The CrossFit Cowboy Is Right at Home on the Radio: Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney(2)-Sean-Sweeney

Woodland (00:00:00):

Hey everybody. Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On this episode I talk with three-time CrossFit Games competitor Sean Sweeney. The Two-Brain Radio archives are full of great shows you might have missed. We’ve got amazing stories from the community, sales and marketing tips, and the best of the business world all delivered in three shows every week. So to stay in the loop, subscribe to Two-Brain Radio wherever you get your podcasts. Sean Sweeney is known to many fans of the sport of fitness as the CrossFit cowboy because he can often be seen sporting a cowboy hat on the competition floor. He has been to the Games the last two years and three times in his career. We talk about the life lessons from competing in rodeo, going through some of the most grueling military training on Earth with a broken foot and why we have his mother to thank for him wearing his hat during competition. Just a quick note, Sean has a lot to say in this interview and I found it all to be extremely interesting. I hope you do too. Thanks for listening. Sean, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you doing?

Sean (00:01:10):

I’m doing good. Doing really good. Just been doing some coaching online and drinking some coffee in my pajamas so it ain’t all bad.

Woodland (00:01:18):

Obviously things are different for a lot of people right now. How are you making the best of your current situation?

Sean (00:01:24):

I think the way that we’re making the best of it just trying to continue to help our members out, I own a gym, CrossFit Powerstroke. So we’re still doing that. And I just launched this Cowboy Way online training program a little while ago, so I’m still programming for that. So I mean, being focused on that has been a big help to still feel like productive that way and still be able to be of service to other people has been a big, big help. And then I’m still training, luckily because we own the gym. You know, I’m going in and training as normal still. And then on the weekends since we live out here in BFE we can go out and go camping and we take the razor and go out in the hills and go camping every week. So it’s not a bad deal. And when go this weekend and I bring like my little router so I can do all of my work out there in the mountains. So it’s not a bad deal.

Woodland (00:02:23):

From an athlete standpoint, what’s it like to train right now when you don’t really have your eyes on a specific competition?

Sean (00:02:29):

You know, actually that’s kind of funny that you ask because when all of this started happening, it was pretty clear that the season was going to get changed drastically immediately. And a lot of people were asking me that and I was just like, at first I didn’t really have an answer and I’ve kind of thought about it. It’s like, it doesn’t really change anything too much to be honest, because the way that I train is I train hard. I want to be one of the, one of the best athletes and I wanna perform well. But my entire being doesn’t revolve around training. You know, it’s just part of, at this point, it’s part of who I am. It’s not like there’s this goal of once I reach X goal, then I’m just done doing this lifestyle. You know what I mean? So if this season was to go as normal, after all the Sanctionals and the Games were over this year, I would still be training for next year. So it’s not like there’s an end all be all of a cutoff date. So now that there’s not those competitions it changes things, but it really doesn’t change things either. Cause I’m still gonna want to compete next year, so I’m still training hard for the following year. So as much as it did, it’s a different mindset and now I can definitely listen to my body better and be a little bit more relaxed with the approach. It doesn’t really change how I perform as an athlete that much, to be honest.

Woodland (00:04:08):

You are the only CrossFit athlete that I know of whose athletic background consists primarily of rodeo. How did you get into that?

Sean (00:04:16):

That’s just how I grew up. It’s just like, I don’t even remember starting, like, yeah, I was roping and riding when I was five, so that’s just how I grew up. It wasn’t like a choice that was just the way we grew up. So, you know, my parents split when I was like, I think it was like five and then super shortly after they both got remarried. So I’ve had a city life and a country life my entire growing up. So I have my mom and my stepdad, they live here in Fallon, Nevada, and my stepdad is the cowboy. And so we lived here on the ranch and then my dad moved to Minnesota and married my step mom and they live in Minneapolis, and it’s like completely opposite worlds.

Sean (00:05:06):

So I lived here and grew up rodeo and my whole life. And then during the every summer and Christmas and stuff, I would go spend up in Minneapolis. So I kinda was super lucky to get exposed and we all get along super well, I have a great relationship with everyone which is just incredibly lucky. But yeah, it was cool cause I got exposed to two like polar opposite lifestyles and so it was kind of a cool conjunction and you know, obviously fell in love with the whole rodeo and the ranch life and all that jazz. And so I just started, we were always were roping and then we just started competing in roping and rodeo and all that jazz. And that’s just what we did. And I was honestly horrible at sports though. I took me until I was like 16 to get athletic. Because I was awful. My brother was a really, both of my brothers were really good at sports and I was just like eating grass. Yeah. Yeah. Now here we are.

Woodland (00:06:06):

I think sports teach valuable life lessons. What valuable life lessons did you learn from being involved in rodeo?

Sean (00:06:12):

Oh man. So I think it’s pretty much culturally in rodeo or in the, you know, kind of like the cowboy mentality is that like giving up and quitting is just not something that’s an option, period. You know, that’s a sport where for the most part, I mean humans are humans, but for the most part, excuses and you know, excuses and you’re way out or you’re quitting or you’re feeling sorry for yourself, that type of shit just really doesn’t fly. And so that was, I think it was a really important life lesson growing up with that background of if you have a task, you’re going to complete it, period. And you better find a way. I’ll never forget, when we were little kids, I don’t even know how old we were, but little, like probably 60 pounds, 70 pounds, like little kids.

