My 2013 CrossFit Games

“How do you balance medical school and CrossFit?” This is the one question to which it seems everyone wants to know the answer. I usually just smile or laugh and remark with a similar expression of perplexity, “I don’t know either – I’m still trying to figure it out!” I could talk about time management tips and strategies for maximizing efficiency, but those who are close to me know that I am far from mastering any of these skills. The truth of the matter is that in my experience, more importantly than time management, achieving balance begins with defining reasonable goals.

Last year, I entered medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine with a goal of also competing in the 2012 CrossFit Games. With a good understanding of the first-year curriculum, I knew that it would be possible to dedicate the necessary time to training while still fulfilling my medical school requirements. Knowing that the path toward these two tasks I was simultaneously attempting to surmount would be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining, it was also important for me to spend time reflecting on why I wanted to pursue each one. As the year progressed, this reflection would prove invaluable as I reminded myself of these reasons with each moment of doubt, frustration, or exhaustion along the way, empowering me to steadily press forward.  The incredible support of family and close friends in and out of the gym also kept me focused and reminded me of what is truly most important in life.

Based purely on my own limited experience, here is my best advice for achieving balance:

  1. Identify your goals and what motivates you, deep down, to achieve them. Why do you want to compete in the CrossFit Games? Or pursue a particular degree, or job? Will this reason be enough to sustain you when the path toward this goal becomes dark and windy?
  2. Decide how much time you have to dedicate to each goal. No matter who you are, there are only 24 hours in a day. My engineering degree is more than a year old now, but I can still do this math: the more goals you have, the less time you have to spend on each one. Family, friends, jobs, etc are all important – prioritize and make sure you spend time on the things that matter most to you.
  3. Work like crazy with the time you have dedicated to each goal to reach and surpass it. Give 100% effort to whatever you are doing in each moment of time.*
  4. Have reasonable expectations.  If you only dedicate 3 hours per week to training, no matter how hard you work during those 3 hours it might be unreasonable to expect to stand on top of the podium at next year’s CrossFit Games (but hey, who’s to say?).
  5. Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others who have completely different lives and sets of goals. If you are dedicating 3 hours per week of training it would be hard to compare yourself to another athlete in the CrossFit Games Open or Regionals who has the luxury of putting in 15 hours.  Stand firm in your original motivations and the goals you set for yourself and celebrate each of your personal accomplishments.
  6. Take time to reflect. As you work steadily toward your goals, it is important to periodically stop and notice your progress. Notice whether your goals or motivations have changed, and re-direct as necessary.

     *Note: This in itself is a lofty goal and one that I struggle most with!

Now comes the hard part: it is time to take my own advice. As I look toward the upcoming year, I again must define my goals and ask myself why I am choosing to pursue each one. This second year of medical school is a critical one in my program, with increased classroom commitments and a significant demand to prepare for the first medical board exam in June. As I pursue my goal of becoming the best physician I can be, this year stands out as one that will lay the groundwork for caring for patients in the future. Recognizing the importance of this goal and the time commitment  necessary to pursue it, I know that this year it must be prioritized above others, including competing in the 2013 CrossFit Games. As much as it pains me to consider not competing in the sport I love, that has become a part of who I am and who I aspire to become, I know that in this particular year, I have another goal that has to take precedence. I have considered every possibility (believe me, every possibility), and I have decided that rather than giving half an effort to medical school and half an effort to the CrossFit Games this year, I must shift my focus to dedicating a full effort to school and the board exam.

The USMLE Step 1 – My 2013 CrossFit Games

It is important to set our goals high and to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of so that we may ultimately reach our full potential.  I believe it is also important to remember that we are human – and that some goals are just too important to sacrifice. I would never want to look back on this year and my career and wonder whether I could have done better had I not been distracted by training for the CrossFit Games. This year my goal is to crush the USMLE Step 1 exam, and in order to reach my full potential in this endeavor I know it requires me to sacrifice training for the 2013 CrossFit Games. But don’t you worry – I’ve still got my eye on the top of the podium in 2014, and training for that particular goal starts today.  ;)

77 responses to “My 2013 CrossFit Games

  1. Best wishes for success in year 2 of medical school!

  2. Julie, I think your last point about taking time to reflect is probably the most critical step to achieving goals and balancing your life– and reflecting is something that I know you do so well! You’ve totally hit the nail in the head there. I think it’s so easy for us to become wrapped up in something and forget the reason behind it. Life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes we may set a goal that is “right” for us at that present moment but may not be later on. We are allowed to change our goals and priorities (and that can be a very courageous thing to do), but in order to do so, we must really understand ourselves and take a moment (several moments) of introspection. I’m proud of you for reflecting on your commitments and making the decision that is right for you in this moment. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Good look Julie…I hope you make both your goals in both the medical field and 2014 CrossFit Games!!

