Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A nurse, a pharmacist and a couple of coaches walk into a box … and absolutely dominate. OK, so the punch line needs a little work, but the truth about the team from Ute CrossFit is almost comically impressive.
At the 2013 Games, Tommy Hackenbruck and his five-member team from Ute CrossFit strode into the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., with an unintentional swagger — not an arrogant swagger but rather one of easygoing confidence, possessed by a team with nothing to lose. You see, Hack’s Pack — as they’ve come to be known — had taken the 2012 Affiliate Cup and, because no team in the history of the Games had ever repeated, they felt no pressure to win again. Which is not to say that they didn’t have high hopes. “For us, expectations were to win, without a doubt,” says Hackenbruck, who finished second in the men’s individual event in 2009. “We really wanted to do it in the same dominating fashion as 2012.”
Confident in its prep, this hodgepodge of instructors and working professionals could simply take pride in performing. Unfortunately for everyone else, fortune favors the prepared. So despite some trouble along the way (which revealed that these athletes are at least partially human), the Pack racked up enough points to win the overall title for a second straight year, outpointing the last team to hold the Cup, CrossFit New England, 751 to 646 on the leaderboard. While Rich Froning was on his way to a third men’s individual title — something that no one thought could be done — Hack’s Pack was making its second claim for the fittest team on earth.
Its legacy secured in dramatic fashion, Hack’s Pack left the rest of the CrossFit community more curious about its origins — and its chemistry. We went around the table with the team in order to get a snapshot of its winning composition.
So Tommy, let’s start with you. How did this group come together?
TOMMY HACKENBRUCK: We came together at the beginning of 2012. Mary, Taylor, Michael and I had been training and competing together before, but Adrian and Erin approached me and asked to train with us with the possibility of forming a great team. I think we all knew right away we had a special group. We’d all competed in team sports for years, but prior to 2012, only Michael and Mary had been on the Ute CrossFit team. Four of us had done the individual event, and Erin had never competed.
Do the six of you represent the entire team or are there others who train with you regularly?
HACKENBRUCK: We have a growing number of committed athletes — about 15 in all — who train with us and push us daily. This year, we had alternates preparing just in case, but our top 12 athletes formed the two teams. We took a risk doing that because an injury to any one of the 12 would have really set the team back. I thought it was the right thing to do because I wanted as many people as possible to have the opportunity to compete at the Games.
CrossFit is generally an individual pursuit — you vs. the whiteboard, you vs. your previous PR. What’s it like training as a team on a regular basis?
HACKENBRUCK: Really, we train as kind of an extended team, in subgroups. We almost never get the opportunity [to train all together], and when we do, we really cherish it. For me personally, I’ve gotten much better in the last two years because of this team. I wouldn’t say it’s just because I was training for the team event. It had to be the right people — having the trust and respect for other athletes. I am more disciplined and focused and feel like there is a lot more to lose than when I’m training by myself.
TAYLOR RICHARDS-LINDSAY: Training as a team is the best and only way to get truly better while staying motivated and inspired. Having hard workers around you during training sessions sets the mold for success.
MICHAEL CAZAYOUX: I go harder because other people depend on me getting better every day. It’s also more fun.
ADRIAN JAMES CONWAY: It isn’t much different than training individually because we are the team. In training, we compete for and against each other. Some days we don’t feel like “putting out” the necessary level of effort or energy. Shoot, some days we just don’t have it. On those days, we need to see each other pushing, grinding through workouts. That then lifts the whole group’s level of performance simply due to the competition aspect of training but also because you don’t want to be the one not sacrificing the same way the others are. When it’s game time and it’s us vs. them, there’s no need for any other kind of fuel than seeing your teammates and knowing they’re depending on you.
MARY LAMPAS: Team training for me is still like individual training. You train as an individual always comparing your times, your reps, your maxes. The perks come in when you get to do a team workout and you can help each other out and put more emphasis on your individual strengths.
ERIN BENNION: It’s much more fun to train as a team. The friendships and support you get trump training by yourself any day. It’s actually hard for me to go back and train as an individual. Instead of you vs. the whiteboard, for our team, we are all competing against each other and our expectations. When I see Tay or Mary put up times and scores, I feel a lot of pressure to keep up. We definitely try to rise together.
So we’re all grown-ups, and schedules get crazy. Even though some of you are coaches, do you ever find it hard to make time to train together? Do you ever train solo?
RICHARDS-LINDSAY: We rarely trained with all six members. We usually trained in groups of two to four, depending on our crazy schedules. We know that everyone is putting the work in, so it’s actually just more fun when we all come together. Usually, we have crazy events or practice when we are together in order to make our sacrifices all worth it. We try and knock out a lot of work at these times.
