Why I Did It

In May 2015, I missed qualifying for the CrossFit Games by one spot. I was devastated, furious and frustrated because I felt like I had done everything I possibly could that year to earn my spot; I felt like I couldn’t have given it any more, I couldn’t have worked any harder and yet my best still wasn’t good enough.

After Regionals, I had to ask myself a serious question: do I keep trying to be the best (with the realistic expectation that I’ll never get there) or do I throw in the towel after 6 years of training and move on to something else where my discipline and effort will be rewarded? After some deep self-reflection, I decided to give it another go. In February 2016 (less than one year ago), I failed a random drug test and was banned from all CrossFit-sanctioned events for 3 years. This is my story.

All-In Mentality
In order to understand why I did it, you need to know a bit about my background and history with CrossFit. Ever since I was kid, my goal I’ve always wanted to be to “the best” at something. Who doesn’t, right? From 8 years old to now (currently 30), I’ve switched from one sport to another trying to find the outlet where I shined the most. At first, my dream was to be a professional soccer player, then it was professional snowboarder, then pro skateboarder, then pro rock climber, pro CrossFitter, pro motocross racer, and now pro Physique bodybuilder. I’ve always set the highest expectations for myself because I just don’t see the point in setting low standards.

If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna go all in beacuse I’d rather fail at trying to hit higher goals than to succeed at low ones. I’m not afraid of the work, the grind, or the hustle thats necessary to get there, so when I want something bad enough, NOTHING is going to stop me- that was the case with CrossFit. Out of all the sports I’ve competed in, CrossFit is the one where I’ve excelled the most and because I whole-heartedly believed that I could be the best at it, I dedicated everything to it- basically the last 10 years of my life has been nothing but eat, sleep, CrossFit. I was so focused on this goal that I was practically delusional – it’s all I thought about, talked about, and dreamed about.

Setting Myself Up for Success
I started CrossFit in 2009 where I had heard about it in my local rock climbing gym. Like most CrossFitters, after one workout, I was hooked. Less than 6 months into it and my goal was to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, I quickly realized that if I wanted to make it, my 2 hours per day of training wasn’t gonna cut it. So I did what every aspiring Games athlete does; in 2011, I quit my super reliable government day job as a Hydrologist, moved to Vail, Colorado and opened up my own CrossFit gym with a a partner.

It was my first big move towards becoming one of the fittest athletes in the world. I basically set my life up so that I had no reason not to make it- I trained harder and longer than ever, most sessions lasting up to 5 hours a day 6 days per week. Like most people, I believed that when it came to training, “more is always better”, and it worked… well, to a point.

After 3 years of busting my ass, I finally qualified for the 2013 CrossFit Games. It was an amazing experience but I left the stadium feeling like I had no business being there because of my glaring weakness when it came to any heavy lifting. It was embarrassing. The final Cinco workout felt like the longest and most humiliating 7 minutes of my life- the video below “Pride of a Roookie” captured this moment.

Small but Determined
Even to this day, I’m pretty sure I’m the smallest CrossFitter (5’1, 120 lbs) to have ever competed on the Games floor. Needless, to say, holding my own when it came to lifting heavy weights did not come easy. I was constantly fighting an uphill battle as workout weights continued to get heavier each year. felt like I was always so far behind the rest of the field when it came to strength, and it frustrated me but it didn’t stop me; it just meant I had to pour more heart and grit into it. I didn’t make excuses because I knew it was out of my control and it didn’t matter. All I could rely on was my daily willpower and effort.

Following my trip to the Games, I was determined to fill the holes in my athletic skill set, and to become a more well-rounded athlete rather than just being known as “the pull-up girl”. Strength training became my priority, with deadlifts being a huge part of my regimen. Heavy deadlifts were such a staple in my training that I ended up rupturing two discs in my low back literally days before the 2014 CrossFit Open started, which derailed me from competing that season.

My Mission to Get Strong
Dealing with this injury was definitely one of the hardest times of my life; I became depressed as I had to watch my fellow friends and athletes compete as I sat there on the sidelines, jealous of their health and happiness. During my few months of healing, I researched the best methods to develop brute strength because I realized that what I was doing was obviously not working and I needed to work with the best. I was willing to do whatever it took to be competitive, and thats when I took my second drastic move.

