“Life is just like CrossFit® – you have to keep it balanced” – Rich Froning
Cookeville, Tennessee. We arrive at Rich Froning’s house in the early afternoon, after following his silver pickup truck in a caravan of crossfitters, making our way on a country road across vast fields and green forests. Rich has invited us to come with him to his new home, a huge house surrounded by open fields, just a ten minute drive from central Cookeville. The sun is high when we pull up and get out of the car.
“We get visitors through quite often, it’s part of it. I enjoy it! Hanging out in the gym, hanging out in the garage. We have fun. People like coming over. It’s a good place. It’s cheap to live here, and beautiful. We have lots of lakes and rivers close by.”
Rich greets us with his daughter Lakelyn in his arms. She has a steady grip around a toy mobile phone that keeps making loud noises. “It’s her favorite toy,” he laughs and shakes his head. He puts her down on the ground and she starts to drag him around the front of the house.
People from the other cars are walking around and checking out the new space. Some of them are members of Rich’s team, CrossFit® Mayhem Freedom, that will compete together in the Reebok CrossFit® Games in July, but there are also other crossfitters arriving to hang out. Rich had a gym at his old house that was open for anyone in the CrossFit® community and tells us that they are planning to build a something similar here.
“We’ll build a bigger space soon. It will be a little farther from the house, and also a gym inside the house – just for Hillary and me. Yesterday, the garage got a little cramped. ”
We met with Rich earlier the same morning, when he and his team were doing track training at the Cookeville Colleague Football Stadium. After that, we joined them at Rich’s father’s house a bit outside of town where they did an intense workout before lunch.
“Running is the most challenging for me,” he sighs. “The team and I set out to run two or three mornings a week. If you get better at lifting you have to get better at running. The thing with CrossFit® is that you have to find the balance and be good at all of the exercises all of the time.”
Rich’s house is an impressive two-story building, set against a expansive green fields. There’s not a neighbor in sight. Standing out in the backyard we can see his wife Hillary inside the house with an interior decorator. They are debating what color of wooden floors to pick for the living room. They will build a man cave in the basement, Rich tells us, which will be the only room in the house where he will have any say. He laughs.
“Obviously Hilary is good looking, but what I really fell for was her brutal honesty. She would never let me get away with nonsense.”
Rich met Hillary a few years back when getting his hair cut at the local barber. They started talking and he added her on Facebook. A year later they were engaged, and now seven years later they are married and have one baby girl.
Lakelyn has started making her way to the back of the house, a construction site where a porch will soon be ready. We all walk slowly, following her lead.
“My priorities changed some when I became a father. I still work out several times a day, every day. I make a living being fit, but I also want to focus on being a good father and a husband” he explains.
Rich holds the CrossFit® title “Fittest Man In History”. At the age of 28, he has won the CrossFit® Games five times, the first four times as an individual athlete, and the following one as part of a team. This year marks the second time Rich will enter the competition as part of a team instead of as an individual.
“Living life to your full potential is getting the most out of your body and situation. Not just physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Being the best dad, the best athlete and the best husband I can be. Life is just like CrossFit®. If you start to focus on one thing, another thing is going to start to fade. So you want to be well balanced in all areas.”
Being called the fittest man in history is something that Rich is proud of, even though he thinks the title itself is a stretch.
“I’m the fittest man of the modern CrossFit® era possibly. There will be people fitter than me down the road. Today people are getting fitter quicker, but to take the title they’ll have to win six CrossFit® Games titles”, he says and smiles to himself.
Lakelyn effortlessly walks barefoot across the grass in front of us to a half built brick wall where she tries to climb up and jump down on the other side. Rich catches her in the middle of her jump, sits her gently down on the ground, and hands over her shoes.
“She was literally about to jump! But hey, she’s got to learn that the decisions she makes have consequences. She’s making a smart decision and putting her shoes back on now.”
To actually win The Games or to be a CrossFit® athlete requires a lot of sacrifice, Rich explains.
“You wake up and that’s all you think about. You go to bed thinking about it. Every day you dream about making it a reality. To become the best you have to be obsessive. “
“I don’t want to be in the top 10, I want to win. To be a dad and a husband and to do those things – I couldn’t do both or one would suffer and that’s not fair to her”, he says, pointing at Lakelyn who’s attempting to conquer another brick formation, now with her shoes on.
