Tag Archives: CrossFit Games

Masters CrossFit Athlete John Mariotti Trains for the CrossFit Games 2014

John Mariotti (age 57) stands at the top of this year’s Masters CrossFit Open Competition. John’s path to Crossfit began with a meniscus tear that brought his ultramarathon-career to a sudden stop. He turned his focus to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but was frustrated by his younger, stronger, faster competitors. John bought a book by Pavel Tsatsouline, the famed Russian Kettlebell Master and author of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge: Xtreme Fitness for Hard Living Comrades and started training on his own. He discovered CrossFit in 2009, using it to gain an edge in Jiu-Jitsu, but he quickly fell in love with CrossFit as a sport in itself.

John has been a life-long athlete. In addition to Jui-jitsu and ultra marathons, John has been involved in TaeKwon-Do (6th degree black belt) Grappling, sprint triathlons, swimming , football, wrestling, track, water polo and snowboarding. Years of training and competition have taken their toll. It’s tough being a masters athlete. “My shoulder is tweaky, my knee has some tendinitis . . . but I’ve suffered nothing that has forced me to stop training. Some things caused a bit of a slow down or modification but not much. I’m pretty lucky that way.”

John’s strategy for avoiding injury includes lots of mobility training and massage. He goes for Assisted Release Therapy weekly, does thorough warm-ups before WODs, sleeps well, takes fish oil. “Besides that,” he says “I try not to do anything too stupid.”

Training for the games.

John placed 31st in his division in the 2013 CrossFit Open. John was extremely fit, but he knew he would need to fine tune his game in order to make it into the top 20. He looked for a coach, and was taken on by CJ Martin of CrossFit Invictus.   CJ worked with John to improve his technique for all the elements that had appeared in the CrossFit games. John has found the time spent with CJ to be extremely helpful. “CJ is a master coach in this area. He seems to know just how hard to push and when to back off a bit. He also keeps my mobilization and diet and sleep in mind as well.”

Today, John feels as good as he has felt all year. That’s a good feeling coming into competition. This has been a hard and busy year for John. He has moved from California to Dallas, TX to open a CrossFit box of his own: CrossFit Odyssey. In spite of the pressures of opening a business and adjusting to a new environment John has continued to meet challenges head-on. He competed in the TX state weightlifting championships in January and took first place in his age and weight division.

Diet for a Masters CrossFit Athlete

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John trains on a diet of “real food.” “Food is a joy for me and I never feel deprived eating the way I do.” He eats mostly paleo with lots of animal protein, fats and vegetables. He includes a lot of carbohydrates (potatoes are a huge favorite) as well. He does not eat grains with the exception of rice and avoids dairy and sugar.   He is an infrequent drinker.   John cooks for the week on Sundays. He has been following this diet for years, but has only recently increased his carbohydrate consumption. The carbs have been helping him deal with his high volume of training.

Advice for Masters Athletes in Training and Competition

When asked what advice he could off fellow masters athletes John responded :“It is easy for us get over-trained, especially if we just follow the same programming the younger guys do. Recovery is slower and PRs and gains are further between. Most of us still have that fire and try to keep up with the younger guys and that can be costly. Our minds and spirits are willing but the flesh doesn’t cooperate quite the way it did in years gone by. That being said…I can do things now that I could not do in the past…muscle ups, handstand pushups and double unders come to mind. I can lift more weight than I could 5 years ago. I move as quick as I did years ago and I have a much better “engine” than just a few months ago. My resting heartbeat is 43, which is as low as it has ever been. We can all get better…stronger, more skilled, and have better technique as long as we train smart as well as hard.”

John can be found at CrossFit Odyssey in Dallas, TX.

