On a Friday night, Mitch Wagner is surrounded by the things that make him happy. He’s lifting heavy weights with a friend while his wife looks on. There’s a class full of athletes of varying abilities, working on their own skills, while pausing every few minutes to see what Wagner is lifting. There’s encouragement, hard work and support.
CrossFit is a community, one that Wagner has leaned on the past few years. In August 2013, he started CrossFit and since then, he’s lived in three states and changed gyms at least as many times. Throughout the past five years, Wagner has relied on the same coach from Invictus Fitness.
“Having a coach that knows you and knows your body makes a big difference,” Wagner said. “They know you, your recovery speed, how you lift, how you move. They become a part of your family.”
On the outside, it may look like Wagner is just another competitive CrossFit athlete. He has a home gym, loads of T-shirts from the CrossFit competitions he’s been a part of, and his Instagram feed has action shots of him competing in places like Dubai. But training isn’t all he has on his mind.
“Some days I just want to go home from work and play with my dog,” he said.
Almost two and half years ago, Wagner married his sweetheart and now he follows her across the country as she pursues her career. She’s a dentist in the U.S. Army, which has moved from them from Oregon to Georgia. They’re now at their second duty station, which has given Wagner the chance to figure out his career path.
With a degree in finance from Oregon State University, Wagner has the eccentric resume one would expect from a military spouse. Before moving from Oregon, he worked for Nike as an assistant product line manager for men’s training apparel — a job he loved.
“Working with marketing training equipment was fun,” he said, “and the perks were great.”
After moving to Fort Benning, Ga., he discovered there wasn’t a lot available in the finance world, so he spent the time coaching CrossFit and doing personal training. Upon moving to Fort Gordon, Ga., he began working as an implementation specialist at ADP and has his sights set on a job on the nearby installation.
Wagner takes his role as a military spouse seriously, striving to be as supportive and flexible as possible.
“The military has impacted my CrossFit career positively and negatively,” he said. “We’ve met a lot of amazing people — lifelong friends, really — I’ve gained experience competing across the country. And it’s been hard to move so far away from my coach and figuring out training during the stress of moving.”
Since joining the sport in 2013, Wagner has competed in the CrossFit Open each year, earning a spot in regionals. Four years of regionals across two regions has given him experiences he wouldn’t trade for anything. This year, though, CrossFit announced a lot of changes, one that did away with regionals, the competition Wagner historically did his best in.
“I’m not sure what next year will look like for me competitively,” he said. “It’s going to be harder to compete with the changes in format.”
This year, there are over a dozen sanctioned qualifying events, increasing the demand on the athlete’s time, money and body. It makes the sport more expensive, pushes the need for sponsorships and overall makes it harder to juggle family and a job with training. Like with each year before, he’ll take it all in while making the decision, looking to his wife for her blessing before committing to a competition.
One of the positive things the last year brought was the opportunity to compete internationally in December. Wagner’s coach pushed him to complete the online qualifiers for the Dubai CrossFit Championships. He placed well, so he took advantage of that and flew halfway across the country to compete.
Wagner’s wife went with him and joined a slew of other Invictus athletes, the coaching staff and family members. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted, the swim was a rough event to start with,” he said. But he says he fought back with each event and finished middle of the pack of elite men.
Following Dubai, Wagner competed as part of a team in the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Championships held in the District of Columbia in April. Now he’s waiting to see what the final roster for the Team Invictus looks like, as he’s been named alternate for the team going into the CrossFit Games in August.
Until the next CrossFit competition, find Wagner balancing life and training day in and day out. Before and after work, he’ll be at the gym, working out an average of three to four hours a day. He’ll also be coaching a class at CrossFit Stars and Bars or Greenbrier Fitness, where he’s known for his love of country music and his no-nonsense, do it anyway attitude.