Fit and Fearless: ISU student wins local CrossFit competition

After three years of hard work, John Vandercar, junior in architecture, competed in and won the Mat Games, Iowas largest individual athlete CrossFit competition, in Des Moines.

Courtesy of Shawn Hoffman

After three years of hard work, John Vandercar, junior in architecture, competed in and won the Mat Games, Iowa’s largest individual athlete CrossFit competition, in Des Moines.

Noelina Rissman

He knew what he had to do to win. To his competitors, the first sign of his ability to win happened at the end of the first event. The second was when he was ranked third overall. 

“[I had] strong focus on what I wanted and [the] confidence in how to get there,” said John Vandercar, junior in architecture and assistant trainer at The Factory CrossFit in Ames.

Vandercar’s most recent victory took place during the Mat Games, Iowa’s largest individual athlete CrossFit competition, in Des Moines. After competing for the first two days, Vandercar could tell that he had the potential to win the entire competition.

“The final event was the one that I knew I could potentially get another first place in,” Vandercar said. “Right before the final event started, I was on a mission to win.”

And win he did. After three years of hard work, Vandercar had built himself up mentally and physically to be one of the best RX athletes in the greater Des Moines area, and it all started when he was a senior in high school.

“It started in gym class because my teacher had us do CrossFit instead of regular strength and conditioning,” Vandercar said. “Through doing CrossFit that year, I fell in love with it and wanted to continue it after high school.”

After he started attending Iowa State in fall 2012, he began creating his own fitness schedule.

“Once I started doing CrossFit at Iowa State on my own, I spent a year and a half coaching myself to become better,” Vandercar said. “Through instructional articles and videos I found online, I was able to become better at … areas of fitness that I previously lacked.”

Even though he managed to do CrossFit with school facilities, it was not what he was used to.  

“I made do with what I had at State Gym. That’s the beauty of CrossFit — it can be done anywhere,” he said. “I knew eventually that I would be able to move on to greater levels, such as joining a CrossFit gym or competing in CrossFit events, but for the time being, the best I could do was enjoy CrossFit with what I had.”

After three semesters of this routine, he started to look for different outlets. That was how he became involved with The Factory.

“In the fall semester of 2013, one of my workout partners … told me about a friend of his who was moving to Ames to open up a new CrossFit gym. On the first day of the following semester, we both went in to the new CrossFit gym … and I was able to meet the head coach Aaron McNew.”

McNew saw Vandercar’s full potential as not only a member but also a coach, which is why Vandercar was offered a coaching position to help with foundations classes for new members. After three months coaching foundations, he was bumped up to helping coach classes for regular members as well. It was around this time that Vandercar began to participate in local CrossFit competitions.

“I competed in the CrossFit 2.2 Summer Slam in August. That was a two-man team competition. [Aaron and I] took third place out of 14 teams.”

His latest accomplishment has been the victory of the Mat Games, a three-day competition in Des Moines against 77 other men in the Males RX division. But his aspirations don’t stop there.

“I seek to become a better athlete and pursue greater levels of competition while also becoming a greater coach. I hope to one day gain my CrossFit Level 1 certification and perhaps be able to compete at the regionals level.”  

Now that he’s all in, CrossFit is no longer just a workout. It’s a way of life.

“It’s the mental toughness that is gained through CrossFit that I can bring to other aspects of my life … If I have the mental strength to push through a tough workout, then it makes long nights doing homework that much easier.”

And for those who maybe want to start CrossFit but aren’t sure where to begin, Vandercar has some final words of advice.

“Just give it a try. I’ve found that CrossFit is the best way to get in shape no matter what your fitness goals are. If you have a wide breadth of movements, CrossFit is scalable to any fitness level. Anyone can try it.”