Omaha CrossFit athletes ramp up for regionals

It's much more than your average workout
Posted at 11:47 AM, Apr 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-21 13:06:06-04

You've probably seen the CrossFit games on TV at some point. Even if you happen to miss them live, it feels like the kind of thing ESPN re-airs after west coast baseball games all summer. 

You know what I'm talking about- crazy strong people climbing ropes, running with weighted vests, and lifting absurd amounts of weight seemingly to no end? 

Well, if you know what I'm talking about and aren't all that familiar with CrossFit, you've probably found yourself wondering, "where in the world do this people come from, and how in the world do they train for this kind of thing?" 

For at least two athletes that have found themselves competing for the title of "Fittest Man/Woman on Earth" in the past and hope to do so again in 2017, you needn't look further than the Omaha suburbs. 

The players

CrossFit Games alums Kyle Kasperbauer and Sheila Barden can be found working hard honing their craft at CrossFit Kinesis it Gretna, NE. 

Kasperbauer and Barden, along with fellow Omaha athlete Stacie Tovar, will be headed to the CrossFit central regional competition, held May 26-28 in Nashville, TN, with the hope of advancing on to the CrossFit Games. 

Over 40 athletes qualified to compete in the regional based on their performances in the CrossFit Open, the initial phase of qualification. 

Just five advance to the CrossFit Games. 

For Kasperbauer and Barden, it's a road they've been down before. 

A day in the life

CrossFit Kinesis isn't much to look at as you drive by on the highway. In fact, I'd wager a lot of people drive by each day not knowing it from a typical farm feed store you might see on the edge of any small Midwestern town. 

But like most things in life, it's what at the heart of it all that counts. 

Walk through the door, and it takes a moment for your senses to adjust. There's just enough florescent lights on the hanging from the cavernous ceiling to fully illuminate the vast space. The smell of the rubberized flooring hits you right away, and the sound of barbells hitting the deck echoes throughout the room. 

It's the kind of a place you sense serious work gets done, and elite athletes are forged. 

It's a Tuesday around lunch time and the gym is fairly busy. Several of the other coaches and members are stretching, lifting, and working from the pull-up bar. 

Kasperbauer greets us near the door with a firm handshake. On top of being a competitive athlete, he co-owns the gym and is one of the coaches. Barden comes over soon after and offers a heartfelt welcome and a big smile. 

"Are you familiar with CrossFit?" he asks. After replying with a yes, he explains that Barden and he are going to work on a few things before we sit down and chat. 

Form across the gym, he picks up a large rubber ball about the size of a beach ball and throws it over his shoulder a few times, before picking it up and carrying it pressed against his chest.

It makes a remarkable thud as it hits the ground. 

"Have you ever used these before?" he asks in my direction. I shake my head no, and notice (what I think) is the number "50" on the side of the ball. After repeating this exercise several more times, I look a little closer to see it's actually "150."

As in, 150 pounds. 

He follows it up with some more over the shoulder tosses, ball carries, and mixes in some handstand walks (it's just what it sounds like) for good measure. 

Not exactly your average day at the gym, and it didn't just start when we walked in. 

"I'll wake up and eat a large breakfast, then get to the gym and coach a class. Then I'll eat again, and the train, and then eat. So every time I train, I eat before and after," he shares.  

"Its a lot of training in the morning, training in the late morning, then training in the afternoon, and more training in the late afternoon."

While all this was going on, Barden was working though a clean and jerk progression, a movement where the barbell starts out on the ground, and ends up over your head. 

Even though they're both elite athletes, her training schedule is much different than Kasperbauer's.

Barden's day starts around 8 A.M. with a 10-minute run, rain or shine, followed by breakfast and a walk with her dog. 

"I'm not an early riser, its my full time job to train as an athlete, so I don't have to be up at 4 A.M.," she says. 

Even though her day may not start before the sun comes up, once she gets rolling, watch out. 

