This article first appeared on Games.CrossFit.com on 6/21/2014
Will Moorad planned on getting married May 17. But when he qualified for the Central East Regional, he and his fiancée decided to change the date.
“I knew Will had a good chance of doing really well, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to do what he’d been training all year for,” Cassandra Moorad (then Goble) said. “We had been talking about regionals and the Games for so long that it was a no-brainer for me.”
“I learned very quickly that you can’t worry about the guy next to you. You have to stick to your game plan.”
With his long brown hair pulled back like soccer player Lionel Messi, Moorad fought to stay alongside the well-known men of the Central East. Event after event, he finished not far behind Rich Froning, Scott Panchik, Marcus Hendren, Graham Holmberg and the other top men in the region.
With a 270-lb. hang squat snatch and a 205-foot handstand walk, Moorad started the weekend with sixth- and eighth-place finishes. To close out Friday, he followed 34 seconds behind Froning on Nasty Girls V2 to end in a dead tie for third place on the event.
On Saturday, he took fourth on the strict handstand push-up, front squat and burpee event, and then climbed to his best finish of the weekend by tying Froning for second on the legless rope climb and sprint event.
The final day of the regional, he got through all but one movement—the final 50-calorie row—within the 21-minute time cap in Event 6. The 11th-place event finish would drop him to a new low on the Leaderboard, but he was able to make up for it on the final event by racing through the 64 pull-ups and 8 205-lb. overhead squats in 1:46 for fourth.
Without winning a single event, Moorad claimed the final berth to the CrossFit Games with a 1-point lead over 2010 CrossFit Games champion Graham Holmberg.
The rookie and the five-time Games veteran had strikingly similar performances on the regional events. While Holmberg’s event finishes look better on first glance—11th, sixth, sixth, ninth, first, fifth, first—Moorad’s less flashy finishes proved more consistent—sixth, eighth, third, fourth, second, 11th and fourth.
So, who is the new man on the podium?
He’s a soccer player who turned his full attention to CrossFit less than two years ago.
As a midfielder and forward for Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, Moorad added the occasional CrossFit workout into his training at the university gym.
“I would do little met-cons, power cleans and pull-ups just to supplement what I was doing for soccer,” he said. “I knew what the Games were and they always intrigued me, but it was my dream to be a pro soccer player.”
He put his studies on hold to see if he could make it as a professional soccer player and attended the United Soccer League Combine. Though he got an invite to train with the Charlotte Eagles in the team’s preseason camp and also was awarded a trial with the Harrisburg City Islanders, his dreams of making it as a professional soccer player ended a couple months later when he was released.
“I did everything I could to get signed, and it just wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “I was exhausted from it all.”
That’s when a teammate from the university told him to check out CrossFit Talon. In the fall, he walked through the affiliate’s doors to ask about an internship. He offered to do whatever the owners needed, even mop the floors at night, so he could attend classes.
Dennis Cheatham was impressed by his willingness to work, and put him through a workout “in order to see what we were dealing with,” Cheatham said.
After a couplet of snatches and 40-yard prowler sprints, Cheatham knew he had an athlete who could move well and push hard. He gave him the internship, and started Moorad on his road to the CrossFit Games in December of 2012.
A few months later, Moorad qualified for the 2013 Central East Regional where he would go on to take 11th place thanks to the solid foundation set by years of training for soccer.
“As a Division 1 athlete, I had a fairly good strength foundation,” Moorad said, citing the 365-lb. back squat PR he set while still in college. “I had to get strong and efficient in the Olympic lifts, but then everything else fell into place.”
After his impressive debut at the regional, he and his coach started laying plans for the next season. Cheatham had come within 16 places of qualifying for the 45-49 Division at the CrossFit Games, and was hungry to make it in 2014. He knew he had an athlete with the potential to qualifying in the individual division despite the exceptionally tough group of men in the Central East. He wrote programming that would challenge both their weaknesses: strength and capacity.
Moorad, an exercise science major, enjoyed watching Cheatham work.
“Dennis has been in this industry for a long time and he has this huge library of info,” Moorad said. “How to program, when to rest, even tapering into competition. Being relatively new to this sport, that’s a big advantage to me as I progress.”
Their training sessions doubled in length. The “couple hours in the gym” each day extended into four- to five-hour training marathons.
The increased workload suited Moorad, and soon his numbers improved. Since the regional last year, Moorad has increased his snatch from 235 lb. to 280 lb., and his back squat from 370 lb. to 430 lb. And he has added 15 lb. to his 5-foot-9 frame.