Sean (00:07:12):

And my dad told us like, Hey, we need to move this haystack from here to here. And it’s me and my brothers. And it’s like, we can’t even get close to budging a bale. But like, that’s our job for today and you better figure it out. And it wasn’t like, Oh, these little kids like let’s help them do this. Like, no, get your ass out there, move that haystack over here. You better figure it out because if you don’t figure it out, you got some problems. And so it was kind of like that mentality all through growing up. I think it’s really carried over into, you know, life in general. It’s like, you know, this is what needs to get done and you figure it out, period. And then the no-quit mentality is something that definitely I think stemmed from there as well.

Woodland (00:07:59):

You did swim for one year in high school. Why did you decide to give that a try?

Sean (00:08:03):

God, I tell you. So I used to be just a knucklehead in high school, I think all of us were knuckleheads in high school, but I was a supreme knucklehead in high school and when I was like 16, I was 15 and a half, 16, I was 98, no, sorry, I was 118 pounds about the same height and I was this goofy, so you’re getting your ass beat alone. And I was finally sick of being upside down in trash cans. So I started working out and I think just, it was like the magic time. Like that’s when puberty’s happening and I’m working out. So like I put on like 70 pounds or something crazy the year. And so I was working out all the time, so me and my buddies would always go to this little gym here, the Body Shop, and we were just doing bicep curls and bench press, and you know, just bullshitting.

Sean (00:08:56):

And we loved it. And so we were just doing that. Never, ever, ever squatted ever. I will kick myself in the ass for that the rest of my life. But, so I started working out, but then all my other buddies played football and I never did it cause I was just drinking beer. So finally one of them started, one of our buddies was a swimmer for a couple of years and was a lifeguard and we all just decided that we were going to swim for some reason. I don’t know. And I started out for whatever reason, it just naturally took to it. I don’t really know why, but yeah, we ended up being relatively, I only swam one year in high school and we were like the first team to go to state in years. And I swam well it was just for whatever reason, I wasn’t like collegiate Michael Phelps or anything, for one year swimming that was pretty good.

Sean (00:09:54):

And yeah. So anyways, just naturally took to that and then I did not swim my senior year. Once again was preoccupied, but yeah, it was a weird deal. You know, what’s actually a fun fact is I did ballroom dance.

Woodland (00:10:09):


Sean (00:10:09):

No shit. I want to say that was my senior year. So my senior year, and I am clearly not a dancer and I was definitely not in the dance crowd, but my one buddy, the one who got us into swimming, he started dating a girl that was on the dance team and they needed people to lift, right? And all the other guys that were on there were like not able to lift. So my other buddy clearly could. Long story short, the girls roped us into this.

Sean (00:10:41):

And my buddy told me that he would go to the gym with me every day and not play football so he could come work out with me every day if I did this damn dance team with him. He never worked out one damn time. And then we won this state competition. Was it a national, I dunno, we traveled across state lines to go to Idaho and did this huge competition and we won and they had to like revolve the dance around me cause I am dumb as a post. So I was just like this centerpiece just like lifting other girls all the time and they had to like hide my feet sp we wouldn’t get docked points. But yeah. So I did ballroom dance for years, so it was kind of like trivial.

Woodland (00:11:22):

Learn something new everyday about Sean Sweeney. So you go from ballroom dance and swimming, then you joined the Navy out of high school. Why did you make that decision?

Sean (00:11:30):

Oh boy. Well, I went to college for a semester and I went to Idaho State, no idea why. Just kind of pointed the map and went, and I attended nine class periods in my first semester. So at that point I was like, well, this isn’t going to work. I was like, OK, I’m going to join the military. So I went to the Marine Corps office, and I have a very colorful history. And so I went in there, they asked me all the questions and I answer all these questions honestly, thinking like, yeah, like I just figured that’s how everybody grew up. That is not how everyone grew up. And they’re like, yeah, you can’t be a Marine. I was like, OK, fair enough. So went to the Navy office or I went to the Air Force office and they’re like, yeah, you can’t do that. And I was like, OK. So now I know like what not to say. And so I went to the Navy office and they’re like, Hey, you look like you’re in pretty good shape.

Sean (00:12:38):

Like how many pull-ups can you do? And I was like, I can do quite a few pull-ups. They’re like, do a few pull-ups. So I do a bunch of pull-ups. And they’re like, have you ever thought about being a SEAL? And I was like, what? Like you ever thought about being a kangaroo? Like no. And I had no idea. And so anyways, that’s how that all started. And so it was just went off and that was it.

Woodland (00:12:59):

So what did your career in the Navy entail?

Sean (00:13:02):

Oh boy. Also colorful, quite colorful. So this is you know, I guess this is something where it’s probably the only thing that I regret of my entire life is probably that, but it also really kind of shaped everything moving forward. So it’s kind of a weird situation. So that is super long story.