Once my back was all healed up, I got in touch with Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell, whats considered “the strongest gym in the world”; he offered to train me and guaranteed he could make me strong. Literally, within minutes of him telling me that, I decided that’s what I was going to do. I dropped everything that was going on in my life, packed my bags and moved to Ohio with my boyfriend for 3 months. I was on a mission. Although progress was extremely slow and generally ended in tears 5 days out of 7, within a year I was pulling 300 pounds off the ground. That was definitely a hallelujah moment for me, as that damn 265# deadlift haunted me everyday since the 2013 Games.

Anxiety and Mental Breakdowns
Next on my tackle list of glaring weakness was my 1rm Snatch and Clean and Jerk. I had worked with several olympic lifting (OLY) coaches from all over the world, but none of their input seemed to make a profound effect on my lifts; I had a ridiculous habit of swinging the bar out and around my head, and I hadn’t PRd my snatch in over 2 years. Once again, 9 times out of 10, I found myself either in a tantrum or in tears at the end of OLY sessions. I tried different coaches, different lifting styles, even lifting in different times of the day but none of it seemed to make a difference- I got stuck at the same weight every…single.. time. I just couldn’t understand why it was so hard for me to make progress, yet so easy for everyone else.

The constant mental breakdowns were getting to the point that I was starting to not enjoy training anymore and everything was starting to scare me. I’d look at my training program the night before and if there were any 1RMs planned, I’d start to get anxiety because I was afraid that I wouldn’t see any improvement from the last time I did it. (Keep in mind, I was doing a “conjugate” training program which consisted of 3 max effort days/week, so I’d get this mental panic 3 times a week.) I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself if I was only putting in half the effort, but I wasn’t training half-ass. I trained as hard as I could everyday thinking that more effort I put into it, the more progress I’d make and the more competitive my numbers would be, but it didn’t work like that and eventually my own self became my biggest enemy.

Hope with a Sports Psychologist
That’s when I took my third big move- I hired a sports psychologist to help me with my mindset during training, specifically in regards to maximal lifts. I knew I was working hard enough, so I figured it had to of been my mindset that was holding me back. Working with her helped me a lot mentally but my strength numbers still remained the same.

By that point in my journey, it was time to compete at the 2015 CrossFit South Regionals; my plan was to obliterate the competition in the events I was good at (light to moderate weight, high rep and gymnastic workouts) and apply “damage-control” in the events that weren’t in my favor (1rm Snatch, heavy cleans).Despite my nearly dead last placing on the 1rm Snatch event, I stuck to the plan pretty well which left me sitting in 5th place before the final workout of the weekend.

Having to Face Reality
My ticket to the 2015 CF Games came down to heavy cleans and muscle-ups. I poured my heart out on that floor but it just wasn’t enough, once again the heavy barbells slowed me down more than I could afford. After congratulating my fellow competitors that punched their ticket, I walked off balling my eyes out, devastated and simply exhausted of believing I could when I continually got proven that I couldn’t. I realized that I had to stop dreaming, that I had to be realistic with the situation I faced and decide if another shot at the Games was worth sacrificing everything in life with the possibility of a less desired outcome.

The Decision that Changed Everything
That’s when a close friend stepped in, talked to me about my situation and told me that they believed my problem revolved around my body not being able to recover enough between training sessions. I had never really heard this perspective before so I listened. They recommended that I try a very small dose of a drug called Anavar. I had never heard of such thing, but then again that doesn’t say much as I didn’t even know what PEDs stood for- I was pretty naive and thought the use of them was completely cheating. There was talk about several Games athletes that were taking “stuff” and, because of it, I didn’t have any respect for them; In fact, I believed that “those people” were weak because they didn’t have the mental toughness to do it naturally. Needless to say, I never thought I’d be one to try it.

However, in that current situation, I had two choices: to take it and give the Games another go or to quit on my dreams and throw away all those hours of relentless training and believing. I hate to say it but it honestly wasn’t that hard of a choice to make. I was desperate. There comes a point where if you want something bad enough, you’ll do anything to get it, and I was at that point.

Podiums, Fame and Glory
So I decided to join the “level” playing field, and to be frankly honest with you, thats when CrossFit started to get really fun. It took about 2 months before I started to notice any changes- first I noticed that my body got leaner and more cut, and then my strength numbers started to improve. It was a miracle, I felt like a weight had been lifted my shoulders. I looked forward to max effort days and training in general; it was a complete 180 from the state I was in just a few months prior and I honestly needed it.

