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Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On today’s episode, I talk with six-time CrossFit Games athlete Michele Letendre. What’s the difference between a good athlete and a great one? An amazing coach. Well, the same goes for great business owners. If you’re ready to level up your business, book a free call with a certified Two-Brain mentor twobrainbusiness.com. Michelle Letendre made six individual appearances at the CrossFit Games before retiring after the 2016 season. Her best career finish was fourth in 2014 and since retiring from competition, she has made the transition to coaching. We talk about her memorable battles with Camille Leblanc-Bazinet at the old Canada East Regional, the mental toll of competing at a high level and how she became Pat Vellner’s coach. Thanks for listening everyone. Michelle, thanks so much for joining me today. How you doing?
I’m doing well. Thank you for having me. How are you?
I’m doing great. So how has what’s going on right now with the coronavirus affected you?
Well, it has affected me in many, many ways. I mean like I have a different role with a bunch of different people. Professionally I have two businesses, one that is online and one that is a gym. So one of my businesses was hit hard. Obviously the gym is, it’s a stressful situation, but we’re managing and then the second business online it’s still stressful because I cater to mostly gyms and athletes who have obviously lost control over their business in a certain way, in a certain way. And then, personally, I mean like I’m pretty adaptable. Like staying at home, working from home the first couple of weeks was pretty hard. But then I just, I have an office here that I didn’t usually, I didn’t really like so much, but it gives me peace of mind to work without getting bothered. Cause my boyfriend is part of the people that he still has a job, but he’s a sales rep so he can’t really go anywhere right now. So he’s kind of working but not really. And he’s very bored. So that’s kind of been the most annoying part of my day, he’s like, what are you doing?
And then, and then with my family, it’s been kind of tough because I haven’t been able to see my sister who just gave birth to her second baby. I haven’t been able to see my other sister who has, I have two nephews. I haven’t been able to see my niece and nephews. I haven’t been able to see my mother, you know, I haven’t seen them in so long because before all of this happened, I was in Australia for a month. So I kind of, I miss them, you know, but all in all, I think today’s a good day. So it’s a good thing that we were talking today. Every day is a little different.
Yeah. What sports or activities did you play when you were growing up?
I played, so when I was very young, I lived in a community that had a pool that was right in front of my house, literally like on the other side of my house. So when I was really young, I started swimming. And so every single activity you can think of in the water I did. So I did synchronized swimming. I did competitive swimming. I did water polo and I did diving. Diving didn’t last very long cause that’s where I found out that I have a fear of heights. So I did that. And then in school obviously I played a little bit of soccer. I played a little bit of land sports, but it wasn’t my thing. But then I got into competitive swimming when I was about 7. And then after competitive swimming for three years, I went into water polo.
And that was like my main sport. Water polo was my main sport. And then, yeah, and then that’s it. And then I guess CrossFit was in my adult life. So, you know.
When did you decide that water polo was going to kind of be the thing that you focused on?
Well, so one of my dreams was always to be an Olympic athlete. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics. I felt that being that kind of person, that high-achieving person was something that I strive for. And swimming was essentially my first kind of exposure to that. I was very young. But then I got bored swimming. We call it like chasing walls. It’s just really boring for me. Like plus I’m five foot one, I’m not built to be a swimmer. And then I I found water polo to be an extension of something that I was already good at: swimming.
And then, it was just a little bit more engaging and it was a team sport. There was a lot more moving pieces. So I just, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with practicing. I fell in love with trying to be the best at water polo. And so I knew that I wanted to be an Olympic water polo player. I did everything I could to do it. I did all the qualifications and everything and I always fell kind of short. But I knew after maybe one or two years that I wanted to dedicate a lot of energy towards that cause there was something that was satisfying in there that I couldn’t put my finger on, but I had to do it. You know, I would go to the guys’ practice.
Like when I wasn’t practicing, I would go to the guys’ practice because I felt like that’s where I needed to be. I would practice with the boys. I would go an hour before my own practice just to practice my shots against a wall. Like I would do everything all very naturally. So it was essentially, it was just a natural kind of commitment, you know.
What do you think it was about the sport that you loved so much?
I don’t think it was the sport in itself. I think it was just because it just turns out that I was developed in aquatic sports when I was really young, so I got very comfortable in the water. But it was about, there was something way bigger than just water polo because I think that had I been exposed to track younger, I would have been the same.