Sean (00:13:29):

But long story short, man, I don’t know if I’ve ever done this on, I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but anyways, so I went off to BUD/S, was doing well with that and I ended up breaking my foot the Friday before hell week, which is like the way that whole thing is set up is hell week is not the first thing you do. Like it’s, you got indoc and first phase, it’s the end of first phase essentially. So your ass is whooped by the time you get there and the Friday before, so hell week starts on Sunday. The last evolution we had was a run and I felt my foot just like click and it started landing weird. It didn’t hurt when it happened. I don’t know why it was just weird. But anyways, after the run was over, they tell us get off the beach and my foot’s clearly broke. Like I can’t walk on it. It’s acting weird. Like it’s, something’s jacked up bad and swelled up. Couldn’t take my boot off. It was rough, and I remember, this is just kind of one of the, yeah. Anyway. So I remember calling my mom and I was 19 years old at this point. And I said,

Sean (00:14:52):

I was like, mom broke my foot and hell week starts on Sunday, so you have like the weekends off in BUD/S and stuff. Like we went out and got a hotel and me and my buddy Sloan did. And it’s like my foot broke, and if I go to medical, they’re gonna roll me back and I have to do, once it heals, I have to do all of this stuff and it’s not exactly a picnic to get to that point. And I was like, I’ve, you know, that’s a pretty painful picnic I’d rather not be do. And she’s like, well, it sounds like you have two options. You can either like mind over matter and just go do it or go get rolled back. And so I just like, well, I’m definitely not doing this shit again. So let’s just go. And I think this is a, I don’t know, this is a really pivotal point I think in my life is I decided that I was going to go ahead and do hell week, so couldn’t even walk into the classroom.

Sean (00:15:50):

They say they secure you in this classroom on Sunday midday and you’re there for, I don’t know, hours watching, just ridiculous, just jacked up movies, trying to scare you, and then they take you out to the tents that are on the beach for breakout and I couldn’t walk at that point. My buddies were like helping me hobble out. I’m like, what? What am I doing? Like I can’t even walk. I really can’t. I guess I can’t. How am I going to do hell week? And I don’t even, I don’t even know why I stuck around with that. But I did and we went to the tents and then this is where I think the point of your brain, it’s crazy what your brain is capable of is that I remember that the instructors and everyone started coming in and they’re shooting and there’s little flash bangs and just chaos is going on for breakout.

Sean (00:16:41):

And I remember like everything just kind of slowed down and for some reason it’s not cheesy, they’re not live rounds, but you know, it’s chaos. But for whatever reason, my brain just like the way it handled the stress was just, it made me feel like, Oh, this is cheesy. Like what? No, this is like a cartoon. Like this is ridiculous. This isn’t real. It was the weirdest feeling. I can’t really describe it. But as that happened, I think my brain just like said, OK foot, you’re going on hold, it’s not like I’m some badass that did this whole thing grunting through pain or something like legitimately my mind just like blocked off my foot. My foot no longer was an issue, which is crazy. And obviously everything hurts during hell week, shits’ going down. But at the end of it, so we make it all the way through hell week, secured hell week, and you’re kind of delirious and stuff. And I remember that Gary Sinise, Lieutenant Dan, like and the end there’s like this flag and everyone’s shaking your hand like, Oh, you know, congratulations or whatever. And I’m like, Holy shit, I’m hallucinating. Like Lieutenant Dan. He’s a military supporter. And, as soon as they say said, as soon as you get your brown shirt and a box of pizza. And as soon as that happened, my brain said, OK, your foot’s really broke now. And then I couldn’t even walk on anymore. It’s like, Holy shit. Here it is. But so that experience was just amazing to really witness like what your mind can do if you let it or when you really get backed into a corner like that. So it was really cool.

Sean (00:18:22):

And then after hell week was over, I went and got my foot checked out, broke. And so I got rolled back, but I got the brown shirt so you don’t have to do hell week again and once you pass you don’t have to redo it. Even if you get rolled back, we call it BSRB. Anyways, I had too much time on my hand and man, it was a really, really shit situation. But like I said, I used to have a pretty colorful history, so I was always drinking and doing dumb stuff and ended up having drinking and dumb stuff and whiskey and women got the best to me and had nothing, nothing like legally, but any incident that gets reported at all to the command that finds out about it has alcohol involved, immediate drop from training. So it’s this whole situation.

Sean (00:19:07):

And, yeah, long story short, me and another guy got dropped from training and it was devastating, like completely devastating, from that. And so then I went and finished out the time in the regular Navy and had more colorful history after that. Anyways, that was the whole thing. So, no, I was never a SEAL at all. I got to play around and get surf, tortured and rode the boat on my head for a while and went through that. But, no, was never a SEAL. I got kicked out at that point for being a wild man. And, so that was like, yeah. So it was the only thing that I regret in my life and I dream, I probably have dreams anywhere from two to five times a week that I go back, like at this point I go back and somehow I do it again.

Sean (00:20:01):

I don’t want to be a SEAL. Like I didn’t even know what SEAL was when I joined. That’s not something that I really wanted the job of. But it’s just something that, you know, is always unfinished and man, yes. So I have dreams about that all the time. It’s crazy. But so that was my Navy deal and well there was a lot more to my Navy deal, but that was the first deal. And then once I got out of the Navy, that’s when I kind of impulse bought the gym. So I started doing CrossFit after BUD/S. One of my buddies got me into CrossFit and I started doing CrossFit throughout the Navy and I brought like a little jaw box and started the first little program on an aircraft carrier. And then from there started competing in CrossFit. And in 2014 is when I got out of the Navy and that was my first Regional. Went on a team. Qualified individually, but went team and then opened a gym and then moved to Nevada. And then in 2014 in that winter is when I opened the gym in Fallon. And then in 2015 started my individual career from there. So yeah, that’s kind of the whole Navy back story.

Woodland (00:21:14):

I’m curious as to how you have not only come to terms with that whole ordeal that you went through, but then also used it as motivation moving forward?

