Mike Latch’s first box wasn’t a box at all. The CrossFit classes he began teaching in 2005 took place in a local gymnastics school where he rented out space. Like a storefront preacher, he didn’t care where his flock congregated as long as he could spread the word about CrossFit. Eight years later, Valley CrossFit (the second affiliate in Los Angeles and the first in the sprawling San Fernando Valley) is a 15,000-square-foot monolith. Latch’s style of coaching remains the same, though: hard training and creative challenges mixed with a lot of fun.
Somehow, that cocktail of devious programming and irreverent humor created a community that spawned some of the best female CrossFitters in the world. Collectively known as the Valley Girls, these four athletes have chalked up more than half a dozen top-10 finishes at the CrossFit Games and countless more victories in regional competition. Latch, who never had aspirations of housing world-class athletes, can’t fully explain it.
“It was a happy accident,” he says. “It might be surprising, but Valley CrossFit doesn’t have a competitor track. And no distinction has ever been made for females over males. Everybody gets the same challenge and works with each other and against each other.”
The era of the Valley Girls peaked in 2011, when the four athletes — Becca Voigt, Katie Hogan, Kristan Clever and Lindsey Valenzuela — swept the uber-competitive Southern California Regionals. Since then, the onset of individual coaching — an occupational necessity at the elite level — as well as family and professional obligations have fractured the former quartet into four solo players. Here, they attempt to explain the magic and the mayhem that made the Valley Girls such a powerhouse.
Meet the Girls
The veteran of the group, Voigt has been training and coaching at Valley CrossFit longer than the others. A self-described “jack-of-all-trades,” the well-rounded Voigt has competed at five CrossFit Games, her best performance coming in 2011 when she took third place. She is currently coached by Ben Bergeron of CrossFit New England.
The outgoing Hogan is famous for her megawatt smile and prodigious strength. (She has successfully thrustered 190 pounds.) A longtime coach at Valley CrossFit and a CrossFit HQ Level 1 trainer, she competed in the CrossFit Games in 2009 (18th place) and 2011 (20th place). She recently relocated to the San Jose, Calif., area, where she is coached by Jesse Burdick of PowerWOD.com.
The 2010 CrossFit Games champion and 2011 runner-up, Clever came to Valley CrossFit soon after Hogan began training there. A standout among all modal domains, Clever has an aptitude for gymnastics but also boasts a 220-pound overhead squat. Unlike Hogan and Voigt, she has never held a coaching position at Valley CrossFit, choosing the path of a pure athlete instead. She is the only Valley Girl who does not have her own individual coach.
The youngest of the four athletes and the one with the shortest tenure at Valley CrossFit, Valenzuela sought out the gym specifically to train with Voigt, Hogan and Clever. The Olympic-lifting specialist had her best placing in the 2012 CrossFit Games, at which she captured ninth place. She is coached by Dusty Hyland, co-owner of DogTown CrossFit in Culver City, Calif., where she now does most of her training.
How did you find Valley CrossFit?
Becca: My friend belonged to a CrossFit gym in the Bay Area that was one of the first CrossFit affiliates. She invited me up to do a Fight Gone Bad fundraiser in 2006. I practiced the exercises for about three weeks on my own, but I didn’t even know if I was doing them right. I emailed Mike Latch, and he responded right away. He said, “Come to my gym. I’ll watch you move and make sure you are doing it correctly.” I was hooked. I became Level 1 certified at the end of 2007. I started coaching in the beginning of 2008.
Katie: I had been stalking Becca before I started CrossFit. My neighbor was the one who told me about Valley CrossFit. I searched online and found the Valley CrossFit blog, where Mike posted tons of pictures. Every day leading up to trying the class I would look at the blog and the different people. I got to see pictures of this girl named Becca, and she looked kind of like my build, and you could tell she was the best one of the girls.
Kristan: I had been doing CrossFit on my own at 24 Hour Fitness. I was chasing people on the main site. You know, “post times and loads to comments.” There was this one little girl who was smaller than me — who turns out is this bombshell HQ trainer named Nadia — and I couldn’t catch her. So I thought I should join a CrossFit gym because I was not really doing it by myself. And that was Valley.
Lindsey: I started at a small gym. I was getting better, but I knew I needed a push. I emailed Mike and told him I wanted to come try the gym, that I was looking for more competition and more work on my skills. At the time, the Valley CrossFit classes were some of the toughest classes in SoCal.
What was your first workout at Valley CrossFit?
Becca: I don’t remember my first class. I only remember that it was at a kids’ gymnastic center where Mike was renting space.
Katie: I don’t even remember what the WOD was, but the first thing we did in the warm-up were box jumps, and that was all it took. I was totally sold. I had done them for years in high school and college volleyball and track. I realized that was something I wasn’t doing anymore, training myself at 24 Hour Fitness. I had forgotten how much I loved to do it. I remember getting in the car and calling my parents and being like, “This was so cool. It felt like I was back on a team again!”
Lindsey: I think my first workout was deadlifts and a run — I remember it being a lot of deadlifts and heavy. But I don’t remember the rep scheme. I was like, “Holy fuck, this is a lot of deadlifts in one workout.” It was when they were still in their original space. It was tiny and packed, but I liked it.