There was something about excelling at things that I just wanted to do. And what I loved about water polo was just the physique, that it was a difficult sport. Like people I would tell people that I did water polo and they’re like, Whoa. So there was something about that difficulty that I just, I was like, I love the challenge. I just absolutely love the challenge. And I love that it was a sport that was out of the ordinary. Like in Montreal, I come from the West Island, which is English speaking and aquatic sports are very big there. In fact, Montreal, one of the biggest clubs in the country was DDO and that’s the sport, that’s the club I played for. So in my specific area, playing water polo was popular. So it just felt like, it was the popular sport plus it was the difficult sport.
And there was something cool about going to the pool in the middle of winter too.
How did you find CrossFit?
How did I find it?
So I found CrossFit in 2009 because a long story, I went through a breakup that in university, I was studying design and then I went through this breakup and then I started going to the gym again because there was that part of my life that was missing. I had quit water polo like before getting into university. So I hadn’t been working out, I hadn’t been doing any sports, that part of my life was gone when I decided to dedicate my time to school. And then after the breakup I just decided to go back to the gym and to work out and just naturally just the same way
I was naturally getting more and more involved in water polo, like at the gym I was getting more and more involved with my training and my workouts and I was like naturally just kind of being competitive without having an actual coach. I would just say like, well, I did bicep curls at this weight last week. I’m going to go heavier this week. And there was this natural kind of desire to just always do more. And then at the end of my schooling, I was like, not really ready to jump into a career in design. So I kinda just decided to get a part-time job in a gym. And I just applied to a whole bunch of gyms. And CrossFit Montreal is the gym that called me back for a secretary position. And then I took it and then they told me that you have to do CrossFit to work in a CrossFit gym. So I said, OK, I’ll do it. And it didn’t take very long for me to fall in love with it. And a month after I started doing it, I competed in my first competition. So that’s how I found CrossFit, completely by by chance.
When did you know, I’m actually really good at this.
I think it was like my competition, which was one month after I started to do it, I did a scaled competition, but then people were very surprised about my level of skill. I was a water polo player, so I had really good shoulders and they were very flexible on top of that. So I did a big dogs competition that one of their requirements was 15 overhead squats at a specific weight. You would be considered a big dog at a specific weight. I don’t know if you remember this, but this is like way back when, OPT had said like, you know. So I did my first ever overhead squat at that competition. I remember asking my coach at the time who was Rob Portello, who was like my first ever CrossFit coach. Like, what’s an overhead squat? He showed me and I’m like, Oh, OK.
And the heaviest I went in that overhead squat for my first ever time was 85 pounds, which at the time was huge. So when people said like, Holy shit, I was like, OK, maybe I’m good at this. And then I did a couple of competitions and some people told me that they had never seen anyone excel so quickly. So I figured, OK, well I didn’t know this, but maybe I’m good at it. So then I kind of just dove into competition kind of head first. And I figured that I’d have a chance to go to the Games and you know, I just said, you know, hard work, I’ll just do it. And that’s how I kind of knew deep down, you know.
So you go to Regionals for the first time in 2012.
Was it 2011? OK. That’s right. So what were you expecting then when you showed up in 2011 for the first time?
Honestly, 2011 was just very exciting. There was a lot of people talking about me in my like direct circle. But obviously back then 2011 it was in a region, Canada East at the time, there were like a couple of big names and obviously the biggest name was Camille cause she had gone to the Games in 2010 and then there was a girl called Alexandra Bergeron who had gone to the Games in 2009 and people were expecting her to kind of make it and then she kind of, there was a rule in 2011 when we did a max thruster that you weren’t allowed to move your feet. And in that specific event she moved her feet, got a DNF. And then because of that I qualified and it was a complete surprise. I wasn’t expecting anything. I was expecting to be top five. And I was expecting to do well and have a better idea of where to go in the future. But to my surprise, I qualified.
You go to the Games and you finished 25th overall that year. What did you learn then about your fitness after that experience?