Sean (00:21:24):

Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever came to terms with it to be honest with you. You know, it’s bittersweet. Sometimes the toughest times in your life can be the best teaching tools. And I think that having that, when I screwed that away is where it started a little bit of a spiral. So after the BUD/S incident, and I had to go to the normal Navy after that, I was not a happy camper and I was just, I was always a happy camper, but like, you know, you get the point and I was just crazy. And I started just drinking like crazy. Had a bunch of issues. Never mean or in trouble, like bad, just like stupid, you know, drunk fun and trouble.

Sean (00:22:24):

And, it finally clicked with me and it did took that to really be like, Hey, you need to pull your head out of your ass. So it had to happen at some point. I think that I’m lucky that it happened somehow. I’m lucky that it happened all in the way that it did because it was in an environment where I’m not, you know, not now, but I never ended up in long-term jail, never ended up doing anything permanent damage. And it was just a kind of a school of hard knocks for me. And what I see from that is that sometimes you, I learned from that is I have to learn the hard way, I don’t have to, but I clearly always chose that hard way to learn it. It took me years to really be able to kind of step back and then settle down and really kind of assess what I’m doing.

Sean (00:23:16):

And, so I guess the way that I turned that into motivation, so I never really came to terms with it and forgave myself necessarily for it, I don’t think, but I’ve used that to realize in moments of extreme like pressure, whether that’s competing or shit, during this, like we had to shut down our gym and the walls are kind of closing in for a lot of people here, is that you always have a choice. And if you set your mind to something and you have some sort of goal or outcome that you want to see happen, that it is possible and you just have to grind through it and not take no for an answer. And so I think that that experience, I go back to it a lot and sometimes I think of that and you know, right before, like I’m in a big event or like the Games or in the middle of a horrible workout.

Sean (00:24:10):

Like, listen, you’ve been through some shit like this. Probably worse than this before. Like, you can get through this. And I think having those, you know, whether it’s that training, it’s not like [unintelligible], but going through that experience kind of showed the human body, the human mind is capable of so much more than you give credit for. So in those time that stuff really does get tough for me is that I can fall back on that and be like, Hey, you can get through this. I think that’s been a huge shaper of who I am today.

Woodland (00:24:52):

You mentioned finding CrossFit, your buddy, got you involved in that and your experience on a team at Regionals. At what point in your career did you say, you know what, I can actually be pretty competitive in this?

Sean (00:25:03):

You know, I think that I never fully was sure. And I think the way I knew that I wanted to be good at it as soon as we started from my first day with that training background. And, you know, I had a pretty big engine and was relatively, you know, for most people was in good shape. Clearly not like Games shape or anything, but like I was in good shape, but I think that I didn’t really,

Sean (00:25:37):

I didn’t really set it as an actual goal until I’d say 2014. In 2014 was, so I’d been doing CrossFit for two years and I qualified, pretty positive, it was ninth in the mid-Atlantic region in the Open. And that was when I kind of realized like, OK, maybe I can do this. And then that’s when I really started legitimately setting my sights. So I’d say in the 2014 Open, I’d say that once I realized like, Hey, I just qualified ninth in a Regional is when I realized that I have a real shot at this and I had already started taking training seriously at that point. But then the next turning point for me was once I opened this gym is that I just fully immersed myself in it. And it’s, you know, especially all gym owners that are owner operators know, we get there early.

Sean (00:26:44):

Like, I’m there from 4:45 in the morning till 8:45 at night, even to this day. That’s our schedule. So yeah, it’s crazy hours, but when you immerse yourself in that and live and breathe it, even if I’m only training a couple of hours a day to two to four hours a day, but when you are constantly refining other people’s movements and problem solving for other people, it helps you figure it out personally as well. So I think that’s when it kind of all really came full circle is in 2015 is when it really started taking off because I was fully immersed in it. And then I set my sights on it big time in 2015, that’s the first super region year. I missed the Games by one spot, and that’s when I really believed it, you know, and I was like, man, that was my first Regional and I was one spot away.

Sean (00:27:41):

I can do this for real. And that kind of, it took me a while to get the confidence, you know, I always felt, at that Regional, the 2015 Regional is when my dad told me, he’s like, Hey, you deserve to be here. Like you need to go out there and be the bully. Like when you’re the new guy and you see all these other guys you competing against, and that time it was like Matt Chan and hell it was Adrian Conway and Travis Williams and all sorts of people that were there that were already established. And you feel like a little guy, you know, it’s like, I don’t really deserve to be here. And he told me, and I’ll never forget that, he told me, you need to go out there and you need to be the bully, you set the pace, like you be the guy.

Sean (00:28:35):

And he didn’t mean like go be mean, but you get the point. And that really stuck with me is like, Hey, you’ve got to go and take the initiative, you don’t have to look for reassurance. You deserve to be here, and you go own it. And that mindset was a big shift to actually come by cause you can say that all you want but it’s a very different thing to believe it. And I started to believe it and that’s when I qualified in 16, 17 I had that weird mishap. And then 18 and so on qualified but I had to overcome that obstacle and I still have to overcome that obstacle all the time at the Games. I remember my rookie year at the Games, no shit, that was the ranch year where we like, flew back to the ranch.

