How to Become a CrossFit Athlete? | Interview with MeKenzie Riley

With the CrossFit Open complete, the top athletes all over the world are preparing for Regionals.

We have watched so many strong and talented athletes who we thought would crush the Open workouts not even make it in the top 100 in their region. So we had to ask…

What sets CrossFit Regional athletes apart from others?

We needed answers, so we went to Mekenzie Riley, who is 13th place in the world after the CrosssFit Open and 1st in her region.

Mekenzie’s introduction to CrossFit kind of happened by chance. As a competitive swimmer in college she spent hours in and out of the pool preparing her body to be quick in the water. So when a teammate told her about CrossFit in 2012 she didn’t believe she could get a good workout with 7-minute metcons. It wasn’t until graduating college and moving away did she decide to give CrossFit a try…and she was immediately hooked and was going 5 days in a row, sometimes going twice a day because she loved it so much.

So with competitive swimming in her background, one would think that her success comes from having a competitive nature, but that is not the case.

She said, “I have always been motivated by beating myself. Sometimes you get motivated by external competitions, with swimming it is was all about getting a better time and the same is in CrossFit, you just want to do better than you used to be.”

Perhaps this is one area that sets MeKenzie apart from others. She isn’t relying on anyone else for her motivation, so when battling the mind game that many athletes struggle with, she feels confident in her abilities that her hard work and ability to improve will help her crush her competitions.

So how does MeKenzie feel about going from 460th place in the CrossFit Open in 2015 to 13th place?

To her, she is blown away. She remembers hoping to qualify for Regionals in the past and watching all the amazing female athletes like Sara Sigmundsdottir, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, and Annie Thorisdottir, thinking ‘wow, they are so good’. So in reflecting on her success this year, she knows she put in the hard work to be where she is, but still is in awe that her name is among these amazing athletes.

What made the biggest difference in her training over the last few years to see such an improvement?

It all comes down to her mindset.  Aside from really wanting to do well, she stopped accepting that she would always be bad at some things and that it’s good enough. Instead, she decided that she would get better in the things that hold her back and put forth the effort to improve.

Also, it comes down to accountability.

MeKenzie says, “If you decide on a goal you have to do everything it takes, which means for me, putting in the time, enlisting the coaches, working on improving my game, and pulling out all the stops to succeed.“

For MeKenzie, there is no passing the buck, no telling herself she will do it tomorrow, or that something was good enough. She goes in and does the work everyday because she doesn’t want to look back and say, “Oh, I wish I had worked harder or I wish I had done more.”

Can’t we all relate to that!

So what does pulling out the stops look like for MeKenzie?   Obviously her training has changed to align with her goals. With her goals in mind she to went to MisFit athletics, and coach Seth Page, to get a program that would give her the challenges she needed to improve.

At this level of competitive CrossFit, it’s not just training for hours and hours on end. All aspects of your lifestyle need to be adjusted.

“There is a lot more that just working out, most people have to look at everything in their lifestyle that contributes, because if you are skimping in other areas, it will catch up to you in performance. “

With the CrossFit Regionals starting in a month, we asked how Mekenzie is going to prepare. Her response has the wisdom of a previous games athlete.   Because the workouts are unknowable, you have to look at the past to be prepared. MeKenzie pointed out that the Open has long and short grinding workouts that required heavy breathing and less skill, where the CrossFit Regionals require high skill lifting, long and short workouts and heavier barbells. So while the amount of time in training has remained the same for MeKenzie there is a different style to preparing from the upcoming competition.

With our next question, it became more clear to us that MeKenzie’s mindset is spot on.

I asked MeKenzie what movements she has struggled with in the past.

Her response was gold.

Both her and her coach made the conscience decision to get away from saying she isn’t good at something or that she has a weakness. Instead she is focusing on not being afraid of them, doing the work that needs to be done, and not letting it get in her head that she is bad at something.

She said, “There is nothing I can’t do. There are things I can get better at but at the same time you can be better at everything even if you are really good at it.”

Who inspires and motivates MeKenzie to give it her all?

The answer is her mom, who was a strong, independent, single mother who raised MeKenzie and her sister. Sadly, five years ago her mom passed away. This has given MeKenzie a deep desire to celebrate life because you only live once. “My parents did everything they could for me, so if I didn’t make my life everything I want it to be, it wouldn’t do justice for what they did for me.“

Next I asked MeKenzie is she had any advice for other women that want to compete on a national or international level. In true Mekenzie fashion she broadened her advice to be for anyone that wants to accomplish anything.

She said, “Don’t let anyone tell you than you can’t do something. But be realistic and if you really want to do anything really well, you have to pull out all the stops and get serious about it and say, ‘I want to go for it.’ For a long time I was afraid to admit that I wanted this. So after I went for it and got over my fears, I worked with a professional, and I was ready to commit.”

The big takeaway, it seems, is that the key to being a CrossFit Games Athlete is in the mind.  It was extremely clear while talking to MeKenzie that her head is in the right place.  I know I will take that to my own training and into other parts of my life as well, because a good mindset is gold!

It sounds like that this past CrossFit Games team athlete is ready to compete on an individual level. We look forward to rooting for MeKenzie Riley in the Mid Atlantic Regionals June 2-4 and we hope you do too!

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