I learned that I was overweight. I learned that because in 2011 a couple of things happened and I didn’t have a firm grasp on my nutrition. I was kind of alone in that and I’m a nervous eater, so there was a lot of stress in that year. And then I had a new job, I was like an insurance broker. And anyway, I had no grasp on my nutrition and and I went to the Games and I was not fit, like physically, like I had certain fitness, but physically I wasn’t fit. And I saw that I was naturally, I had hit a potential but that I would have to make this a pro—like I would have to take executive decisions so to speak, to kind of move my way forward, to be where the other girls were.
So I looked at all the other girls, and this is the beginning of a very serious lesson I learned, but I saw a lot of girls with eight packs and six backs and super lean. And I was like, I am nowhere near that and I have to do that. So, I realized that I had to address that if I wanted to be like them. That took me down a road that I would not recommend to people, but at the same time, it was a decision that I needed to make, but I should have sought out professional advice instead of talking to the person I spoke to. And anyway, that’s another story. But I just realized that I just needed to get fitter. Like I was strong and I had skill, but I couldn’t run, I couldn’t row. I couldn’t do things odd. Like I was very much a traditional CrossFit athlete, you know?
So without naming names here, but you mentioned that you hadn’t talked to the person you talked to, so why wouldn’t you recommend the road that you took to others?
Because the decisions I make to lose weight were not for—they were purely for weight and they weren’t for sustaining performance and weight loss. There’s ways to go about nutrition that if you talk to a professional that know what they’re doing and you would know that there are certain phases in your nutrition that you’ll go through and that you will need to adjust training based on those phases and things like that. And I didn’t do that. And I kind of trusted someone that just said, well, you don’t need to eat that much. People don’t actually need to eat that much. You can get away with very little eating. And I did it and I lost all the weight. Like I lost the weight I needed to lose. And I looked great the next year and everyone was talking about how great I looked, but I was losing my hair.
The impacts of that weight loss were felt not that year, but they were felt for many years. Lucky for me, I didn’t have a huge impact in my menstrual cycle. I didn’t have a huge impact on my overall health, but there a lot of things that I went through that I shouldn’t have. You know, I was short tempered. I was, I’m very lucky I didn’t get more injured than I did. There was a lot of things that I did based on my mood and just because I was underfed, that I shouldn’t have had to gone through and that I shouldn’t have had to put my entourage through as well. So, you know, word to people, like if you have to lose weight, do it with a professional. Like, because like when I was losing my hair, I was like, Oh, whatever. It’s normal. But now I realize like, Oh shit, I dodged a bullet. It could have been much worse. You know, I was eating, I was eating two eggs in the morning with a cup of cooked spinach. I would have like not even a hundred grams of chicken with lettuce. And then at dinner it was meat and green vegetables. I would eat three times a day and then I would have protein only as a supplement. And that’s it. So, calorie-wise I was eating less than I am now. So it was dangerous.
You had a stressor at Regionals, I think it was a three-year stretch where you never finished lower than second. And you mentioned Camille, and the two of you had these great battles at those competitions. What was it like going head to head with her every year?
At first it was frustrating because when you’re a young athlete, you’re frustrated with challenge, you know, you want it, you have this idea of winning. You don’t like, you want it to be hard, but when it actually is hard, you kind of like, you don’t know how to deal with all these emotions and everything like that. And as a younger athlete, you take things personally, like you take what what your competitors are doing, especially, and I’m going to go out on a limb here, like women are very catty in certain ways. And I was 100% guilty of that at the beginning and I was very frustrated with the situation. For many reasons. I was frustrated with her. I was frustrated with how everyone was comparing me to her and I was frustrated how it was always like, it was like the spotlight was always on her and I, and it was constant kind of like just every time my name was heard, it was always her.
It was her name. And I don’t know if she felt the same way, but I mean Camille is an excellent athlete and it was difficult to compete against her. But then when you kind of age, you kind of realize like the goal is to go to the Games. And any kind of challenge you go through at the end all, it’s an addition to your tool belt. So at the beginning it was always kind of frustrating. There was always this jealousy that like, man, this girl, she’s so good and everyone is gonna—like when she beat me, it was just kind of annoying that I always had to get beat by her, you know? But I appreciated that further on, like later on in our careers we worked out together, we enjoyed each other’s—
Cause we had very similar strength and very similar weaknesses, so we can really challenge each when we trained together and when we competed against each other. And I really grew fond of that competition as the year progressed. And I felt that when she moved away I kind of was like, I was kinda like, Aw man. It’s fun because I got to compete against new people, but it was still kinda like, damn. Like we could speak French to each other. Like we knew each other. I knew like when you competed against someone that you know so well, you know when to try and when to kind of let it go and you can strategize a little bit better, you know. So it was good. It was good fun. And I learned a lot from that kind of duality, you know, I learned a lot from that.
