When you think of the CrossFit Games the names of Froning, Thorisdottir, Khalipa, Clever, Spealler and Foucher all come to mind. Although this years Games introduced us several more individuals who’s performances showed everyone that they too should be recognized alongside the world’s best.
One such athlete was Canada’s own, Lucas Parker. Parker who trains out of CrossFit Zone in Victoria, BC quickly became a fan favourite over the course of this year’s Games. Some loved him for his brute determination, technical skill and fluidity of movement. While others found his rugged good looks, long beard and Viking-like appearing all too fascinating.
Whatever the allure, one thing was for sure, anyone who watched the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games quickly became acquainted with up and coming superstar, Lucas Parker.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Parker. We discussed a range of topics, from his childhood, how he found CrossFit, and his plans to win the Games in 2014. The details of that discussion are below.
First of all Lucas, are you able to tell us a bit about your life growing up and what your sporting background was like?
I grew up right here where I train and live in BC, Victoria. I was born in Montreal, but I don’t speak a word of French. And I have lived here all my life but my parents took me all over the world when I was growing up.
Athletically, I’ve always been into sports. From a young age my father got me into sports and taught me how to work out doing pushups, sprints and all the other basics you need.
I played soccer and rugby in high school and also studied karate for a few years. On top of that I did a bit of Muay-Thai kickboxing that I enjoyed, but I was never allowed to go into competitions. I would have loved to go into a tournament but my parents wouldn’t allow it. They didn’t want me to get injured or beat up and not be able to play any “real sports” like rugby.
I played rugby through university but never to a high level. I would have liked to have gone further but my school life took over. In order to commit to the team, make all the practices and the games, I would have had to re-arrange my school schedule, which was impossible. So I made the decision to move away from rugby. I still really enjoyed training and working out and pushing myself, so I spent a lot of time in the gym.
What was your position in Rugby?
I moved all around. In the 12th grade we won the AAA Provincial championships, which is like winning the state banner. We were a very small team but we were very fit, very strong and very powerful. I was one of the strongest on the team but I was also one of the smallest. So it’s funny that I ended up playing loose end prop for a season, although my preferred position is the open side flanker in the forward pack.
When were you first introduced to CrossFit?
I was introduced to CrossFit style training in 2005. We didn’t call it CrossFit but we did lots of thrusters, wall balls and 21-15 -9, all with strength bias for rugby.
I didn’t really know what CrossFit was until I discovered it online in 2008 and I was like, “Hey, I’ve done some of this stuff before. This all looks pretty familiar.”
I then started doing it on my own at my university gym, before I looked around in Victoria. Low and behold I came across CrossFit Zone, which was a very new gym at the time. They were running kind of an internship or apprenticeship program. I applied for that and was accepted and have been competing and coaching ever since.
That was in late 2009, and I think my first CrossFit competition was the 2010 Sectionals, just before the Open came about.
These were your second CrossFit Games?
Yes. I’ve had that question a few times because I guess I look a lot different this year.
What are the things you have learned in those two years competing at the Games?
I know it’s a cliché, but the saying, “every second counts” cannot be true enough. Especially this year with it begin so tight in the timings and rankings. For instance in the last workout, Isabel; I think it was Dan Tyminski, Lucas Parker and Austin Malleolo were all within one second of each other. So every second and every rep counts.
I now cringe watching the footage that my dad took and I see myself just standing there for ‘x’ amount of time and I’m like, “dude that’s 5 rankings gone right there!”
At the Regionals there’s usually a top group of 5, 10, maybe 15 individuals that really have a shot at making it to the Games. So when I totally bombed the first workout Diane and was a full minute slower than my PR, I was surprised I didn’t take a terrible hit to my overall score and was still able to come 5th.
Whereas if you bomb a workout at the Games, or even have a bit of an off day, that can drop you down 10-15 spots. That’s because the level of expertise, skill and fitness at the Games is just so high. So there is no margin for error.
It’s interesting to go back in hindsight, reflect, and say if only I did this, or not stopped on that rep, I would have had this score. It’s easy to get down on yourself for little mistakes, but it just hammers home the idea that every second counts and every rep counts.
During the Games, I saw a few times where you were going head to head with someone. Then you would get to the barbell and instead of rushing, you would take the time to setup allowing several people to ahead of you. Is that something you were doing consciously?