Kristan: I don’t remember my first workout. It was a bunch of ball slams or something. It was traditional CrossFit. It was fun. I didn’t sign up right away. It took me a while before I started taking regular classes. But there is really no better way to do CrossFit than with people at a CrossFit gym. You learn things and you correct your mistakes and you watch other people. It is much better for growth and progress than being on your own.
Who played what roles in the group?
Becca: We nicknamed Kris “The Brain.” She is always observing and thinking about what would work. I might be the one to say, “Let’s meet at 5 o’clock,” but when we got there, we would look to Kris because she had the soundest technique. When Katie came to the gym, she was a more timid athlete. I took on kind of a mentor or big-sister role. Then we became equals, and that is when our friendship really grew. When Lindsey came along, she had the whole little-sister thing going on, too. She was really young and new to the sport. We helped her along like big sisters until she came into her own.
Katie:I was the muscle. Becca was the vision. Kris was the one to chase. Whatever she did, you knew she was going to get out in front. You had to play the game of chasing her and finding when you could get ahead of her.
Lindsey:I don’t think anyone felt like they had to take on a role. At my first Games in 2011, all the other girls had been there before and I hadn’t, so I watched them in that aspect to see what they were doing, and what they were bringing and wearing.
Kristan: I am the Dude. All these girls are emotional. They have feelings, and they get moody, or this or that. I am just like, “Let’s do the workout.”
Out of this group, who is the most responsible for helping you improve?
Becca: Probably Kris. She will push you to do things you don’t want to do and try things that are outside your comfort zone. I wish she would be more of a leader than she is because she is a great teacher. She understands people. She can explain things many different ways. And she demands that effort is there.
Katie:Becca. She was my coach for the 2010 training season, and she created a blog that only I had access to. She would sit at her desk job and program for me every day. She would put little funny notes in there. She would put my strength, my skill, my WOD. She is the least selfish of all of us and the most likely to give help.
Lindsey:Every single one of them offered something to me to improve myself as a CrossFit athlete. Becca has taken the time to sit down and discuss what I should do and what I should fix. Kris is the stern coach who is quick to point out where you made a mistake and how to fix it. Katie is very encouraging. She tells you that you can do it.
Kristan:Becca. She is around the most.
If you had to choose one of these athletes to do a two-person partner CrossFit competition, who would it be?
Becca: I would choose Katie in a heartbeat. We work really well together. Her strengths are some of my weaknesses, so she would balance me out. Ultimately, we are able to communicate very well, even when it is not through speaking. She gets me, and I get her.
Katie: Becca is my bestie, but Kris and I destroyed a partner competition a couple years ago in Houston. We took first in every event but one, and we took second in that event. So I have to go with my results. Becca and I complement each other really well, but there is something about Kris and me being partners that is unstoppable.
Lindsey:That’s hard. I think I would pick Kris, and the only reason why is that she is such a strong force and she never looks worried during a workout. It’s comforting when you look over at a partner and think, “If they are not worried about this, then I shouldn’t be worried.”
Kristan:That’s a really good question. Probably Becca. She has more experience. And she has a cooler head about being smarter in workouts and stuff.
What one quality of each of the Valley Girls would you like to have?
Becca: I wish I had Kris’ pain tolerance. I feel like she doesn’t succumb to the burning sensation as quickly as we do. From Lindsey, I would love to have her form and technique in Olympic-style lifting, and I want Katie’s love for anything heavy. And I want Katie’s ability to celebrate when she does really well.
Katie: I would like to have Kris’ engine, her ability to breathe heavy but to keep on going. I would like to have Becca’s — I don’t know what it is, but it’s like she doesn’t feel pain. She can go unbroken on everything. I am stronger than her if you look at maximum lifts, but when I have to put the bar down, she doesn’t. I want that.
Lindsey: I like how Kris doesn’t give a shit what people think of her performance. Not to say that I worry about what other people say, because I don’t, but I like the way she is able to be like, “Whatever, I didn’t do that great,” and she doesn’t dwell on it. I really admire her ability to move on.
Kristan:They are all taller than me. I would like to be a little taller. I look like a midget next to them. I do think my size limits me in what I can do. I literally cannot row faster than a certain pace. It just kills me. I don’t have a long enough pull. I don’t have the body mass to put into the rower. I would like to be a little bigger, taller, have a little more leverage.
When did the Valley Girls phenomenon start? Was it bigger outside the gym than inside?
Katie: I think it was more on the outside than the inside. We had a lot of fun at the 2009 Regionals when all three of us [Katie, Becca, Kris] made it to the podium. We weren’t called the Valley Girls yet, but we were all really happy.
Lindsey: That started outside the gym. We were all just working out, and it happened to be at the same gym. If I was on the outside looking in, I would be a little intimidated to see these four girls all kicking ass at the same time who came from the same gym.