Rich was born in Michigan but has lived in Cookeville for the past 24 years. This is the place he truly considers his home.
“I grew up just 1 mile up the road. I got lost in the woods during the days – I was never any good at video games. My parents always made me go out and do a lot of chores. I appreciate it now, but at the time it sucked,” he chuckles. “I turn 29 in July, mid-life crisis coming up next year.”
Rich was one of 32 first cousins, 25 of whom were boys.
“I’ve been pretty active for most of my life. Growing up, there were a lot of competitions. Comparing baseball stats and stuff. I grew up as a team sports guy, playing baseball and football. CrossFit® was my first individual sport.”
A normal day for Rich includes two to three workouts. He often starts the days in the gym he owns downtown, CrossFit® Mayhem, just a short drive from his house.
“CrossFit® is social. In our gym the youngest member is 5 and the oldest is 74. You get all types and all generations working out together, which you know, is pretty cool. One thing we talk about in CrossFit® is that everyone is an athlete,”
“We played hockey last night and we recently started up a men’s baseball league. We try to play some sports in the evenings to actually use the fitness. I don’t do well sitting around, if you haven’t already noticed”, he chuckles and starts walking after Lakelyn who is now set on exploring another part of the backyard.
Rich doesn’t have a fixed schedule for his workouts, other than that every day should include exercise. For him, succeeding is rather about having the right mentality.
“You have to be obsessive. Everything else for me was secondary for the past 5 years, from 2010-2014. You have to hate to lose more than you love to win” he explains.
“You’re constantly working towards reaching your full potential. As long as you are always working to get better, when your life is over, you will have reached it, because you’ve just kept on trying to reach it.”
To succeed, Rich adds that you also need support from people around you.
“All people I train with – my sponsors, people at the gym. I couldn’t do what I do without the support from everyone.”
Lakelyn attempts to climb into one of Rich’s cars, happily saying “baba” throughout her attempt. Baba is her word for bottle, another favorite thing of hers.
Learning to move the right way is also important, according to Rich. That’s how you prevent injuries. If you are injured you can’t train, the equation is as simple as that, he explains.
“You need to protect yourself in the right way. Tweaks and soreness will happen, and it’s important to use the right protective gear. There is a big difference between an injury and just being sore.”
“Crossfitters are very proactive. We use the protective gear we need – belts, knee sleeves, wrist sleeves, elbow sleeves and tape. When you have a 300 pound barbell crashing on you, your joints and ligaments can only take so much. They need a little bit of help.”
Innovation is a huge part of developing sports equipment that prevent injuries, Rich explains. “If you are using either old research or old design, you will eventually get stuck.”
In a game that is constantly evolving, Rich likes to see brands let the athletes be part of the product development. This allows them to understand the needs of the people using the products, and quickly adapt to the latest trends.
Rich tells us that crossfitters are often well educated. They know a lot about the body and how it functions. A lot of them come from an exercise science background. Rich himself has a college degree in sports.
“You can talk about your body as a science experiment. You learn new stuff every day; doing different things. You see what strength programs you get the most out of physically. You’re constantly learning; volume and intensity wise. You see what your body adapts to. For me, the more volume I get, the better I get.”
The main reason Rich loves CrossFit® is because it gives him a chance to compete.
“I don’t mean compete like at the CrossFit® Games, but to compete with myself and with the people I train with. It makes you push yourself. You learn a little bit more about yourself doing workout, and about the people you are hanging out with as well.” “-You learn a lot about a person from working out with them” he explains.
“I hate to see people get too worked up about their numbers or personal bests. You want to have a little bit of stress, get better at things, that competitive spirit, but you don’t want it to ruin your day. CrossFit® is supposed to be a stress relief and not an added stress. We already have enough stress in our lives.”
The CrossFit® community is very important to Rich. It includes everyone in the community –the people you train with at the gym, in your home garage or your partner.
“I don’t take rest days. It’s not that all workouts have to be high intensity. But I need to move in some way. We are created to move, so I like to move everyday.”
He smiles and looks over at his daughter who is still making her way across the grass. She has not stood still once since we arrived at the house.
“She started gymnastics two weeks ago and loves it. I’m never going to make her do anything against her own will, but I will always push her to be active in some way.”
Rich Froning will compete together with his team, CrossFit® Mayhem Freedom, in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit® Games, in Carson California, July 19-24th. It will then be decided if the fittest man in history will add another win to his list of achievements.
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