Athlete of the Month: Brandin Kreuzer
Hey Brandin, how did you find your way into CrossFit?
I happened to turn on the TV one day and the 2016 Games were on. I’m not really much of a sports fan, but this was entirely different than my only other interest at the time, which was motocross. At the time I really didn’t grasp the enormity of the Games and what it represents. That week I noticed some guys doing workouts that were similar to what I saw and it looked fun. Then, a few months later, I stumbled across a show on a gym called Barwis methods. On the show, they were doing some workout called the shoulder complex, and later that day I saw the group of guys doing that workout. I joined them, failed the Rx and had to scale the weight.
I don’t value failure, quitting, or giving up so I started working on exercises that were similar to the shoulder complex. That led me to take a workout from the Games I saw previously, which was “Heavy D.T.” (at 205#). I think it took me 15 minutes and I realized how fit the Games guys were. After lying on my back wondering what just happened to me, those workout guys all encouraged me and since they were friends of mine, I decided to join them once in a while.
It wasn’t until I read the Level 1 Training Manual, and met Aaron Brill that I really found my heart in CrossFit. Until that time I had false ideas that CrossFit was just random cardio, but the manual laid down the science and math that really catches my attention and proved to me that CrossFit was an ultimate fitness program. Aaron showed me the community of CrossFit and opened my eyes to an entire world of possibility, all based on natural elements of CrossFit. I think that Redemption Road really exhibits that mixture of the science of CrossFit, and the heart of Aaron.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I have two types of days; physical days and academic days. Both days begin with my full time job as a welder/iron-worker and fabrication specialist. During lunch, I either workout (physical days) or study (academic days). Then I finish out the day at work before returning to my cell to work on Redemption Road stuff for about two hours. After a quick dinner, I either head to the gym to coach, or I work on Seminary or University courses which I take through correspondence. From 18:30-21:00 I either workout, teach theology, or hold Bible Study. Finally, before bed I either study workout related stuff or write. I workout four days a week and try to let my body recover the other three.
How much of your time is spent doing traditional CrossFit metcons in relation to other strength, skill, accessory and mobility work?
It depends on where I am at on my cycle which has three phases. Phase I is strength focused and metcons are used as more of a core work and accessory cooldown, so I can keep total volume down. Phase II is high volume technique work, with lower intensities and 1 rep max maintenance. Metcons are generally heavy during this tme to get some hypertrophy, strength training is usually 1 rep max stuff, and I hammer the neurological pathways. During Phase II, core work and accessory stuff are a cooldown, but involves heavy loads. Phase III leads me into the Open and focuses on metcons. Secondary to that will be moderate rep strength work and any skill work that I am not good at. I utilize a lot of accessory work here mainly as tender/muscle maintenance. If I put a percentage overall, I would estimate strength is 40%, metcons are 30%, skill is 20% and accessory is 10%.
How do you manage to keep your mind calm during brutal workouts?
Sometimes all I can think of is how much I want to quit, but I don’t let myself. One element of my drive is accountability and community and my team doesn’t let me quit. Other times I think about the Open and all of the phenomenal athletes out there who are better than me, so I must work harder. I consider that the Open is just a measure of fitness, but all of the sweat and blood put into training now is what determines not only your Open score, but also your character in life. Whether I win or lose the Open, or life, depends on how hard I work now, in that moment. I failed life before and so it is my duty to pour out my heart now to make me better tomorrow.
What do you feel your biggest strengths and weaknesses are in CrossFit?
Physically, I am terrible at single-arm overhead squats, and pretty good at 1 rep max and lightweight gymnastic/barbell stuff. I consider it a large accomplishment to perform a planche push-up and can nearly overhead squat twice my bodyweight and deadlift nearly three times my bodyweight.
Real CrossFit does not stop at the gym, it is a pursuit of excellence in every area of life. When I was a teenager, I failed that big time and I never forget that my greatest weakness involves the hurt I once caused. I failed in community. The more involved with the CrossFit world that we become, the more that my heart is overwhelmed by the amazing community of people who believe in us, second chances, and go so far as to dedicate their time and life to volunteer for us. I feel that there is nothing I could ever do to deserve the kindness from CrossFitters and their families that I have received. To me, CrossFitters are my greatest strength and inspiration, so I will give my heart so that I am not a weakness to them.
How does it feel to be President and Founder of the FIRST CrossFit affiliate in a correctional facility?