Sean (00:29:20):

Yeah, honestly I’ll be straight up honest with you, my first year in 16 after day one, I was like, honestly, screw this. This is miserable. I am getting my ass absolutely towards that ranch run, one of the worst physical experiences of my entire being. I swear to God, dude, that ranch run absolutely destroyed me. And then because I sucked so bad on the run, I had to go like first on the deadlifts, one of the first guys on the deadlifts and didn’t get to warm up. And I’d never been so sore in my entire life. I couldn’t, like Emily was having to put on my socks and shoes the next day. Like I was a wreck and I just felt once again like, Holy shit, I don’t belong here. And then as the weekend went on, I started getting better and better. And then, you know, it’s gotten better every year. But it’s still something like, and I think that I think a lot of people, everybody knows at the top level is that

Sean (00:30:17):

everybody is very, very, very capable. And so I think that we all deal with that every year is like, Hey, you can beat these guys on any given day. The cards just have to kind of fall in the right place. You have to execute accordingly. And that mindset of to trust yourself and go out and push the pace yourself and not be intimidated by what other people are doing is something that I think is a constant struggle for me for sure. But I’m willing to bet for most other athletes.

Woodland (00:30:53):

Thirsty for more fitness talk? Every week Two-Brain Radio brings you three new shows filled with inspiring stories and actionable advice. Learn the ins and outs of digital marketing and sales on Mondays. Then join me on Wednesdays to hear from the top athletes, coaches and personalities from the fitness world. On Thursdays, Chris Cooper and other business leaders share their expertise on how to grow your business, solve problems and move closer to wealth. Want to chat? Email with feedback and requests, and don’t forget to subscribe. Now back to Sean Sweeney. You took 30th overall your rookie year at the Games. What effect then did that have on your training moving forward?

Sean (00:31:41):

You know what? I think the way to look at it is that you’re never going to be satisfied with your performance to a certain degree. Right. I was satisfied with how I performed. For me, I felt that I left it

Sean (00:32:01):

all out there. But nobody’s happy with 30th place. If you’re a competitor, tell a competitor they’ve got 30th place at something. Right. Nobody likes that. So I don’t think you’re ever satisfied as a competitor, I think, I won’t even say as a competitor, I personally always want that next little bit. I always expect that next little bit out of myself, even if I know I’ve given my all, it’s like, man, if you train a little bit harder, if you get a little bit better, we can move up. Like you have the potential. And so I don’t think the place necessarily matters. I think that, unless you’re, you know, and like Mat Fraser, like he’s always like, Oh, I’ve only won four Games titles. I need five. You know, like everybody has that next thing they’re striving for.

Sean (00:32:57):

So I don’t think that ever stops, but I think that after my first year, I realize my goal, how that affected my training is I needed to trust myself and become more confident in my own performance and to know like, Hey, it’s OK to be out in front. Like what if you go and win a workout? And I’ve gotten better and better at that. Sometimes it’ll bite you in the ass, which we found last year, event one. Right? And so this is something where one of my big strengths, cause I’m not really that good at anything, not a great Olympic weightlifter. I’m not a great runner. I’m not insane at gymnastics. Like I’m just kind of a pretty

Sean (00:33:44):

relatively well-rounded guy that’s not super good at anything.

Sean (00:33:48):

And, I think that I’m always very, very good at pacing. So if you give me a workout, I can just intuitively know where the problems are, how to pace that. It’s just something that I have kind of a knack for and I can do that on the fly. I’ll listen to my body really well. And that event one of the 2019 Games, the first cut is, that’s a good workout for me. Moderate weightlifting, legless rope climbs and running I’m not as good at, but I’ve gotten better. And I just kind of came out at my own pace and I just realized like I started looking around like, shit,

Sean (00:34:31):

I’m leading everybody. Like I’m in front of everybody. This is probably an issue. It’s not good. And then back in the back of my mind, I’m like, Sean, are you gonna stop? Are you gonna slow down because you’re winning or you do like, that’s the point is to win, right? Like that’s why we’re here. And the way I was feeling, I’m like, damn, I feel good. Like I’m not going to slow down just because I’m doing well. Yeah, it makes no sense. And I normally, I don’t think there’s ever been another event in history where I’ve came out too hot like that. And so I was like, son of a bitch, I’m just gonna ride it. Like I started getting amped up, like I was feeling good. I mean I’m grab assing like we all saw on the damn [unintelligible] I’m grab assing, I’m having a good time, I’m feeling awesome.

Sean (00:35:17):

And then the third round hit and it was just like I went from like, I’m fine, I think I’m going to win this workout to like you might have to call the medics in like four seconds cause you are dying. And I will never forget that. It just hit me like a freight train and it doesn’t happen to me and man it did. But so even though that wasn’t the best performance, like it still was OK. I think I got, which it wasn’t, you know, everyone wants to get better, but I got like a 20th place or something like that, finish on that workout. Obviously if I could have paced it better, could have been much, much better. But I was proud that I took the shot, you know, and that’s something that I’ve really been working on is doing that, is being aggressive and coming out in competition and kind of going for it.

Sean (00:36:11):

And that’s something to where I was proud of that. So even though it didn’t pan out, it didn’t pan out well at all. It was like, my one thing, my real dad, my other dad, always said was a short putt never falls.

Woodland (00:36:25):

That’s a good saying.

Sean (00:36:25):

If you don’t give it a ride, you’ll never know. And so that was one of the times where I was proud of my intensity and proud of my effort to get there and I didn’t hold back. It’s not a what if. OK, we found capacity.

