Charlotte Merle-Smith is a seated adaptive athlete who has been training at CrossFit Iron Legion since 2017. She worked with Coach Alex Ford leading up to the 2018 & 2019 Wheel WOD Games. Recently, she has been working with Owner Ted Dreaver and Head Coach Jason Philyaw on nutrition and training accountability.
The following is an interview from both Charlotte and Alex on their time in Canada this summer:
- In one word, how would you describe your experience at the Wheel WOD Games 2019?
Charlotte: Wonderful! A common theme in my life is the saying, “it takes a village” and I always add, “and I have an awesome village.” I surround myself with people who are driven and that push me to always want more.
- What are your goals as a coach/athlete?
Charlotte: My goal, as an athlete, is to be an example that limits can be broken and then how to break them.
Alex: It’s important to me, as Charlotte’s coach, to help guide her towards a better understanding of her strengths and weaknesses as an athlete. Then develop the tools necessary to capitalize on those abilities in competition.
- What did Charlotte’s training look like in preparation for Wheel WOD Games 2019?
Charlotte: Prior to the Games, I was doing the WOD three days a week, in the morning. After I qualified, Alex and I made it a goal of mine to get in and do the WOD four times a week. I also had to add swimming practice into my schedule, so I went to the pool twice a week.
Alex: Charlotte and I were a bit relaxed with training leading up to her qualifying events. We would shoot for 3 sessions per week where Charlotte completed the days class workout. Once she qualified for the games, we began getting more serious about how time was being spent inside and outside of the gym.
- Describe Charlotte’s Open experience?
Alex: Charlotte crushed her open workouts each week and was within the top 10 throughout the entire competition in an online qualifier of about 40 seated women. Each week she got more and more confident in her abilities thanks to her performances and climbing the leaderboard. All of this was going on during the regular Crossfit open so she was particularly fired up
- What is something that Charlotte struggles with during training? How does to compensate or train to get better?
Charlotte: What I struggle with is also one of my favorite things about Crossfit. I find a workout more difficult when it is made up of a bunch of different movements. I have a hard time keeping track of the amount of reps, sets, and their prescribed order. That keeps me from really concentrating on completing reps with proper power and technique. I find it easier to put more effort into a movement for a shorter period of time, so I like WODS with fewer reps in different sets.
To compensate for my mental shortcomings, Coach Alex has gotten used to me asking a lot of questions and second guessing what I am supposed to be doing. In competition, I always tell my judge what I have a hard time with. I let them know that I will probably be asking questions throughout the whole WOD.
Alex: In the day to day training Charlotte often struggles with unilateral exercises that highlight the imbalance between strength in her right side versus her left. After Charlotte’s injury she suffered a bit more damage to one side and lost a lot of dexterity in strength on the left side. We often try to improve on this by doing exactly that, and training her arms separately in order to avoid any compensation.
- Describe the facility and location of the Wheel WOD Games 2019? What was a distinguishing feature of the event?
Charlotte: Strives to provide an educational platform for coaches and athletes to learn about adaptive functional fitness. Chris Stountenberg is Wheel WOD’s creator and founder, and is a multiple gold medal winner, as a member of the Canadian Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Team. The Games are held in Collingwood, Ontario because that is where “Stouty” and WheelWOD are based. The Wheel WOD Games are held in conjunction with the UG Games. The UG Games are the largest functional fitness competition in Canada. They are held on the shores of Lake Heron with historic grain elevators lining the competition area and ski areas in the background.
Alex: The Wheel WOD games were held partially at CrossFit Indestri and partially at Millenium Park in Collingwood, Ontario. The area was centered between a bunch of ski towns and beautiful ski slopes. The events held indoors were done at CrossFit Indestri, owned by Chris Stoutenburg, the creator and director of the Wheel Wod Games. The incredible scenery and atmosphere made this such a memorable competition.
- Describe Charlotte’s experience at the Wheel WOD Games 2019?
Alex: Charlotte had a slow start finishing mostly in 3rd and 4th on the first two days. As she started to gain some confidence and nerves began to settle she found herself climbing up into 2nd for many of the events over the next 3 days!
- What were some ‘positives’ for Charlotte at Wheel WOD Games 2019 and what were some ‘negatives’?
Charlotte: I went into this year’s competition stronger and more prepared than last year. I have a better understanding of CrossFit as a whole, which allowed me to be a more confident competitor. Coach Alex and I have had another year to build our relationship and he therefore knows what to ask of me, to get me best prepared to compete. We both know that my head really gets in my way, and Coach asked me to write five goals I had for competition.
My goals were:
- I will not compare myself to others because I am my own competition.
- I really like the anonymous quote “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.” I am a competitive person and often need to remind myself to compete with myself.
- I will verbalize and discuss my plan of attack prior to each WOD.
- Coach Alex and I would hash out each movement for the WODs. We would talk about where my strengths and weaknesses are. Places I could and would have to take a breath and other places where I would be able to fly through. We tried to think of all the “what ifs” and various scenarios that may playout on the competition floor. The less I had to fret about, in the heat of the moment, the better competitor I could be.
- Within 10 minutes of completing a WOD, I will recognize two things that I did well and two things I could improve on.
- I put a time limit on this one because, depending how a workout went, it is easy to ride out on emotions without reflecting. I also wanted to think about what went well before what needed improvement because that would mean the first words out of my mouth would be positive. This was obviously easier if the WOD had gone well. If the WOD had not gone as planned, I could at least improve on my ability to be a good competitor by using it as a learning experience.
- I will support my fellow competitors, even if I am down.
- One of the coolest things about CrossFit is the peer support. The competition is stiff when you’re on the floor but, no one is ever left behind. Able-bodied athletes are brought together by their love of activity. Adaptive athletes are brought together by their disability and by athletics. People stick around after they have finished a WOD, to cheer on their competitors until every competitor has completed and sometimes that is hard to do when things didn’t go as planned.
- I will kick butt on rope climbs.
- Rope climbs are out of my comfort zone. Movements that take me away from my chair are harder for me and it is usually more mental. It is hard to describe but, if I were to miss the rope or my grip were to fail, I would fall probably onto my butt. I think rope climbs make me the most nervous, which is why I wanted to bring attention to them.
Alex: The biggest positive for us at the games was the amount of knowledge we gained in regards to the way high level adaptive athletes train! I think we both expected a bit more from the first two days and i could have done a much better job of getting her mentally prepped and ready to crush the competition from the start of the week.
- Overall, how do you feel coming back to Florida after the event?
Charlotte: Driven! I am super excited about my performance at the Games this year, but I am also super bummed I didn’t do better.
Alex: I’m incredibly excited to be back home and we now have sights set on Wodapalooza next year in Miami.
- What are Charlotte’s training plans going into the next season?
Charlotte: I am really excited to have signed up to compete in Wodapalooza this year! There are three online qualifiers, starting the week of 8/21. I am going to maintain the four WODs per week and I have started working with Ted and Jason to get my nutrition more under control.
Alex: Charlotte has taken it upon herself to hire a coach to help her with her nutrition as well as maintaining a consistent training and recovery routine for the full year, not just once the deadline of competition encroaches.