CONWAY: Like you said, life is hard to coordinate around six adults, many with families and full-time jobs. We train in small groups as much as we can; some of us have a set schedule. When we decided to come together on the team in 2012, we all wanted to be the best in the world, so the work was never an “option.” And then when we do get a chance to come together and train as a big group, it was honestly always a chance to showcase our skills to each other.
Does training around fellow freaks of nature constantly stoke your competitive fire? Some people’s performance is diminished in these settings because of a lack of confidence. For others, they’re no competitive. How do you find balance?
HACKENBRUCK: I’ve always over-performed and laid it on the line when training with a team. It started when I played football in high school, and it hasn’t really changed. I love to train with my teammates. If one person is improving and starts beating you, you just get better. I could not care less who gets the credit or recognition. I might have trouble training with a buddy if I was going to compete in the individual event. But here, no matter who has a good day, you’re on the same team.
BENNION: Is there such a thing as too competitive? We want to win and we like to win, and most importantly, we train hard enough to win. Being in this team environment increases everyone’s confidence. Everyone trusts everyone else to do a great job. We all share a common goal and vision for success.
CAZAYOUX: It stokes the competitive fire every single day. We compete against each other and with each other to push ourselves to improve every single session. We treat every session as an opportunity to get better. It’s a far more potent training stimulus to train together than as individuals.
CONWAY: You have to know where you thrive. I think it’s great to be surrounded by people who train hard. Talent is even better but not as big a deal. I think there should be a couple times per week when I need to really step up and feel like it’s game day for me to feel sharp. And no matter how much I tell myself that every time I train I’m going all out, you can’t match the intensity of some friendly, well-rounded competition.
RICHARDS-LINDSAY: Competition against each other just pushes us to be better individually. Nobody wants to be the weakest link!
LAMPAS: Training with the best just makes me want to be better. I think finding the balance between confidence and competitiveness in team training is a mental game. You have to accept that everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses and simply do your best. Some days it’s just about putting in work; other days you will hit a new PR.
Everyone has different strengths. Not everyone peaks at the same time and not everyone recovers at the same rate. How do you prepare for competition as a team? Do you really ramp up or dial back the intensity going into the competition? What gets practiced?
HACKENBRUCK: I trust everyone to listen to their bodies and make the right decisions. The programming that we follow is extremely demanding. We basically train as if we were doing an individual competition. Most of us have to back off at some point. We’ve had injuries going into competitions or some lingering stuff we’re trying to heal. We trust everyone to know their bodies.
RICHARDS-LINDSAY: Our intensity is pretty high during the entire training season, but we do have recovery weeks tucked throughout. We usually only back off four to five days prior to competitions. Tommy is a really good programmer and is good at guessing patterns in Games programming, having us practice odd events and practicing all types of transitions.
CAZAYOUX: We get as strong as possible until about the middle of the Open. Then we ramp up the volume of metabolic conditioning, including longer endurance sessions. As we approached the Regionals and Games, we ramped up the volume of training sessions more than any other time during the year.
CONWAY: We have a great program in regards to what and when we need to be working on certain things. We surely spend our spring and summer preparing ourselves for anything and everything that we can simulate. We try to cover lots of bases by doing movements that build skills in many areas at once instead of spending specific sessions on some specific odd movement and also just trying to increase our overall work capacity as much as possible.
LAMPAS: Improving on our weaknesses as individuals is how we prepare for the unknown. I would say we ramped up the intensity in the four months before the games. I, for one, really committed to the two-workouts-per-day regimen, including some long recovery sessions.
BENNION: We prepare to kill it by preparing far beyond what we will be expected to do at the Games. Our workloads are pretty intense and heavy. Then when the workouts are announced for the Games, they are fun to us and we’re not overly focused on the work capacity because we know that will not be a problem.
So, Erin, would you say that being generally prepared for anything is the general team focus or do you try to get more specific, anticipating what might come up?
BENNION: I think the first year we strategized a lot. This year, we were so comfortable working together and with the roles we played that strategy played a very small part. We were figuring out the strategy and order to a lot of the events in the tunnel right before the event started. We are just used to working together. We worked really hard right up to the end. This year, we did not taper for Regionals. We worked right through it and had the Games as our final goal. The entire summer was filled with intense work. I think we were all trying to ride the line between being in our best shape while avoiding overtraining.
Every team has its characters. There are jokers, leaders, divas and bullies. What types of roles do people play on this team?
HACKENBRUCK: I’m definitely the father. The leader. I sort of plan and organize everything, which isn’t necessarily my personality. I take care of things. If someone forgets their jump rope, I produce one. I guess I’m kind of the shepherd of the flock. [laughs] My job is kind of to look after everybody and make sure they’re OK. Erin is super easy — just does everything you’re telling her to do. She stresses that she’s not going to be good enough. She’s like the straight-A student, always doing everything right. Mary is going to do whatever she wants. She’s very independent. If she wants to play an indoor soccer game the day before the competition, she’ll do it. But she always comes through. Mike is just a smartass — he’s like the little brother. Taylor is kind of the diva little sister. She’s the loudmouth or class clown. Adrian is like the cool big brother. He’s chill, always positive and happy, never has any issues. He just shows up and works hard.
