Sports

Confidence through CrossFit

Whitefish teenager Morgan Adams turned to the exercise program to lose weight; five years later he’s one of the fittest athletes in the country

As 11-year-old boys go, Morgan Adams’ realization was practically a stroke of genius.

The Whitefish native already weighed 164 pounds at that age and, by his own estimate, had tried and failed at a dozen different diets in an effort to shed a few dozen pounds. He wasn’t being bullied or teased for his heft, he insists, and there was no forceful push from a parent, but instead the credit for his commitment to Big Mountain CrossFit stems from his own uncommonly worldly epiphany.

“I was thinking to myself, do I want to be like this my whole life or do I want to get it done now so that I don’t have to worry about it later?” Adams said.

Five years later, Adams weighs just 11 pounds more than he did when he started training, and the 16-year-old has gone from a quiet, pudgy preteen (whose picture Adams pulls up with ease on his phone) to a chisel-cut Whitefish High School sophomore with an easy smile and welcoming disposition. The transformation has not been without its stumbles or share of long hours in the gym, but he shows no sign of slowing anytime soon. Adams spent last weekend in St. Cloud, Minnesota at the exclusive Granite Games and has a nagging desire to continue to get better, to compete in more prestigious events, and to leave “shy, fat Morgan” further and further behind.

“(The beginning) was hard for me, but once I decided I was going to start losing weight I was like, OK, there may be somebody that can beat me now but I’ll beat them later,” he said. “I’ll just get in shape to the point where I can be competitive with anyone.”

Morgan Adams, 16, works out at Big Mountain CrossFit in Whitefish on May 29, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

CrossFit enthusiasts champion the exercise program as a workout for people of all levels of fitness, and at a recent class at Big Mountain CrossFit in Whitefish there were men and women of a variety of builds and ages running through drills led by coach Russ Olofson.

Olofson and his wife, Corey, own the gym and eagerly showed off their sparkling new digs just south of the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and Highway 40. The pair first became gym owners in 2012 and moved into their new space in February of this year.

Russ, a former Marine who now spends most of his year working overseas, serves as a personal coach for Adams and works regularly with classes when he is in town. But it is his wife, Corey, who has really immersed herself in the world of CrossFit. A Bigfork native and collegiate swimmer, Corey was struggling to find a way to continue to push herself physically after graduation and was eventually recommended CrossFit by a group of firefighter friends.

“My first CrossFit workout crushed me,” she remembered with a laugh. “I thought I was in shape and it absolutely crushed me. And I was hooked.”

The CrossFit program is tricky to define in part because of its massive resource of Workouts of the Day, or WODs in CrossFit lingo, that test every aspect of a person’s fitness. The program incorporates what Corey calls “functional movements” like the deadlift and squats, in combination with gymnastics, plyometrics, Olympic-style weightlifting and more. There are scores of WODs already available, and new ones are posted at crossfit.com every day. And since 2007, CrossFit has held the CrossFit Games where elite men and women compete for serious prize money. This year’s top male and female will each take home $300,000 from the event.

“Taking all of these things, we want to make the fittest person,” Corey, who would eventually become a competitor herself in regional CrossFit events, explained. “And so that’s where the CrossFit Games emerged, as the search for the fittest person.”

CrossFit’s claim that its athletes are the world’s fittest follows the logic of the “Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” figure of speech. CrossFit athletes may not be able out-lift a powerlifter or out-sprint a track star, but they say they are the more well-rounded individual.

“Take all the exercises you can think of, from pounding a stake in the ground to digging a hole to running a marathon to swimming to anything,” Corey explains. “And if you put it into a bucket and draw (an exercise), the CrossFitter may not be best at any one thing but overall they will have been the best at all things.”

Something about that appealed to Morgan Adams, even as an 11-year-old, or at least the results did. Very quickly, in concert with an improved diet and supportive community — both of which are strongly emphasized at the Olofsons’ gym — Adams started to lose weight. The youngster’s first experience was in Corey’s kids class, and it wasn’t much later that Corey and Russ had to kick him out of the gym at the end of the night.

“You can teach anybody the movements,” Corey said of Adams. “It’s (the mental part) that you really can’t teach people. And Morgan has that. He has that drive, that ambition, that continually wanting to do better and never settling. It’s just relentless pursuit of excellence.”

The youngest CrossFit competitors are 14 years old, and Adams had his sights set on entering an event as soon as he was age eligible. To qualify for the CrossFit Games, an athlete must complete a prescribed group of exercises, film them and submit them online. Their rankings — usually either how quickly an exercise is completed or how many reps are done — are posted and tracked, with the top athletes picked for the games. Adams was ranked 47th as a 14-year-old in his age group (14-15) and 28th the following year, missing out on a spot in the world games by just eight places.

The rapid success, and the personal transformation that came with it, has been inspiring for people like Corey Olofson.

“He went from that overweight, timid, didn’t-feel-like-he-fit-in-anywhere kid to, now, someone with self-confidence who holds his head high and walks with his shoulders up and is proud of who he is,” she said.

Adams credits the Olofsons for giving him the technique and physical skills, along with the confidence and motivation to achieve his goals. Corey, in particular, occupies a special place in Adams’ life.

“She’s a great coach, she knows how it is on a competition floor and she’s incredibly encouraging,” he said. “And if I need anything at all, period, she’s there for me as a person in my everyday life, more than just as a coach.”

Adams has been one of just 10 qualifiers for the Granite Games each of the last three years. He was fourth in the 14- to 15-year-old age group last year before slipping to ninth this year as one of the youngest athletes in the 16-18 division. The slate of workouts at a competition is not revealed until the week of an event, and this year the Granite Games included the handstand walk, which Adams says is his weakest event, along with the Bear Press, the Longest Mile 2.0, the Clean Ladder and others.

But more than the competitions and his ranking on the leaderboard, CrossFit has given Adams a newfound confidence to overcome the other typical teenage challenges in his life, and his own experience has imbued him with a wise-beyond-his-years soft spot for the next overweight, out-of-shape or just plain intimidated kid or adult who walks through the doors at Big Mountain CrossFit.

“When I see someone walk into the gym, whether they are incredibly fit and athletic or not, they’re a little bit nervous, so I just try to talk to them,” he said. “I tell them the first time I came in here I felt the same way you did or worse. Stay with it and you will benefit.”

Big Mountain CrossFit offers classes five days a week for gym members. For more information, visit www.bigmountaincrossfit.com.

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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