Any time you have someone who’s a rival and you sort of view a kind of, I don’t want to say side eye, but you’re like, you know, I’m going to get her. When you become friends, there’s that moment where you decide to say I’m going to put the rivalry aside and try to become friends. What was that moment for the two of you?
I can’t really remember. I can’t really remember. To be honest, I remember at one point she said that she was coming back to Montreal cause I think she was in the US and she asked me if I wanted to come train. I don’t know. I think, like on my end I was like, I’m kinda more independent usually and there was one point where I remember she reached out to me and she asked me to come work out with her and I was like, Oh, that’s kinda weird. And sure. Why not? Like I won’t say no to that. And then after that we just became closer and when that is exactly, I don’t really remember. I would bet money on it was when she won the Games in 2014. And there was a certain level of confidence that she had gained from that.
And we were both kind of really top in 2014. And I think that we both felt like there was some kind of, I don’t know what the word is in English, but there was there was something that connected us that we had more in common than we had not, so it was better to team up than than to work against each other. And also the fact that she had moved away I think kind of helped because there’s not that constant pressure of being with each other all the time. So it was just a little bit of a tune in and like, yeah, I’ll go for a challenge and then, OK, then we can get away from it and move on. I think that being a female athlete, top level female athlete is very lonely. And at one point you start to recognize that when you gain maturity that it’s like that kind of loneliness isn’t worth—like there’s something to gain when when you feel like you’re with someone in that challenge of winning the Games. So I think, I can’t pinpoint one thing, but I would bet money on 2014 being like a turning point.
Hi guys. While we give Michele Letendre a quick break, let’s take a pop quiz, which is better for business, getting new clients or retaining old ones? Both are good, but the longer clients stay, the less you have to spend acquiring new ones and the more money you’ll make. In fact, the average gym owner can add $45,000 a year in revenue just by keeping each client a few months longer. Want to learn how? You can, with Two-Brain’s free guides to affinity marketing and retention. They’ll teach you exactly what to do with step-by-step actionable advice. Get them both plus 13 other guides for free at TwoBrainbusiness.com/free-tools. And now more with Michele Letendre. Speaking of 2014, you finished fourth overall at the Games, your best career finish, what went right for you then?
I think there’s a lot of things that went right. I had a coaching change that was really important. I mean I went from, I had a previous coach but then I started working with Ben. I think Ben’s approach was in a very practical sense, Ben’s approach was way more about fitness, less about strength, whereas my previous coach was very much about strength. And to be honest, like a lot of people focus on gaining strength but in like Games athletes benefit a lot from fitness. So changing that approach to a fitness base, I started running more than I ever had in my life. I was doing workouts that I had never done like high rep workouts, like light workouts, like just things that I had never really done. And that stimulated me in a different way.
And obviously Ben’s approach mentally was something that was a breath of fresh air, you know, and I think that, and along with the fact that I kinda had gained three years of experience and stopped expecting so much of myself. And I’m one of those athletes that when things go well, like I do better, you know, like, I’m not the best at dealing with adversity. Now I am better. But back then I was just not really good at dealing with adversity and like I just, I had very little expectations. I had been crushed like 2011, you know? Oh wow. 25th. That’s OK. That’s good. And in 2012 crushed me because I was expecting way more. I had been after Regionals that year, I would like one of the top ranked athletes to go into the CrossFit Games. And then when I finished 24th in 2012, that was a huge blow.
Like that was huge. And then 2013 I actually did a lot better than I expected. So I was on this like upward phase. And I knew that I was going to change coach. So it was just a question of momentum. I had more momentum going into 2014 than I had in 13 and 12. But, it’s a combination of like different stimulus, a better nutritional approach. Just being overall like expecting a little bit less of myself and just all of that, you know.
You’re not the first athlete to tell like tell me that when expectations seem to go down, performance seems to go up. Why is that the case?