Like the greatest blessing that I don’t deserve. CrossFit is a high title, and I take affiliation to be the top badge of honor. They have given us a chance, and I see it as my duty to not only never let them down, but to be more CrossFit than they could have imagined. As President, I see such an opportunity for our guys because we are all CrossFitters who live together, who can support each other literally all day every day. I think that we have a platform to live CrossFit to an extreme degree. And make no mistake, my success as President comes from a great team of people, both in here and out there. The success I find begins with my guys and gals. Often times I can’t believe the truly inspirational people we have at Redemption Road. My leadership team inside mentor me and support me when I am weak. My team of volunteers really blow all of our minds and have taken the challenge of my vision to change the world to amazing depths. As President, I could not be more proud of their tireless efforts, tenacity, and passion. Anything we accomplish at RF2 is possible because of them.
As Founder, I am impressed that people found inspiration in my vision. I believe in these principles and so it validates my soul when people value them because it is personal. Of course there will be people that don’t like us because we are prisoners, and don’t support us, which is okay. Everyone is entitled to their feelings on it all. And so it does sting a little when someone doesn’t like RF2 because it is so closely mirrored by myself. But at the end of the day, I believe in our guys and if this all makes a difference to at least one person’s life, then it is worth it. And the powerful stories they have, and the one-on-one conversations I have had really tell me that this is right – that this is something I have created which has absolutely changed people’s lives and given them HOPE.
What does it mean to be able to record your scores officially during the Open?
It means a lot, and it is intimidating. As I said previously, being accepted into the CrossFit community, even if it is at 400,000th place is really awesome. The Open is our Games at RF2, it is the pinnacle of all our training and so it’s a really big deal. This year is particularly important not only because it’s our first official posting, but also because RF2 started with a 2016 Open Challenge. It is particularly exciting to see a repeat of 16.2! THAT is full circle. As an athlete, I am so excited to compete against the world. I do very well as far as inmates go, so I am particularly excited to see where I stack up against the world. It is a sort of program validation thing to see if we are any good. However, eating prison food really hurts our performance, and the absence of supplements of any kind probably holds us back. But I do want to show the world what you can do on Ramen Noodles and Mackerel. At heart I am an athlete and I love to compete, and to be in a field of titans is an honor.
Perhaps my favorite part of officially recording scores is that it brings families together. One of our participants has reconnected with his grandfather over the Open, and they hadn’t spoken in 20 years… turns out that they are both competing in the Open! To my family, they get to share in my excitement over scores.
Realistically, the Open athletes are going to smoke us – they’re amazing. But to have an opportunity to do a real competition with our Bladium friends is the opportunity of a lifetime. Listening to my dad read my Bladium friends scores is a highlight of my week.
What motivates you to push yourself?
As an inmate, it seems like I am only characterized by my mistakes. But I want to be known for more than my worst day. I want to be known for good things, and to change the world. Both of those take motivation, drive, and commitment. “Commitment spawns success and only by redoubling our efforts do we best succeed”. That’s from Glassman.
I think of figures like Alexander the Great who changed the whole world in his twenties, and I think why would I settle for less than that? Rich Froning accomplished Fittest Man on Earth in his 20’s too. But ultimately I feel that God has just put it on my heart to push myself so that I can accomplish His will. My pastor, Jerry Briggs, has helped me to see myself as a world-changer, and I take that seriously.
But I also push myself because people rely on me. The further I push, the better Bill’s life will be – I tell myself. Bill, a member of RF2, is awesome and if I can do more, and shoulder more burden than I will. I push myself because our volunteers push themselves, and a team that all push themselves for each other is one which is not easily broken. I push myself because people believe in me, and for that I’ll give every ounce of my heart.
If you could program one event for the 2019 CrossFit Games, what would it be?
Oh boy, I use this as a training wod, but for the Games, I’ll beef it up!
8 rounds for time, with a 50# vest:
16 thrusters (135/95)*
Immediately followed by best of 3 Clean and Jerk with your best weight subtracted from your total time (in seconds) with a 20 minute time cap.
*For regional level athletes, thruster weight is 100/70.
What book would you recommend that everyone should read?
For physiology: Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low
For pleasure: The Great Conversation by Norman Melchert
For purpose: The Book of Romans (Bible) – the Apostle Paul
For personal: First by Rich Froning
Who is your favorite Games athlete, past or present?
Rich Froning, without a doubt. I admire his athleticism as well as his character. He and I have similar backgrounds, he’s just the better version, LOL.
Who writes your programming?
I do. I base it on SAID, progressive overload principles, with a flavor of conjugate strength training, gymnastic strength training and CrossFit metcon. During certain cycles I include Grease-the-Groove. And I’m happy to help anyone who wants it! I particularly like gymnastic strength stuff though. Elite Fran + Iron cross & planchet = FITNESS!!!
What is your favorite benchmark workout and why?