Masters CrossFit Regional Competitions: Unquenched desires

A petition is underway to impel CrossFit HQ to include Masters level Athletes in CrossFit Regionals Competitions.  At the moment of this writing there were over 2500 signatures.  I can understand HQ’s reluctance.  Big events are expensive and time consuming.  And there is a possibility (just a possibility) that Masters Athletes are not as exciting to watch as younger athletes.  Fewer endorsements.  Fewer admirers . . . hard to say.  In any case, here is what the petition looks like:
CrossFit Games, CrossFit Games HQ
With only 20 athletes in the various masters’ categories selected for the CrossFit Games, offering regional competitions would aid the vetting process, increase excitement and foster participation by athletes in the masters’ divisions. Also, regional competition will help increase networking and community building among regional affiliates. Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Your name]”

You can sign this by clicking here.

Regional Crossfit Games Competitions

There are alternatives.  There are a number of other outfits organizing masters Crossfit competitions.  An interesting points were recently put forth by Ray Garcia of Shoreline CrossFit:

  • First, people want to be acknowledged.
  • Second, they seem to want to be acknowledged within the CrossFit community.
  • Third, there are a lot of “masters” but we need to be segmented by age because clearly the biological evidence is we degrade with age.
  • Fourth, Crossfit proclaims meritocracy … survival of the “fittest” literally. So, how about a privately organized competition by region playing off the already existing larger masters competitions. For example, TJ’s runs a masters event on the west coast games style and so do Shoreline and CFNE. There are other large scale masters events. So, how about if those events feed “Winners” to a few centralized events, and to an eventual “National competition” and age bracket winners.


Having sent a young athlete to a CrossFit Regionals Competition and having served as a volunteer behind the scenes I can attest to the excitement and fun of Regional CrossFit games.  I hope CrossFit HQ will include Masters in Regionals CrossFit competitions.  Its probably a matter of time.  Oh.  And Money.  Let’s not forget that either.



Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smart and athletic

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Caffeine and Coffee have been used by athletes to improve athletic performance and to make training easier.  Research is also indicating that coffee may also reduce risk of cognitive decline that comes with age.  A recent study sought to determine which is responsible for the positive effects of coffee on function:  Coffee itself or caffeine?  Aged (or Masters as we prefer to call them) Rats who drink the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee a day do better at cognitively and physically challenging tasks than rats who were given only caffeine supplements.

The Rat Coffee Study Design

All rats were male.  And aged.  Which for rats means about 18 months old.  Rats were given divided into groups and given either

  • Rat chow spiked with powdered coffee
  • Rat chow spiked with the equivalent of plain caffeine

for 8 weeks.  Rats were then subjected to a battery of psychological and neurological tests:

  1. Rod walking:  requiring the animal to balance on a stationary, horizontal rod
  2. Wire suspension: measures muscle strength and ability to grasp a horizontal wire and remain suspended
  3. Inclined screen: measures muscle tone, strength, stamina, and balance by placing the animal on a wire mesh screen tilted 60° to the horizontal plane of the floor
  4. Accelerating rotarod: measures fine motor coordination, balance, and resistance to fatigue by assessing the duration that the animal can remain standing/walking on a rotating, slowly accelerating rod.
  5. Keel hauling.  Rats were immersed in water at one of four random start locations. Each rat was allowed 120 s to escape onto the platform
  6. Plank walking, which measures balance and coordination making the animal walk a plank set out over the starboard bow at a height of approximately 20 feet above shark infested waters.

Now that is a workout.  Performances were recorded with video for submission to the CrossFit Games 2014.

Coffee Performance vs. Caffeine Only Performance

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The rats who got the powdered coffee did better than the rats who received caffeine supplements.   What does this mean for us?  Coffee, like most foods, is a complex mixture containing hundreds if not thousands of different chemicals.  These chemicals include vitamins and minerals, but there are also many many others whose actions we don’t yet understand.

We also understand very little about how different nutrients interact.  We also know little about the effects of taking too much.   This is why it is better to eat a healthy diet of real food than to rely on supplements or No-Doze Monster drinks or whatever that stuff in the tiny bottles is called.  College students take note.  Masters athletes: Hold off on massive anti-oxidant supplements.  Anti-oxidants at high levels can damage DNA.