I think it depends a lot on your personality. I think there’s a lot of that that depends on your personality and what I’ve recognized for myself is that my expectations, and I was actually talking with someone about this yesterday, but like we all have very high expectations of ourselves.
I think the word expectations isn’t the right one. And I was actually talking to Zach Telander yesterday or before yesterday about this and he said, if you keep your expectations low but your standards high, and I think that’s the right way to see it. My standards are always very high in everything that I do. And the expectations are also high. But I think you start to realize that it’s OK to have high expectations of yourself, but it’s not OK to take things personally. Like, like we can’t take our results personally. And I think that when you want the best for yourself but you expect things to go either bad or good, like you adapt easier, you know, like it’s easier to adapt. Like as the more you go to the CrossFit Games, the more you realize that things can go really, really well.
And it could also go really, really poorly in the span of a second. You know, like look at the 2015 CrossFit Games. Like I was in fourth place on Friday and I was like, that’s it. This is my year. I’m going to be on the podium. And then the heat thing happened after Murph. And even if I finished the day really strong, like I had a really good finish all Friday, even after Murph, like we did Murph and then after Murph, I can’t remember what we did, but every single event after Murph I did really well. And so I finished the day Friday, fourth place, but then I had the effects of that heat stroke. And then I didn’t sleep at all during the weekend. I couldn’t eat. I was basically sick. And then in the span of just like that and all of that, it was gone.
Like I was on a good trajectory. And then the next day, Saturday we had that race where we had to jump over these hurdles and I couldn’t jump. I just couldn’t jump. I hit every single hurdle in practice. I fell on my face every single time. And it was just like, well, like I had never felt fitter in my entire life. I did super well on Thursday and Friday. I was expecting—and then it just fell apart. So the more you experience that, the more you realize that you do everything you can to set yourself up for success, but the Games is not a representation of who you are. It is simply a picture of the year. Sorry, that’s not the right way to say it, but it’s simply a picture of four days. Even though you prepare all year for this, it is the picture of these four days of competition.
So you can’t take that personally. Because there could be like for example, you could be the fittest you’ve ever been and then you break an ankle and then you finish 25th. Is that really a representation of your fitness? Like, no it’s not. It’s a representation of your 2020 CrossFit Games. You broke your ankle and you finished 25th. So I think that’s really important for people to understand that if you are kind with what happens to you during competition it’s like you will move over those obstacles really quickly.
Obviously being a competitor it takes a physical toll on you, but what kind of mental toll does competing at the Games level take on you?
I think it depends who you ask. I think mentally for me it was one of the best experiences of my life. I think that you begin to see challenge in different way and then if you’re good at taking time and looking at things in perspective, you can transfer that to everything in your life. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to react to everything perfectly after. Like I’m still like, there’s a lot—I personally think that having businesses has taken a stronger, like more intense mental toll than being an athlete. I was talking to my boyfriend about this just two days ago with this coronavirus situation because I was like, fuck. When you’re an athlete, you have 100% control over everything aside from the outcome of the competition. But you can control how you eat. You can control how you train, you feel like you have so much control because everything relies on you.
But then when you own a business, it’s like there are so many things that you don’t control and it’s like, that’s super stressful. So, but I have to say that it’s given me a lot of perspective on life and it’s also provided me with very profound lessons about life. Like I always feel like being an athlete is like looking under a microscope of what a process is over a lifespan. It’s like if people have the opportunity to be a professional athlete, it’s like the process—they are living the process of life in a very intense way. And it’s like if you have the opportunity to go through that, then it just feels like certain obstacles in your life feel a little bit more easily addressed. Much like, and I don’t think it’s anywhere close to being a parent, but like from speaking to my sister, you know, she always says like, having kids makes you realize what’s really important and you realize that there’s a lot of things that are irrelevant.
I think being an athlete, it’s funny because it, when you are the athlete, everything feels super, super important. And then once you’re out of being an athlete, you’re like, man, that was so not important. But that’s what’s cool is that when you live through being an athlete, when you feel everything is so important and then you get out of that lifestyle and you realize how unimportant that stuff actually was, that’s where the lesson is learned, I feel. So being an athlete and being in that, like that situation, everything will feel very big. And then once you’re out of that, you’re like, Whoa, Whoa, everything everything falls into place. And you’re like, Oh man, in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t a big deal. And stuff like that. So it’s a very interesting life lesson.
