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Amanda Allen: Defying the Odds and Age

Amanda Allen at the 2011 CrossFit Games

Amanda Allen at the 2011 CrossFit Games

‘Iceland’ Annie Thorisdottir might have taken out last years CrossFit Games title, and the quarter of a million dollar prize money, but she wasn’t the only person to capture the imagination of the CrossFit world that weekend.

Nine months before the Games finals, Australian competitor Amanda Allen knew almost nothing about the sport of CrossFit. At the time she was training for the World Canoeing Championships and was told it may improve her core strength.

Allen in action in this year's Open

Allen in action in this year’s Open

After failing to qualify for the world event, Allen decided to try her luck in the CrossFit Open. Remarkably, she managed to make it to the Regional’s, and then qualified for the Games with an unlikely podium finish in the Australian division.

She then went on to surprise herself and much of the CrossFit community by finishing 19th overall at Home Depot. Not only was she one of the most inexperienced athletes in the field, she was also the oldest. Allen, turned 41 years old when she flew back from the Games, and was one of the most senior competitors to ever compete in the Games finals.

However, while it’s still early days, and Amanda hasn’t even passed the Regional stage yet, it’s fair to say her performance so far in 2012 has been even more impressive than last year.

In this years Open, Allen not only had an increase in competition (with the standard of CrossFit rising enormously across all levels) but she also had to deal with a serious injury that would have kept most professional athletes on the sidelines for a number of weeks.

In February this year (2012), Allen was diagnosed with a fractured femur. Weeks out from the opening workout she couldn’t even put weight on her left leg and it appeared her dream of returning to California to compete in 2012 were over.

Allen and Katie Hogan at last year's Games

Allen and Katie Hogan at last year’s Games

Remarkably, Allen defied the odds, pushed through the pain and qualified for the Regionals with an unbelievable 4th place finish in the Australian division.

John caught up with the Amanda this week where she revealed more about her grueling Open campaign, who her main competitors are this year, and her thoughts on the restrictions of age in CrossFit.

First up, can run us through your experience in this year’s Games Open?

Well the secret of my Open was that I competed on a fractured femur (diagnosed at the beginning of February). In fact, I seriously contemplated not competing in the Open due to my injury and the level of pain.

It was a distressing time. Doctors would have had me on crutches with complete rest, even from walking. Four weeks before the open began I could not weight bare on my left leg – the pain was 10/10!

I took a lot of painkillers and anti-inflammatories for relief, it seemed never-ending. Ultimately, I decided to enter the Open to keep my Games dream alive, praying for a miracle along the way. So when 12.1 was announced I was concerned. I shouldn’t have been jumping on a fractured femur, but somehow I managed to do one Burpee and then another until I reached 117, which was my worst workout of the open.

I was stoked, particularly to discover that I hadn’t done further damage to my injury during 12.1. Each workout I just turned up, broke the movements down, approached it carefully, conservatively, with a plan devised by my coach Ben Norman of Crossfit Adelaide.

I persevered throughout the entire open, one day, one workout, one rep at a time. I healed as I went along and I was happy and grateful to have competed, completed and qualified for Regionals, with not too shabby performances under the circumstances. Passion, determination and support are powerful allies in tough times!

So now, what are your expectations heading into the Regionals?

Not to be injured, which is exactly how I will be! My healing is right on track.

Also to have a fantastic time, to compete hard and strong, to surprise myself, to leave no doubt, and if I am lucky, to earn a spot at the 2012 Crossfit Games in California again!

Who do you think will be your main competition at the Regional’s?

There is no doubt that Amy Dracup is the one to watch again this year. Her Open performances were solid and she is a strong, consistent and experienced competitor.

There are a few unknown girls at the top of the leaderboard in the Oz region, so there will be some dark horses to watch – Jessica Coughlan and Kara Gordon.

Of course Ruth Anderson Horrell has been training hard since a 35th place finish in the Games last year (finishing 3rd in the Open this year), so she’s certainly eyeing a top 3 finish.

Nonetheless, big competitions can undo the inexperienced. Heavier weights and tougher workouts will change things up from the predominantly aerobic-based qualifying workouts, so anything is possible.

I came into Regionals’ in 24th place last year, so I was certainly not on anyone’s radar. That can definitely happen again this year and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds!

Can Annie Thorrisdottir be beaten this year?

I think Annie will be beaten this year. Kris Clever obviously wants the title back, but anyone in the top 60 worldwide is a serious contender on her day!

Now, you really made a name for yourself at the Games last year. Do you expect the standard to be a lot harder this time around?

The Games standard of competition is tough already, so not sure if the standard will get harder as much as the competitors will keep getting better and the margins between and winning and losing will keep getting smaller.

This will be the toughest year to date to qualify for the Games. There are no sure things. Regionals will be a huge battle for those top places. They said that the standard of competition improved dramatically at last year’s Games, but you only have to look at all the new women in the top 60 worldwide now to get a sense of how significantly the field has both grown and improved since then.

You started Crossfit only nine months before competing in the Games last year. That must have been an amazing experience?

