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BoxLife Magazine

Annie Sakamoto: The Spirit of CrossFit

By BoxLife Team

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September 26, 2012

Interview by Justin Moles
Photos by Iconic Images

If you’re familiar with the evolution of CrossFit, you’ve probably heard the name Annie Sakamoto. As one of the original women in the sport, a coach and a mom, she’s an inspiration for women and men alike. Flashing her contagious smile throughout our pre-Games interview, Annie shares her experience from the start, how she overcame her fear of competition and how it feels to head back to the Games a second time.

How did you find CrossFit?
AS: I used to take a hip hop dance class with the infamous Eva T. and was also teaching cardio kickboxing, when Eva told me to try CrossFit. She said I’d like it, but I didn’t want to. I’d heard people puke. I just didn’t want to do it. She convinced me to try a personal session with her. I did three rounds of ten deadlifts at 65lbs, 10 pass throughs on the pommel horse and a 400 meter run. After it I thought, ‘This isn’t that bad. I can do this.’ My husband had done it maybe a year earlier with his brother and Greg [Glassman], so he came with me to a 7am class with Lauren and Greg [Glassman]. The second workout I ever did was 3 rounds of a 500m row, 20 kb swings, 30 air squats, three trips over the cargo net and 25 glute ham sit-ups. I did it all, all 75 sit-ups all the way down and up. The next day my stomach was pretty sore. The following day I couldn’t laugh, cough, sneeze, fart, burp, nothing. By the next day, my belly was distended. I told my husband to take me to the emergency room. I thought I had a hernia. He asked Greg about it and Greg said “Please don’t take her to the emergency room.” (laughs) As soon as I recovered from that…I was hooked.

What year was that?
AS: 2004.

You’ve found a certain success with the sport. What would you attribute that to?
AS: My love for it.

What obstacles have you had to overcome as an athlete or as a woman in this sport?
AS: To be honest, I haven’t overcome many hurdles. I feel this sport is very embracing of women. Maybe more so than other sports, the women’s competition is as honored and given attention to as the men’s. In life, it’s probably just being able to balance family, work, fun and friends because I’m very committed to CrossFit as my job and as an athlete. I have to remember to balance it with other things in my life.

You inspire a lot of people, in particular women. What advice do you have for these women?
AS: Managing time is what allows me to do this, do what I want to do, do what I need to do and everything else that comes with it. Managing time also means making sure I’m resting enough, eating right, sleeping right and getting enough play time. Not just CrossFit. Going to the beach and going on a paddle, for example. I think it’s imperative for me in all aspects of my life.

How do you work that in having two kids?
AS: I have two kids, one that is 5 ½ and one that is 3 ½. I have a wonderful babysitter/nanny Coral, who is so awesome with my kids. I couldn’t do it without her.

You’re known as one of the original Nasty Girls. What does it mean to be a Nasty Girl?
AS: (laughs) As a 36-year old mother of two, it means a lot and nothing at all. I still never understood the phenomenon with Nasty Girls. Maybe I’m naive and maybe I don’t get it. (laughs) Ultimately, I think of it as an honor to be in the company of Nicole Carroll and Eva T. That’s what I think of being a Nasty Girl, being in great company.

For years fear kept you from competing. Tell us about the fear and how you overcame it.
AS: The fear was from comparing myself to the competition. As one of the original female CrossFitters, I had an expectation of how I would do and I had this thought that the community would have expectations of how I would do. I realized last year when I finally competed that those were my expectations, not anyone else’s.

Last year, my only expectations were to do my best and have fun. I succeeded wildly in both of those things. It was really freeing for me. Although athletes are competitive, we’re also supportive of each other. That’s what I realized. The crowd and the other athletes support each other in all of our efforts. The results of a workout actually have no bearing on our effort.

What’s different your second time at the Games?
AS: Last year, I went in with the mentality that I didn’t want to make it to the Games. I was nervous to put myself out there. This year, I really wanted to return. In that sense, there was more pressure. To say you don’t care, takes pressure off yourself. To say you want to make it, puts pressure on. It’s easy to say you don’t care and not do well. It’s harder to say you care and not do well. There’s a fear of failing and sometimes that limits your potential. You have to put yourself out there. I’m proud that I’ve put myself out there more, because it sure is scary.

What did it mean to you to win the Spirit of the Games Award last year?
AS: It’s a huge honor mainly because of the company that I’m with in winning that award—Spealler, Khalipa. Just to be in a group like that is an honor. It was also nice because I don’t feel like I did anything different from what I usually do, from being the way I usually am. So to be given that award just for doing what I naturally do was an affirmation that I’m doing what I love and it shows.

What are your hobbies outside of CrossFit?
AS: I love surfing. I love the ocean. If I had my druthers, I’d be surfing once or twice a week. That’ll probably happen more after the Games. Surfing and my kids are my hobbies.

Although you eat clean now, you didn’t always. Tell us about the changes to your diet.
AS: I used to eat two bowls of cereal a day. Loved cheese and crackers. Definitely a couple beers. Once you cut that stuff out, you just don’t crave it. Now that I’ve taken the processed food and sugar out of my diet, I’m 95% Paleo and I just like the way I feel. In part for my performance, but my joints don’t feel sluggish. I feel good when I wake up. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. I allow myself a cheat here and there, but for the most part I stick to it. (laughs) I probably won’t have a beer until after the Games. But I don’t feel like I ever veer that far off that I’m missing out. I don’t want to make myself crazy from being so strict. I think sometimes being strict can almost back fire.