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smarter and more athletic


Last note on coffee:

10 cups is probably too much.  No note was made on how jittery and neurotic the rats felt.  High coffee consumption is associated with other problems.


Cropley V, Croft R, Silber B, Neale C, Scholey A, Stough C, & Schmitt J (2012). Does coffee enriched with chlorogenic acids improve mood and cognition after acute administration in healthy elderly? A pilot study. Psychopharmacology, 219 (3), 737-49 PMID: 21773723

Cho ES, Jang YJ, Hwang MK, Kang NJ, Lee KW, & Lee HJ (2009). Attenuation of oxidative neuronal cell death by coffee phenolic phytochemicals. Mutation research, 661 (1-2), 18-24 PMID: 19028509

Shukitt-Hale B, Miller MG, Chu YF, Lyle BJ, & Joseph JA (2013). Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (6), 2183-92 PMID: 23344884

Physiology of Fatigue: What are we fighting when we try to push through a challenging workout?

Why are workouts so hard?

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We are fighting a lot when we push ourselves through workouts that are challenging. There are times we may be fighting a bad attitude, discouragement, lack of confidence, drive or our own personalities, but we are, at times, also fighting a very complex regulatory system designed to protect us from severe self-induced damage.

Fatigue and Temperature

Fatigue can be defined as reaching a point where the body seeks to slow down or stop. Exhaustion is that point where a person (or animal) is unable to continue. The most important factor driving suppression of motor activity is believed to be brain temperature. In an untrained person, exhaustion may occur when core body temperature reaches 100 to 102F(~38 to 39C) while a highly trained person may not reach exhaustion until body temperature has reached 104F (~40C).

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Interestingly, it’s not only humans who are stopped at these temperatures. Internal temperatures of ~104 oF will stop other animals whether sprinters (Cheetahs) or the generally more placid and possibly endurance-oriented (Goats) (Taylor and Rowntree 1973). And yes, I’m sure you’re wondering: temperatures were measured rectally, and the animals ran on a treadmill while wearing masks so oxygen and carbon dioxide levels could be assessed. The research team also cranked the heat up. Cheetahs ran for shorter periods when the room was hot. The authors of this paper concluded that the duration of a Cheetah’s sprint is limited by core temperature, which is influenced by air temperature. Keep this in mind when you are working out in the summer with no air-conditioning. There are other factors that are also thought to play roles in regulation of intense physical output. Working muscles send feedback to the brain, and in most of us, they are not yelling “Go! Go! Go!” At first they are saying things like “we need more oxygen over here” and “pump the heart faster.” Unfortunately you maximum output can only go on for as long as you have the necessary materials to keep the system running. Your maximum obtainable heart rate will matter. That may be one you cannot make “just do it.” although you can improve your ability to pump blood with training.

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Blood concentrations of important factors or metabolites, and depletion of working materials, are also monitored by the brain. Changes in concentrations and availability of neurotransmitters, endorphins, cytokines, along with a build-up of ammonia in the brain, occur during continued intense exercise. Cerebral energy use increases requiring more oxygen, while blood flow will decrease by about 20% due to constriction of brain arterioles. Low oxygen, loss of neurotransmitters, and accumulation of waste products can cause a problem that is truly “all in your head” but a real problem none the less. An increased need for oxygen and fuel in the brain may be part of what causes someone to want to slow down or stop.

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Practice improves physiology and performance.

Increasing oxygen intake may improve performance not necessarily by providing muscles with additional oxygen, but in providing the brain with what it needs to keep the system running. Depletion of brain glycogen and excessive use of lactate as an alternative brain fuel may also signal fatigue. This may happen faster in untrained athletes. Physical training is, after all, about much more than simple strength and endurance. It includes getting all systems, including subtler aspects of physiology like the ability to dissipate heat, produce lactate, carry oxygen and oxygenate the brain, to work as efficiently as possible. We can reach our limits, but our brains rarely stupid enough to allow us to go beyond them and recklessly run our bodies off the edge of a cliff. The brain also likes to know what’s going on and practice (going through the motions) and rehearsal are important to performance. Rehearsing movements before a WOD may be as important as traditional warming up. It preps your system for what it is about to do and lets it know what is coming. Even imagining movements may help improve strength output and performance (Jeukendrup et al. 1996).

