An Olympian’s Path from the Pool to CrossFit

Olympian Adriana Marmolejo

After a career that included participating in three Olympic Games, 75 Mexican national titles, and 50 national records, Adriana (Marmolejo) Schack was forced to retire from competitive swimming.  At only 28 years old, Adriana had destroyed a significant amount of cartilage in her knees which led to multiple surgeries.  It turns out that Adriana’s specialty, the breaststroke, is incredibly damaging to the knees, especially over many thousands of hours of repeated movement.

The journey into the pool was quite natural for Adriana as she simply followed in the wake of her dad, a two time Olympian and her coach.  But her path to competitive athletics on dry land hadn’t been clear until recently, when she started working out at CrossFit 847 to rehab after her surgeries.  According to Adriana, she was very low-key the first few weeks, but now she is starting to get comfortable with the environment and the CrossFit exercises.

Below is a bit more about Adriana and her CrossFit experience.

How difficult was it to channel your energy and focus into preparing for an Olympic Games when your event was only a few minutes long?

So much goes into training that you don’t really think about it, and as swimmers we know that every tenth we drop will be a lot a work, lots of hours in the pool and gym. When the difference between winning and losing can be one-hundredth of a second, you want to make sure you do everything possible to be on top.

Olympian Adriana Marmolejo Schack

You started CrossFit as part of your rehab after multiple knee surgeries.  How long have you been working out at CrossFit 847 and what has the experience been like?

I’m finishing month three, and it has been a blast! It feels so good to be getting back into shape, feeling that my knee is getting better, and feeling like an athlete again.

I’ve been doing a lot of new things like Olympic lifting and gymnastics moves that have been challenging and a lot of fun. I love the atmosphere.  Everyone is there to work, there is no being there with your cute outfit to be on the treadmill watching TV – it’s all sweat and hard work, and I love it!

You mentioned that you hadn’t done many of the movements typically found in a CrossFit box.  Have you been able to improve at CrossFit now that you are gaining some experience in the skills? 

I have actually, and being strong has helped me a lot as well – I have muscled my way to figuring things out.

A lot of things are scary, hanging on the rings, handstands, etc., but since no one even winces at them, I had to just do them. Kipping pull-ups happen to be my forte, the movement is very similar to the butterfly swim so it took me about three weeks to figure them out.  I was used to strict pull-ups, of which you can only do a few, as opposed to kipping, where you can go for a while.  When I tell people I have done 150 pull-ups inside a WOD, jaws drop (ha ha).

Olympian Adriana Marmolejo working out at CrossFit

How does your training program for competitive swimming compare with CrossFit in terms of energy/effort/ and time?

CrossFit is very intense, which is very different from swimming where it is all about endurance. Swimming practices go for two plus hours, where CrossFit is typically one hour or less.  When it comes to longer WODs I do well because I can keep going , and I’m used to working hard for an hour straight and certainly have no problem going for 30 minutes.  However, I struggle with the very short explosive workouts – I can’t move that fast yet.

When we spoke earlier you mentioned how many “retired” swimmers re-enter the pool in order to satisfy their competitive needs.  Since that isn’t an option for you, do you think competing at CrossFit is in your future?

I hope I get good enough that I can compete, but I’m a bit far away from Rx weights and much farther from some movements like pistol squats, hand stand walks, handstand pushups and muscle ups.

But I’ll get there!

Thanks Adriana!

And a special thanks to Patrick Curtis of CrossFit 847 in Evanston, IL for connecting me with Adriana.

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