But when you’re in it, I don’t think you can see it like that.
You almost retired after 2015, but you came back for another year. Why did you make the choice to come back for one more go?
I almost retired. So in 2015 after the Games, I remember having a conversation vividly. Me and my boyfriend went to get my name mat and we were walking out of the tunnel in Carson out of the Home Depot center. And we were, I remember exactly where we were. We were in that ramp out of the tunnel, you know, that goes into the athlete area. And I said to him, no way am I going to train another year in things that I suck at to get beat down like this. I don’t like CrossFit that much. And he told me, Michelle, you’re still in it, you’re emotional.
Give it some time. And I said, I’m not gonna do it again. And then about a month later I realized what he meant and I was like, you know what, I’m going to do another year, but this year is going to be for me. I’m going to do everything that I can to enjoy what it means to be a CrossFit Games athlete. And that’s why I did another year. Everything I did that year was to make sure that I would enjoy it. And it was a hard year. It was very hard. And I think that’s where having a more flexible mindset like really helps you. Because that year I had a back injury. I had like a bulging disc. I had all kinds of injury, you name it. I had it like I had a knee injury, I had a foot injury, a back injury, a shoulder injury, everything.
And then I worked through it and I trusted what I had done in the past. And in 2016, I went in it with the hopes of breaking the top 10. But then when they announced Murph again, the other day I was doing a live with Pat and we were actually just talking about this, but when they announced Murph, my initial reaction to it was, fuck this shit. I’m done. I don’t want to do this. Like, I can’t believe this. Like, this is why I wanted to quit. This is the reason I wanted to quit. And it was such a mental effort for me to continue and to do Murph. It was just like, like it was it was like a dagger in the heart cause I was like, Oh, I’m not going to enjoy this year.
And then I took a conscious decision that I was going to dive that event because I was like, I’m not gonna let this event fuck up my last year. So I did the last year and I dove Murph. I said to Fred, my boyfriend, I was like, I’m just going to do this workout. I’m going to finish it, but I’m not going to go hard on it. I’m not going to do anything. Don’t like cheer, don’t even watch this event. This event is going to be just for me to make sure that I can continue with the rest of the weekend and enjoy it. And it’s not the right attitude to win. It’s not the right attitude to crack the top 10 and I knew it, but I enjoyed the rest of the weekend and I had no pressure on my shoulders.
And I remember the weekend and that year was for me. So it was a tough year full of injuries and then it was a slap in the face when they announced Murph. But it was probably my most memorable CrossFit Games year that I’ve ever had. And yeah, so I decided to do it again and I don’t regret it because we got to go to Aromas. We got to do run that was so Epic. Like, we got to do that and we got to, I maxed out my deadlift. I PR’d 30 pounds. Like there’s a lot of good things that came out of 2016 and I’m really happy I did it.
So then along the lines of why come back for another year, why then did you know that 2016 was, I’m done?
Oh, I was getting old. I was kind of, I was getting old in the sense that I felt like as I was aging with my track record of injury before I got into a very serious injury, I didn’t want to have to go through that again. I didn’t have the same desire to go to the gym anymore. I wanted to move on. I want it to work. I just want a different challenges in my life. I felt like what I was doing was too repetitive and I don’t want to take it away from, I don’t want to take away from athletes who are dedicating their time for this, but I just felt like I was over it and it was time to move on. And I’m glad I did because, I wasn’t making—like it was a financial decision too.
I was like, I’m starting to make money, but like my health isn’t worth the money I’m making. So I just wanted to move on.
When did first start thinking about becoming a coach?
- Actually it was when I did the Invitational in Madrid. I was like, man, I really like this. And then I knew that I wanted to stay in the competition world because I do love competing. So it was something in the back of my mind that I wanted to do. And there was a lot of things that I had done in my career programming-wise that I really liked. Like one of the things that I love the most about being competitive CrossFit was exposing myself to different sports within CrossFit. So I went to see a track athlete. I went to see, like I spoke to Chris Hinshaw like a lot of people and there’s a lot of things I exposed myself to in terms of training regiments and I just loved a lot about that.