I had absolutely no idea what I had fallen into. I really only began Crossfitting more than twice per week when the 2011 Open started, prior to that I had been focussed on qualifying for the Canoeing World Championships in Hungary in August 2011. But I didn’t quite make the team, so I turned my attention to Crossfit for fun, and it was a wild ride.

I just kept following my nose and having a hell of a time. Looking back I see how clueless I really was. I don’t even know what I was thinking at Regionals! One thing I know I wasn’t thinking was that I would be going to California in July. Absolutely, utterly, no-way!

Even on the Sunday of Regionals, sitting in 3rd place, I was certain it was a mistake, that I wouldn’t finish top three. You couldn’t have convinced me otherwise! So, to discover at the end that I was 3rd was nuts. My coach Ben Norman told me at the time that I really didn’t know what had just happened to me, and he was right – I had no idea! I’d only watched a bit of Crossfit on YouTube and I was amazed by it!

The Games blew my mind. It was the single most fun I have had doing just about anything in my life and I want to go back for more fun in 2012!

How were you introduced to CrossFit?

My dear friend Mareike came rushing into my PT studio one day absolutely raving about Crossfit and that she was starting. I just thought she was on a strange trip, I listened and acted pleased for her, then got on with my work. But she must have planted a seed inside because a few weeks later I was calling Ben Norman at Crossfit Adelaide asking to do some one-on-one training to support my canoeing goals.

I wanted to get my core and upper body stronger, and secretly I wanted abs like popstar Pink! In the beginning I didn’t want to do skipping or box jumps because I didn’t think they supported my canoeing goals. My squats were embarrassing, I couldn’t clean 40kg for shit, but my general fitness and strength was above average.

Anyway, Ben put up with me and I kept turning up (laughs)!

When did you realize it was going to be the sport for you?

All through the lead up to Regionals I had a sneaking suspicion that I had found my sport. But I am a loyal person and my canoeing coach had put a lot of time and effort into developing me as an athlete, so I felt a commitment to him to return to canoeing at the end of winter 2011.

But when I qualified for the Games I knew I was letting canoeing go. There isn’t a sport on the planet that I have ever felt this level of excitement and passion for. My life has been re-defined by my involvement in Crossfit. I have never fully belonged in any sporting community the way I fit right into the culture of Crossfit. It’s filled with strange and wonderful, driven and complex individuals, supporting one another in their pursuits of personal betterment. I love it!

Your athletic background is quite extensive, tell us a bit about your sporting achievements?

It’s a long list, I’ve been on the planet a little while now!

State Mountain Bike 2nd Place, way, way back in history.

Multiple State & National Cycling Titles, Qualified for the Paralympics Cycling team with blind cyclist Sarnya Parker.

Multiple Local, State, National and World Triathlon Titles – I spent about 4 years as a top 40 professional Triathlete.

State and National Canoeing Titles; first place at lots of duathlons, swimming events, running races, orienteering events and that’s about it, until Crossfit entered my life.

What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

I am strong and I can go forever. The longer and heavier the WOD the happier I am. That said, my recent injury has forced me to focus on an area that was otherwise a weakness – gymnastics skills. So more than ever now, I think I have a solid well-rounded package to bring to competition.

Also my mental toughness and attitude is a great strength, I’m calm and focussed, always rising to the challenge in competition. I find that I always have another level when the gun goes off at a big event. Some people train hard and don’t deliver at big events, I train solid and consistent and rise to the challenge on the big day. We will see how that all comes together for me soon enough.

Last year you were the only competitor over 40 to qualify for the Games finals, what’s your secret?

I work at all the one-percenters, all the time. A balanced schedule of massively high quality training and recovery is the ultimate key. I do more to recover than any athlete I have ever met, and I have been refining this strategy for over 20 years. This is what allows me to turn up day after day to double training days 100% ready for the task at hand – at 41years of age.

I never allow myself to get hungry or tired – imagine that! This is basically what I do professionally too (Athletic Development Coaching, Lifestyle Coaching, Personal Training), so I walk the talk as well as teach it. I love it with a passion, I love feeling full of energy and unbridled health and vitality, and I doubly love the opportunity to help others achieve the same for themselves. The power of example – there is nothing more powerful!

Finally, with the huge growth CrossFit has experienced over the past year, how big do you think it will be in five years time?

It is going to be insane, unfathomable! This is the fastest growing, most dynamic and exciting sport to hit the planet in forever. The development of the sport in the last year alone, the numbers participating in the open, the boxes opening up all over the globe, the frenzy sweeping the planet. It is only just gaining momentum now, the sky’s the limit.

In five years’ time I will be almost 47, ready for Masters, unless I can still squeeze into the top 60 Women’s Individual category on a wing and a prayer! Never say never I reckon, dream, believe, achieve they say. It’s certainly worth the dream!

For more information about Amanda, or to contact her, head to her website Realise PT.


The Rx Review is an independent fitness website, reporting on the Sport of Fitness, functional fitness news, The CrossFit Games, health and diet related information, and also provides reviews on sports performance products.