Everything remained the same- training style, training volume, and diet- but I finally felt like I was getting out of what I put into training, and I was finally getting the respect that I deserved. Sponsors were hitting me up left and right, training opportunities were knocking on my door, and everything was on point; I was convinced that 2016 was going to be my year.

Facing the Consequences
That fame and glory all came to a screeching halt when, on the very first day of the 2016 Open, I got a call from a drug testing company saying that I had been “randomly” chosen to take a test. I freaked out. I was stupid because my friend or I never had a plan to come off the drug, and there was no way to cover it up now.

I took the urine test and could only rely on an unrealistic phenomenon for that test to come back negative. Meanwhile, as I waited 3 weeks for the results to come back, I continued to participate in the CF Open and act as if nothing was wrong, despite my stress levels being through the roof. In March, I got an email that said my test came back positive and that I had a choice of accepting the results and starting my 3-year probation or filing a dispute.

Embarrassment and Courage to Face the Truth
Although it would’ve been nice to have an argument stating “I had no idea, its not my fault”, who was I fooling?! Anytime someone gets caught for drugs and they deny that they had anything to do with it, I lose total respect for them because its so made-up, so fake! I understand why somebody would lie so they can continue fighting for what they’re going after, but anyone with a pulse can read right through the bullshit.

So, I figured if I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna go out with as much respect as I can. After the humiliating public announcement about my test results, I built up enough courage and made a public confession on social media regarding my actions and apologies to my friends and family. This wasn’t easy, but I felt like it was something I had to do, to take responsibility for my actions.I got a lot of haters of course, but I earned a little bit of respect back which meant the world to me.

My Core Values
Since the announcement, I have struggled immensely with finding myself. CrossFit was my life, its what I’ve built my whole life around and I fucked it all up and now paying the knife-stabbing price on a daily basis. There’s not a day that goes by where I regret what I did and, although it has knocked me down to the lowest of lows, I continue to pick myself and keep trying to be the best that I can be. I’m not a perfect package by any means, but I hope that my genuine and relentess character is what shines through. Those values mean a lot to me and I will always stand true to who I am. That is my brand.

Comments 32

  1. I think everu games athlete uses steroids, but they know how to do negative in a droug test.
    I don`t encourage the use of steroids, but if i want to compete in almost any sport at the top level, i will use it, because you can’t compete against an other human who is under a droug that makes him/her recovery fastter and better o being stronger or fastter than you.
    Is need a lot or courage to admit and take that sanction like you do, congrats! Still a fan.
    (Sorry for my bad inglish)
    Saludos from argentina!

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      lol thank you Naku… ya when it gets to that level in sport, really you’ll do anything to stay on top especially when you know other people are doing it too, so its just a matter of politics and not getting caught.

  2. No one has the right to take anything away from you, you’re still an amazing athlete and anyone who takes supplements and judging you are just hypocritical. Anyone taking supplements to increase their calorie intake or whatever to ‘improve’ recovery or chances of gains are making the same choice you did but using something that doesn’t work. There are many supps which give you a placebic edge to training, that is one side to what any PED can do, however all the claims supps make are false and PED’s deliver. You had a physical and mental platue which wasn’t due to anything in your control, you took ‘real’ supps to break through that, there is no unfair advantage other then ignorance from everyone who chooses not to use them when appropriate. How is your choice different to using pre-workout or not, or using a particular brand of protein powder? All those choices are to get an advantage over your competitors who make different choices but at the end of the day it all comes back to your training. The fact you made gains using PED’s means you did everything right in regards to your training and had a valid reason to use them, taking PED’s do not guarantee results. You don’t deserve to be publically out-ed for making a valid decision for your situation. There is no such thing as a natural athlete at any elite level, it’s all just biase definition to accept a certain level of un-natural training. BTW, great write up Nat, wish you all the best in your next endeavor, CrossFit loses on this result.

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      Wow good points Aaron… never really thought of it that way. Ya, i mean, truth is that stuff is everywhere and everyones doing it- its just what happens when the level gets that high and theres good money on the line. It is what it is, would love to compete again in cf but we’ll see.

  3. You’re still my favorite CF games athlete. When I started CrossFit in 2011 (I was almost 100lbs and 5ft) I fell in love with the sport… I immediately wanted to compete. I looked up the stats on the games athletes to see who was the closest to my size and you were my girl! Then I realized you were also a total bad ass and you’ve never stopped inspiring me! Keep kicking butt and if you want to be bff that’s cool too ?