There was a lot of technical things that I really loved about that and I love to learn. So if there’s one thing I really miss about being a CrossFit Games athlete is practice. Like going to see specialty coaches and working on skills with someone looking at me and coaching me. I miss that. I don’t miss the working out. I don’t miss the maintaining. I don’t miss anything other than going to see my track athlete and learning and working on agility. I miss going to see my Olympic weightlifting coach and working on the snatch in a very specific way. So those are things that I really enjoyed and then I wanted to put together in one cohesive program because if there’s one thing that I was really good at is technical stuff. So I feel like that needed to be—in everything that I had seen as an athlete, I’m like, there needs to be someone that includes practice in programming. There needs to be someone that includes high technical work in training. You can’t just be training. It needs to be technical also. So I felt like I had an opening to kind of become a coach in that way.
How did you then become Pat Vellner’s coach?
So Pat and I actually trained together for my last year. Pat is the one witness of that moment when we were announced Murph and we had to do it and he saw how pissed and like utterly discouraged I was. But in 2016, he was studying in Montreal at McGill and then he decided to go into chiropractic school in Toronto. So in between the end of his schooling and the beginning of his school in Toronto, he needed a place to stay.
So I basically Fred and I said, come live with us. We’ll train together for the 2016 Games cause he had qualified as an individual. So we trained together that year and then we went off to compete. And then after that at the invitational in Toronto, I kind of just told them, I’m like, I’m going to start this programming and coaching business. If you want a coach, if you want to work with me, I’d be happy to take you on. And he just kind of said, OK, let’s do it. And so we started working together and it’s a good relationship because Pat and I talk like we talk real talk, you know, like he knows what I’ve been through, I know what he’s going through. He on the older side, like I understand what that feels like when we’re talking about competing and training and stuff like that. So, and he’s not afraid to tell me what he thinks and so we kind of, it just, our relationship really evolved to something that is really truly a partnership. So that’s how we started working together back then. We just kind of like, I finished my career as an athlete with him. He started his with me. So we just kind of move forward with that.
He told me recently that he probably drives you crazy on a consistent basis. So how do you deal with his, I guess for lack of a better term antics?
I think Pat, we really got to know each other recently at Wodapalooza for real. Like, there’s a lot of things that Pat does that does drive me crazy. But there’s a lot, you know, what’s amazing is that there’s a lot of things that he does that drive me crazy that I see myself like the way he reacts to things, I see myself and my challenge is how do I get him to learn the lesson that I was too stubborn to learn cause I was really stubborn, too. So I think that, we complement each other a lot in that way. Like, we are very different in a lot of ways. Like he’s very pragmatic, very, very systematic about everything. Like everything needs to be ABCD. And I’m a little bit more of an artist.
Like, whatever you do, there’s a stimulus. Like these are the intentions. But if you don’t hit that, it’s not the end of the world. Like there are a lot of other things. There’s a lot of other things that we can work on that will get us to where we want to go. That’s the beauty about CrossFit. So when you work in CrossFit, because it’s GPP, it’s not, you don’t have to be so specific. So I think that I bring to the table a different point of view for him. But he does like, cause he asks me like 10 questions every training day and I always tell myself, God, I must not be very clear. But then there are other days I’m like, Jesus Christ, we’ve been working together for like two years. Come on. Like, but otherwise what I appreciate a lot about Pat is that he is very good with communication, whereas other athletes are not. So, I mean there’s a lot of good things and he says that I’m driven crazy, but really I’m not, like, I appreciate working with Pat. I really do.
How have the athletes that you have under your guidance helped make you a better coach?
A lot of things. There’s a lot of things that I’ve learned throughout the last couple of years. And athletes are, you get people that are in the best of their—they’re at their best and we deal with people that are at their worst. And, I think there’s a couple of things. Like I learned to be the coach that I am based on the coaches that I had, you know, I was like, Oh, I really like this, I really like this, you know. What I’ve come to understand is that a lot of the time—it’s hard to answer. It’s hard to answer that. Like, like with Pat, I’ve come to learn that clarity is very important. And having a plan is very important. Discussing that plan is very important. Like, Pat needs some kind of assurance that he’s going somewhere.