Sean (00:36:45):

So yeah, that was a good, that was a cool, cool moment.

Woodland (00:36:47):

What did you learn from competing in 2019 under that new format that you will now apply the next time that you are in Madison?

Sean (00:36:54):

Here’s what I learned from that. I learned that bitching about circumstances gets you nowhere. That’s what I learned. And you know, that’s something to where, between all of my upbringing and Navy and whatever, all of that stuff is, that’s kind of been the way it is. So I don’t give a shit if you agree with it or not. Like that is the game and you want to play the game so you better figure it out. And you know what I’ve figured out is if you don’t suck, you don’t get cut. You know, like I sucked at certain things and well I got cut. And so if I suck less I’ll get cut less. And so that’s my plan is play the game like, Hey, did Mat Fraser get cut? Nope. OK, well maybe I can do that. You know, like let’s go ahead and get better and then we won’t have to worry about cuts. So as much as you can. That’s a whole different topic on itself is that’s what it really boils down to is that us having our opinions about cuts does effectively do say to the reality of the situation. So you either adapt to that situation or you get cut. And so that’s my plan is just, you know, get better at the things that I know will come up like, my biggest thing, it really punishes small errors cause you can look back, everybody has the what ifs. Everybody has that one moment that if it didn’t happen they wouldn’t have been cut on the next cut.

Sean (00:38:35):

And that’s what it comes down to, and it’s small errors. Like, my big error was the handstand walk event was was shaping up to be a massively good event for me. That was about to be a top three to five event for me and I fell, I failed my last handstand walk with my hands in the finish line. I didn’t have control, like it was a legitimate no rep, but it just like goosed out and I wish I could have, I don’t have a video of it and it wasn’t in that documentary just came out. But it was one of those things where like I was, if I would’ve finished at that point, I think I would have been like third or fifth overall in that event. And instead I failed with literally, I like put my hands forward.

Sean (00:39:24):

I was in the finish line, but I didn’t have control. It was a legitimate no rep. Had to go back. And then that obviously that’s make or break. And so that was the one thing that I lost a bunch of points on and that I would have been, so then I got cut from that and then, but then again, if I wouldn’t have been cut there, I’m the slowest runne, like in that sprint? Nope. Nope. Like, I mean, I would have tried like hell, but more than likely that would have been a chopping block for me as well. So it just kind of shows you that like you can’t have, especially in a format like that is you need a little bit of luck on your side for what comes up. Like if instead of a sprint workout that was a swim workout, I’d have been great.

Sean (00:40:13):

So there’s a certain amount of luck that has to play forward in a cut format like that. But there’s also a certain amount of preparedness that doesn’t leave you vulnerable to those cuts. So that’s just where like now I’m doing it. In fact today I’m about to, after we get off this call, I’ve got every single week I’ve been doing long desert runs and working on my aerobic development that way and doing lots of running. Like I PR’d my 5k by two minutes over the past three months. So I’ve been running, doing a lot of running, cause I know that’s a weakness for me. And I’ve been doing a lot of Olympic lifting and trying to build that top end strength. And so it’s just all about refining those small things. Like at this point if you’re consistently making the Games, and we’ll just leave it at that.

Sean (00:41:01):

I mean there’s a lot of avenues to make it, but if you consistently make it to the Games at this point you’re very fit. Like there’s nobody at the Games that’s not fit and it comes down to these small little increments. So it’s just trying to fill in those gaps. And that’s kind of my old plan.

Woodland (00:41:16):

You’re known for three things. I’m going to do these one by one. The first is wearing the cowboy hat during competition. How did that start?

Sean (00:41:24):

It kinda came, so if you can’t tell, I’m a pretty goofy son of a bitch.

Sean (00:41:30):

It came down to—man, I get these mixed up. I don’t know if it was the 2015 or 2016 Regional, I’m not entirely sure. I think it was the 2016 the one where I made my first Games appearance, I think. Anyways, I’m so nervous, incredibly nervous before it starts. Like I get so nervous before competitions, especially like Regionals, especially when Regionals were there. Cause that was like the chopping block of like if you’re gonna make it or not. But when I get to a major competition, honestly really any comp, even smaller competitions, I feel like I get more nervous cause if I don’t do well everyone’s like, Oh that guy sucks now, you know? So, before any competitions, I’m not able to drive. Like my fiance Emily, she drives. Like my brain goes bye-bye. So I was so nervous before I think it was the 2016 Regional.

Sean (00:42:22):

I was like, not myself, not having fun, not making penis jokes, not like having any fun in the back, like making no one laugh. And I was having a miserable time before the event started. And like after the first event. And my dad was like my dad, both my mom dad were like, you need to like, you need to be you. Like you look like shit man. You need to have some fun and just be like, remember who you are. Go out and be you. And my mom’s like, you know what? You need to wear your damn cowboy hat, like wear your damn cowboy hat and I was, I thought it was kind of silly at first. I was like, I don’t wanna wear my damn cowboy hat, right? I put it on, it was kind of like a reminder of like this is who you are, you know, and you go be you.

