This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be a part of the CrossFit Games. It was my second year working Fan Experience and each year seems to get bigger and better. This year we moved to Madison, WI and it was incredible how the city welcomed this crazy festival of fitness. The city was transformed with many local businesses creating special menus and plastering life-size images of CrossFit athletes in their windows. Madison truly embraced us and it made the experience that much sweeter.
Madison is one of the cleanest US cities I have been to. They take pride in their city and it shows. They touted themselves to be the fittest US city and with two lakes, multiple parks, and bike trails, they surely are in contention. The downtown area seemed easy to get around, however, if you’re driving it can be confusing with lots of one-way streets and odd grid patterns.
Many of the athletes and staff stayed downtown which provided a variety of restaurants and hotels, as well as museums if you had the time to visit. We stayed at the Madison Concourse Hotel, situated within walking distance to numerous bars and eateries. The Hotel was nice with a very good restaurant, Circ, and a decent bar. They also have a workout room, pool, and hot tub, which I didn’t get to see, but I did hear that they were nice.
When you volunteer to work the Games you are busy. It is a busy that you couldn’t experience elsewhere. You are literally on your feet for 12-15 hours a day, sometimes more, depending on your job, for at least 4 days. It’s brutal and challenging and at the end of the weekend you’re exhausted but you’re also elated because of what you helped create.
I started my week at the Games on Tuesday, having driven from New York on Monday. The trip was long but it also was an easy ride. I’d never been to Wisconsin before so I was excited to see it. Known for producing cheese, there seemed to be no shortage of dairy farms along the highways of Wisconsin. Madison itself does have a local “international” airport, about 15 minutes from downtown but it tends to be quite expensive to fly into. If you’re flying I would recommend flying into Chicago, a 3-hour drive, or Milwaukie, a 1 1/2 hour drive. At these larger airports, you will find flights cheap enough that a car rental or Uber will still cost less than flying into Madison directly.
The city itself does have Uber and Lift, making transportation easy once in town. Also, the city is fairly flat and bicycling seemed to be a popular making bike rentals another option. As you enter the city you are able to view the Capital dome from just about anywhere.
I didn’t have the opportunity to eat out much because of the early mornings and late nights. However, we did get out a little. Before all the madness started we were able to go out for dinner. We went to the Buck & Badger for burgers and beer, and they were good burgers.
Most of our breakfasts and a couple of dinners were at the hotel restaurant, Circ. They seemed to have a pretty extensive breakfast buffet as well as many other options. Fortunate for us there was also a Starbucks in the hotel, which opened early to accommodate visitors to the CrossFit Games.
Typical days for us at the Games started at around 7 am and ended around 7 or 8 pm. So dinner tended to be what was close. One night we did venture out, only to find a number of the restaurants closed or closing by the time we got there, around 9 pm.
On this night we went to Mr. Brews Taphouse. I have to say if you’re in Madison and you’re hungry and nowhere else is open, then you could try here. Not a great option but an option. The food was ok but the beer was terrible. We tried some local brews one of which was a pineapple sour, however, it was described to us as a pineapple whit beer, it was not. Then one of our friends had a what was billed as a scotch ale, however, it tasted like an ashtray. When it was brought back, they told us it was supposed to be peaty. It wasn’t peaty it was gross. On the night we were there, not only was the restaurant busy but there was only one person working, the bartender. He did his best but the place was woefully understaffed.
Working the CrossFit games comes with a lot of perks. You get some of the best seats to watch some fantastic competition, you’re fed, and given some nice swag. The day before competition starts we have a volunteer appreciation dinner, where all the volunteers and staff are under one roof. It’s here you get to mingle and catch up with friends you haven’t seen for a couple of months or even a year. It’s also when you have the opportunity to win some great prizes, including t-shirts and even a rowing machine!
To put an event together like the CrossFit games is an incredible feat, especially when you learn that the event is essentially run by just over 800 volunteers. Wait, what? Yep, I said it, volunteers. Only a handful of the people who work the Games are full-time employees. That to me is amazing. That a group of volunteers can come together and pull off a nationally televised event of that magnitude.
I spent the whole weekend running my butt off with a group of individuals who I now call my friends. They are my CrossFit family. I don’t think I watched a single event of competition but I got to talk with leaders in our fitness community and learn from them. Talk about making the most of your weekend!
At the end of this grueling, long weekend is the CrossFit Games finals. It’s one of the most hectic times of the whole weekend and when it’s over, all anyone wants to do is celebrate. The finale floor turns into a volunteer, staff and athlete party. It’s pretty incredible.
One of my friends, Shae, equated working the CrossFit Games to being in the military. The friendships you make over the weekend bonds you together like few other experiences do. You hear CrossFitters constantly talking about community and it is amplified 10 fold when you work a CrossFit game.
I am fortunate enough to work directly with Andrea Seward, Shae Tozzo, and Kate Vandenbossche. It’s these women, in particular, who I am blessed to call my friends and am in awe of. They are all cool under pressure and incredible examples of what a leader should be. When all was said and done we shared some toasts and chicken wings, some hugs and tons of selfies. How else would you celebrate?
The day after our revelry is the day we depart. Our last day in Madison we were able to get out and have brunch with what seemed like a good portion of the CrossFit community. We went to the Marigold Kitchen on Pickney St. The cafe is set up so that you order your food first, pay and then sit at a table. The food was fantastic and plentiful. I not only had one of their tasty omelets but I tried one of their pineapple coconut scones, which was perfect.
Although I was in Madison for a specific event, I’m looking forward to visiting again the same time next year and maybe taking a couple more days on either end to see more of what the city has to offer. From the brief interactions I had with the people of Madison, they were all very kind and welcoming. When you live in a beautiful, clean city like Madison, I guess I would be too! Until next time.