As bad as it sounds, I think it’s just a bad habit. I also compete in the sport of weightlifting where the setup is so important and crucial. There you need to take your time in training and in competition. Whereas in CrossFit, the weight isn’t that heavy and you just need to pick up the bar and get going.
It’s just so ingrained in me to get the right setup that I’ll usually waste three to five seconds at the beginning of each workout. Although I think with something like the Games it’s probably a bad thing.
In the long run and in local competitions like the Open and the Regionals, I think it’s a good habit to have. That one off chance of hurting myself or getting a freak injury is drastically reduced by making sure every one of my reps is executed safely and powerfully.
What was the hardest part of this year’s Games?
I would say that surprise day on Wednesday. Yes, the CrossFit Games are unknown and unknowable. We all went into it assuming it was unknown and unknowable on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; so I guess some of us had the couple of weeks before that planned out in terms of our last training sessions.
I trained pretty hard on the Sunday practicing a few last minute skills. Then to find out on the Monday that we had a full day of competition on the Wednesday, threw me off mentally. Physically that extra day of competition hit most of the competitors pretty hard and set us back for the other three days of the competition.
After that triathlon, a lot of the people had horrible blisters on their feet, some were lying around with IV’s in the arms, one of the female competitors lost a toenail, people were dehydrated and sunburnt and we hadn’t even got to the CrossFit Games yet. So I think that was a hit for most of us.
I actually didn’t get taken down as bad as some people. I didn’t get any horrible blisters, weird rashes, and I didn’t get hospitalized from dehydration. So I came away from it relatively unscathed. It was just muscle soreness going into Thursday and my calves were absolutely destroyed from that run through the mountains.
Who were you most impressed with over the weekend?
There is a small part of me, a very small part, that kind of wishes I could have just been a spectator. Then I would have been able to watch and enjoy all the other heats and events. Instead I was confined to waiting under the stadium in the dark before my heat. So I wasn’t able to fully stay on top of the competitions. Although from what I saw in the men’s competition, I was infinitely impressed with Chris Spealler’s performance. It’s hard to find words to describe how inspiring he was.
I mean we all know the story about his triumph and success at the Regionals to make it to the Games. Then at the CrossFit Games on the Wednesday, that terrible day, he got every possible stick and stone thrown at him. I mean he lost his wedding ring at the beginning of the event and then his body gave out causing him to cramp up.
For him to be able to come back and have some decent finishes and claw his way back through the weekend in events that didn’t suit him, like the heavy football sled, the heavy clean ladder, the heavy medicine ball and the chipper workout, showed just how unbelievable he is. So, if I were doing any spectating it would be to see him.
Were you happy with your performance over the week?
I haven’t spent enough time reflecting yet. I think it will be another week or so until I can start processing everything that happened and watch some footage of myself. Then I’ll start writing down some things I did well and some things I did wrong.
I haven’t really decided if I’m satisfied or not but as of now, I do feel happy. Physically I’m a little beaten up but I am definitely happy, so I think that’s a good sign.
Over the course of the weekend it was interesting to see that you became one of the more popular athletes. Did you notice that and or did that surprise you?
It did surprise me a little and I did notice it. I mean sitting here at home, I have been inundated with nice messages on Facebook from complete random strangers saying things like, ‘we really enjoyed watching you’ and, ‘nice work at the Games this year.’
Against my better judgment, I just started a new Twitter account. I don’t even know how to use it, but in the first few days I now have a thousand followers!
I think for whatever reason people feel a connection with me. And I think partially because I am just kind of a regular dude. I mean I do look a bit remarkable from what I have been told. I think that comes from the fact I set myself away from other competitors because I don’t have the typical fitness model; you know the shaved and tanned and oiled up look. I mean, maybe I look a little bit more of a regular guy to people that has just sort of made it to the Games and I don’t really look like a flashy superstar athlete.
Can you tell us a bit about that famous beard of yours?
I’ve had it for about 10 months so it’s not a novelty for me, but I definitely catch people looking at me on the streets and at the Games everyone wants to say something about it or give me a compliment or some criticism.
I appreciate any sort of support and for the most part people are very friendly about it. So I’m always happy to answer questions about it.