Sean (00:43:09):

And so that’s what the cowboy hat really stemmed from is a reminder to be myself and I do so much better and like a lot of people, if you’re watching, if you watch me compete, a lot of people think, man, that guy’s pretty good. But like imagine if he took it seriously. It’s like, no, no, that’s me taking it seriously. If I’m just a serious laser beam focused, like not enjoying the moment I suck. And when I am being me, I do perform better. There’s times you can just and there’s times you can’t. In a three-minute sprint you can’t grab Mat Fraser’s ass. You know what I mean? There’s a time and a place to be you. And that’s where it really took over I think. I think, I’m pretty sure it was 16 Regional. After day one I was in like 30th place, 25th place or something. The second day I wore my hat, I cracked jokes and I just kind of, I was able to be myself and I moved from like 25th or whatever place to fourth place in one day. And that’s how it all started. And now I wear my hat everywhere that I’m able to at competitions and I think it does a couple of things. You know, it reminds me to be me and just to stay kind of like in the moment, enjoy it, and for me it’s a lot about making other people’s experiences good as well. So I think that especially at a high level and some people just aren’t into that. Like Vellner? Sourpuss about it. He hates it, that I’m having fun out there.

Sean (00:44:43):

Like he does and he’s like, sorry about it. But he just gets so upset that I do that. And that’s totally cool. You can be upset about that. But I think it really, it helps me. And I think that a lot of other people for the most part kind of like get a little, like we’re all there. Like, sure we’re working, but we also enjoy what we do. So I think that helps. But it really helps with the people that support us. You know, like a lot of people don’t take time to interact with the crowd or to, you know, take time to go. And I mean, I take it over the top and I fricking hand out posters and act like I’m famous and I’m fricking not, you know, I spam people with this shit. I think I made you take one. You didn’t want one, I was like Sean, you better take this.

Woodland (00:45:26):

No, I took it.

Sean (00:45:29):

You know, it’s like, I think that it’s really important to, for me it’s important to make sure that everyone enjoys the whole experience, you know? Cause it’s not just about us. It in fact, it’s about 5% about the athletes. You know, it’s so much more about everybody that’s backing us and I think it’s really important to stick to those roots. So the cowboy hat makes me have fun. It makes me remind and reminds me to keep all of that in the forefront. So that, that’s really what the cowboy hat’s about.

Woodland (00:46:01):

You literally just answered all three questions I wanted to ask you. I wanted to ask you about the pictures that you hand out and about competing with a smile and you answered all those questions. So my final question is then what are the things that you are most proud of in your career so far?

Sean (00:46:28):

Number one would be fittest in Cape Town. So that was the first year that we had to qualify through a Sanctional or the Open. And man, there’s a few, I don’t even know the order of this. I’m pretty sure that that’s the one that stands out in my mind though. So this is in Cape Town. The way that all went down, is right before Fittest in Cape Town was Wodapalooza, and I showed up to Wodapalooza and I felt I was in very good shape and for some reason I didn’t really know why, but I was completely wrecked during Wodapalooza and I just felt like I had no gas after day one. I was just like trashed, like absolutely trashed and I got progressively worse. Well, what ended up happening was I got the flu or something, some sort of deal.

Sean (00:47:25):

So after, as soon as the event was over, I was going to spend a week in Miami before going to Cape Town and competing and train and you know, do whatever. But I spent, I didn’t get out of bed for three days in my Airbnb. I was like destroyed sick, but it didn’t really set in like I didn’t get physically ill until like the third day. So it was this huge mental thing of am I fit? Am I just not good or like, am I not fit right now? Do I just stuck or am I sick? Like, why did I perform so poorly? Cause I took like who knows? I wanna say like 20-something place at Wodapalooza. I mean it was, it was bad and I was just like, what is happening? I’m supposed to go to Africa and I can’t even get out of bed right now.

Sean (00:48:15):

And it’s just so I knew I was horribly sick. But I wasn’t sure if that was the only reason I performed bad you know, in the back of my mind I’m like, am I good enough? And it was this huge mental thing. And then so I go and get on the plane, which is the worst. If you’re watching this and you ever do international travel, if you save $500 by taking extra flights, you are making a mistake. It took me six zero, 60 hours, to get back from South Africa. Sixty hours of traveling and that is not worth it. But, so I get to South Africa and I go into one of the gyms there and I do a little workout. And it was like, I just wanted to breathe really hard. Just kind of knock off the cobwebs. Did Assault bike, thruster and running.

Sean (00:49:02):

And I felt like I’d never worked out in my entire life before and it was hot and I just, I was like, man, I think that I’m here for no reason. Like I’m about to get crushed. And so we started the event and I really, I think that that kind of, I don’t know what my deal was, but from the very get go of South Africa, I had fun the whole time. The competition was awesome. The people that we were there with was just phenomenal. Like we had such a good group of guys. There was a very deep field. You know, there’s a lot of very competitive athletes at that competition, but we had a really good group. Like, we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of grab ass. We were just, it was a good time.

Sean (00:49:42):

And I was performing pretty well. I was in the hunt from the get go. I wasn’t in first place. I was in, you know, the first little bit and as the weekend went on it was kind of me and Cole Sager that were going back and forth. And the number one most, I’d say the most proud that I was was on the last day. There was two events left and one event was 30-cal row, a 60-foot handstand walk, 30 cal ski-erg, 60-foot obstacle handstand walk, 30-cal bike erg. I’d never seen a bike erg in my life. And so I thought it was like an Assault bike that would just tick the calories.

