MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – His heart rate spikes, his muscles are sore from the heavy lifting, and his mind is telling him to ease down a little bit because the workout just started – the fear of failure is setting in again. He fights it back and crushes the fear. There is no room for self-doubt, because he has a goal – to compete in the OC (Orange County) Throwdown, one of the largest CrossFit competitions in southern California.
Sgt. Aaron Gardner, training clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and San Diego native, has dreamt of battling it out against other competitors in the two-day CrossFit contest ever since his wife told him about the competition while he was on deployment in 2011.
“Some of the biggest names in CrossFit compete at the Throwdown,” said Gardner. “Anyone who tries to qualify knows this competition is one of the most elite ones in the world.”
In 2012, Gardner fell short of qualifying, but was selected to judge the competition, which only made his drive to compete grow.
Gardner began training himself both physically and mentally almost immediately to prepare for next installment of the Throwdown, Jan. 11 and 12.
“I'm competing against [CrossFit] athletes like Josh Bridges, Neal Maddox, Kenneth Leverich, Jon Pera and Wes Piatt,” said Gardner. “These men are guys I idolize, but it's pretty cool when your idols become your rivals.”
This year’s events will remain a mystery to competitors until the event begins, but that hasn’t kept Gardner from pouring his heart and mind into each workout session.
“There’s a lot of time that goes in to training,” said Alyxandra Gardner, his wife and coach. “We wake up at 4 a.m. daily to be at the gym training by 4:30 a.m. Then he goes straight to work and trains during his lunch, and after sitting in traffic two hours just to get home, he trains again.”
The results of his training and rate of improvement have clearly shown his dedication to this goal.
“[Gardner] has an incredible amount of potential,” said Bryan Boorstein, Gardner’s coach and co-owner of CrossFit PB (Pacific Beach) in Pacific Beach, Calif. “He has improved incredible amounts since I started coaching him. He works really hard, he’s inquisitive and is very receptive to critiques of how he performs. He’s stepped his game up to a completely different level and he understands sustainable output and how to see the workout in its entirety so he doesn’t completely wear himself out in the beginning. That’s what helped him get into the competition this year.”
Gardner isn’t invincible, but with his support network behind him, he has what he needs to succeed.
“I support him fully as a coach and help to motivate him to greater heights,” said Alyxandra. “I tell him to look at the bigger picture, because it might suck right now but it’s going to benefit him later. When I know he’s feeling down I find motivational pictures that I know will lift his spirits to send him and get him pumped and excited to train again.”
Gardner’s wife explained that people have seen her husband’s passion for CrossFit and called him, “Insane and crazy” for pursuing his dream so whole-heartedly.
“I don’t know anyone who is more dedicated than him,” said Alyxandra. “He’s been going to companies for sponsorships because this passion of his isn’t cheap, but he does it for himself because CrossFit is his life.”
With the OC Throwdown only a little more than a month away, Gardner still has time to train and prepare for his dream, but he has advice for others who aspire to doing great things outside of the Marine Corps.
“Yes, I am a Marine, but I take a tremendous amount of pride in being a CrossFit athlete,” explained Gardner. “Marines in this unit and all over the Marine Corps look up to me, and I love that — I live to inspire people. So when I get out in a year and a half, I want people to see that success outside of the Marine Corps while serving is possible. If you have a dream, protect it and don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something.”