Everyone has WODs they hate. We heard you really don’t like Angie.
AS: (sighs and laughs) I’ve never done Angie. The reason I’ve never done it is that it just sounds horrendously boring. I’m all for trudging through a workout, but that one just seems so boring! (laughs) What I like is a workout where you have to scheme and think about how you’re going to handle something. I don’t have any plans on taking it on. I don’t think it would contribute to my training at this point. CrossFit workouts at the Games are anything but boring. I’d prefer to work on strategy and Angie isn’t something that would help me benefit.

So what have you done to prepare for Games’ WODs that are so out of the ordinary?
AS: We haven’t done a ton of unique stuff. We’re just trying to get me as much exposure to things as I can. I’ve practiced the yoke. The wider range of things I can expose myself to, the better off I am. Practiced pushing the sled. There’s nothing that hits you harder than a sled push. I’ve never seen so many people get nauseous from a 50 meter sled push.

What’s your training like? We know you have great admiration for your friend and coach Gary Hirthler.
AS: I train five days a week. Depending on my child care schedule or schedule with clients, I may split sessions or train for one long session. We usually start with lifting or a prowler push, then a MetCon—not a very long one though. On Fridays, I’ll do a track day. I’ll work on a skill, Oly lift, then the track. I take Saturdays and Sundays off and feel great when it’s time to start again on Monday.

What do you do to recover?
AS: (laughs) Absolutely nothing. I’ll do a beach day with the family. Go stand-up paddle boarding, swimming with my kids, but in all actuality, nothing.

What something about you that may surprise our readers?
AS: I’m extremely quirky with my likes. I like the way an Expo marker writes on a white board. You have to use the chisel tip, no blunt tips. (laughs) You’ll always know when my writing’s on the board. (laughs) Something else that gets me excited is a white to-go coffee cup, with a black lid. Not my coffee cup, just anyone’s. I just love to look at it. I have a lot of quirks like that.

Do you have any general words of advice for our readers?
AS: Enjoy what you’re doing. Make it enjoyable. CrossFit is hard work. We willingly do it, but if it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.

How do you keep it fun?
AS: That’s Gary’s job. I make sure I’m always challenged, but never beaten down. A lot of credit goes to Gary. He’ll adjust a workout mid-workout depending on how I’m feeling. I never leave feeling beat down mentally, maybe physically, but not mentally.

Does it ever stress you to look at your workouts?
AS: I don’t look. I have no idea what I’m doing today. I do 2-5 things. I have no idea in what capacity. I don’t ask and he won’t tell me until it’s go time. And that’s especially true for my track workouts.

Have you ever worked with a Sports Psychologist?
AS: I would have liked to if I had more time. I’ll give Gary a lot of credit. He gives me a lot of books and material that are applicable to life, not just to athletic performance. It comes down to my focus. I don’t let myself get caught up in what’s to come or what I’ve done. That carries through to my everyday life. Every moment is its own moment.

What thoughts do you have about your performance in the upcoming 2012 Games?
AS: I’m competing with the intention of having fun. Looking into the future, I want to think I had more fun this year than last year. That’s something that would be hard to beat because I really had a lot of fun last year. The sacrifices we’ve made have been huge. I like to be busy, but this was beyond anything I’ve done in the past.

Our facebook fans asked Annie…

Chris Cooper: Is it tougher to compete in public as one of the original stars?
AS: No. At first I thought it would be. I actually really enjoy it because I feel like I have a lot of support from the crowd.

Chad Carver: What keeps you motivated?
AS: The fun I have. It’s still just so much fun for me. Even though it’s a lot of hard work, I enjoy the hard work I put in. I enjoy myself so much when I compete and most of the time when I train. The fun keeps me motivated.

Michael Switzer: Do you follow a different diet while you’re competing?
AS: Not really. I enjoy the way I eat which is about 95% Paleo. I enjoy what I eat. I enjoy the way I feel. Though I may be more strict, I don’t feel the need to change my diet.

Johnny Daniels: How do you keep focus? Is that something that comes naturally? Have you had to work on it?
AS: I’m constantly trying to work on keeping focus. I think we all need to. I’m probably working more now on keeping focus than I have in the past. I actually started meditating daily to help me keep focus.

Jorge Talavera: What goes through your mind during a workout? What do you tell yourself to keep yourself going?
AS: It’s funny because I think a lot of times my mind just goes blank during the workouts, which is probably a good thing because I don’t think of how bad I feel or how much I want to be done. When I do think of something, it’s about staying in the moment. I don’t think about the next task or the next WOD. I keep my mind on the task at hand.

Cindy Hudson: What system works best for you when strength training?
AS: We’ve tried a couple of different systems. For me, it’s constantly mixing it up, not being glued to one system. I personally like intervals. We’ve done some more strict strength type of training and that’s helped me. A combination of different things seems to work.

BoxLife Team

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