Eric Cohen set a personal goal that when he turns 60 in two years, he’ll make his push to reach the CrossFit Games, where men, women, teams, teenagers and masters from all over the world come together for a nearly week-long workout for a chance to earn the title, “Fittest on Earth.”
The 58-year-old Sag Harbor resident accomplished that goal a little earlier than he expected.
Cohen was one of 3,500 men from all over the world who finished in the top 20 of his age group (55-59) to earn a bid to the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games, which will take place in Madison, Wisconsin, from July 27 through August 1. After several years of “knocking on the door” of the Games, Cohen finally accomplished his goal competing against many athletes who are three years younger than him while also navigating through a pandemic.
“I’m competing against guys three years younger than me. That may not sound like a lot, but at this age, every year matters,” he said. Which is why, “it feels great, frankly,” he added.
“This year, it was a huge surprise. It’s been in the back of my mind that when I turn 60 in two more years, it’ll be a whole new age group, I’ll be one of the youngest. This year just sort of happened. I think part of it was that I wasn’t feeling any pressure. My expectations were much lower this year.”
Cohen started his journey earlier this spring, when he finished the first round in sixth place in the world in his age group. “I was shocked with that result,” he said. “I’d never been higher than the 20s.”
It was in the next round of tests that would determine whether or not he’d make it to the Games, and after starting the round with what he called a bad workout, he felt as if his opportunity had just slipped out of his hands.
The workouts each athlete has to do in each round aren’t known, usually, until the day of the event and can run the gamut from regimens like the clean and jerk, a traditional weightlifting event, to the not-so-traditional workouts, such as what Cohen had to do to start the qualifying round.
As fast as he could, Cohen had to do five rounds of 15 handstand pushups, 15 dumbbells shoulder to overhead, then burn 15 calories on a rowing machine. The average finish time for that particular workout was 11 to 12 minutes, Cohen said. He finished in 19.
“That one just didn’t go my way,” he said. “I thought I was done. That was the very first workout and I almost didn’t go the rest of the way, but my workout partner was like, ‘Just keep going. You never know.’”
Part of the reason why Cohen will be in Wisconsin later this month is because of that advice from that workout partner, whom he called Eddie.
Cohen finished out the round strong. His best workout, he said, was completing 75 power cleans, bringing a barbell from chest to shoulders, then immediately after, completing 75 double-unders with the jump rope, spinning the rope twice under your feet in each jump.
He finished 19th in the world in that event, and finished 21st overall, just one spot outside of the qualifying top 20, making him an alternate, or “backfill” as its termed in CrossFit. When an athlete from Australia couldn’t make the trip, Cohen was the first to receive the invite he’d been working toward for nearly seven years.
Cohen is no stranger at all when it comes to fitness — he works with a local startup called 99 Walks, a Bridgehampton-based company that inspires and motivates people to walk for their health and wellness. It’s from working with clients that have inspired him through his CrossFit journey.
“The stories I see at work about people overcoming their challenges to walk half a mile, then a mile, then 3 miles, that’s what inspires me.” Cohen said. “Getting fitter at any age is possible, and it’s important for our quality of life. Wherever you are with your health, just start and keep moving.”
“We encourage, predominantly women, to start their fitness journey through walking,” he added. “We have a program with audio-walking classes, sort of like Peloton, where you have a coach and you’re goal-setting, mind-setting. It’s really taken off, particularly through COVID. We’ve helped over 20,000 people for wellness in our community. They actually inspire me to go to the gym and workout. It’s routine for some, but someone else it could really be a daunting game, but they go and that’s really inspiring.”
The CrossFit Games will be Cohen’s first live competition since competing at Wodapalooza — largely considered CrossFit’s second largest event of the year — in Miami in February 2020. Two weeks after he returned from that event, the pandemic started. Being able to work out became tougher, forcing Cohen to workout in the office at 99 Walks as opposed to his usual workout location at CrossFit Warrior Legion in Hampton Bays. But as things have opened back up, Cohen has been able to go back to Warrior Legion, where he’ll most likely be as he gears up for the CrossFit Games.
Like all other CrossFit events, Cohen has no idea what he’ll have to do workout wise when he gets to Madison later this month, but he’ll try to expect the unexpected as best he can.
“Part of CrossFit is being able to take on the unknown and unknowable,” he said. “I have no idea exactly what I’ll be required to do. There are some constants, but we’ll be thrown some curveballs for sure.”
Cohen, and all of the other athletes in attendance, can be watched on the CrossFit Games website at games.crossfit.com.