  4. Julie, you are my crossfit idol and I too often wondered how you could pack so much work into such a small amount of time. I am terrible at time management and often find myself spending a lot more time on my training than my education and I’m not even competing! Thank you for writing this and delivering it at the exact moment when I needed to read it most. Good luck reaching your goals; if you are half as good a student as you are an athlete you should have no problem passing those boards. Get to work!

  5. As a hopeful (future) medical student next year, you’re an inspiration to me, by maintaing a balance with all the things you love and are committed to. Thanks for writing such a great post, it definitely puts a lot of things in my life into perspective. I wish you the best in the future, and hopefully our paths will cross at one of the Games!

  6. Best of luck in everything you do, you’re an inspiration.
    - A big fan

  7. Julie– though I’m a novice cross fitter I’ve been a doc for 15 yrs and I’ve always thought of medicine as a calling more than a career. Those of us who do it really feel as if there was no other option. I once heard medicine described as a jealous mistress… I can see how cross fit could be similar, especially for someone as talented as you. I understand your sacrifice– everyone in medicine will have to make some. Be careful not to compare your version of “balance” with some sort of accepted standard… Just “do” med school like you do cross fit (which is really the only way to do it).
    Ps– med schools and residency programs LOVE people like you who rule in some other aspect of society/sports, etc.– it’ll be a huge asset.
    Go hard!

  8. you’re awesome Julie. And you’re making the best decision for you and setting an amazing example for those who admire. Much success to you!

  9. Woow that’s just crazy the way you can manage it, you are a huge inspiration, I’m a big fan ! The first Crossfit video I’d seen was the 2011 games’ beach event, and I was like what the hell, are they human ? Then you finish 2nd while studying medicine in the 2012 games , congratulations, here in France, medicine student are knwon for having NO LIFE, not a single hour to spare a day ! You and all the other athletes games made me want to start Crossfit yet there were no boxes here ! One has finally opened in Paris but it is too far for me to go there (around 40 minutes by train) as I don’t have much time either, I entered to college this year and I study sport and actually have 5 classes of practicing with brand new sports for me (Takwondo,gymnastics…) which made me quit my actual sport, judo because it’s too late and the risk of getting injured is high and would mean for me that I scredwed my school year. Fortunately I’ve enough time to run which I love and to do bodyweight exercises that I regularly train eversince I became a “sportaholic” and grew slowly more and more addictied to sport. Anyway, I tried crossfit yesterday and it was love at first try ^^ We did KAREN and worked on overhead squats skills, I want to suscribe but can,t yet, but maybe I’ll be able to during the summer break, I can’t wait. Meanwhile I can still do my bodyweigth and runnig stuff and I started weight training with the judo club, I only have one 2 hours session a week, so here is the reason of that novel I just wrote : considering I have a very good cardio and a great overall endurance, and flexibility (for a boy at least) but not much power since I never had a chance to work on it, what can can I do during this two hours weight training session (besides the “max strenght” program that the coach has written to me on the bench and leg press), to make my body ready to crush it during the summer ? I’m ready to spend a lot if time during the summer vacation, like 5 WODS a week plus the 3 hours a day that are dedicated to “free training” (this is the way the tiny Paris box works) besides my 4 to 5 running session a week + rope jumping (thai boxing heavy ropes) and a lot of stretching !
    Thanks for reading the whole message, I know it’s long and boring but if you would answer me it would be a huge gift from you and you’d have helped me in a way you can’t even imagine ! And good luck with your 2nd year of medicine, can’t wait to see you kick some ass in 2014 !

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  11. Good luck Julie!!

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  13. too bad :-( But it is definitely the best decision. Hang in there and crush this USMLE as you’d do it with any other WOD. Good luck!

  14. Best of luck Julie. Can’t wait to follow you in 2014. 3,2,1 GO!

  15. But but but… you are by far the most beautiful girl. You have redefined what attractive women should look like. I’m heartsick, and no medical book has a cure for this…

  16. Julie, what an amazing woman/person you are! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and goals with all of us. I am certain you will succeed beyond your expectations in passing the USMLE Step 1 exam. And I know without a doubt you will come back stronger than ever in 2014 for the Games! I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers throughout this process. On a personal note….I needed to read your writings this morning as I am at a crossroads in my life and need to make some difficult decisions. CrossFit has been my saving grace and will continue to be. But, reading your processes have helped me to look at these decisions in a defined manner now. Thank you!