RICHARDS-LINDSAY: Tommy is our fearless leader — our papa bear. He does it all! Erin is our mother hen — so sweet, organized and positive. Michael and I are the jokesters. Adrian puts in work and completely leads by an amazing example, but when he speaks, we all listen up because it’s always useful and great stuff that comes out. Mary is our adventurous one. She works hard and plays hard, as it should be. Michael is also our “Mobility Mike.” He tries to remind us to keep our bodies under maintenance. My role is to keep things light and interesting. Plus, I love competing and everything that comes with it. I love showing up for game day!
CAZAYOUX: Taylor’s the diva. Adrian’s the humble assassin. Mom? That’s Erin. Mary is our worrywart. Tommy is the bully — or leader. I’m the joker. Taylor tries to be funny, but she fails over and over and over again.
CONWAY: I would say our primary leader is Tommy. He’s definitely our captain. Erin is our mom type. Taylor is our little sister, but I wouldn’t call her a diva by any stretch. Mike’s the joker, and that’s at anytime of the day, in the middle of a workout at the Games, in the gym, on the plane, in the hotel — wherever it is, he’s our entertainment. Mary is more of a quiet constant on the team. Her work capacity is phenomenal, and her demeanor is rarely changed or shaken. I’d like to think I’m whatever we need me to be. I like to compete, and I like to win. I don’t always lead with my words, but I hope the team sees me as a motivator simply by how I work.
LAMPAS: Ninja leader: Tommy. Joker: Michael. Diva: Taylor. Mom: Erin. Stealth: Adrian. Self-starter: Mary.
BENNION: We definitely all have our roles, and that’s why our team works so smoothly together. No one tries to infringe on anyone else’s role. It works for us and makes for some very entertaining trips. Tommy is the dad, bossandleader — he takes care of all thebusiness. Adrian is the cool uncle andalways rides shotgun. Mike and Taylor are the kids — they keep us entertained; we keep them in line! Mary is the crazy aunt, and I am the mom.
Tommy, you guys have officially made winning as a team a cool thing. What has this done for your gym’s visibility, and can you do it again?
HACKENBRUCK: It’s really put us on the map in the eyes of people who are into the CrossFit Games. Our focus at the gym is and has always been making every client better each day. We have a great group of passionate, dedicated trainers who make us a great gym. Can we win three in a row? Absolutely! We have a ton of people who are willing to work harder than anyone else. You never know what the competition is going to look like, but after the first year, we figured out how to put together a good team. Coming in this year, we knew we’d all gotten better. Going into next year, I know we’ll have a much different team, but we have some really talented people in the gym right now. I have no doubt we’ll have a team good enough to win. We’re not going to drop off any — we’ll be as good or better than we were this year.
For more on Hack’s Pack or Ute CrossFit, visit utecrossfit.com.
Birth date: July 14, 1990
Birthplace: Arlington, Va.
Current city: Baton Rouge, La.
Weight: 190 pounds
Favorite inspirational training quote: “I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Fran,” 2:02
Profession: strength-and-conditioning coach (Also listed: hit man and male escort)
Adrian James Conway
Birth date: Oct. 24, 1985
Birthplace: Lewistown, Pa.
Current city: Salt Lake City
Weight: 204 pounds
Favorite inspirational training quote: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Grace,” 1:23
Profession: CrossFit/Performance coach, Level-1 seminar staff trainer
Birth date: Nov. 12, 1981
Birthplace: Portland, Ore.
Current city: Salt Lake City
Weight: 210 pounds
Nicknames: Hacksaw or Hon (“It’s pronounced like Han Solo.”)
Favorite inspirational training quote: “I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn’t win.” — Urban Meyer
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Karen,” 4:29
Profession: warrior poet (Level-2 CrossFit coach at Ute CrossFit)
Birth date: May 20, 1986
Birthplace: Salt Lake City
Current city: West Valley City, Utah
Height: 5’4” (“on a great day”)
Weight: 134 pounds
Nickname: Tee Rich (Rich)
Favorite inspirational training quote: “It pays to be a winner! All you gotta do is give everything you got.”
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Fran,” 2:20
Profession: Level-1 CrossFit trainer at Ute CrossFit
Birthdate: Nov. 18, 1981
Birthplace: Traverse City, Mich.
Current city: Salt Lake City
Weight: 150 pounds
Favorite inspirational training quote: “Train hard, play hard.”
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Karen,” 5:00
Birth date: July 27, 1977
Birthplace: Brigham City, Utah
Current city: Cedar City, Utah
Weight: 150 pounds
Favorite inspirational training quote: “It pays to be a winner.”
Favorite workout (with time/score): “Fran,” 2:24