Dave Lipson: “I want to do it for my coach, for my girlfriend and my family.”
In feudal Japan, a ronin was a masterless samurai, a warrior who traveled the land paying his way with his skills as a warrior. Dave Lipson might be the first CrossFit ronin. CrossFit athletes are familiar with big, good-natured Lipson through his many appearances on the main site as well as the website he maintained for a year in 2010 and 2011. The blog, called “365 Days of Squatting,” was erected in memory of CrossFit athlete Amanda Miller. In order to raise money and awareness for the American Melanoma Foundation, Lipson squatted at least 450 pounds every day for one year.
Lipson was introduced to CrossFit in 2008, not long before that year’s Games. He had started a personal-training business in Manhattan after weighing playing another year of professional baseball or taking a job as a strength coach for a Major League Baseball franchise. Lipson had done exactly one CrossFit workout when he heard that the 2008 CrossFit Games were happening in California on the weekend of his birthday. It sounded like a good excuse for a vacation. “There were 30 competitors, and I think I finished 12th that year, literally with no training in CrossFit,” he says. “Funnily enough, that was probably my best placing in the Games. But at that point, it wasn’t ‘The Fittest Man in the World’’ it was more like ‘The Fittest Man in Your Backyard.’”
The next few years were spent immersing himself in CrossFit. He participated in the 2009 Games, became a trainer for CrossFit Headquarters, and moved from the East Coast to Southern California and back again. His nomadic existence had begun, punctuated by massive lifting sessions wherever he could find a barbell and enough weight. In 2010 he found a training partner and kindred soul in strongman and CrossFit Games competitor Rob Orlando. The intensity the two athletes inspired in each other might have been categorized as too much of a good thing. “I think I got a little too strong that year because I was super heavy, like 230 pounds, and I ended up missing qualifying for the Games by one spot,” Lipson says. “That was another experience that showed how the sport continues to evolve. While you could get away with certain things before, the margins of error started to become so slim. Athletes needed to be way more rounded.”
The roaming continued. A short-lived job at the Reebok CrossFit One gym in Massachusetts, a burgeoning relationship with Canadian athlete Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and teaching Level 1 seminars throughout the country all stalled his progress. His sister let him keep a garage gym at her New England home, and box owners all over the country left the door open for him to pull massive amounts of weight in midnight sessions, but the consistency and camaraderie of a regular gym and a dedicated team eluded Lipson until a month before the 2012 Regionals.
The 2012 Season
“There is no sport that is going to challenge you the way that CrossFit does. It will find your weak link and expose you in ways you don’t want to be exposed.” — Dave Lipson
This year, Lipson’s life slowly began to take on some structure. He and Leblanc-Bazinet got engaged and decided to settle down in San Diego, where Lipson took a job coaching at the highly regarded CrossFit Invictus, co-owned by Lipson and Leblanc-Bazinet’s coach C.J. Martin. Lipson placed 9th in the Southern California Open, one of the toughest regions in the world, but he finalized his move to San Diego just a few weeks before Regionals. After months of training by himself, he would have only 30 days with his coach’s eyes on him. “It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Lipson says, days before Regionals. “This past month has been invaluable.”
As for most CrossFit athletes, especially big ones, gymnastics movements tend to be a weak spot for Lipson. He also struggles with longer met-cons; he feels he has more of a sprinter’s engine. The heavier weights favor his strengths, and he spent a lot of the year improving his Olympic lifts before building his work capacity for Regionals. While he is brutally honest about his skill set, he feels that come game day, he has an advantage. “I usually compete a lot better than how I train,” he says. “If I have a shot to nail something down or to move into the lead, I have the ability to take it to a new level.”
It makes sense that the CrossFit ronin would be Zen about the results of the Southern California Regionals. “It was a good weekend for me,” he says. “I competed really hard, but I think the three guys who are going to the Games deserve to go.”
The first day of competition finished on an odd note for Lipson. He had performed reasonably well during the first workout, even though it wasn’t particularly in his wheelhouse. Late Friday night, he noticed that the scoreboard showed him completing Workout 1 with one of the fastest times in the competition. He immediately emailed the head referee to alert him to the error. “It would have been great to get a ticket to go to the Games, but I certainly didn’t want to get it because of a scoring error,” Lipson says. However, his performance was corrected a bit too zealously, and he was given a much slower time than he thought was realistic. He ended the day in the rear of the pack.
Disappointed but not dejected, he rampaged back in Workout 3, winning the event and clawing his way back up the rankings. He cut his hand during the pull-ups of Workout 4, leaving a deep, bleeding gash. (Lipson believes that the black Rogue bars heated up under the intense Inland Empire sun, causing the knurling to bite more deeply into the flesh.) He ended the weekend in ninth place, several spots short of qualifying for the Games, but a remarkable achievement considering he had been in 40th place two days earlier. “What I wanted out of myself was to perform the best of my ability and to express what I was capable of doing,” Lipson says.
His fiancee’s performance perked up Lipson’s spirits. Leblanc-Bazinet competed in the Canada East Regionals the same day Lipson duked it out in Southern California. Through a flurry of text messages between events, Lipson learned that she had taken second place, securing her spot at the CrossFit Games. A natural coach and motivator, Lipson is looking forward to supporting his better half, a legitimate threat to win the title. “I am going to concentrate on coaching and on Cam competing in the Games and getting settled here [in Southern California]. I’ll participate next year, whether it’s individual or team,” Lipson says. “It’s really fun to be a part of it.”
Then, three rounds of
21 Wall-Ball Shots (20/14-lb. ball to 10 feet)
100-Foot Farmer Carry (2 100/70-lb. dumbbells)
28 Burpee Box Jumps (24/20-inch box)
100-Foot Farmer Carry (2 100/70-lb. dumbbells)
CrossFit Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest
How does someone attain the title of “Fittest Man or Woman on Earth”? An 18-week gauntlet begins in late February with the CrossFit Open. It slowly filters the competition from almost 70,0000 worldwide competitors to the man and woman who stand atop the podium at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on the balmy July evening that closes the CrossFit Games.
The Open: 68,000 competitors
More than five times as many athletes entered the 2012 Open as the 2011 Open. The top 20 masters athletes in each age category go right from the Open to the Games.
Regionals Day 1-2: 1,632 competitors
After the results of the Open are tallied, the top 60 men and women from each of the 17 geographic divisions are invited to the Regionals. Injuries and dropouts take their toll, and each region fields closer to 48 men and 48 women.
Regionals Day 3: 606 competitors
After two days of workouts, the field is winnowed down, and only the top 18 men and women advance to Day 3.
The CrossFit Games Day 1-2: 106 competitors
The top three athletes from each region are selected to go to the CrossFit Games. Previous champions must qualify in the Open and participate in the Regionals but do not need to make it to the podium to qualify for the Games. If a former champion does place in the top three, he or she does not take a qualifying spot. In that case, the fourth-place athlete wins a bid to the big show.
The CrossFit Games Day 3: 24 competitors
Only the top 12 men and women compete in the final day of the Games.
The Fittest Man and Woman on Earth: 2