  17. Reading this i felt so much empaty… i’m in 4th year of med school and beside i don’t compite at such high level in the games… i had the same struggle… to go to the gym an workout or go home an get some sleep after been on rotation at the hospital… i’t is hard to carrie on with both responsabilities… but i think it’s woth it… best wishes in your 2º year of med school.

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  19. I’m in the process of wrapping up a 17 month MBA program and have found your words to be spot on with regards approaching such decisions, although I don’t know that I could have stated each point so elegantly.

    As a result I had to narrow down my list of priorities into four buckets….Family, Work, School, and Fitness and all other items were placed on hold, including my social life. There were times it was so tough to watch my Crossfit buddies consistently hitting PR’s while I was just trying to maintain without losing my current level of fitness. By keeping the end goal in sight, I was able to stay the course.

    I applaud your commitment to focus on your studies to set the foundation for becoming a great doctor. Your words are inspiring and I’m looking forward to 2014 when you set your sites on the Games again.

  20. Wow Julie, I can only imagine what a difficult choice this was for you. I have so much respect for you not only as an athlete but also as someone who manages to fill her life with so much more than just the ordinary. I’m sure you already know how many people are behind you on this but I think you’re making the right decision for you. Thank you so much for the advice – as someone who is also trying to pursue a career in medicine and wickedly addicted to crossfit it’s nice to know that you can do it all but don’t necessarily have it as “together” as you might appear.
    Way to go in pursuing your goals. I know you will totally crush your Step 1 and be back better than ever in 2014. Maybe I’ll even be there to join you. Keep up the amazing work!

  21. Best to you, Julie. Although I’ll miss watching you compete, I know that the effort in this endeavor will be we’ll worth it.

  22. Perspective is what separates the mature from the immature, the sane from the insane. You are a great role model and your decision only adds depth to you as an example. I have no doubt you will be back at The Games competing with a vengeance. Continued good luck.

  23. If I ever have to trust my life to a doctor, I can only hope it will be one of the caliber that Julie will be.

  24. Julie, I know others have said this already, but quite simply you are an inspiration. Not just to CrossFitters, but to all people as an example of human excellence. Your absence will be noticed in the CrossFit Games in 2013 – both by your competition and by those of us watching. Still, I can respect your decision to put long-term achievement ahead of short-term goals. Perhaps you could…you know…just show up somewhere and do the Open WoDs and sort of…see what happens…lol.

  25. Step I is a big challenge and you’ve made the right choice. As someone on the other side of this (mom, pediatrician, residency program director) I can tell you can have it all again ( I am not Games level but I put in the time!)…BTW peds is a very flexible field:) Keep up the great work, you’re amazing!

  26. I love your list for achieving balance. Those are wise words. I’m a beginning CrossFitter and it’s hard enough to manage with little kids underfoot. I can’t imagine med school on top of everything. But, as with raising kids, prioritizing is key and using time efficiently and wisely. Inspiring post — and I’ll pass it on to my husband who’s considering doing his Level 1 training!

  27. Once again, setting the bar high for all athletes and individuals. It takes an unwaivering commitment and desire to make these types of decisions. They aren’t game changers, but life changing experiences. Without a doubt, a inspiration to both the CrossFit community and those outside of box.

  28. Mathias Persson

    Julie, it was a real pleasure to see you do so well at the 2012 Games. You seem to have your prioroties right in life and you will surely crush your exam next year.
    Thank you for your balance advice, and I’m looking forward to see you at the top of the podium in 2014 :)

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  30. I am in nursing school right now and a novice crossfitter. Julie, you are such an inspiration to me, especially on those days when I’ve been in clinicals for 12 hours and I am dragging tired to go do my WOD and push myself as hard as I can. Thank you for this post about balance – it is so important. Good luck with your 2nd year! And I’ll be looking for your on the podium in 2014!!!