After breakfast, its mobilization exercises to get loose and a 90-minute warm-up that is basically the same each day. Then it's a hour and a half (give or take) of strength exercises that usually includes three big lifts, and three to give accessory movements with dumbbells, etc. 

After she breaks for lunch, its time for three to five metabolic conditioning workouts that can range from four to 20 minutes each. Then skill work, dinner, and full on recovery mode for the rest of the night. That can mean an iced bath, hot tub, or just about anything in between.  

By Barden's own admission, if you name a recovery tool, she probably owns it after accumulating them over five and half years. 

Different beginnings 

Sheila Barden loves competition. I mean, she really loves to compete. 

"I have three siblings, and it was, who can eat this box of Twinkies the fastest, who can get to the car the fastest, who can graduate valedictorian...literally, everything in my life was a competition," says Barden as we relax in the office for a few moments. 

"When I saw the CrossFit Games on ESPN, I knew that was my destiny. I get to exercise, and I get to compete. This is the best thing, that could have happened to me ever, in my entire life. So in October 2011, I made a vow to myself that I was going to compete in the CrossFit Games. It took me two and half years to get there, and the journey has been going ever since." 

Kasperbauer's path to his first CrossFit Games was a bit different. 

"It's pretty easy to remember your first CF workout. I had just finished up college football at UNO, and the way I got into CF is my strength coach called me and said, 'maybe you should come to the weight room and try this new crazy way of working out.' 

I get there, and he writes the workout up on the board, and I'm used to 3 sets of 10, do this lift...and then running afterwards. And this was strength training and running put together into one with some rope climbs and jump ropes. 

I jumped into a class, and ended up getting beat a bunch of stay at home moms, and walked home with a big 'ole piece of humble pie." 

That day may have been humbling, but it didn't take him long to bounce back. 

The 2017 goal 

Both Kasperbauer and Barden have had success at the highest levels.

For Kyle, he made his first trip to the games in 2009, after just two months of CrossFit training, and finished 37th overall. He followed it up with trips as a member of a team in 2010 and 2011, and 3 straight trips as an individual competitor in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

He peaked in 2012 with a finish of third place in the overall standings. 

"It's a big five weeks of training, because now regionals is almost more stressful than the (CrossFit) games, because just getting to regionals is big now, now that the sport has grown so large," explains Kasperbauer. 

"Making from regionals to games is an even bigger step." 

Barden is brimming with confidence and has a huge smile as we sit to talk about her road back to the games this year. 

She made her games debut in 2014, and made a return trip in 2016 after missing the 2015 event by a single place at regionals. Missing the 2015 edition still doesn't sit well with her. 

"It felt like the weight of world was one me. Everyone expects you to repeat - once you made it once, why can't you make it again?," she says.  

"The pressure really got to me. My parents would call me up and say, 'we'll see you in Carson, in July!' I'd say, well if I qualify, you'll see me...It was a lot of if's...and sure enough, I said it enough I started to believe it. I was in fourth place going into the final event (at regionals), and a million things wrong. I went from fourth place to sixth place in a matter of 20 seconds."

Things didn't go well in the wake of falling just short. 

"It took me about four weeks to really get over it," she says. "One morning I woke up and said, if it hurts this bad after four weeks, I'm clearly destined to do this. You're not this sad and this upset about something if don't really love it and you don't want to do it."

That moment led to a completely different mindset. 

"People would ask me, 'Shelia, are you trying to get back to the CrossFit Games?' And I would say, I'm not trying to get back. I am going to compete, as an individual, at the 2016 CrossFit Games."

And Barden did just that, winning the 2016 regional competition en route to a 34th place finish overall last year. 

Her mindset hasn't changed one bit since that defining moment in 2015. 

"I will compete in the 2017 CrossFit games, as an individual," she proclaims, confident as ever. 

I believe her. 


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Twitter: @JoeESPN590