Fittest Man in the World Owes His Success to a Fall
Rich Froning has earned the title of “Fittest Man in the World” for four consecutive years. And, he’s the only competitor to ever accomplish that feat in the CrossFit Championships. But, Rich will tell you that his road to first, started with a fall.
Rich was raised in a large Catholic family and had 24 male cousins. In his family, competition was the name of the game.
“There's a lot of boys in that group there, so there’s a lot of testosterone at family get-togethers and it was always a competition,” Rich said.
Religion was also part of his family’s tradition. While Rich believed in God, he says it never felt personal.
“I knew religion from an early age,” Rich said. “I prayed every night but it was more of a ‘What can you give me God?’ instead of ‘What can I do for you?’”
In college, Rich’s love of sports and fitness led him to a degree in exercise science. In 2009, he discovered CrossFit.
“It changed completely how I was working out,” Rich said. “I kind of went from the, you know, muscle groups, to actually doing functional movement--lifting things off the ground to full range of motion pull-ups, that type of stuff.
Before long, Rich was hooked and decided to enter the CrossFit Open- a five week, five workout competition. In 2010, on his first attempt, Rich qualified for the national championships.
“We showed up that first day at sectionals and I was like looking at some of these giant guys, I was like, ‘There's no chance that I’m going to, you know, even qualify,’” Rich said. “I end up winning my region and then went to the CrossFit games. (The) goal there was to not get last place.”
But Rich continued to dominate at the national level. By the end of the weekend, with one event left, Rich was in first place. His last event was a rope climb.
“I jumped up on the rope in the final event and uh went to try and pull and I was like, ‘Oh, this isn't good,’” Rich said. “My arms are shot, there's no –don't know what I'm doing with the legs." Guys are just flying up and down the rope. The guy that's in second at the time, Graham Holmberg, was just – climbed the rope like it's nothing. I climbed the rope one time, hit the cross bar, started coming down and then fell from the top.”
His fall came as a crushing blow—to his first place standing and his identity. Although he finished second overall, Rich left the games feeling defeated.
“I'd made CrossFit uh an idol, you know, it was – I'd let it define who I was as a person and put my self-worth into CrossFit,” Rich said. “I didn't enjoy what I used to love to do is work out. I hated it.”
Looking for hope, Rich joined a Bible study called “CrossFit Faith.” After meeting one night, one of the members challenged his beliefs.
“We were riding home in the car and he asked me a question, he said, ‘If you were to die today, would you go to heaven?’” Rich said. “And I was like, ‘of course, I would.’ You know? I'd, you know, I'd believed in God my whole life.
And then started thinking about it. I was like, ‘Am I living like - this stuff I’m reading – am living like we are called to live; to put Christ first, and to live for Christ? Maybe I’m not living like I'm supposed to.’"
Rich started studying the Bible and in May 2010, he re-dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and was baptized.
“Everything that I was reading the New Testament - everything was applicable to daily life - trials and stuff I was going through, everything matched up,” Rich said. “It was like, you know, the Living Word. We talk about the Bible's living and it was cool to see that for the first time instead of just reading words on a page.”
Rich says immediately all of his priorities changed.
“My priorities went from, ‘what can God do for me?’ to ‘What can I do for Him?’” Rich said, “’How can I change people's lives? How can I lead people to Him?’”
In 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 Rich entered the Games again, and walked away a champion of the CrossFit Games and a champion of the faith. He has written about his journey in an autobiography called “First.”
“Galatians 6:14 is ‘May I never boast at anything except for the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which has been crucified to me and I to the world,’” Rich said. “It's whatever I do means nothing. It’s not about me. The CrossFit games, the four-time Fittest Man on Earth isn't about me. It's about Him and the talents that I've been given. It's my way to glorify Him through what I do.”