the Regional and Games level, as well.

On October 26th, I, like thousands of others grinders around the globe, sat glued to my web feed to watch the CrossFit Invitational being broadcast live from Germany. It was a one-day, multiple-event team competition, compressed into a 75-minute broadcast. It was billed as an “us versus them” competition in which the best the world would go up against the best that the USA had to offer.

What’s not to like?

Team USA was favored going into this event, having all three of the top males from the 2013 CrossFit Games and two of the three top female finishers as well. This line-up, combined with the fact that the United States won a similar event the previous year, had all signs pointing a repeat of 2012’s triumph over Team Europe.

But things did not go as planned, and Team World edged Team USA for the victory.

Among the women selected was the woman who finished in third place at this year’s Games, Valerie Voboril. She’s a scrappy competitor who held on to her spot on the podium in California last summer to earn a CrossFit bronze and also a spot with the U.S. team picked to conquer the world.

But like so many of us in CrossFit, Voboril’s part of the competition didn’t go as planned.

I had a chance to speak with her (now home to her daughter and teaching job) about her experiences and asked her to share with all of us grinders what it was like for an athlete of her accomplishments and notoriety to struggle on such a public stage.

What was the most difficult part for you during the Invitational?

Physically the challenge was that this is my off-season. I train, but not at the same intensity or volume as before the Games, and nursing some nagging injuries meant that I had avoided certain movements (pull-ups, muscle-ups). I had and still have a rib out and tendinitis in my elbow from training and carrying my daughter. Mentally it was challenging to be away from my family and my comfort zone. I realize now that I am such a homebody. My family is a huge support system and sense of inspiration and motivation. I wasn't able to talk with them every day.

Was there a major difference between this team experience and what you’ve done as an individual at the Games?

Mentally it's a whole different ball game when you are on a team. I didn't participate in many team sports as a kid, and when I did, the pressure was unbelievable. For me, the mental pressure of competing as a team was really stressful. I changed the way I competed because I felt I was supposed to step up my game and I didn't want to let anyone down. I felt like I let myself and my team down by not sticking to what I know about myself. I’m like the turtle in the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady, persistent.

As I watched you do your thing, I noticed that you were struggling at times with some of the movements (weighted box over burpees, pull-ups, the worm, etc.). What was it like for you in those moments?

I didn't stick to previously tried-and-true Val methods. I tried to go out too fast and too hard. That hurt me because I've not had to break up 30 pull-ups, let alone struggle to jump to the bar. After “Jackie,” I was struggling to stand and was so dizzy. I haven't felt that awful after a workout since the 2009 Games. The super-short rest time before Event Two left me unrecovered and still shaky. Sam Briggs said it best in an interview after the Invitational: After Jackie, everything felt so much heavier! At practice, the weighted box over burpees were manageable. After Jackie they were excruciatingly heavy and hard to control. I still didn't have my legs back.

What kinds of mental games/motivation do you reach for during those times when it gets tough and maybe isn't going the way you wanted it to go?

When the going got tough on the weighted box over burpees, I really struggled to hold it together. I cried and wasn't sure I could push through it. [Lindsey] Valenzuela reminded me that we'd been through much worse at SEALFit and to get it together. After that I just tried to remind myself that at the end of all this I wanted to know that I had given it my very best.

On the final workout, you were on the bar with Ben Smith when Team World was crossing the finish line. You could have easily put the bar down and walked away because it was over, but you didn't. Watching you gut it out was very inspirational to me and thousands of people around the world. Can you talk about what you were experiencing in that moment?

I didn't want to put the bar down because it wasn't the example I wanted to set. I wanted to set an example of perseverance, not giving up, and sticking with something and seeing it through to the end. I think about my family, my daughter and my students and what kind of role model I want to be and what kind of message my actions communicate. Afterwards with the team backstage, some team members were visibly upset and angry about the loss. No one likes to lose, especially a team of top individual CrossFit athletes who are used to coming out on top. Some handled it with more grace than others.

What has the support and reaction been like since you got back from Germany?

Some of the most wonderful reactions have been those of love and support — people acknowledging the perseverance and effort on my part as well as admiration for me as a whole unit without judgment of this one event. My friend and fellow CrossFit Games competitor, Cheryl Brost, said it well: “I can't think of a more appropriate person to represent Team USA!!! You fought hard even with diversity heavy in your side! You displayed the Heart of a Champion!!! Full effort is full victory!!!!”

Between your finish at the Games and gutsy finish at the Invitational, you have become a role model for people like me who balance teaching, training and being parents. How do you feel about that role and who inspires you to keep doing that you do?

Thank you for the kind words. I am honored to try to fulfill that role. I am definitely inspired by my family and daughter who love me no matter what, my students whose parents frequently let me know how I inspire their children, and my wonderful CrossFit extended family and fans who send me wonderful letters, words of kindness, and who I share so many real life connections with. At times I feel overwhelmed, but most the time I am incredibly grateful!

We are all grateful that there are athletes and role models like Voboril out there to inspire the grinders of the world to stay in the fight to the end and finish what we have started.

Stay on the grind.

— Jamie Toland (JTol)
@JTolgrinder