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      Lol thanks Michelle! And i totally do that too- chris speller and annie sakamoto were some of my biggest inspirations because of their size and, thus, same battles that I had to face. Its all in your mind, impossible is nothing. Stay driven!

  4. Damn! That post was powerful. Natalie, you are a truly inspiring person. I respect the brutal honesty and it’s so awesome to watch you chasing your dreams. It helps to motivate chumps like me that don’t have the balls to throw it all on the table. I wish you the best!

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      Lol thank you Robby! whats there to lose ya know? Id rather die trying and fail than than not attempt anything at all. It really is all about the journey and the character thats built during the process.

  5. I don’t know how the overall response was to your admittance, but I can imagine that you received a decent amount of backlash.

    Just know that at least one person hears your story and empathizes. As an aspiring CrossFit competitor myself, I understand the stresses that accompany the sport and the brutal impact training can have on your mind. Very few people will ever know the feeling of panic when you are pouring your heart and soul into something and are still falling short. Most will shy away from ever trying in the first place.

    We’re in a day and age where the traits of having honor and being genuine are easily hidden behind the shroud of social media and technology. Your decision to be honest about your mistakes and your willingness to accept the consequences proves that you have both.

    Keep putting your heart into whatever goal you’re shooting for next. In this life, I think that finding a passion and pursuing it with every fiber in your being is the ultimate celebration of what it means to be a human being.

    And never lose your sense of honor and integrity. No one is perfect, and everyone messes up in this life. It’s those who have the courage to face both the good and bad results of their actions that will end the day with their character intact.

    Good luck with your future endeavors, Natalie. You have my respect for what you’ve done, and I am now a fan of you as an athlete but even more so as a person.


    1. Post

      wow, thank you Joon! And yes, i totally agree with you with going all in on something. Really loved what you had to say, thanks again!

  6. It’s a really big world. Just because you aren’t the best doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of something great. I know you’re driven to succeed at the highest level, but happiness isn’t about external achievement: it’s about how you enjoy what you have achieved. Just getting to regionals is amazing. Getting to the Games is insanely amazing. Being a part of that community is amazing. This doesn’t mean you should be complacent with where you are, but in the end #1 feels a lot like #100 if you cannot appreciate your achievements objectively for what they are.

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      Than you Matt, I appreciate your perspective and I do agree- for me, its just a matter of always progressing and becoming my best at whatever i do, and why not set the bar at its highest- id rather die trying and fail than to not take a risk at all.

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  9. Lots of respect for writing about it and standing up to it! Genetics are a bitch and unfair, but I hope you rock in bodybuilding.

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  11. I’ve always loved watching you compete at local events and in the higher levels. I agree with a lot of the other comments. Other people just have coaches that help them test clean.

    It takes a lot more than PEDs to reach the level you have. Any regular CrossFitter takes PEDs and they still don’t make to where you have because it still takes the dedication to workouts, diet, recovery, and sleep. They’re not a magic pill.

    You’re still awesome in my book.

    1. Post

      Thank you Phoebe, you’re sweet. Youre damn right about that, theres no magic pill; i think ppl underestimate the amount of sacrifice and commitment that is needed to achieve that level. Only the people that have done it themselves understand it best. Thank you for the kind words- hope you’re killing it in every aspect of your life!

  12. Natalie you were so brave to accept what you did on public. You are a great athlete and I admire your willpower to continue your journey in bodybuilding, but I hope that one day you comeback to Crossfit, I like the way that you compete. I watched you the South Regional in 2015. I watch all your videos on facebook! Good Luck!

    1. Post

      Awe thank you Trini! My drive to compete will always be there, just not sure in what sport- so far its Physique and Grid. Thank you for the kind words- i hope your fitness journey is going amazing!

  13. And the uneducated always overestimate the true benefits, in terms of results, PEDs will deliver. Generally it’s only approx 5% increase in performance, however, as you discovered it’s often the recovery that’s the pulling factor, not nec the performance ‘edge’.

    The irony and paradox is that you might have achieved that 5% improvement, if you could have stayed fit and injury free. That’s were you have my sympathy; I think you’ve genuinely taken the PEDs to recover quicker and train harder, the performance increase wasn’t necessarily your key objective.

    Oh and any Crossfit fanbois who believe all the guys at the top aren’t using PEDs, I hope you enjoy petting your rainbow coloured unicorn this afternoon. Those female jaw lines haven’t been obtained by dental treatment.

    Good luck.

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