Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Elly Kabboord, one-sixth of the CrossFit Mayhem team that won the 2015 CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup competition. (You may recognize Mayhem as the team that Rich Froning Jr. is a part of). Elly is a former member of CrossFit Firebase, my gym, and I was able to sneak in an interview while she was on vacation in Florida.
I took the opportunity to find out what it was like training with Rich and what the experience was like competing, and winning, the Games. To give a little background on Elly, she is a former varsity athlete at the University of Florida in track and cross country, has been a CrossFit athlete for over 4 years, and has competed at Regionals several times.
Interview after the jump.
You’re from Florida. How did you got involved with the CrossFit Mayhem team?
My fiance Kyle got a job in Nashville and I was casually looking up gyms in the area and saw CrossFit Mayhem and thought, wow, that’s really interesting.
Earlier in the year one of my training partners mentioned that Rich Froning was going team this year, so not knowing much about their gym, I sent them a casual email introducing myself and mentioning that I had been a Regionals competitor. I said I was interested in training with their group if they were having an open competition.
I sent that over and Rich actually emailed me back and said, yep, we’re looking for people. We’d love to meet you and have you work out with us for a couple of days and see how things go. The rest was history. They were so welcoming and kind from the beginning.
Tell us what happened after you got the phone call from Rich.
He sent me the email and then his gym manager Yvette called me. I communicated with her and she’s just wonderful. We call her Mother Mayhem because she takes care of everyone who walks through those doors. She’s like a second mom already.
I looked at it like this is going to be a new training experience and I’m was super excited to have the opportunity to train with people who are at such a high level. I wasn’t nervous about it until everyone else got excited and so hyped about it. Then I was like, whoa, maybe I should be a little nervous.
What was the experience like training with Rich and his crew for the first time?
I expected to be challenged. When I got there and I experienced it, it was awesome.
The first day I got there we did a team workout. One of the movements [snatch] was my PR weight. I was like, well this is going to be interesting because I had to do 25 of them.
I failed a couple of reps, but once I got comfortable, I actually did all of them and walked away from the first day having done something I never had never done before.
The beautiful thing about the team aspect is everyday you exceed your own expectations. It’s not just your training, you’re training with a group of people and you don’t want to let them down. It’s amazing when someone tells you they believe in you, how far that goes. Having someone there everyday with the expectation that you’re going to do this, you’d be amazed what happens in seven or eight short months.
Was the volume or intensity tougher training with the Mayhem team?
I started Jan 1, so a couple of months before the Open. We trained through the Open and it’s no rest for the weary. I would go in around 9:30 am and we would do a warmup, that back in my old training, I would consider two workouts.
Do a long warmup, then do another workout, then strength, take a break, and then two to three more workouts. Mind you, that’s the volume Rich and the rest of the guys can handle, so for someone new like me I started doing the warmup plus the strength, but not the third workout. Then I would come back and maybe do one of the evening workouts if I felt ok.
The first couple of days I was there, I couldn’t sleep at night I was so sore. In all my competitive years as an athlete, I’ve never been that sore. Three days into it, I’m calling home and talking to my dad and telling him if I don’t know if my body is shutting down or if I’m just really sore. That’s what my day one felt like.
They were accommodating, knowing you had to get up to speed?
Rich always said, do what you can handle. You know your body, listen to it. He respects what you can do.
I would say I was very very sore for about 8 weeks before I started to click over. I could feel that I was starting to get used to the volume.
Once we got into regionals training, one of the other guys, Matt says to me it’s going to get serious now. Now!? How is it going to get serious now? That transition was difficult. Transitioning from doing high volume to doing high volume with high skill was tough.
Rich has an incredible way of programming different parts of your body. If we did 75 deadlifts the previous day and we have no posterior, we’re going to work upper body. On days we had a track workout, and then we did strength and we’re just wrecked, we’ll end the day with maybe 50-40-30-20 GHDs and strict pullups. We do a lot of complementary strict work.
There are always parts of your body where you can do something and they have a genius way of identifying what that is. There are days I walked in there and I was like, there is no way I can anything else. But they would find something. That’s the fascinating thing in my mind about how they train.
You were a varsity athlete at the University of Florida in track. How does training for the Games compare to training as a D1 athlete?
As the Games season comes, you cut down volume and ramp up intensity, so we followed that model. There are some parallels like focus, intensity, making sure you show up everyday with 100% intention. But, every single day there was a workout on the whiteboard leading up to the Games where it’s like, how am I going to do this?
