Rich Froning doesn’t seem to think so. In order to more closely replicate the CrossFit Games experience in his training for a record-shattering three-peat, Froning was eyeballing the Rogue Castro Rig, a weather-resistant squat rack/pull-up-bar system specifically designed for outdoor use. Listening to sage advice from his father, who suggested that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, Froning ordered it without telling his wife, Hillary.
“The day before it comes, I get a guilty conscience,” Froning remembers. “I said, ‘Hey, I bought this Castro Rig. I was thinking of putting it in the driveway or on the back patio.’
“She said, ‘I think that’s a bad idea.’ The next day it came, so I put it together and set it on the patio but didn’t bolt it in. She came home and said, ‘I don’t really like it there,’ but she wasn’t actually mad about it. So we bolted it in. “I wouldn’t call it a fight, but it was a bad couple of days,” Froning says, laughing.
The Fittest Man on Earth needs to train, after all. Sure, he owns his own CrossFit affiliate, but it’s a few miles away. And yes, he has a 600-square-foot garage that Rogue transformed into a pro-level home gym, but that must be down a hill or farther away on the property, right?
“The Castro Rig is about five-and-a-half feet away from the garage gym. You walk out of the garage and it’s right next to it,” Froning says.
What can we learn from this anecdote? Two things: You can’t have too many squat racks, and Froning remains single-minded about training.
That said, any number of things — including minor domestic disagreements — have threatened to distract Froning from training for the 2013 CrossFit Games this year. When we last checked in, he did all his own workouts in his pro-level garage gym, the same place he trained clients and held court among his rotating squad of eager workout partners. But this year, he branched out. CrossFit Mayhem, in Cookeville, Tenn., was reborn last October after being folded into the weight room at Tennessee Tech University, where Froning had previously worked as an assistant strength coach.
“The new CrossFit Mayhem is totally revamped. Right now, it’s about 5,000 square feet, and we are looking to expand it because we have 150-plus members,” Froning says. “Everything is brand-new Rogue stuff. It’s humbling. Luckily, I have a good group of people who run it for me because I’m away a lot training.”
The Fittest Man on Earth’s box draws a lot of drop-in clients, Froning reports, but his reputation doesn’t do much for member retention. In Froning’s mind, the success of CrossFit Mayhem has more to do with the coaching than the shadow he casts.
“We have a reputation for taking care of our people and making sure they are coached well,” he says. “I am sure it helps being the Fittest Man on Earth, but I think our coaches do a good job of making people feel welcome.”
Froning’s ever-escalating public profile has opened up business opportunities beyond CrossFit. In July, Tyndale House Publishers released First: What It Takes to Win, the story of Froning’s early life and his rise to CrossFit royalty. The autobiography delves into his CrossFit Games experiences but also explores some deeper themes; even the title has an underlying meaning that goes beyond competition. Similarly, Froning’s motivation to write the book goes beyond seeing his name in print: “It will be cool to see if it helps people. That’s the whole point of the book,” he says. “It’s for anyone who struggles with setting priorities in their life. I think everybody will get something from it.”
Froning is also looking at potential offers to expand into other media. He insists we won’t be seeing him on Dancing With the Stars anytime soon (or ever), but he might be visible on a much bigger screen. Author Cliff Graham has written a series of historical-fiction novels collectively called Lion of War that are based on the biblical adventures of King David and his Mighty Men. Think 300 meets The Ten Commandments. Froning is a big fan of Graham’s work, and it seems that Graham is a bit of a Froning fan.
“They’re going to make a movie out of Day of War, and Cliff Graham has asked me to possibly be in the movie,” Froning says. “Maybe not a main part but as an extra or something. It’s a really good series.”
Still, there’s little chance that Froning’s artistic urges or the trappings of fame will interrupt his famously rigorous training schedule. In fact, as a result of some recent changes to his sponsorship status with Rogue, BSN and Oakley, he has had less travel to do this year, which means fewer interruptions to his preparations for the Games. Outside of the odd charity event, Froning competes just three times a year: the Open, Regionals and Games. It’s a formula that has worked, leaving him with a nearly unblemished record. After taking second place in the 2010 CrossFit Games, he has won every Open, Regional and Games competition he has entered.