CrossFit training, rational mental toughness.

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We can improve performance intelligently rather than fight what we imagine to be a lack of mental toughness, or allow ourselves be discouraged. We can keep cool and well-hydrated. We can be patient enough to recognize that our physiological and biochemical systems are becoming more efficient as we train, even if our speed or strength has plateaued, and not give up on long-term goals. Finally, encouragement and cheers can help people achieve their maximal level of oxygen consumption (Nybo & Secher 2004) and maximum performance. This may be especially true if they are new to Crossfit and have type A personalities. New Crossfitters may be putting superhuman efforts into their workouts and should be congratulated and admired for these as much as our seasoned champions.

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801

JEUKENDRUP, A., SARIS, W., BROUNS, F., & KESTER, A. (1996). A new validated endurance performance test Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28 (2), 266-270 DOI: 10.1097/00005768-199602000-00017

Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801 Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005ResearchBlogging.org

CrossFit Games Competition: Recovery between WODs

CrossFit Games Competition and New Research.

There have been several new papers out on recovery from repeated sets of resistance exercise.  These may be important for people headed to the CrossFit Games Regional Competitions.  For those who don’t know, the CrossFit Games regional competitions last for several days and involve multiple WODs per day.  (note: WOD stands for WorkOut of the Day and is the term used for CrossFit workouts.)The same is true for the big CrossFit Games.  In CrossFit every “rep” counts.  Recovery between WODs and recovery between days may determine who moves from regional competition to The CrossFit Games 2013.  This is very different from the CrossFit Open Competition where CrossFit Games competitors may have up to a week before the next WOD.

Ice Between CrossFit WODs

Apply ice to stressed muscles between WODs when possible.  A lot of people will apply ice if they have injured themselves during a competition.  Or if they feel pain.  Applying ice to uninjured muscles during rests may also let an athlete do more sets.  A study published last May (2012) examined the effects of icing on trained rock climbers.  Those who iced their arms and shoulders were able to more pull-ups on the second and third sets than those who rested without ice.  Some things to note: The pull-ups were open hand, which is important to rock climbers.   Closed hand holds are pretty uncommon on rock.


Should muscles be iced after the CrossFit Open WODs?

Maybe.  If you find that you are still in pain three days after a WOD you may benefit from applying ice the next go around.  Its uncertain how this works.  It might work by slowing production of enzymes that are involved in producing molecules that cause pain and inflammation.  The pain, tenderness and inflammation  show up about 24 hours after an intense workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.  Cold slows down enzyme rates and may slow the onset of pain.  Or may reduce its intensity.

Bacon NT, Wingo JE, Richardson MT, Ryan GA, Pangallo TC, & Bishop PA (2012). Effect of two recovery methods on repeated closed-handed and open-handed weight-assisted pull-ups. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26 (5), 1348-52 PMID: 22516908

CrossFit Games 2013: doing a WOD with Syphilis

A recent inspirational CrossFit Games 2013 motivational post compares the decision to participate in the CrossFit Games 2013 Open with Cortez conquering the Aztecs:

CrossFit Inspiration WOD
Buy into it or your head goes in the toilet

“Cortez was an excellent motivator. Here’s how Cortez got the “buy in” from the rest of his men. He took away the option of failure. It was conquer and be heroes and enjoy the spoils of victory…or DIE! When Cortez and his men arrived on the shores of the Yucatan, he rallied the men for one final pep talk before leading his men into battle.  “We will go home in their ships.” And he uttered these words that changed the course of history. “Burn the Ships”. By burning their own ships, the commitment level of the men was raised to a whole new level. Amazingly, the men conquered the Aztecs . . . Why did they win? They had no escape. No fall back position. They had no choice! It was “succeed or die” Tomorrow is WOD 13.1… You have five WODs to burn your ship and prove to yourself  what you are made of.”

