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Learning CrossFit the Hard Way: Brendan Clarke

Brendan Clarke Working Out in his Home Gym

Brendan Clarke Working Out in his Home Gym

What is the spirit of CrossFit?

For many, it’s the personal satisfaction of reaching set goals and becoming stronger both physically and mentally. For others it’s about a self-journey through fitness. While for some, it’s about facing fears and challenges and overcoming them.

So when it comes to finding an athlete that typifies the spirit of CrossFIt, it’s hard to look past Brendan Clarke.

Hailing out of a remote, outback town in Australia, Clarke’s journey through CrossFit is one that is truly unique, raw and inspirational.

The 19 year old was introduced to the sport a little over a year ago while trying to improve his fitness for high school rugby. But unlike many of us inner city dwellers, his ability to learn CrossFit was seriously impacted by where he lived.

For Clarke, it’s not as easy as walking into a local box and getting a trainer or coach to teach him the movements. Clarke lives in a small town called Elimbah, which is a long way form any CrossFit affiliate gym. The distance and time it would take him to attend any sessions forced the youngster to learn the sport another way.

While most us were training at our local box, learning as much as we can from other athletes and coaches, Clarke was trawling the Internet finding videos and websites on how to learn CrossFit.

“I used to watch all the Olympic lifting movements from the Mike Burgener videos from YouTube and from CrossFit HQ,” Clarke reveals.

“I think I downloaded them all and watched them like 50 times each, and then I’d run outside, do a rep, record it, look at it, run back in, watch the clip again and just compare it. That was pretty much my days of training.”

So with a handful of rusty bars and second hand equipment, and with only a few months of self-training behind him, Clarke decided to have a crack at the CrossFit Games Open in 2011. For the first time ever, the qualifying process had been opened up to allow athletes to submit weekly workout scores online via video uploads, meaning they didn’t have to be a member of an affiliate box to compete.

In Clarke’s case, this was perfect, and week-by-week the teenager posted his workouts on the Games website, drawing quite a reaction from the public. I personally remember leader-boarding every few days just to watch his uploads. One week he would be working out barefoot with his younger brother rolling weights to him, while another week he’d be doing pull-ups on a rusty bar in the rain.

But not only were his performances unique and interesting, to say the least, but they were also extremely impressive. Remarkably, by the end of the Open, and despite all his limitations, Clarke managed to qualify for the Regionals.

“Qualifying was an awesome feeling, but also pretty scary knowing how hard the next stage would be.”

Clarke Being Awarded the Spirit of the Games Award in 2011

Clarke Being Awarded the Spirit of the Games Award in 2011

Clarke’s Cinderella story, however, eventually came to an end. His 28th place finish at the Regional’s wasn’t enough to earn him a spot in the Games finals in California. But he didn’t end up going home empty handed that weekend. His amazing journey through the Open and Regionals didn’t go unrecognized, and he was awarded the ‘Spirit of the Games’ award by the judges.

“That was awesome. I remember after the last workout before the day was about to wrap up my parents were like, ‘come on let’ go, let’s go home’ and I said ‘na, we gotta stay for the presentation and see everyone get their titles.” he says.

“And then before it started they called out my name for a Spirit of the Games award! It was totally awesome, like getting recognition and all. It was just awesome having people clap for you and it made me want to do better next year.”

And now, that time has come.

With his amazing 2011 journey behind him, and with a full year of CrossFit training under his belt, Clarke has his sights on bigger and better achievements this time around.

In the past year, Clarke has been embraced by the community and has been offered training advice from a number of leading coaches and athletes including Chris Saliba from Coastal CrossFit. He now also makes regular trips to the Gold Coast every few weeks to get some one on one training with at Raw Strength and Conditioning, and to go over his strength and condition program with him.

“Now I’m in league with CrossFit Gold Coast and they help out. I do Raw Strength  and Conditioning’s programming and [they are] basically my coaches now, so that pretty much sorts everything out for me most days,” Clarke says.

Clarke in Action at the 2011 Regionals

Clarke in Action at the 2011 Regionals

“Compared to last year I had no confidence, my strength was pretty terrible. Everything is so much better now, my strength and confidence is going up.”

At this stage, Clarke’s dream of going to California to compete in the Games is still very much alive. After a “one workout” policy in the Open, he finished 25th overall in the Australian region to book himself a ticket to the Regionals for a second time.

“My first goal is to get to the third day, but if I make top ten it would be awesome,” he says.
“I know it’s a very tough region.”

At the ripe age of 19, and with an appetite and desire to improve in the sport, Clarke may very well become a household name in the CrossFit community in years to come. However, regardless if his 2012 campaign ends next month, or carries through the to final event at the Games, one thing is for sure: his journey through the sport is nothing short of inspirational, and is definitely within the true spirit of CrossFit.

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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.