Mayhem Talks ‘Equal Fitness’ for Both Teams, Genders
Team event three at the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games Regional was a couplet of Assault Bike calories and partner deadlifts completed by male-female pairs.
Those who watched this event play out at the Central Regional witnessed CrossFit Mayhem’s two teams finish the event in second and fourth place.
But it wasn’t their placing that caught my eye; it was who rolled the barbell forward each time the teams advanced down the floor.
Across both pairs on both Mayhem teams, it was the women who pushed the barbell forward, as their male counterparts stood still and visibly took a few deep breaths.
While a small detail, one that easily could have been missed by many, it was an impactful detail for those who have been watching the sport for years, especially when you consider CrossFit’s “GOAT,” Rich Froning, was one of those men. It was a silent display of the faith that Froning and the men of Mayhem put in their female counterparts, the high respect they have for them and their ability to compete.
They expect more out of us.
“Most workouts at home, we’ll even do the same amount of calories,” continues Barber, who notes that when Regionals and Games events prescribe a lesser number of calories for women on the Assault Bike or rower, it feels like a break from training.
“Equal fitness,” adds Darren Hunsucker, another returning member of Mayhem. “It’s that simple.”
Equal fitness. It’s that simple.
When Presented With the Unexpected
In a live broadcast after this past year’s CrossFit Invitational, Director of the CrossFit Games Dave Castro announced he would be switching the 2018 Regionals and Games team competition from six-person teams to four-person teams.
“I was analyzing past years, and six people is a lot to have out on the floor,” said Castro when I asked about his rationale. “Six people is a lot to program for and a lot to organize. And when you look at the Invitational, we used to do six but a few years ago, we dropped it down to four, and I started to think of that as a proof of concept.
“This year when we were preparing for the Invitational, it affirmed to me that this four-person format is great, and if we made the switch to four for the Games, it would be easier to program. It would be better programming.”
Castro’s announcement took many teams, including two-time CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup Champion CrossFit Mayhem Freedom, by surprise.
“It was hard,” admits Froning. “It was definitely hard the first couple days.”
“Most of us had already been training, and we knew that Tasia was already planning on making her way out to Cookeville.” The small Tennessee community of Cookeville is where Froning and his teammates call home.
And while many teams were forced to cut two members, Froning says there was “no chance” Mayhem was going to leave any teammates behind. The only solution was to field two teams … and they did.
“Luckily, Kristin [Miller] was willing to come to Cookeville and it's been great ever since,” says Froning.
As a result, CrossFit Mayhem Independence was born and would compete under the CrossFit Mayhem affiliate name alongside returning powerhouse CrossFit Mayhem Freedom.
In talking with the eight member squad between events at the Central Regional, they made it clear that although Freedom and Independence are competing separately on paper, they view themselves as one unit. Both teams wore matching outfits for all Regionals events, and post-event celebrations were kept to a minimum until the second team crossed the finish line.
“We literally train together no different than if we were one big team,” says Froning. “Until the Regional events were announced, and even after, we've done team workouts with partners of the other team. It’s been like one big group.”
Until the Regional events were announced, and even after, we've done team workouts with partners of the other team. It’s been like one big group.
Upon hearing this, Castro smirks, “Rich knows what he’s doing.”
“I think that’s a really great idea,” continues Castro. “Mayhem has a unique setup where they’re all such good athletes that they can do that. It’s going to raise the caliber of all eight athletes.”
And that’s exactly what appears to be happening, as both Mayhem Freedom and Mayhem Independence finished this weekend’s Central Regional in the top five, thereby earning spots to the Reebok CrossFit Games this summer in Madison, Wis. With one weekend of Regionals left, only two other gyms have qualified two teams thus far.
“I’m surprised by how well the second team is doing,” says Castro when asked about Independence’s performance in the Regional."
“I knew Rich’s team would make it. I didn’t think the second Mayhem team would. I’m really impressed. They’re really good athletes.”
I knew Rich’s team would make it. I didn’t think the second Mayhem team would. I’m really impressed.
One of those Independence athletes is Ted Starkweather.
While all seven other Mayhem athletes have competed in the Games before, Starkweather had never even competed in Regionals until this past weekend. In fact, the 23-year-old was planning to take this year off from the Open, only signing up one day before 18.1 was announced.
“The Central Region is such a tough region to qualify for as an individual and I wasn’t expecting to be on a team. But last minute, I signed up anyway and ended up doing the best I’ve ever done in the Open,” says Starkweather.
It was in the months that followed that one day Froning invited Starkweather to the infamous Mayhem barn to do a partner workout with Hunsucker, who has ironically been one of Starkweather’s coaches since he started CrossFit in 2013. From there, Starkweather continued attending team training sessions – which he admits was a drastic increase from his normal training volume – but the idea of competing on one of the Mayhem teams still seemed “far-fetched." He thought they were just prepping him for the future.
But here Starkweather is—now a Regionals qualifier and Games qualifier in a matter of weeks.
“I asked Rich last week, ‘Do you think Independence can make the Games?’ He responded: ‘Do you?’”
I asked Rich last week, ‘Do you think Independence can make the Games?’ He responded: ‘Do you?’
“I realized then that this was my opportunity to take. It was on me and my teammates to grab this. Deep down, I knew we could.”
“This whole thing hasn’t really sunk in yet,” adds Starkweather, shaking his head, visibly still in dismay.
A Step into the Spotlight
Introductions to personalities like Starkweather and details like the Mayhem women moving forward the barbell are exactly the outcomes Castro was hoping for when he opted for four-person teams. He wants fans to be able to become more invested in the team competition and pay more attention to it.
“With four people, it’ll be easier for fans to follow teams and really get to know the people,” he says.
“With six, people kind of got lost amongst the teams, but with four, you can know four team members’ names easily. Watching Regionals, I know it was the right call. I’m glad we made that decision.”
In particular, Castro thinks there will now be more eyes on the women in the team competition. He’s excited for fans to take notice of what the field can do, and notes that Barber and Percevecz should expect to receive a lot of that attention as two of the most seasoned athletes in the division.
“People used to say that building a team all came down to your women. It was always a question of could you find three good women. Nowadays, the women in CrossFit are so good that finding two good women to be on a team is not nearly as hard as it used to be. There are so many really good women in CrossFit.”
“With four people, fans are going to start to notice women are carrying some of these teams. It’s crazy to see how far it’s come along.”
The anticipation of this added spotlight does not scare Barber.
“Tasia and I like to beat the boys,” she says. “We always want to and we always try to.”
Tasia and I like to beat the boys,” she says. “We always want to and we always try to.
Percevecz nods in agreement. “I feel the same amount of pressure as before, nothing more,” she says. “It's just self-inflicted pressure that I put on myself. Everyone at Mayhem is so great and caring that you don't feel that added pressure even though we do have eyes on us.”
And if you ask Castro (and probably everyone else in the CrossFit community), those eyes aren’t going anywhere.
“I think Mayhem will always be the team with the target on their back,” he says.
“But I think they’ll have to work even harder because there are some other really good teams forming,” he adds.
When asked if these other ‘super teams’ are motivating Mayhem Freedom and Mayhem Independence to put in that extra work, Froning response is one you would only hear from a leader who has true confident in his people.
“I don't think this group really needs motivation. We all know that you have to put the work in, and we all enjoy working hard. We are all very self-motivated people.”
I don't think this group really needs motivation. We all know that you have to put the work in, and we all enjoy working hard.