Recently one of our coach/athlete, Elise Fugowski, and her GRID team, the Bridgewater Gladiators, were invited to compete in the GRID Invitational. After three days of intense competition, her and the team won the first Grid Invitational finals.
1) Introduce yourself a bit- what’s your athletic background, what current sport or sports do you train for, and how long have you been a coach with us?
My athletic background is mainly in soccer. I’ve spent the better part of 20 years playing – from travel to ODP to premier to semi pro and division 1 at UConn. I’ve always been extremely competitive, so when my soccer career ended – I was looking for something else for that same kind of fulfillment. I was introduced to both CrossFit and OCR at about the same time (within a week of each other) and immediately loved both. I’ve spent the past 3 years with a focus on OCR and a secondary focus on CrossFit. I’ve recently switched with my main focus being a competitive CrossFitter. I’ve been a coach with CHP for a year now – specializing in training OCR, CrossFit and functional fitness competitors, team sports and military athletes.
2) What is GRID? To those who aren’t familiar with it, how is it similar to/different than CrossFit?
For those who don’t know, Grid is a co-ed team sport. Each match features two 14 athlete teams (7 men and 7 women) going head to head in 11 “races”. It incorporates speed, skill and strategy through a variety of weightlifting and body-weight elements, testing all these skills through several quadrants on a racing “Grid”, with entire sets of movements needing to be completed, sequentially, within a given time limit.
During each race, you’ll see many of the same movements you’ll see in CrossFit – clean and jerk, snatch, chest to bar pull ups, muscle ups etc. You’ll also be introduced to some new elements that require more specialization – backroll to support, pig flips, speed ladders. One of the biggest differences between CrossFit and Grid is in the extremes it can attract – where CrossFit you are trying to be good at everything, Grid you are often a specialist- Grid teams can make use of athletes who are particularly dominant when it comes to a given skill set or modality, and on the roster for Grid teams you’ll see athletes ranging from former gymnasts to world class powerlifters. Grid is also heavily about speed- every event is timed, and transitions and strategy (using each athlete to the best of their ability and rotating them in and out quickly) can make all the difference in a race.
3) How did you go about getting on the team?
The manager of the Bridgewater Gladiators, Scott Henriques, is also a representative for Paleo Naturals, a company that provides premade meals to numerous gyms, including The Coliseum Strength and Conditioning (where I train out of). In between classes one day, Scott happened to be asking if we knew any females who would be interested in being part of a GRID team, as they were looking for one more female, proficient in gymnastics movements, to complete the roster. This seemed like an absolutely natural fit for me- I asked what I’d have to do to be a member of the team. He listed off movements and videos I would have to complete to send into the coaches and captain of the team for review.
When I realized I could be part of a team again, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I’ve always felt comfortable in team sports, and excelled with teammates by my side. I gravitated to CrossFit after finishing up a successful soccer career at UConn. My background is mainly in soccer. I’ve spent the better part of 20 years practicing and competing with a team. No individual event will ever replace the training environment, camaraderie, and game day excitement that comes from this. Needless to say, I wanted to be part of a team, a winning team.
I spent the next week practicing these movements. Gymnastics have always been a strong suit for me, but I had been recently concentrating on improving my weightlifting. It was back to finding a rhythm. I sent my videos in -handstand walks, chest to bar pull ups, deficit HSPU, bar muscle ups, ring muscle ups, heavy thrusters, done. I waited (im)patiently until I got a call – I guess I shouldn’t have worried, because I was invited to the next practice.
4) Tell us a bit about the qualifying weekend, and then the tournament itself.
The team had already been together for some time, so I was the new one at practice. We were only 2 weeks out from the NEGL Invitational (North East Grid League) where we would compete alongside the other NE teams with the chance to head to the Grid Invitational in California. We already new what the matches would comprise of – so we spent our practice time going through them. The thing that is so different about GRID is how fast it is. Every second matters, and your transition and strategy are two of the most important elements of the match. Our coaches had studied the matches, so they understood this and had us concentrate on it.
Fast forward two weeks to the NEGL Invitational – our first time competing on a Grid and we get to use the Boston Iron’s facility. 22 events over two days and six teams competing to try to secure a spot for CA. Day 1 – we crushed it. We won every match and were excited and confident going into day 2. Day 2 – fatigue started to set in and our matches were much closer. We focused on our strengths, pulled together as a team and came out with the win. We were headed to California!
We would have 6 weeks to prepare. The matches were released and there were a lot of movements we hadn’t seen before – freestanding handstand pushups, back roll to support, stone over box, etc. Since our team is made up of athletes from all over the North East, much of our training was done on our own. We knew our roles on the team and the movements we would have to concentrate on to be successful. One of the most appealing aspects of GRID is that you get to do what you are good at. When the whistle blows, you go, in get your movement done as fast as you can, and tag your teammate so they can do the same.
Each weekend, we would meet up at CrossFit Automile, Boston Iron’s facility, to train together. Each week our movements and transitions were more fluent, and our team bonded more and more. I’ve always found with teams, that the closer you are, the more you’re willing to work and sacrifice for each other.
Before we knew it, we had arrived in California. We were competing on the same floor as the GRID finals. It was unreal. The format of the tournament was that you were guaranteed two matches, a third if you made the semi finals and a fourth if you made the finals. One day at a time. Day 1 was a match we had done before and were very confident in– Kilimanjaro (Each match has a specific name referring to a specific set of races it contains). We had time to practice on the GRID and were strategizing when we were at the team house we rented. We knew this was a strong race for us. Eleven races played, eleven races won. We were on to day two. Each day presented new challenges through new movements, transitions, and worst of all – fatigue. Day two – eleven races played, ten races won. Day 3 presented us with a team who had already had a season of playing under their belt. We knew it would be a challenge, but there wasn’t anything we were backing down from. The third race was a blur, but by then we were clicking better than ever- transitions were automatic, we’d settled into our roles, and we were finding a rhythm as a team that had us getting stronger as the tournament went on. A third day, a third win, and we were in the finals.
The finals brought on races and movements neither team had seen before. Each team has specialists. We had a group of athletes. We had 24 hours to learn new movements and multiple people on our team were able to pick them up. Rather then deciding who could do each movement, it came down to who was the fastest. By the 8th race, we had clinched the win – all we had to do was finish each race. As we crossed the finish line for the Sprint Relay (the final race), the excitement poured out – we were the first GRID Invitational Champions.
5) How would you say your training prepared you for this event?
My training with CHP definitely prepared me for what I would encounter on the grid. We were able to focus on the energy systems involved and specific movements I would be using throughout the matches. When I was brought onto the team, I was just starting a weightlifting focus of training, as this was one of my weak points in my CrossFit skill set, but thankfully we hadn’t had to compromise any of my other strengths to make this shift. Though my specialty on the team was bodyweight movements, I also had a number of other strengths that made me useful, such as having the strongest deadlift among the women, and possessing great conditioning and recovery speed. Much of what you do in Grid races doesn’t allow for setup or much recovery between stations, so being able to run in and perform your reps without hesitation is key to keeping the match flow quickly.
6) So whats next for you in the coming year?
The next year for me will focus on both CrossFit and Grid. My next big event will be the team Wodapalooza qualifier at the end of the month. I’m also looking forward to doing my first weightlifting competition next year, but I’m keeping my options wide open. One of the greatest things about hybrid training, is how well rounded of an athlete it keeps me. I know that if there’s an event I want to participate in, a slight change in my programming will prepare me to do well.
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