  31. Good luck! I will be cheering for you in both arenas!

  32. I’ve always looked up to that extra step you have when you start getting tired, keep stepping! and Thank you for being such an inspiration, you have no idea. This must be so hard for you so keep you’re head up and work your hardest and get back on that podium in 2014 I know you will!:)

  33. As a mom, teacher, and Asia Regionals hopeful this is really encouraging and inspirational. Thanks and good luck!!

  34. Priorities, you got em. Good luck with your endeavors!

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  36. Thank you, I struggle with balancing the different aspects of my life everyday. Whether it be with how much crossfit training I do, how much community work I do, youth group, and my studying. The beginning of this year I have decided to put forth my studies because at the end, crossfit is getting me to where I want to be. Crossfit helped me decide what I want to be and it is a stepping stone for now. Til’ then, I will continue my school work but still contribute to all of the things I need to contribute to. Going to the crossfit games may be one of my greatest dreams, but helping people achieve theirs, when I get to be a physical therapist is alot more rewarding than a title..

    It doesn’t matter if you take a break, your still one of my biggest role models.

    Presley

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  38. Hard choice – good decision! Looking forward to see you competing at the games 2014

  39. life is always full of interesting decisions..keep your eye on the gold and the possibilities are limitless!! All the best and wonderful piece x

  40. Congratulations on being freshley pressed.

  41. It would have been great to see see you win 2013 but we’ll just have to wait!
    Good luck Julie!

  42. I find it so hard to take your own advice, especially when there is so much you want to do and only so few hours in the day. It’s definitely a challenge in itself to stay balanced when you are spread out among so many things. I am impressed that you chose to dedicate yourself to your 2nd yr of med school and do well, and then come back to Crossfit.
    We never know what may happen in the future, and we need to look at what we are doing right now with the time we have. Enjoy your choices!
    iRuniBreathe

  43. I think you have some really good rules for achieving success, I especially enjoyed the rule where you take a moment to pat yourself on the back, I also believe that it is better to be good at a few things that you can really dedicate yourself too than a lot of things that you can be okay at. At the company I work for we really try and teach kids a lot of these same values through sports.

    http://www.playgroundentertainmentgroup.com

  44. great perspective. Give it your everything, good luck in school!

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  49. Julie, I am an orthopedic surgeon and it is difficult to say no to something that you have always been able to handle comfortably and sometimes not so comfortably. You are doing the right thing and even if 2014 does not happen with clinical rotations that will be more demanding of time, you have already achieved an impressive goal and I would hire you in a heartbeat.

  50. Julie, I am an orthopedic surgeon who also finds time to crossfit and it must seem difficult to say no to a challenge. I am sure you are used to saying yes to everything put on your plate and handling it with ease. There is no doubt that you are making the right choice and even if 2014 does not happen due to clinical rotations and their increased time demands on you, rest assured you have already achieved some pretty tough goals. Good luck and study well. Sean

  51. Wow thanks for the inspiring post and great tips for a fellow medical student who is desperately trying to keep up with the hectic rowing training schedule!

  52. Julie, as one of a family of 5 fairly obsessed crossfitters and a pediatrician, I want to just wish you good luck! Never let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve your goals. When I started medical school I was not a crossfitter but I was a mom to 3 young kids. Many told me that I could not achieve my goals. By prioritizing correctly, I was able to become a physician and to be a pretty good mom to the 3 kids I have. Your spirit and hard work will take you far! (and I agree with Nicole B., consider peds as your career!)

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  55. Julie,
    I’ve long admired your work ethic and dedication, and I applaud you for making this decision. As an aspiring CrossFit coach who’s also a graduate student in English, I’ve often marveled at how you manage to train as you do and still complete your studies. You’ve already achieved a great deal. You’ve shown the world that women can be strong, that diligent students can be athletes, that athletes can become professionals in other fields. You’ve pursued your goals with such passion and discipline that inspires me every day. CrossFit will still be there when you return to it (and we’ll be waiting to cheer you onto the podium again). Good luck with the exams.
    Sincerely,
    Jo

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  59. When I was studying for step 1, I would make myself “goat wods” of question blocks on uworld with my weaker subjects (biochem, immuno and GI). It made studying a little more fun. Kick some butt on step 1! Those micro flash cards you have in your picture are awesome.

  60. Good Luck Julie! I’m a third year and a crossfitter and finding the balance is always tough! Sadly medical school doesn’t get easier, its always time consuming, but you enjoy spending time doing medical school much more with every new topic you learn and every patient you see. Stick with Goljan and First Aid!!!

