Getting into something called the CrossFit Games was a little bit scary to Jenny LaBaw.
"Heck yeah," the 2000 Rifle High School graduate admits. "I mean, you're asking a Colorado mountain girl to swim in the ocean. That's pretty intimidating."
Of course, navigating waves through salt water is only a small part of what the CrossFit Games are all about. There are loads of strength tests, conditioning events to test a competitor's endurance to their limits and other flexibility requirements that even the average Olympic gymnast could respect.
Yet, through all of that, LaBaw, 30, has excelled, and then some. She's one of the top competitors on the Reebok-sponsored CrossFit Games competitive circuit, winning the Northern California Regional event last month in her second full year of competition. Now, after placing sixth overall in the event last year, she's one of the proverbial favorites to win the CrossFit World Games, July 13 - 15 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
"I'm shocked," LaBaw said about her regional championship at the May 18 - 20 event. "I went into the thing hoping to make the top three and get on the podium, but I never would have thought I'd get on top of the podium and wind up 10 points ahead of everyone else. This has just been unreal."
The CrossFit Games were developed through a consistent training regimen used in fitness gyms and workout centers. The sport focuses on repetitive muscle movements and, instead of switching from one regimen to another like some workout programs do, it increases the intensity of those same workouts through overall progression.
Workouts include weight-bearing routines like deadlifts, with one consisting of carrying dumb bells in excess of 150 pounds in each hand across a long straightaway. Others consist of regular non-weight-bearing exercises such as pull ups, muscle ups and burpies, and swimming in the ocean is part of one of the cardiovascular events.
LaBaw was a two-sport standout at Rifle High, winning all-Far West League honors in softball and soccer. She picked up track and field at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, having success in the 400- and 800-meters and the 4x400-meter relay.
The success she had as a collegiate runner led her to begin running 10K and 5K races, along with half-marathons and marathons. LaBaw, however, was looking for something more to fulfill her competitive desires. That's when she found out about CrossFit in January of last year.
"One of the guys at my gym turned me on to it," LaBaw said. "I had an idea of what it was, but didn't really get the extent of it until I got there."
She made an immediate impression, placing in the Northern California Regional's top three her first year and, at the World Games, placing sixth.
LaBaw made an impression, she said, partially because she was a relative unknown in the sport last year and people didn't know what to expect of her. Though she doesn't feel there's a proverbial target on her back when she goes into this year's World Games, she said she understands people will know her strengths and weaknesses.
Regardless, that added competition only fuels LaBaw's desire to be more successful, even though some of the scary thoughts are still around.
"I think it's huge having that experience from last year, because I didn't have any expectations or any pressure to do well," she said. "Now with me having that experience of being there with the crowd really going and the adrenaline pumping, I'll have the ability to control my emotions a lot more.
"I wanna win this thing," LaBaw continued. "I'm not going there to just do OK. I really want to be on the podium at the end of the day, and I won't be happy until I get there."