Fit to be strong at CrossFit Fort Vancouver Invitational

Fairgrounds plays host to inaugural edition of local fitness competition

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

They collapsed in unison, sprawling across the floor of the Clark County Event Center, deeply breathing as if they had just sprinted to the finish line of a marathon.

When time expired on the final 25-minute workout at the CrossFit Fort Vancouver Invitational, a group of competitors who are motivated by testing their limits welcomed the conclusion of two days of intense exercise.

"I was glad it was the last one," Jessica Core said. "It was hard."

Core, of Vancouver, teamed with Erin Taylor of Portland to represent CrossFit Fort Vancouver and finished second in the women's competition.

Held for the first time, the CrossFit Fort Vancouver Invitational brought together 64 competitive exercisers to race through two days of challenging workouts.

Though not a CrossFit, Inc.-sanctioned competition, the participants were invited based on success in official CrossFit Games competition.

Competing as two-person teams, the athletes worked together to complete workouts that tested strength, agility, stamina and mental toughness.

"We don't talk about it a lot, but there's a lot of mental strength that goes into a hard, intense workout," said Austin Stack of Medford, Ore. "To go to that level is pretty painful, but that intensity is where the results are at. It happens at a quick pace."

Teams were awarded points based on their finish in each of the timed events.

Stack and teammate Cole Sager of Seattle won the men's competition with 640 points, good for a $1,600 prize. Both former college football players, they finished first in six of the eight stages of the two-day competition. Stack played for Southern Oregon University and Sager was a walk-on at Washington who played four seasons for the Huskies on special teams.

The women's title was claimed by the team of Rory Zambard and Jenn Jones, whose wins in Saturday's three workouts were enough to outscore Core and Taylor. They shared $1,540 in prize money.

"I'll take being beaten by two Games individual athletes," Core said. "I'm happy with second for sure."

Zambard, of Seattle, placed 13th at the 2013 CrossFit Games and Jones, of Houston, placed sixth. The chance to compete with other top athletes for prize money drew them to Vancouver.

"There was just a very high level of athletes here," said Jones, a former gymnast who twice competed at the NCAA championships for Central Michigan. "Being around that level of athlete allows you to be challenged and pushed in ways that you might not be able to do if you're out training."

Bringing together top-flight athletes was Nathan Loren's idea. Loren and CrossFit Fort Vancouver owner Adam Neiffer envisioned a small event. But Loren, the competition director for the invitational, said it grew to 32 teams after an enthusiastic response from athletes. Neiffer of Vancouver and teammate Jerome Perryman of Portland finished fourth among 16 men's teams, just missing the third-place prize money.

Participating in a high-level competition was reward enough, Neiffer said. "I think the event challenged every single competitor there," Neiffer said, adding that they plan on hosting this competition annually.

For the women's champions, Jones had to push through a broken thumb she suffered on Saturday, a weightlifting relay.

"I just relied on a lot of adrenaline and the wonderful medical staff that they had for the athletes," Jones said.

Zambard said she began training at a CrossFit gym to prepare for high school softball. She has been competing as a fitness athlete for about three years. Noting that the CrossFit Games happen only once a year, she said events like this invitational give athletes a chance to push each other.

"It's a reminder of why you love competition. It gets your adrenaline up," Zambard said. "It gives you that thrill of what you're training so hard for in the offseason."

Sunday's final event pushed every participant.

Stack and Sager were the only men's team to complete the final 25-minute test. Core and Taylor were one of two women's teams to finish the final challenge. That workout started with teams completing 100 chest-to-bar pull-ups. It included three different weightlifting exercises (with men's teams moving more weight than the women), 100 burpees (jumping over a bar between pushups) and 100 pistols (squatting by bending one knee and extending the opposite leg horizontally).

Not exactly a typical Sunday workout. But these competitors insist it's about fun.

"As adults, we don't get to play," Jones said. "This is just such a unique experience for adults to be able to go out and compete like they did either in college or in high school."