Weightlifting powers up through CrossFit
For many years, the weightlifting competition at Star of the North Games has been somewhat of an afterthought.
In the past six years, weightlifting has never drawn more than 36 entrants, and last year only 28 competitors signed up.
Then the explosion of the fitness phenomenon known as CrossFit happened.
CrossFit gyms have popped up all over the country, and there are now five CrossFit gyms in the city of Rochester alone.
What's CrossFit? It's a broad yet intense fitness program that does not specialize in any one area. According to the CrossFit website, "Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing."
Weightlifting is a big part of the CrossFit program. Star of the North organizers like Barclay Kruse and Annie Palmquist believe CrossFit's popularity has led to a massive uptick in weightlifting participation numbers.
"The weightlifting event this year will be our biggest ever," Kruse said. "We think a lot of the growth is attributable to the popularity of CrossFit."
Saturday's Star of the North weightlifting competition, which was hosted by CrossFit Progression, was indeed the biggest ever. In fact, they had to shut down registration when the event filled up with 74 competitors. That's more than double the previous high-water mark for participation numbers.
Rochester native and 2008 Lourdes graduate Nic Scudamore is the head trainer at CrossFit Progression, and he directed the weightlifting competition Saturday. The former hockey goalie first became enamored of weightlifting seriously when he came across Scott Safe's gym in Rochester many years ago. He was instantly hooked on the Olympic lifts -- snatch and clean and jerk.
Scudamore stuck with it, but Safe's Rochester gym eventually closed and he moved his operation back to Cannon Falls.
Scudamore didn't stop lifting, but he also stumbled upon CrossFit. Once again he was hooked, and he's now been involved with CrossFit Progression for six years.
"There's no doubt CrossFit is the No. 1 reason we're seeing so many competitors in this year's competition," Scudamore said. "I think another reason is because the Minnesota weightlifting community is so supportive and organized."
Though there are five CrossFit gyms already in Rochester -- Progression, Credence, Detour, Epitome and Unshackled -- Scudamore believes the town can support even more. "I think it could support double that," he said. "CrossFit is all about movement, keeping people moving. You need that movement in your life every day."
Saturday's weightlifting competition brought competitors from all over the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota. There also was a strong local presence.
Joel Haugen was one of the local competitors. At 41 years old, it was his first-ever weightlifting competition.
The North Dakota native moved to Rochester in 1998 to work at IBM.
Haugen was a high-school athlete, competing in basketball, football and track and field. Like many athletes, he'd lift weights in the summer and offseasons to stay in shape.
"Unfortunately I herniated a disc in my back, which kept me out of weight training for many years," he said. "Fast forward some years and here I am almost 40 and not in good shape. ... One of my high school buddies pointed me to some CrossFit videos online."
Two years ago, Haugen's new employer (HGST) started offering CrossFit classes in conjunciton with CrossFit Progression.
"I decided then that I needed to get my butt off the couch and I started going in June of 2013," Haugen said. "My first classes were not pretty; trying to reverse that much of a sedentary lifestyle is really nasty, but I had to do something."
Two years later, and Haugen is still loving CrossFit.
"It's what I did back in the weight room and a ton more," he said. "I found that I really liked the weights part, especially the Olympic-style lifts."
That led Haugen to enter Saturday's weightlifting competition.
"(Scudamore) mentioned this would be a good beginning meet," he said. "I've been attending the Olympic lifting classes that Nic coaches to work on my technique in order to hopefully not look like a complete fool.
"I find that this is something that I find quite enjoyable. Not only is it fun, but it is also a good way to get a full body exercise," Haugen said.