The 2013 CrossFit Games looks to be the most competitive in history. With the return of former champion Mikko Salo and runner-up Josh Bridges, established veterans like Matt Chan and Jason Khalipa, and a groundswell of young fresh talent in the form of Scott Panchik and Kenneth Leverich, it’s clearly the most talented field ever assembled. With the historic three-peat hanging in the balance, the pressure has been ratcheted all the way up.
“It’s the Games,” Froning says. “The Games always have the same amount of pressure. Once you do well, people always expect you to do well. That adds a little bit of pressure, but that’s part of it.”
That’s a pretty calm outlook from such a ferocious competitor. But beating his chest has never been Froning’s style. He quietly goes about the business of being the Fittest Man on Earth: completing workouts in the gym, coaching local
Level-1 certifications, running intervals at the track and stepping in to take single-parent kids on the father-son overnight camping trip held by his church. He has a very “pack my lunch and go to work” attitude about what most people see as an extraordinary life.
“It’s not that big of a deal. I’m just Rich,” he says with characteristic humility. “I think CrossFit draws good people. I like to think that everybody would stay grounded.”
That was all I needed to reach the top of the rope.
Five feet had never looked so far away.
I was 15 feet above the ground, hanging on for dear life to a rope dangling from a massive steel structure. My grip was shot, and I could hardly even hear the hundreds of screaming spectators in the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. I was hot, drenched in sweat, and utterly exhausted.
I released my left hand to grab the rope above my right. Almost six minutes into attempting to conquer this stinking 20-foot rope climb, I was absolutely determined to make it to the top. But in the final event of the 2010 CrossFit Games, after three days of being run through a physical and mental wringer like nothing I had ever experienced, it was all I could do to get my left hand up and onto the rope.
I began kicking my legs, looking for every possible bit of momentum to help me make it to the top. By this point I was so far behind the competition, I knew I wouldn’t come close to finishing the workout before the twelve-minute time cap. But there was no way I was going to fail on this attempt. I had already failed more times than I could count.
When I finally reached the top and stretched my left hand up to touch the bar the rope was hanging from, there was no time for celebration. I could tell right away that my right hand wasn’t going to be able to hold up my weight on its own.
I put my left hand back on the rope, below my right one, but the downward slide had begun, and my arms and shoulders were too taxed to stop it. The friction from the rope ripped into my palms and fingers. My burning hands reacted by doing what made sense to them: they let go.
The landing 20 feet below was abrupt and awkward. My pride hit the ground first. Then my heels, and the momentum of the fall rocked me backward. My butt was next to make contact with the ground. The back of my head and neck struck an orange bucket of chalk next to the rig.
Physically and mentally spent, I didn’t even feel the landing. It wasn’t until later that I learned just how hard I had fallen.
And it wasn’t until the event was finished that I learned just what the rope failure had cost me: the CrossFit Games championship and title of Fittest Man on Earth.
It would have made for a great story, a complete unknown from small-town Tennessee coming out of nowhere to defeat the greatest CrossFit athletes in the world.
But then, the rope.
Two years and two Games championships later, I still get asked by those in the CrossFit community about that rope and how it cost me the title. They suggest that if it hadn’t been for the rope, I would be a three-time Games champion.
But the truth is, if not for that rope, I don’t think I would be a three-time champ. Or even a two-time champion. I am convinced I would not have won another Games.
There is something those people don’t know about the rope. Or me.
The rope changed my life.
In the main workout area at CrossFit Mayhem in Cooke-ville, there are climbing ropes hanging from the ceiling. Across the gym is a blue wall with Galatians 6:14 painted in white letters, in the same font and design as my tattoo.
Adding the ropes was my idea. Painting the Bible reference was thought up by one of the ladies handling our interior decorating with Hillary. I returned from a trip to Chile, and there it was on the wall. I liked it immediately.
There is symbolism in the ropes and the verse being together in one place, because one led me to the other. The rope represents what I once was most known for; the verse represents what I most want to be known for.
It was a rope that exposed two of my weaknesses. One was obvious to CrossFit fans around the world. The other, more important one was visible only to me within my own heart.
The first weakness was corrected by learning how to hold on properly; the second was corrected by learning how to let go. As I began to dig deeper into the Bible, I let go of my pride and found my purpose in God.
The rope defined me until God’s Word refined me. And what God’s Word has taught me is that the key to truly winning is not to be first.
The key to winning is to put God first.
Excerpt taken from First: What It Takes to Win by Rich Froning. Copyright © 2013, all rights reserved. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc.