When you think about the veterans of the CrossFit Games, what names come to mind? Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa, Chris Spealler, Lindsey Valenzuela and Annie Thorisdottir all come to mind, no doubt. But if I were to ask you to name an athlete that has been to the Games every year since 2009, has a championship to his name and is a ‘Flowmaster’ on the seminar staff, could you do it? Ok, I’ll make things slightly easier. His nickname is ‘The Baby-Faced Killer’ and is competing with Rich Froning on Team CrossFit Mayhem Freedom during the 2015 season.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to reintroduce you to the athlete you should already know about: James Hobart.
While you may not know much about the 28-year-old Massachusetts native, his resume is worthy of recognition. Hobart first competed at the Games as an individual in 2009, back when the competition was hosted on ‘The Ranch’ in Aromas, CA. Hobart didn’t do too well, finishing 70th out of 74 competitors, but when you consider that he only found CrossFit in 2007 (and earned his L1 in 2008), it doesn’t seem so bad. “Everything that I was bad at showed up in the first two events (a 7k hill run and deadlift ladder),” says Hobart. “That was my first real moment of understanding what a well-rounded athlete was. I had these two enormous holes in my fitness—lifting something heavy and running—so that made a huge difference to my training. But I still suck at running.”
In 2010 Hobart’s revamped training paid off, as he made it back to the Games, this time for its debut in the Stub Hub Center (then known as the Home Depot Center). Over the course of one year, Hobart made a drastic improvement in his fitness, finishing in 18th place overall. The following year, Hobart switched from individual competition to team, which proved to be a defining moment in his career.
But hang on—don’t you want to know where Hobart’s journey into the sport of fitness began? Let’s take things back to Otis, Massachusetts.
Hobart grew up in the tiny town with a population of just over 1,600, spending the majority of his childhood outside. “I played sports here and there growing up—by no means was I a fantastic athlete,” says Hobart. “I skied, played a little soccer, played baseball—I was the world’s worst baseball player.” In high school, Hobart continued to play soccer and ski, but also played lacrosse. Although he “enjoyed the social scene” at school, Hobart was not the most studious. “I did a complete 180 when I went to college. I became a real bookworm.” Hobart spent two years at Berkshire Community College (BCC)—where he played intramural soccer—before transferring to the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the strength of a full academic scholarship. But it was during his time at BCC that Hobart was introduced to CrossFit. “I met a guy named Mike Bissaillon (who now owns CrossFit Great Barrington and is a good friend of mine) who was a personal trainer in the area at the time. He and I would always work out together, and one day he came up to me and said, ‘Hey man, I found this CrossFit thing—you got to give it a shot, I think you’ll like it.'” Naturally, Hobart fell in love with the sport, and both he and Bissaillon drove nine hours to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2008 to obtain their L1 coaching certification. After graduating from UMASS Amherst in 2008 with a double major in English and Philosophy, Hobart made the decision to attend law school at Suffolk University (SU). As you now know, Hobart qualified for and competed at his first Games in 2009 while still a student at SU. Surely the thought of quitting school and opening up his own affiliate must have crossed his mind after that experience. “I can’t tell you how many times I called my mom to tell her that I was going to quit ‘this junk’ and open an affiliate,” Hobart recalls. “That thought went through my head a thousand times a month when I was in school. But I had set myself a goal of getting to law school, and it was only three years so I told myself to get through it, and then reassess my priorities.”
Hobart started coaching part-time at CrossFit Boston while still in law school, and later joined Again Faster as a Customer Service and Operations Representative in 2010. During that summer—alongside training for and competing at the Games—Hobart went through an internship with the CrossFit Seminar Staff, eventually getting ‘red-shirted’ as a certified member of the Seminar team. He coached his first Level One Seminar at CrossFit New England on Halloween of 2010. The next year, Hobart began training at CrossFit New England (CFNE) under the watchful eye of Ben Bergeron—programmer and coach to multiple Games athletes.
“2011 was an interesting year for me. I had taken a couple of months off from training of any kind, and I worked the Regionals that year as a judge,” says Hobart. “I didn’t have any plans on competing, but I was getting back into training around the time of Regionals and I started working out with the CFNE team. And that’s how I ended up competing at the Games with the team.”
At the 2011 Games, CFNE, led by Hobart, finished in the top 10 in five of the six workouts, winning the final event—‘The Girls’—on their way to being crowned as The Fittest Team on Earth. “That was one of the best experiences I’ve had in CrossFit. I think to represent our community in that way and be recognized for that accomplishment was fantastic.”
However, in 2012 CFNE was not able to repeat their title-winning performance, finishing in 12th. The squad had another crack at claiming the top spot at the Games in 2013, but fell short to Tommy Hackenbruck’s team, Hack’s Pack Ute, which finished 1st. “You never go into any competition thinking you’re going to lose, but nobody was touching Hack’s team that year. The preparation they had, the athletes they had—they were just leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else that year. We were happy to finish 2nd, it was awesome for us as individuals and a team, but I think it would have been a long shot to take down Tommy’s team that year.”
Last year, you may recall seeing Hobart compete at the Games once more—though this time as an individual. Hobart put up a stellar performance, including a 5th place finish in Double Grace, as he marked his return to individual competition with a 21st place overall finish. So why did the long-time competitor decide to go individual in 2014? “I had some very supportive friends and training partners who told me that I should go individual again. I had had a lot of success competing with the CFNE team, but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to see where I stood as an individual athlete, and see if I had continued to progress over the years I had been doing CrossFit,” says Hobart. “It was amazing to go back to the Games. What all of the sponsors and the community do to support the athletes throughout the season and at that event [the Games] is incredible. So it was very humbling to be back out there as an individual athlete.”
This year, Hobart has been living and training in Tennessee with his new team, CrossFit Mayhem Freedom—led by four-time Games champion Rich Froning. The two men first met at the Games in 2010 and struck up a friendship. Last year, during the CrossFit Games season, Froning approached Hobart with the idea of teaming up to compete together in 2015. Once again, the six-time Games athlete had another decision to make.
“It was a tough decision. Selfishly, it’s really fun to go to the Games and have that accomplishment and be recognized for it. But Rich and I had talked a lot about doing a team in 2015, so it was something in the back of my mind that I was looking forward to,” says Hobart. “Of course, it’s tough to not be competing with CFNE. The community, athletes and coaches up there are all family. But I competed with those guys for a number of years and had a lot of success with them, so I wanted to try something new.”
One can understand why a man with as much experience as Hobart may always be looking for the next challenge. Of course, if Hobart does go on to win the Affiliate Cup with CrossFit Mayhem Freedom, he’ll be the only man to win a Games title with two different teams. Not even Rich Froning can say that.
But for Hobart, his passion for CrossFit is not solely limited to competing. As a CrossFit Seminar Flowmaster (an individual who leads the instructors at L1 seminars), Hobart has the unique position of educating the community on what it takes to become a CrossFit coach. In fact, Hobart has been in the sport so long that he’s actually certified current Games athletes that he competed against last year (including Albert-Dominic Larouche and Jenn Smith).
Hobart takes great pride in educating the affiliate community, and his passion for the sport has carried over to his mother, Lucie. In addition to being a member of CrossFit Great Barrington, Lucie is also L1 certified, and plans to open up her affiliate one day—a goal that her son wants to help her achieve. “My mom got her L1 certificate a little over two years ago, and it’s her second year of participating in the Open in the Masters division. She’s really taken to CrossFit, and I think deep down she has this ambition of opening up an affiliate. So one of my goals over these next two years is to help her open an affiliate and try to give her some guidance on that. She’s absolutely amazing, so I’d like to help her.”
For an athlete, competitor, coach and trainer of coaches, Hobart’s next great challenge may lie in helping his mother to pursue her own passion for CrossFit—and that would be a perfect way to continue his journey in the sport of fitness.Not sure about this ending—need some help
Q&A with James Hobart
How’s the training been with CrossFit Mayhem Freedom?
JH: I think the main thing about training with this group is that we all have a good time. Everybody is a talented athlete, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, but I think the best thing about our training is that we all enjoy hanging out with each other and working out together.
When you’re on a team, so many little things matter. Transitions matter, knowing when to move and where all play a part. From being on the competition side and the judges side, teams that argue less and know what they’re doing all the time—even if they’re not the fittest athletes—perform well. We’ve been running and swimming all year, which have been huge components at the Games, and we’re always trying to attack our weaknesses.
Does the team have a coach?
JH: Rich’s cousin Darren (Hunsucker) helps us with the day-to-day CrossFit stuff, and points out areas where we could improve and gives us workouts we could do to improve some weaknesses. Aside from that I think it’s pretty collaborative—we give each other a lot of feedback and help. We’ve been working a lot with Chris Hinshaw (CrossFit Endurance coach and former competitive triathlete) on our running, and Jenna Becker—who’s one of the strength coaches at Tennessee Tech and former collegiate swimmer at Washington State—has been giving us swim workouts that are just torture in the pool. We also follow CrossFit Weightlifting pretty strictly, and Coach (Mike) Burgener (Senior International Weightlifting Coach for the United States) has been giving us plenty of feedback too.
How will the team competition look at this year’s Games?
JH: I think I speak for all four of us (Tommy Hackenbruck, Jason Khalipa—who will be competing with Team NorCal and Rich Froning) when I say that we definitely want to draw more attention to the team competition this year. I think that the more individual athletes that have been to the Games switch to team—and then make it to the Games on a team—the more attention it will receive. If we all end up at the Games together, I think it would be really fun, and hopefully competitive too.
How do you think the Games have evolved since 2009?
JH: After being a Games athlete for several years, I can say that as far as logistics go, the way that the team behind the Games (everyone from staff to media to volunteers to judges to Games planners) has enhanced the entire experience for athletes and spectators is insane. Every year you walk away from the Games and you hear awesome praise, but you might hear a couple of complaints, too. But the next year you come back and those negative issues have been fixed. I think all parties that are involved take it seriously—they truly give a shit.
Do you prefer competing as an individual or on a team?
JH: For me, the physical training was always harder as an individual. But one of the things I liked about competing as an individual was that the reward and failure were direct to the degree of personal effort. One of the tough things about being on a team is that there are a lot of things that you can’t control. There are occasions when you think to yourself, “I could probably make that lift, but he/she might not be able to,” or the flipside is that if I miss something then I’ve let my whole squad down. I think that emotional and mental side of team is difficult. I don’t know which one I like better—last year I liked individual better, this year I like team better!
What advice would you give to an athlete who has hit a plateau and wants to see constant progression in their fitness?
JH: I have a couple pieces of advice. Find a group of people—or one person in particular—that you like hanging out with, enjoying training with and hate losing to. Coach Glassman said it the best, “Men and women will die for points.” So find a good friend that you enjoy being around but hate losing to, and you’ll do a lot to try and get better.
I think something else that helps is applying your fitness outside of the gym. I started doing CrossFit to make myself better at other sports—and it’s fortunate how it turned out for me in a competitive aspect—but in the last couple of years I’ve gotten better at taking the bike out for a mountain ride or playing roller hockey. I’ve been better at using all this fitness we spend time building in the gym, and I think that makes CrossFit a lot more enjoyable. You can see how much better you feel when playing the sport now than when you hadn’t been doing CrossFit, and that’s a very rewarding feeling. You still get to be physical, but in a different way.
What’s the expectation for CrossFit Mayhem Freedom this year?
JH: To win the Games. But we aren’t looking at it like it’s going to be a walk in the park, just because we have Rich on the team—we’ve got a squad of talented athletes, all of whom have either been to the Regionals or the Games themselves.
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.