Training for the Games I would equate to being a decathlete times 10. There are so many different aspects you have to cover.
What qualities did you bring to the team?
Being with this group has trained so many of my weaknesses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accomplished something I’ve never done before and that’s been really exciting. The men are so elite and you’re training with the best male athlete on the planet. Guess what, there’s no one else in the world better than him. It’s not that you can’t keep up, it’s no one else on the planet can keep up.
I’m the one that brings the talk. They think I’m silly and I talk a lot.
This was your first time at the Games ever as a spectator or competitor. What was the experience like?
It was interesting because there are so many different venues at the Games. It was cool to be a part of so many things. To be on the beach for the first workout, to be on the track for the second workout, and to be in the soccer stadium the next day and the last day you’re in the tennis stadium.
The environments were all electric. That was an awesome experience to feel the crowd. The tennis stadium, you can’t replace how close everyone is. I’ve never felt so energized for any event I’ve done in my entire athletic life. I’ve been all different places to compete, and nothing felt as exciting as that.
What was the crowd like?
You heard the crowd, the voices, you could identify people in the crowd, people were hanging over the ledges, it was electrifying. You can definitely channel people’s energy in your performance. On the last day, that’s the most painful day, and I’ll tell you what, I felt the best on that day because of the crowd.
What was your favorite event?
Nothing can trump winning the final event with the worm clean and jerk.
That’s the thing I love about our team. There were teams out there that might have had six more skilled athletes, but we as a cohesive unit are very strong. We have great leadership, we listen, we’re effective, I think that showed in that last workout. Rich is a great team leader, but James is an incredible communicator. His experience, he’s been on a championship team before, his ability to communicate is amazing.
You saw teams dropping the worm all over the place and we didn’t falter. Everything James said was based on execution and I feel like we really came together as a team.
What was the team’s worst event?
We had a lot of aches and pains going into the women’s clean and jerk, so we weren’t able to maximize that. Had some technical things go wrong like the wrong weights on barbells. We struggled with that event.
What’s something people don’t know about the Games?
You have to hand it to the organizers, they are definitely on a time schedule. Everyone is in a corral at a certain time and that’s where experience is a real asset to teams and individuals. If you have a certain way you warm up, especially for a max event, then you’re going to wait 20 minutes and it throws you off. There are three distinct stages before you get to the main stage. You really have to understand that. I feel like that’s something that’s overlooked until you’re living it.
What’s the difference between a really good team at the Games and a team that wins it all?
You have to communicate. You have to really enjoy each other’s company. You have to recognize that everyone on a team is going to do their best for the team.
If you can find six people that will perform at their best for your team then you’re going to win and be successful. The problem is finding those people.
Everyone is going to make a mistake somewhere. It doesn’t always go perfect. But when someone slips up, the difference between a championship team and a team that just makes it is the team that wins doesn’t roll their eyes and make that person feel bad. The team that looks at you and says you’re awesome, you’re going to do great next time.
We had a lot of slip-ups and not once did a teammate ever make us feel like we made a mistake or did anything bad. All they said was, we’re proud of you, we’re gonna fight for the next workout. There was not one negative thing said all weekend. That was amazing.
What’s next for you?
We’re in the off season now so it’s nice, we get a little bit of break. We have seminar staff on the team, Rich travels for events, we have some coaches on our team, people have real jobs, so everyone is a little dispersed right now. I’m in Florida vacationing and visiting my family so I’m thankful for that. We’ll get to things soon.
So another shot at winning the Games?
That’s what Rich says.
Tell us about your new personal venture, Elly K Sportswear.
I just started a new sports performance clothing line and I’m trying to pioneer something different. I’ve been in sports my entire life and I’ve always been fascinated by organics and sustainability. I’ve also always wanted to make sportswear look good. Not just your conventional pair of spandex and sports bra or men’s board shorts.
It’s called Elly K and merges all of those aspects. It’s sustainability with high fashion, in a nutshell. It also has a philanthropic aspect, as every aspect of it is going to be giving or helping somebody. We’re really excited and we’re going to be launching in September our first line.
We have a fundraiser going on right now where we’re selling organic cotton t-shirts to raise money for the research. It’s truly trying to pioneer different research and development in sportswear in these given areas. We’re excited to show you guys what we have to offer.
How can people find out about EllyK?