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  63. Your advice is awesome! Although I’m not a crossfit athlete, I am a runner – a runner who loves to race, but who’s horrible at balancing everything (school, workouts, friends, family, etc.). I’m a full-time grad student pursuing a degree in nutrition to become a Registered Dietitian. I ran my first marathon in October and would love to do it again next hear; however, as you decided against participating in the 2013 Crossfit games, I’ve decided to hold off the next marathon since my time next year is limited (school, sister’s wedding, etc.) and I need to focus on completing my degree. It was a very hard decision for me to make and I stressed over it for weeks, but I know it’s the right one. I needed to decide which goal was more important at this time, and my degree in a subject matter I’m passionate about wins over all so I can start my future career. Reading through your advice hit home for me and made me realize I need to take a step back to prioritize everything. Thank you for that and good luck in med school! You are an inspiration!

  64. withlovedeidrelee

    Wow, thank you so much for this post!! It is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m in the midst of trying to accomplish my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The advice you have laid out above is extremely helpful. Especially the part about having reasonable expectations. Sometimes I push myself too hard to achieve my goals and so making sure that goals are achievable given all of the other factors around you is incredibly important. You rock Julie!

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  67. Very inspiring piece and so many aspects of this are very true. Prioritizing goals and separating those that are realistic and those that are not is challenging for all of us. Success with our life choices dictate our success in every endeavor we encounter. Good luck in school and training for ’14!

  68. I’m a fourth year medical student in Texas, and I just started CrossFit this past October. I guess it was just a matter of time before I discovered this blog, haha. You’re really an inspiration, Julie! I just noticed how old this post is, and I realized why: Step 1! Seeing as you made it through first year alive and beasted it at the CF games last year, I have no doubt you’ll do well! Good luck, and remember: First Aid is your best friend!

  69. Kira Dimitrovna

    Ms. Foucher,
    As a fossil on this site, 45yo, and 18 y out of med school (Cologne, NYU, UW Madison) I think you have made a wise decision and wish you the best for the USMLE 1 and 2. As a foreigner I have had the joy of taking the USMLE in 1992, 1994 and then, thank you, Wisconsin, again in 2006. As I was working at that time all I could do was online test tutorials. Essentially doing questions for six months straight every night. And I passed better than the first time while in med school.
    Point being is that one has to decide if one wants to comprehend! the issues at hand or just pass the test. I hope you settle for the first and then, later, go away for internship and return to Cleveland clinic for a great residency (ophtho!, totally non biased from my side).
    Having started Xfit less than a year ago it is interesting to see some in my field of work do this professionally. Back home in Germany there were a few soccer players that went to medical school and in the US there was of course the sport star supreme, Eric Heiden. But he did it after his phenomenal skating career. So did Johan Koss, whose humanitarian work has become exemplary.
    So it is with great interest I follow the travails of the young athlete entering the field of Osler, Virchow, William Carlos Williams and many others. Amongst many things you will find that medicine can and often is all consuming. It may not tolerate much on its side. It barely tolerates family in many cases. It requires love for the fellow man and woman (see also you going away video from hyper fit). So even if you decide never to compete again I am sure there will be a great doctor taking the competitive athlete’s place. Bon voyage.

  70. As someone who has been doing CrossFit for the last several years and competing during medical school myself, I give you props! It’s not easy but it gives you such an incredible sense of balance and actually makes you an interesting human being! It’s so easy to just get sucked into the medical grind and ignore the world around you, but life’s so much better if you don’t. Good luck in the Open!

    Michael
    UVM Med Class of 2014
    Champlain Valley CrossFit

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  72. Julie! As a trauma and burns surgeon, I still find the time to crossfit! I have made huge gains since I started in my 3rd year of residency. And I hope to make it to regionals one of these days. Rest assured that after this board exam is up, medicine is SO much more fun. In addition, you get better at managing your time. Keep up your training, and remember, it’s all doable!!!!

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  74. Thank you for stripping the advice to the bare minimum. I am truly humbled by your passion, dedication and commitment in doing whatever you do. As a medical student myself, I struggle with time management even till this day despite being in 3rd year. Knowing your story has inspired me to try even harder and to pick myself up after every fall and to not give myself excuses to compromise my own health. THANK YOU! Keep persevering! May God guide you in all your endeavors.

  75. Julie, This post inspired me to get my goals clear and realistic and design a plan to attain them. I wrote about it in my blog and I just wanted to share it with you. I am constantly encouraged and challenged by you. Thanks for being so awesome!

  76. Neuyen Mclean

    Great Job Julie, as a fourth year at USF I know your pain, keep pushing as you always do.

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