In the moments before the “3-2-1, Go!”, the outcome of the impending task at hand can feel like a matter of life or death, and many CrossFitters often treat it as such. For Chris Kalec, though, the pressures of a CrossFit workout can never compare to those of standing on the edge of the 10-meter diving platform at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, with the hopes of his entire country resting on him. CrossFit? No problem.
After being pegged by his swimming coaches as a natural, Chris began training as a competitive diver when he was only six years old. As a young diver, Chris' training focused on gymnastics skills and learning the mechanics of diving. "Repetition, repetition, repetition," he says. "It's a lot like Oly lifting--there's a thousand ways to do it wrong, and only one way to do it right."
By eighteen, Chris was training for over six hours a day. In addition to over 100 dives per session, Chris began squatting and adding plyometric exercises to become more explosive.
After nearly 18 years of full-time training and eleven national titles, Chris took his final dive at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Roughly two years later, after a break from any type of directed training, Chris found CrossFit. "I did [the] Filthy Fifty for my first workout ever," he recalls. "It took me 45 minutes, and I probably spent 20 of those minutes on my hands and knees trying to catch my breath." While pretty standard for a first-time CrossFit experience, it's not what you'd expect from a former Olympian.
"A big weakness in diving is your cardiovascular ability,” he says. “You have none." After years of attention to skills and explosive moments, Chris had to build his endurance to meet the demands of CrossFit. Powerlifting and moving heavy weight also gave Chris trouble, as was exposed at the 2011 Regional, where he quickly fell behind in the thruster ladder and 315# deadlift/box jump event. Years of jumping and squatting on his toes have left Chris with underdeveloped hamstrings, making squatting with proper form today extremely challenging. "And deadlifts? Forget about it," he laughs. "My back is too broken up from diving."
On the other hand, higher-skilled gymnastics movements came easily to Chris. "Anything bodyweight, I'll crush it," he says. But then, as an afterthought, he adds, "If you take out the cardio aspect of it."
As a child who spent hours each day doing handstands and back flips, this gymnastics proficiency is no real surprise. However, Chris' Olympic lifting skills are somewhat unexpected, especially given his self-proclaimed issues with heavy weight. The same repetitiveness and focus on technique that Chris learned in his childhood diving lessons translate well to his Oly sessions. He also points out, "I'm very, very explosive. Diving was very explosive." The skills he learned in diving have given Chris an advantage with the high-skilled movements many CrossFitters struggle with.
In the past year, Chris has shifted focus to getting stronger and faster, with an eye on returning to the big stage for competition. After over twenty years of competing by himself, he is turning to a team for the first time, hoping to make it to the Home Depot Center with fellow athletes from L'Usine CrossFit.
Unlike most heading into the Open, Chris isn’t nervous. “Nothing is ever going to compare to the one dive that you have to get nines on at the Olympic trials,” he says. “CrossFit doesn’t faze me.”
Haley Byrnes competed on team CrossFit Fenway in the 2011 CrossFit Games, and is currently training to qualify for the team from CrossFit Southie. Each month, she looks at the backstory of CrossFit athletes to see how, if at all, their histories color their current training. If you know of somebody worth profiling, email Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs courtesy of Chris Kalec.