After finishing in first place at the 2012 CrossFit Games NorCal Regionals, NorCal Strength and Conditioning’s Jenny LaBaw was undoubtedly one of the top athletes at last year’s CrossFit Games. However, LaBaw had been battling a neck injury that forced her to withdraw midway through the competition, leaving her unable to follow-up on her sixth place Games finish from 2011.
Fast forward to this March, after months of recovery, physical therapy, and an abbreviated six months of training, LaBaw was prepared to make another run at the CrossFit Games. Her past performances at the NorCal Regionals, combined with her consistent top finishes in endurance events and local CrossFit competitions, made her a favorite to compete for the Women’s title this year.
Then, on March 5, a day before the start of the 2013 CrossFit Games Open, LaBaw broke her foot in a freak bicycle accident, taking away her opportunity to compete at the CrossFit Games for the third time in three years.
How would the Colorado-native respond to being sidelined by injuries for the second straight year?
She would became one of the most talked about and inspiring stories of the 2013 CrossFit Games Open.
LaBaw wrote on her blog about the accident, “Scenario one, I can get depressed and down and feel like I have failed. That’s not the kind of person I am. Scenario two, I can call a spade a spade and throw in the towel with motivation to come back stronger next year. Scenario three, I can take the cards I’ve been thrown and make the most of them and let it play out the way it’s supposed to play out.”
Just how would this play out? LaBaw decided she would compete in this year’s Open workouts on one foot, with her broken foot covered in a protective boot.
LaBaw, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 8 and went on to become a two-sport collegiate athlete at Cornell, is no stranger to making the most out of the cards she’s been dealt. LaBaw takes medication that allows her to control her epilepsy to the point where it manifests as a persistent, “constant tingling sensation in her right arm,” similar to the feeling of hitting your funny bone, instead of as full-on seizures. Doctors often warn those with epilepsy about what they cannot and will not be able to do in life, but LaBaw took her condition as a challenge to overcome and became one of the fittest women on Earth.
Though she knew that she would not realistically have the opportunity to compete at this year’s NorCal Regionals, LaBaw also knew that she was still capable of completing the workouts. “[Qualifying for Regionals] is not the real reason I am doing this. Like most people who do CrossFit, I do this because I like the challenge and like to see what I can do today that I couldn’t do yesterday,” she said.
Though most have marvelled at and been inspired by her one-footed performances in the 2013 Open, starting with her first one-footed snatch, she wanted to make one thing clear. “I want everyone to know that nothing I am doing with my training or the Open workouts is hurting my foot and I am not ‘working through pain.’ I’m training around an injury.”
Even with the obvious challenges that come with exercising with a broken foot, LaBaw said of this year’s programming, “I love the programming thus far. I think it’s shown a good variety of skills, strength, and stamina.”
Like many top athletes, she normally trains by herself, but LaBaw considers Nichole DeHart, Miranda Oldroyd, Brooke Ence, Angie Pye, Annie Sakamoto, and Elyse Umeda to be amongst her closest friends within the CrossFit community. Looking at the leaderboard, she said, “It’s been crazy to see the numbers that people are putting up. The bar keeps rising higher and higher every year.”
Overall, LaBaw says her recovery is going well. As she hops through each of the Open workouts, she said that the support of the greater CrossFit community has meant, “More than I could have ever imagined – the emails, Facebook messages, Twitter posts and more have been so humbling, motivating and inspiring to me. People say that I am inspiring them, but that feeling is very much reciprocated.”
“When I submitted my 13.1 video, the immediate responses I started to get from people blew me away. I was somehow inspiring people by hopping around on one foot!”
Instead of feeling discouraged at her absence from this year’s worldwide leaderboard, LaBaw optimistically realized, “I can honestly say I have never done the movements I’ve been doing on one leg, so each workout is a challenge…and a PR!” Even on one foot, LaBaw has found not only a way to PR, but be optimistic and find something great about her Open experience.
“We all have bad things happen in our lives. It’s the attitude we approach the situations with that determine how we are affected by them. The support I have – from friends, to family, to fellow CrossFitters, around the world – is why I am able to do what I am doing.”
Out of all this year’s Open workouts, LaBaw noted, “Double unders have without a doubt been the hardest movement so far. A few here and there on one leg aren’t bad, but doing 90 of them when your single leg is already shot from doing 150 single-leg wall balls, that’s a whole new ball game.”
After four Open workouts, LaBaw stands tall in her protective boot well outside of the top 100 athletes competing in the Northern California region, unfamiliar territory for one of the sport’s top athletes. It’s true that many athletes can say that they officially scored higher than LaBaw during this year’s Open, but if the right workout came up in 13.5, LaBaw could actually find herself near the top of the leaderboard.
“I bet I could kick people’s butt in single leg rowing right now! I’ve been training with my good leg on the rower and my bad foot on a skateboard. I was pulling a 1:45-1:48 for the entirety of my 200m sprint intervals,” she said. By any definition of unknown and unknowable, single leg rowing is very unlikely to be a part of this year’s Open, so LaBaw said that the perfect workout for her at this time would be a couplet with pistols, her favorite movement, and pullups.
With the 2013 CrossFit Games off her schedule for this year, LaBaw plans to continue improving upon her skills and weaknesses. Additionally, she said, “I also plan to find my way back to a balance between gym time and what I call my ‘real time.’ I am going to get back to mountain biking, waterskiing, running and just living my life to the fullest.” LaBaw has often said that her perfect day involves getting outside in the mountains. So even with this setback, 2013 looks like it could be filled with perfect days for one of CrossFit’s best athletes.
In her personal life, she also promises to play the important role of number one fan to her boyfriend, professional waterskiier Marcus Brown, throughout his season, just as he has done for her throughout her two years as a competitive CrossFit athlete.
She may not be competing in Carson this year, but the injured athlete appears to be rightfully cheering for comeback stories at this year’s Games. When asked who to look out for, she responded, “It’s a little too early in the game to tell right now, but I’d have to say look out for Sam Briggs and Josh Bridges. They both had to take last year off due to injuries and so far, I’d say their training has paid off.”
LaBaw’s vulnerability and willingness to compete in this year’s Open shows that even at its highest level, CrossFit can still be about seeing what you can achieve and giving your best effort in the gym, regardless of circumstance.
Though we’ll see the emergence of new names and the return of top athletes at Regionals and beyond this CrossFit Games season, LaBaw’s presence will be sorely missed at this year’s Games. As the 2013 CrossFit Games Open season winds down, this season will be remembered as one where one of the sport’s top athletes, Jenny LaBaw, became one of its most inspiring.