Kristan: I didn’t think we were a big deal. CrossFit Central had six or seven awesome girls. Then we swept the SoCal Regionals in 2011, and I was like, “There is something really cool going on here.” But it definitely started outside the gym. We weren’t calling ourselves “Valley Girls” until everyone else was calling us that. Then we were like, “We might as well make a shirt out of it.”
Becca: I think people made it bigger than what it was. We were just friends surviving in this crazy new sport, not knowing where it was going. One of the byproducts was that we were getting stronger and better, and people started to notice our community. That helped us in the long run. We all have sponsorships, and that has been extremely helpful. But it was outsiders who put that “Valley Girl” stigma on us.
Has it felt like a stigma?
Becca: It can feel like a stigma. There are preconceived notions about how cliquey we are, how snobby we are. If people think that we are bitchy, they probably don’t know us. We are just athletes. If everything went away, we would still do this.
Lindsey: I have never felt like that. I think it was one of those things. People were like, “Holy crap, four amazing athletes come from a gym that happens to be named Valley CrossFit.” I never felt a burden. I accepted it, I enjoyed it and I appreciated it. I never had a negative feeling about it.
Kristan:Nah. I’ve grown up here in the Valley my whole life. I am oblivious to every connotation “the Valley” has. Ever since Clueless came out, you can say “Valley Girls,” and people know what you mean: the frivolous nature of these bitchy girls. That does not even cross my mind when I hear “Valley Girls.” I have never seen it as anything negative whatsoever.
Katie: Being a Valley Girl never felt like a negative thing, but there was a certain expectation that the CrossFit community seemed to hold. I’ve been a part of teams with legacies in the past, so I understand the pressure of that reputation. I try to use it as fuel and keep a sense of pride rather than feel it as a stigma. Nonetheless, some days you just want to be anonymous.
Is there something about Valley CrossFit that nurtures female athletes, or was it simply a perfect storm of coincidence that the four of you ended up at this gym?
Katie: I think it is a combination of both. If you put all those athletes in another gym, I don’t know what would have happened. Different gyms have different cultures. And if you take a person out … if Becca wasn’t there, I don’t think it would have been the same. And it wouldn’t have been what it was without Kris being there. For as good as Becca and I were, Kris took us to another level.
Lindsey: I think it’s a little bit of both. We all fed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And each of us has something different to offer. My strength is lifting, and someone like Becca could feed off that. I could feed off Kris’ gymnastics capability.
Kristan: I think it is the nature of the gym. We attract athletes. You have client gyms and you have athlete gyms. This is an athlete gym. We don’t handhold people. We don’t coddle them. It’s not comfortable when you come in. It’s sort of like martial arts. You come in and we are like, “OK, we are sparring now. Don’t hit the new guy too hard.” That attracts athletes.
Becca: I think it was a perfect storm, honestly.
Is it hard to walk the line between being friends and competitors?
Katie: [laughs] Herein lies what could be the downfall of the Valley Girls. We have moments when we feel like a family but also times when I want to strangle them. That is a true family, when you want to kill them but you know you would kill for them because you love them so much.
Becca:I agree with that. Ultimately, we are all friends, but there is a huge competitive nature at Valley. Athletes who come to class in the morning will come back in the evening to see if their times got beat. It is an extremely competitive gym. But I think we have found that balance between competition and friendship. At the Games, when I figure something out, I will go straight to Kris and say, “Hey, if you lift up on the sled on the sled-push, it will be easier. You can’t just push on it.” Would I share that with every other competitor? Heck no!
Lindsey: When you are competing against your friends, there are times you get scared of their reaction when you do better than them in a workout. Sometimes in the back of your mind, you get nervous, like, “Oh shit, I hope they are not mad at me that I did better at that workout.” You don’t want to lose that sense of closeness, friendship-wise. At the same time, when you are on that competition floor, it is an individual sport. When I am out there, no one is going to help me get through that rep, no one is going to pick up that bar for me. I have to do it.
Kristan: I don’t understand why there is a line there. Dude, if the person next to me does better, that means I am going to do better because I am going to push myself harder. Everybody wins. If I do better, you’ll do better. It isn’t me against these girls. It’s me against this workout. But you better bet your ass that I am not going to let this workout kick my ass worse than it kicks yours.
Where are you going to be five years from now?
Becca: I see myself running my own gym, creating a culture very much like Valley CrossFit. In five years, I won’t be in the Masters division yet, so I will be competing on a team. As long as I am physically able to do it, I will.
Katie:I will be almost 35, and I don’t know if I see myself competing at that age. I see myself taking a break and starting a family and coming back in the Masters division. I know I will always do CrossFit, but training for the CrossFit Games is a year-round everyday sport. I can see that being put on the shelf for a while.
Lindsey: I’ll be 30. Hopefully, I’ll have a family or be starting a family in five years. I’ll still be doing CrossFit. But life changes. Life has changed so much since I was first at Valley CrossFit. I was engaged, and now I’m married. My husband is in law enforcement now. It has been a whirlwind.
Kristan:Oh God, I hope I am still going to the Games, ideally still competing as an individual. Nah, you know what? Whatever. Competing at the Games. Period. It would be really cool to be on a team with these girls and just take that. That would be awesome.