CrossFit Games 2013, Inspiration and Syphilis.

Here is something that is important to know. The Aztecs did not have ships. Cortez had syphilis and was crazy. Never let a lunatic “make you” burn your boats or bridges. You can probably get into enough trouble on your own.

There is something to be said though for group cohesiveness, identity, and support, as well as individual autonomy. Athletes tend to do better when they feel supported by their teammates. CrossFit is a team experience even though athletes may compete as individuals.  So preparing for the CrossFit Games 2013 should probably include bonding with your team.  There is a good potential mechanism for support: oxytocin. This is a biomolecule that stirs feelings of commitment, loyalty, and bonds individuals. It reduces feelings of anxiety. Being able to handle anxiety is a hallmark of a good athlete. Athletes also seem to do better when they have a sense of control over outcomes and training. Perhaps a good motivational speech is one that can induce an oxytocin dump in athletes’ brains. That may be the root of charismatic leadership.

(Cortez’s men may have really needed to support each other because of what Cortez did to them, never mind the help they had for their mission from blindsiding the Aztecs and infecting them with smallpox.)

Pepping GJ, & Timmermans EJ (2012). Oxytocin and the biopsychology of performance in team sports. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2012 PMID: 22997498

Training for the CrossFit Games: CrossFit Team Competitions and Strategies

Training for Team Competition
How do CrossFit teams prepare for competition?  While trainers and team members have been devoting a lot of thought and effort to training, CrossFit team training is still in its infancy.   We talked with six trainers and teams at the South Central Regional Competition and compared their strategies with their ultimate positions on the leaderboard.
First Place.
Dallas Central  sent two teams to the Regionals this year, with one new to competition and other highly experienced.  Coach Dean Xu  says team selections for their two teams ”Team 1” and “The B Dream” were based on individual performances in the open.  Team 1’s men include Matt Anderson, James Hugo, Don Walker and Trey Kubacak.  The Dallas Central men finished 271(Walker), 209th (Hugo), 63rd (Anderson) and 8th (Kubacak) in the Open, and finished first in the teams competition. The B Dream is new to competition.  Coach Dean Xu says it has been great to watch them fail, and learn from their mistakes.  “You learn a lot from competing.” says Xu “There is so much strategy within competitions.  Learning to do transitions is extremely important.  It’s very different from individual competition where you need to pace yourself.  In team competition, you need to pace the team, not the individual.  Team members need to go “all out.” Both teams trained as a group and focused on individual weaknesses.  “There wasn’t much time to get people faster or stronger, so skills and efficiency were our major focus” said Xu.
Fourth Place.
Jason Graves and Jonathan Shelton of Crossfit Waco, Waco, TX. wanted to keep team placements clear, objective and as fair as possible.   Slots went to their box’s top three men and the top three women, according to performance in the Open.  Shelton stated that this was also the best way to keep a well-balanced team.  This is the second year they have sent a team to the regionals.  Four of this year’s team members also competed last year.   Aspiring Waco team members worked out together beginning in January 2012.  “We look for the weaknesses of each individual and base our programming on that” says Graves.  “Our members all have different strengths as well.”  “We focused on that as much as we could with the time we had.  We did a lot of Olympic Lifting, high skill movements, heavy metcons, and a variation of all other aspects of CrossFit training in our workouts,” said Shelton.  When asked what they would do differently next year, they replied “WIN!”
Seventh Place
