Talking Competition, Family and Life with a CrossFit Legend
About 80 miles east of Nashville, among the winding roads of Putnam County, Tennessee, between a brick house and an old red barn, there’s a gravel road. It’s easy to miss in the expanse of rolling hills that, in the fall, are colored in leaves of fiery reds, yellows and oranges seemingly from the sunset of a dream. And good luck picking the right one—the rural area full of history and a picture of the South is chock-full of them.
But when you manage to find it and make it just far enough up the hill that you feel like you should turn around, you’ll be there—though, it’s a toss-up of who you’ll be greeted by first.
It could be Mat Fraser, the three-time CrossFit Games Champion and reigning individual champ, heading home from a morning workout.
It could be Tia-Clair Toomey, the Queensland, Australia, native and two-year reigning CrossFit Games Individual Women Champion, doing a sled push on the outer side of the property’s custom-built barn gym.
It could be Gilligan, the 7-year-old black lab; or Gipper, the 4-year-old Goldendoodle; you can find frolicking around the picturesque landscape (but whatever you do, Mat warns—laughing, but serious—do not throw the golf ball or rock Gipper is carrying, or else you’ll be indebted to him for all the games of fetch until the end of time).
Or, it could be the man of the hour himself—whose name appears throughout his home of Cookeville, from the road that was named after him (though his dad may joke otherwise) to the city limits signs proudly displaying his accomplishment as the four-time Fittest Man on Earth: CrossFit legend Rich Froning.
If you know anything about competitive CrossFit, you know Rich Froning. You know that he won four back-to-back individual CrossFit Games championships from 2011 to 2014. You likely know that he won the worldwide Open three consecutive years. And, if you’ve caught Froning: The Fittest Man in History, the 2015 documentary, you’ve intimately followed his uncertain path to a fourth-straight CrossFit Games championship as a husband and new father.
But what you can’t truly know until you’ve met Rich, who was raised just up the hill from where he and his wife, Hillary, currently live just outside of Cookeville, is the pure humility and hospitality the Michigan-born, Southern-raised lifelong athlete—who has since traded in competing individually for family time and lower-pressure team competitions—exudes.
In 2010, Rich hit rock bottom, quite literally, with a second-place showing in the CrossFit Games. Unable to complete the formidable rope climb, Rich fell—a moment he’ll say marked a pivotal turning point in his professional career and served as an eye-opening metaphor to his life.
“My major downfall was falling off the rope and trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing this for,” Rich says over the sound of weights dropping through his CrossFit Mayhem team’s midday workout. “It really brought my faith back into perspective and showed me that CrossFit isn’t what defines me—it’s Christ and my faith. And that’s why I got the tattoo Galatians 6:14—it really put everything into perspective.”
In the midst of preparing for his 2014 competition, Rich became a father for the first time when he and Hillary adopted their now 4-year-old daughter, Lakelyn—an event that had a significant impact on his decision to remove himself from individual competition.
“Stepping away from the individual side, that had to happen. When I was in individual, I was so fixated on competing at the highest level—which you have to be to be the best in the world at anything,” Rich says. “There was no balance in my life, and I saw that. When we were going to have Lakelyn, I was like, ‘you know what, either my fitness and me competing at that level is going to have to give or me being a dad.’ I wasn’t willing to sacrifice being a dad.”
Rich and Hillary now have three adopted children: Lakelyn; Trice, whose full name is Richard III; and Harper Violet, Lakelyn’s biological sister.
“[Having Lakelyn] was a complete 180, and now every time I have a kid it switches in a different direction—in a good direction,” he continues. “My mindset 100 percent switched when we had Lakelyn. And when we had Trice. And then a third time when we had Violet—in good directions. It’s made me more well-rounded. Balance is hard; to be the best at anything, you can’t really be balanced. Now I’m trying to be the best father and husband I can be. It’s a good challenge; it’s fun.”
Rich found some of that seemingly unattainable balance through his transition team competitions, which have allowed him more of an opportunity to think about training while he’s training and to not think about training while he isn’t.
“I get to be present in my life,” he says. “[In individual], even when I was doing other things, I was still thinking about what I needed to do, what I was missing out on.
“Competing as an individual for me, I got burnt out,” he continues. “It’s been fun the last couple of years to be able to compete with a team. You push harder when you know somebody else is counting on you, and seeing how hard they push and what they sacrifice makes you want to do the same for them.”
Outside of the gym, Rich now spends much of his time using his experience as a CrossFit champion and exercise science degree from Tennessee Tech creating online programming for his gym, CrossFit Mayhem, located on Rich Froning Way.
Among them are Mayhem Compete, a program for those beginning to take competition seriously or who want to take their fitness to the next level; Mayhem Masters, a program for competitive athletes ages 35-70; What’s Rich Doing, a program offering exactly what Rich is doing every day; Mayhem 60, a complete 60-minute workout for anyone with a garage gym; and M30, a short 30-minute workout designed for someone who wants to work out at home or travels with no access to equipment.
Looking toward the future, Rich is in pursuit of moving forward.
“Winning championships is great, but it’s like the next year somebody else wins, so it’s always different,” Rich says. “I enjoyed that, but I don’t want that to be what defines me. I want to be known as a good husband, a good father. Moving forward [is important] for sure—not getting caught up in one thing that’s stuck—you’ve got to always be thinking about what’s next, and what [you] need to do to grow as a person.”
For more information about CrossFit Mayhem, access to Rich’s online programs or the opportunity to train alongside him in Cookeville, visit CrossFitMayhem.com.