BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Heavy barbells clank to the floor, punctuating the steady thrum of the rowing machine. "Two minutes," a trainer shouts out times to pace her athletes.
It's a scene repeated in every CrossFit gym around the world. Beginning this week, the amateur and the elite compete on a level playing field in pursuit of the title, World's Fittest, and winner of the 2018 CrossFit Games.
Inside a sweaty box, as CrossFitters call their gyms, Tiffany Lester guts out another 14 calories on the rower. "I freaking love competition," she says. Lester puffs as she rotates from her rowing machine to lunges.
"Crossfit is hard," Lester's trainer and co-owner of Geaux CrossFit, Amber Leonard, chimes in. "It's about suffering."
Suffer is what Lester does after work most days. She's been pushing her body to its limit since she was a kid. Be it soccer, water skiing, power lifting, rowing, or just dancing in her living room, life for Lester is about the challenge. "If you're not challenging yourself," she says as she catches her breath, "What are you doing?"
That's why this workout is so important. She's on her way to the CrossFit Open. During the next five weeks, every Crossfitter in the world will perform the same five workouts. If an athlete performs well enough, he or she can advance to the CrossFit Regional Games and eventually to the world stage.
The Open is a long way from where Lester was just five and a half years ago. "It was late. We had been up [at the restaurant] late," she remembers. She and some friends were celebrating Lester's last night on the job with drinks after work. After the celebration, Lester drove herself home. "I was texting. I was tired, everything that I should not have been doing."
Lester lost control of her truck and swerved off the road. The truck flipped six times. She was partially ejected. "My legs, my right leg was just crushed. The seat belt caused a lot of injuries," she said.
Eventually, doctors would take both of her legs to save her life. Lester laid in a hospital bed for months. It took doctors 43 surgeries over the next four years to put Lester's broken body back together. "Being humbled and broken," Lester said, "You just decide you're either going to curl up in a ball, or you can choose to do better."
The will to do better is what brought her to Geaux CrossFit. "We started with her core," Leonard explained, "Because at the time, she was convinced that she didn't have a core, teaching her that those muscles are still there. They're still ready to work."
After three months of rowing, lunging, and dipping, Lester feels like a competitor again. "If they can do it," she said, grabbing the handles for another 14-calorie row, "I can do it." And she has her sights set on competing when next year's CrossFit Open rolls around. "That's definitely a goal, for sure." Lester said, "I get kind of cheesy when I think about it because it's something that I thought about before, but never dreamt of doing."
So for the next year, she will be suffering, but she will never be broken again.