Crossfit Lake Charles from Lake Charles, Louisiana had a strong team this year.  Their top three women all qualified for individual competition at the regionals this year , but chose to go the team route.  The three, Danielle Sawyer age 30, Megan Noris also age 30, and Ashley Navarro age 28, along with three men Ben Vines age 24, Dettef Gharst age 28, and Mitchell Sawyer age 31, have been working with an eye to the Regionals since last November when a dozen of their box members started training together for the express purpose of forming a competitive team.   “We had a team at the Regionals last year” says Danielle Sawyer “but we weren’t anywhere near as strong as we are this year.”   Mitchell Sawyer got his first muscle up at last year’s Regionals, and is now able to string them together in sets of 5-7.  “We’ve worked together every Sunday.  Our training has been essentially coachless.  We’ve been coaching each other.”  When asked to describe how their team training differs from the regular Lake Charles programming Mitchell Sawyer says “We train a lot heavier.  A lot heavier.  We do heavy Frans, pistols, muscle-ups, gymnastics and lots of stretching for mobility.  It’s made a huge difference.“  “We’re together and on the same page.  And we are all very disciplined about both training and nutrition.”  The entire team follows a Paleo-type diet. They were also able to draw from a 100-150 member pool since most of the box members competed in the Open.  Crossfit Lake Charles is very excited about the team’s success and has been very supportive.  They pulled together to raise over $3,000 for the trip to San Antonio.  They were also supported by their local Police Department, held a car wash and a raffle and received assistance from neighboring Crossfit Boxes Old Glory, Bridge City and Baton Rouge.  That kind of help can go a long way towards support team travel, lodging and meals.
Twelfth Place
Coach Brad Rains has been a Crossfitter for three years and a trainer for six months.  His team was selected from Crossfit Nola’s top men (Aaron Hyatt age 24,  260th in the open), Brandon Ecker age 32 64th in the open), Demion Reed age 24, 178th in the open) and women (Andrea Germond age 29, 194th in the open, Kelsey Moran age 21, 135th in the open, Rae Shih age 23, 280th in the open and Taryn Heyman age 23, 356th in the open).  Rains team is made of primarily experienced Crossfitters and most them are trainers as well.  The team did their best to prepare together, which was not always easy because of their varied work schedules and outside demands.  Their strategy was to strengthen weaknesses for all members with their heavy lifters focusing on cardio and their “high tempo” people building strength.  Rains says its best for all team members to be balanced so that any weaknesses in the team will be minimized.  Rains likes the change in the program.  “Last year the team workouts were individually based.  This year you needed lots of communication.  You have to talk to your partners.  We spent a week practicing strategy before heading to Texas.  Doing deadlifts together is not easy.”
The Crossfit Seven Team of Fort Worth, TX. in training.  April 2012.
Fifteenth place
Crossfit Seven of Fort Worth was coached by Ryan Shupe and Ryan “Squared” Simmons.  Their team was unique in that all the athletes were well into their 30s with the exception of 17-year old Karli Kirk.  Five of the team members competed in the 2011 Regionals, and all have been working out together as fellow box-members for years.  “We’re a tight bunch” said Shupe.   The team practiced as a group every Saturday and most Sunday’s following the open and were selected from the top finishers in the Open competition.  Two of the original members, Dusty Sides (36) and Mitzi Hiley (32) were lost to injuries.  “We spent a lot of time working on transitions, refining technique and increasing weight” said Simmons.  “And we made sure we had a great hotel with a Paleo-friendly restaurant, pool and a hot tub in San Antonio.”  The team received support from the Hotel Contessa in San Antonio, enjoyed time in the hot tub, and received sponsorship from local businesses to defray costs.
Twenty-fourth place
Coach Steve Galvan of Crossfit 210 in San Antonio took a strategy that differed from all of the other teams at the Regionals this year.  He recruited talented, experience athletes from outside his box.  “I knew exactly what I was looking for: experienced athletes with lots of fast twitch.”  He started building his team early; long before the Open. Three of the men and two of the women on the team have been doing CrossFit for less than a year.   One of the men has been at CrossFit for only a few months.  The team includes a female ironman-athlete, and a 400 meter sprinter from A&M.  Galvan focused on these six specific athletes, building their skills, correcting their weaknesses and getting them as strong as possible.  Galvan, who was a Texas State Track and Field Champion who ran for Texas A&M, and was coached in Olympic Lifting by Ursula Garza and Mark Rippetoe, brought a high level of expertise to his team.  It will be interesting to see how they place next year.