Their families used to poke fun at them for jumping on the bandwagon and working out in a hole-in-the-wall warehouse-turned gym.
But the teasing didn’t last. Colin and Jessie Cartee first met at a CrossFit gym. And last fall, they opened a facility of their own in Davenport under the name CrossFit OC3, where those once-skeptical family members now train several times a week.
On Monday, the duo is leading a squad of fellow fitness junkies to the Reebok CrossFit Games where they will compete against the top 39 teams in the world at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. The action for them starts Wednesday and continues through the weekend.
If they win, the eight-member team primarily made up of 20-something Quad-City transplants will earn the title of “Fittest on Earth.”
CrossFit is a fitness regimen that mixes bodyweight exercises, weightlifting and cardiovascular and high-intensity interval training. Although Colin and Jessie competed at the games in 2013, they have no idea what's in store for them next week.
"We'll do something there we've never done before," said Colin, who opened the 12,000-square-foot gym last October with partner, Kolton O’Day.
One workout, he said, will require them to strap on 20-pound vests and complete a series of tasks similar to the following "Hero" workout designed in honor of a fallen member of the U.S. Navy:
• 1-mile run
• 100 pull-ups
• 200 push-ups
• 300 squats
• 1-mile run
Since the sport's inception more than a decade ago, more than 13,000 CrossFit gyms have popped up across the nation — up nearly 20 percent from a year ago, according to crossfit.com. Included in the tally are almost a dozen dedicated CrossFit gyms in the Quad-City area.
Jessie, the most experienced CrossFitter on the team known for her gymnastics skills, thinks they have the talent to end up on the podium next weekend.
They already cleared two preliminary rounds of competition — the five-week, five-workout contest at the CrossFit Open in February and March and the regional qualifiers in May.
Before the regional tournament, the Quad-City team found themselves atop the world rankings. A few costly mistakes during competition, however, lowered their spot in the top ten, and their spirits.
In hopes of boosting their mental toughness, Pat Miletich, one of the early superstars of mixed martial arts, or MMA, stopped by the gym this week for a pep talk.
"They're all pretty young, so when things didn't go perfectly, they fell apart," he said, showing respect for the team's overall work ethic and athletic ability. "I basically told them that nothing is going to stop them from potentially becoming world champions."
Miletich, who's currently training for next month's Leadville Trail 100 Run in Colorado, went on to describe CrossFit as a "very aggressive way of working out."
He left the gym most impressed by Jessie, who he nicknamed "mighty mite."
Standing at 5 feet, 2 inches, and 123 pounds, the full-time physical therapist for Genesis Health System, can hoist a 100-pound medicine ball over her shoulders, but you wouldn’t hear it from her. She’s all about the team.
“I would never compete as an individual,” Jessie said, sipping a can of Zevia, the sugar-free soda that sponsors her team. “I wouldn’t enjoy it, but the camaraderie on the team makes a difference — that’s what I think is the best part.”
Every athlete representing CrossFit OC3 at the world championships, which YouTube and WatchESPN will broadcast, played a sport in college.
Jessie, for example, played softball at St. Ambrose University. Her husband, Colin, the sole Quad-City native on the team, played baseball at the University of Dubuque before transferring to St. Ambrose.
“I think we all got bored at normal gyms and ran into CrossFit,” said Colin, who now could probably do handstand pushups, burpees and deadlifts in his sleep. “I know there are a million other ways to get fit, but we all fell in love with the idea that every day is different here.”
Over the past several months, they've been splitting their time between training, working full-time jobs, attending school full time and raising children.
Rob Edel, one of two alternate competitors on the team, said he exercises for at least two hours daily, five to six days a week. The 26-year-old, who also met his wife through the sport, works full time, and has two children.
“I’m definitely addicted,” Edel said with a laugh. “CrossFit is a big part of our life, and I think a majority of us will continue to do it after this even if it's not at the competitive level."
While Colin admits CrossFit, which he refers to as the “black sheep” of the sporting world, doesn’t cater to everyone, he hopes people try it before they knock it. Your first class at his gym, which employs 12 people and has about 170 regulars, is free. A month-long membership costs $135.
“When you do something outside the norm, and you like it a lot, somebody's going to ridicule you, and honestly, that fuels our fire even more," he said. “As long as we turn it into something positive, I don’t have any problem with people calling us a little cultish.”