There are a lot of other athletes that just want programming and like, you just let them be. And I was kinda like that at one point, like, especially at the end of my career, like I just wanted programming and I wanted to be on my own. And so, it’s very important to adapt to the person that you’re working with. What I’ve learned though is that, and this is an unfortunate lesson, but I think it’s a very good life lesson for me is that when you give a lot of yourself to someone, there’s a lot of things that you won’t get back. You know, like you invest so much in athletes on an emotional level and when those relationships kind of fall through, it hurts. So that’s something that I’ve learned a lot.
That’s kind of unfortunate that like I can’t give too much of myself to my athletes because I can get hurt in the long run. So that’s a hard lesson. That’s not a fun lesson to learn, but it’s important. Like, last few years, I’ve kind of learned that like, you can invest yourself emotionally, but you can never give 100% of yourself in that kind of circumstance because it is a professional relationship when it comes down to it and you can never forget that.
Yeah. Why do you think that there aren’t more female CrossFit coaches out there who deal with high-level athletes?
Time, emotional investment, risk. There’s also a huge sense of responsibility that is very hard to deal with. And uI can’t speak for other women, but me as a woman, I felt like I was constantly battling like in my own personal emotional reaction to certain situations and maybe like, I don’t know how to put this into words, but it was constantly like, am I doing the right thing? And there’s a certain level of maybe insecurity that comes with maybe the fact that like me emotionally, I make decisions. And it was very true at the beginning of my career as a coach. And it’s less and less true because I’ve learned that it is a professional relationship and I can’t invest myself too emotionally with the athletes that I work with.
And I think maybe guys are better at doing that from the beginning. But it’s hard. It’s hard to really pinpoint. I do feel like there’s a lot of things that work to my advantage as a woman, only when it comes to having more experience with strategies. Like we have different weaknesses than men. And there are certain strategies that could be very helpful in certain circumstances for men and whatever. So there’s a lot of things that work for us, but I think emotionally it’s very difficult for women in this line of work because we get very involved with the people that we work with. And there’s a lot of stress that comes with that involvement. And, yeah, I think that could be one of the reasons, but it’s hard to tell.
Maybe it’s interest, you know, maybe it’s just a question of interest and it’s hard to be a coach. It’s very hard. It’s very hard.
Last question. What’s been more rewarding for you in your career, competing or coaching and why?
It depends what you define as career. I would say in my life, coaching has been more rewarding. There’s a lot more, there’s a way better point of view when you’re a coach then when you’re an athlete. When you’re an athlete, everything is, you’re in it. Everything is so big and it’s very hard to see things in a very broad perspective. And I think as a coach, you understand a little bit more what a plan is and you understand steps a little bit better, you understand the process a little bit better, you’re a little bit more patient with things. When you’re in it and you’re tired and you’re emotionally invested in things and you’re physically invested in things.
And you’re constantly going through injury and like it’s physical reminders of what a process is, it’s very hard to see things in perspective. So I think coaching has has brought me a lot more meaningful lessons than being an athlete. But being an athlete is it’s just like there’s not much that replaces the feeling of finishing an event and being proud of yourself. Like there’s not very much that compares to that kind of, and keep in mind, I’m not a parent yet, so I’m sure that just takes everything out of the equation. And there’s like, there’s this like level of pride when you’re a parent, but as an athlete there’s this sense of pride of what you accomplished that is hard to kind of, it’s amazing to say that I was in Carson and I was at the Home Depot center in the tennis stadium and I got to clean and jerk in front of that many people on a Friday night and I got to win a workout in there. And there’s a lot of things that being a CrossFit Games Games athlete has brought to me that nothing else has and that not a lot of people have had the opportunity to feel. So, you know, there are beautiful things that happened. I can’t say that I don’t appreciate both things.
Well, Michelle, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Miss watching you out there on the competition floor, but it’s good to know that you’re still involved and best of luck with everything moving forward.
Thank you Sean. I really appreciate the talk.
Big thanks to Michele Letendre for taking the time to speak with me today. If you want to follow her on social media, she is on Instagram. She is @mich_Letendre. Make sure to subscribe and join me every Wednesday for inspiring stories from the fitness community and interviews with your favorite athletes and coaches. Miss an episode? Well, you can find them all in our archives at twobrainbusiness.com. Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. I’m Sean Woodland and we’ll see you next time.
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