Probably Fran because I’m good at it, but mostly because it is so recognizable. If I ask your Elizabeth, you may not know, but every CrossFitter in the world groans when you say Fran. It is like the CrossFit secret code. Plus having an elite time sparks interest.
What is the CrossFit Community like in Limon?
If you are a CrossFitter, just imagine if you lived 24/7 with everyone who goes to your box. It would be similar if you attend a real, devoted church. There are many personalities in a box, or a church, but in prison you can’t just switch boxes when you don’t like someone there. In this way we are forced to encounter each other day in and day out. Perhaps this is one of our greatest strengths because it forces us to see other perspectives. Our members are greatly varied; from poverty to affluent and every class between. The many backgrounds and family types gives us a wide swathe of diversity.
In the same way, our greatest strength is that we live together. I understand what the other members of my CrossFit community are going through. There is some beauty in shared suffering. Because of that I know how much it means to us all when people believe in us, because I know how much it means to me. So to answer the question, I think it’s like a big family… You’re with each other whether you like it or not, but you can understand each other.
As a coach, I know exactly what my athletes eat, when they train, and what their recovery is. As an athlete, I always have someone to workout with. With the Limon specific community, we make it a point to be the golden standard of technique, ability, and character. We spend a ton of energy trying to give people a reason to believe in us. In our community, athleticism is WHOLLY trumped by character and a dedication to what is right and good. As the tip of the prison CrossFit spear, our life is set to living as examples.
What does the word “Brother” mean to you?
To me, a true friend and a brother are indistinguishable. It is the highest title, and demands an individual who is above and beyond what most people will ever be capable of. Brother is a two way street, and both people must be fully committed to what is good first. A brother will set their priority as sticking to good things themselves first, and working with you to achieve good things yourself. A person who assists or convinces you on a wrong path, knowing it is wrong or harmful to either you or those you care for, is not by any means a brother. Brothers are willing to hold each other accountable, spot flaws in character and talk about it. Of course we are all humans and so brothers will hurt each other, sometimes damage each other greatly, but they will never forget each other, and they will never purposely betray each other in order to do harm to another. A brother is someone who you trust and admire and believe in; it is a lifelong commitment. Sometimes that takes work and sometimes it is unpleasant.
What is the hardest emotion you have encountered in prison?
Man, that’s a heavy question. Having been in prison since I was a teenager, I have encountered a gambit of emotion. I think that there are two main categories of hardest emotion though, hopelessness and loneliness.
This is the first time I have ever been incarcerated, or ever arrested, so walking into prison and looking at spending the rest of my life in here was a hard thing to do. Of course I don’t have an actual life sentence, but I will not even see the shadow of parole until I am 55. That’s hard to face, and it is easy to feel like my life is worthless. Sometimes people believe that as inmates we should sit in a corner, stare at a wall, and have no liberties whatsoever. But I can tell you from the depths of my heart that regardless of liberties, spending 2/3 of your life in prison is not easy. While Christ and CrossFit have certainly given me hope, it is still easy to fall down the hole of hopelessness. That hopelessness has a real way of exposing self-worth and loneliness struggles too. It can feel like no matter what I do, no matter how much I accomplish, in the end I am a worthless inmate. And at the end of the sentence, that is the only title that I will ever be known for.
Sometimes loneliness is even more challenging than hopelessness. It’s ironic that loneliness is so hard here because in prison you are surrounded by people 24/7. But that loneliness buries itself deep within the heart and gnaws on your soul every time you lay down at night. Human beings are created to be together, and the heart is not meant to be alone. Having no one to share your heart with can be miserable at times. At the same time, that loneliness can easily express itself in self-worth issues, making one feel and really believe that the problem is just that I suck. The catch is that having committed such crimes, and having hurt people, I really do suck. It’s a vicious cycle. Between hopelessness and loneliness, it is being alone that is the hardest to encounter.
What is one thing you want the world to know?
My primary message is this. Those ridiculous shows on TV about prison is not the whole story. It is true that those parts exist. But what you don’t see on TV is the amazing transformations that some people have had. Spending time around many of the men in our program absolutely changed my life. They mentored me and they are some of the kindest, most honorable and humble men I have ever known. Actually, that’s why the mentorship part of our program is so important to me.
Look, I’m not arguing the case for everyone in prison, some people are really bad. What I want to underline is that I would bet my life, and even more – my freedom, on some of these guys. I only wish the parole boards would see them.
Finally, I want the world to know that as an athlete and as a man, my greatest joy is in Aaron, Liz, Brittney, Jack, Peter, Chris and Gina. They invested so much into me, I owe them everything. For real. I don’t fully understand it, but thanks be to them.