I heard you were supposed to shave it off after the Regionals. What made you decide to keep it for the Games?
To me, it’s a symbol of my commitment to training. When I looked at myself in the mirror I was reminded each day how long I had looked like that. It grows every day, and I hope that I improve my fitness every day towards a goal.
Originally the goal was qualifying for Regionals. For me, I can’t write them off because I have to dedicate the year to making it through Regionals. So that was the goal at the time. Then after reflecting and taking some time to think about it, I thought I might as well see this through and keep it.
I was little superstitious in thinking if I shaved my beard for the Games, I would lose all my power and strength and cut off all the training I had done up until that point.
I’ve noticed this year many big names in the CrossFit world have picked up a kind of celebrity status. Did you notice that and is it strange for you?
It was a little strange because I finished 15th. So I thought why talk to me when the first, second and third place winners were available. I mean I’m signing an autograph and I’m like, ‘Hey, you know Rich Froning’s right over there?’
But I don’t really look at it as celebrity; I mean you have to keep things in perspective. If you look at someone like Justin Bieber, who has millions of people following him on Twitter, then me with maybe a thousand. So I wouldn’t be so facetious as to claim celebrity status, although it is nice to be recognized for what I hope is my effort as a competitor.
It definitely makes me feel good to have my training methods and my dedication validated in a small way by the recognition by other people. So I do appreciate what little attention I get.
Are you sponsored?
Up until recently mom and pop sponsored me. They are my biggest supporters and were my biggest sponsors. I could not fathom training and competing at this level without their tireless support.
At the Games, I didn’t have sponsors and I didn’t even have a coach. I gave my coach’s pass to my girlfriend who just babied me all weekend. She literally put food in my mouth and helped me put my clothes on when I could not do it myself. She is another source of amazing support.
I recently signed with Rogue Fitness, Epic Nutrients and Synergy Health Management. I was careful because in the past I’ve seen a few people on Facebook and as soon as they do well in one or two CrossFit competitions, they immediately pull that trigger of self promotion, where they immediately throw all their videos up on YouTube and they are blogging all over the place and just scrounging for sponsors. They end up spending all this time on self-promotion and neglect spending time on self-improvement, which is going to help you perform better and attract sponsors.
I think a lot of people tend to put the cart before the horse in that they are really pushing to promote themselves and trying to get ‘CrossFit famous’, when really they should be just focusing on the training. So that would be the worst case for me, where I would sort of try to capitalize on the little bit of attention I’ve got and forget about next year, which starts the day after the Games end.
I believe now was the right time and think my sponsors reflect my dedication as a competitor and my likeability as a person. So I am absolutely thrilled to be working with the best in the business.
Zone or Paleo?
I like to say that I’m 100 percent Paleo/Zone, except I don’t weigh and measure my food and I eat grains, dairy and processed sugars (laughs).
Are you still eating McDonalds?
I do enjoy a good fast food burger every now and then. I recently moved on from McDonalds to Wendy’s. They have a better range of bacon burgers and the bacon on the burgers is higher quality and tastes better. I definitely enjoy a good Wendy’s burger and milkshake. And I follow the “seefood diet,” which is see food and eat it.
I do sometimes get a bit defensive about it because in the CrossFit community there is such a focus on nutritional practices and eating clean. I like to draw a pretty big distinction from eating for health and longevity and eating for performance.
With the rise of the CrossFit Games there is a whole new breed of athletes. My entire focus is winning the CrossFit Games and that is going to require a bit of sacrifice to my health and longevity in both the volume of my training and in my nutrition. I need to make sure I am getting a massive, astronomical amount of energy to support the training I’m doing and that can’t all come form spinach and boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Finally what are your expectations for 2013?
I’ve had sort of a plan laid out for two years, where I planned to come 25th last year and I came 26th. My expectation this year was that I’d be in the top 12 and I fell a little bit short of that prediction in 15th.
I’m still sticking to my plan that next year I’ll make it to the top 5. So 2014 is the year I expect to be able to win the Games. I can’t be so confident or cocky yet to say, “I will win the Games in 2014,” what I mean is I will be “able to.” I feel that in the next two years my fitness will raise to a level where I feel I could get to the podium.