He thought the lifting would slow him down, but was surprised to find he’s actually running faster than when he was in college.
“It’s funny because when I was a soccer player, I weighed 170 lb. and I thought I was fast then,” Moorad said. “But we’ve run some timed miles and running sub-6 minutes for repeats is something I’ve never done before CrossFit.”
When the Open rolled around, Moorad earned sixth place in the region while his training partner, Cheatham, took 13th in the Masters 45-49 Division.
Cheatham went on to finish the Masters Qualifier in 12th place, which secured him a spot in the CrossFit Games just a few weeks before Moorad would take the competition floor in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Now, it was Moorad’s turn to make it to the Games.
The Regional Weekend
After opening with 255 lb. in the first event, a 1-rep-max hang squat snatch, he missed his second lift at 265 lb. Despite the failure, he added 5 lb. to the bar for a successful third lift at 270 lb.
“I praised the man upstairs for that one,” he said.
From there, he relied on what he learned from 2013: Keep your own pace.
“I learned very quickly you can’t worry about the guy next to you. You have to stick to your game plan,” he said.
He knew when he could push and when he needed to follow a measured pace on each movement of every event. Fans watched as he went for huge sets in Nasty Girls V2, and then saw him break up the strict handstand push-ups into small, 3-rep sets in Event 4.
“I knew I could go unbroken on the front squats, but if you blow up on the handstand push-ups, the whole workout is shot,” he said.
The plan worked for him, until he stopped following it.
Entering the final day of the regional, Moorad was in third place with 23 points while Holmberg followed in fourth with 33 points. It was a strong lead, but he knew a five-time Games competitor like Holmberg could turn it on when he had to.
He got caught up in the fight for third overall and chased his rival through the 50s chipper.
“Me and Graham were kind of like battling it out at the end … and I tried to chase him,” Moorad said. “I kinda left the game plan way too fast and it just gassed me. You’re like, ‘OK, I can ride this adrenaline.’ But adrenaline doesn’t last for 20 minutes.”
As the clock ticked down to the 21-minute time cap, both Holmberg and Moorad were on the final 50-calorie row. At the time cap, Holmberg had 27 calories completed while Moorad had 17. The 10-calorie difference added up to a 6-point gap between the two competitors. Holmberg took fifth on the event, while Moorad would drop to his lowest finish of the weekend: 11th.
Moorad and Holmberg entered the final event with just 4 points between them.
The men raced through 64 pull-ups with graceful butterfly kips and rushed to the 205-lb. barbell to complete 8 overhead squats.
Holmberg completed his last squat, and sprinted to the finish mat in 1:42. Gerald Sasser followed a second later (1:43), then Froning (1:44), then Moorad (1:46).
With a fourth-place finish on the final event, Moorad had done just enough to maintain his lead over Holmberg. With 4 points added to Moorad’s score, and 1 point added to Holmberg’s, the 4-point gap shrunk to just 1 point.
It all would have changed had Moorad reached the mat 2 seconds later. Hendren (1:47) would have taken fourth, and pushed Moorad into fifth on the event. Had he tied Holmberg in the overall standings, he would have lost the tiebreak.
“I made that a lot more stressful than it needed to be,” Moorad said with a laugh. “But that was God’s plan for me and that’s been a huge part of my training, my faith.”
Now, he’s training for his California debut.
“I need to focus on everything,” he said. “Getting stronger, faster, and getting better at everything CrossFit encompasses.”
Alongside Cheatham, Moorad trains three times per day, six days per week. In the mornings, they squat heavy. Then comes auxiliary work like weighted lunges, followed by a short metabolic conditioning workout.
After coaching midday classes at CrossFit Talon, the pair works Olympic lifting technique in the afternoon, practicing pulls and performing complexes, before another auxiliary session and every-minute-on-the-minute skill work.
The evenings are for conditioning on the erg, in the pool or on the road. His greatest weakness, however, is taking time to rest.
“He chooses to do some extra programming that he likes to throw in,” Cheatham said. “Many days and nights, I will receive a text with what he just did in his garage or with his wife or friend. I usually shake my head, make note of the WOD in his file and move on.”
Moorad said he dreams of becoming the fittest man on Earth. Still, his vision is for more than a medal around his neck.
“I coach a lot of young athletes, and having one of these kids see their coach on that stage, you can’t be setting the wrong example for these kids,” Moorad said.
“I hope that I can just go out there and show people that I’m gonna give my best effort every time, for whatever event it is, and that I can give the glory to the man upstairs and leave with a smile on my face.”