Sean (00:50:27):

And so I knew that going into this event, me and Cole were basically neck and neck and I knew the last event just because of the way the programming was so far is that we hadn’t done thrusters. I was almost positive we were doing thrusters in the last event. And I am not a thruster guy and Cole is a thruster guy. And so I told myself like, this is your Games, this is the ticket in this workout right here, in that bike ski row. And it was just one of those things where you can let that pressure fold or you can rise and you know, you don’t really ever know what you’re going to do until it’s over. You know what I mean? It just takes that one second of hesitation or one second of doubt to not perform.

Sean (00:51:14):

And I remember we rowed, we got off at relatively the same time we handstand walked unbroken to the skierg. I skierged pretty fast and then the obstacle handstand walk, I did unbroken. And as I’m going, I saw Cole come down and halfway and I knew that was my moment where not only did I have to beat Cole, but I needed to get some points in between us in case this next event. And I got on that bikerg and I went, I don’t even know what I was doing. I went fast as I possibly could and I went like absolute full send for like 20 seconds, like literal dead sprint. And I looked down at the monitor thinking like, all right, I’m gotta be close to the there cause if it was Assault bike you’d be there and Oh God, no. I was just like panicking.

Sean (00:52:08):

And then I saw Cole, I got, I think I was like 14 calories or something in and I saw Cole get on the other bike and I was just like in full panic misery mode. But I was just like, Sean, I don’t give a shit what you feel right now. You are not backing out of this. And I just held onto it and I remember, if you watched Dubai and you saw the people coming off that bike sprint, that’s what happened to me pretty much. I couldn’t physically couldn’t run coming off of there. And I got across the finish line and it ended up working to where there was some people in between me and Cole. And I was puking in the field for about an hour. I puked on two different judges’ shoes. And I went full, send I couldn’t even hear the brief, I was in the field dry heaving

Sean (00:52:54):

and puking while they’re explaining the final event of its thrusters and rope climbs. I’m like, Oh God, I can’t even walk. And but I was really proud of that. And then on the thruster event, I actually took second, Cole beat me, Cole took first. I took second on that thruster event and I am not a thruster event guy. So that mental choice to win, to do whatever was necessary. That was something that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget how it felt coming across outline. The second would be the 2018 Regionals. Yup. 2018 Regionals. I was leading it. I don’t know if I was leading it the whole time. I think I might’ve been, I might’ve been leading it for the majority of the time. But I got to the last event and the last event was thrusters and rope climbs. And once again, I’m not a thruster guy and I knew that I had to pretty much I was going to go to the Games no matter what.

Sean (00:54:01):

Right. At that point, coming into that event points wise, but I needed to prove to myself that I could win this and really perform to the best of my capabilities no matter what. And I remember, that was those 155-pound thrusters and rope climbs. I don’t remember the rep scheme, but I remember doing that workout and once I finished my final rep, I was in first and coming across the finish line, it was like a growth moment, you know? And it was coming across that finish line and knowing that I executed, that I did everything in my power and that it played out the way it did. It was a really rewarding moment, I think is the best. And it was just like I realized that I can do this or like I’m capable of going for it.

Sean (00:55:01):

And that was a really cool moment for me. So I think that Cape Town and that 2018 Regional, man, those were two great moments. And then my third one is a polar opposite moment. My third one is in the 2017 Regional. I did not make the Games and for whatever reason I was getting no repped on a movement that I do not believe I should have been getting no-repped for. And during the moment I was trying to figure it out like, OK, well how do I–.

Woodland (00:55:34):

And these are the ring dips, right?

Sean (00:55:34):

Yep. And so I was like, how do I appease my judge here? And I was like, it should have been a good workout for me. And this was only event two I want to say about the entire weekend.

Sean (00:55:50):

And I remember doing ring dips, kept getting no rep, no rep, and I’m like, God, I don’t know what’s going on. So I stopped. I’m like, OK, OK. Like I don’t get flustered. I typically don’t get flustered. So I stopped and I just talked to her, and said hey, what do you need? She said, you aren’t getting low enough. Your hips aren’t getting low enough. I’m like, Oh fuck. Like your hips have to move but there’s no low enough standards. I’m like, Oh shit. OK. So I like get up and I’m like kind of flustered at this point. I’m like stopping and talking in this workout. So I like bury it like I almost to rock back, like I’m going to fall back into a muscle-up. Like I’m like almost being a little bit over exaggerated. Like is this what you want?

Sean (00:56:31):

And I come up, I’m locked out at the top and no rep and I’m like, Oh no. Like, Oh no. Like now there’s nothing I can do. I’m like, OK, well this is out of my hands. And it crushed me because I knew at that moment that there’s nothing I can do. Like, and I kept working and I was like, just everything I did, like I did like over double the amount of ring dips. It was just like, and so we have 50 people in that region, so I got like 42nd or something in that, in that workout and I was crushed. Especially when you feel like, and you know, my feelings are irrelevant. So maybe they were really bad reps who knows. No one will ever know. Right. But how I handled that was really important to me, I gave myself like half an hour for a pity party of like, you know, feeling bad for myself.

Sean (00:57:29):

And then I was like, you know what, I’m going to go show everybody what I’m made of. And from then on, so I got like a top couple place in the first event and then I got that 42nd and it was almost mathematically impossible to make it back with that. And I did, I fought hard all weekend and I did well and I made it all the way back up to sixth, which was one spot away from qualifying again. But it was really important to me the way that I handled that. And I’m not, you know, a Saint or anything there. But I think in that situation it is so easy to let your emotions get the best of you and start really making the blame game or you know, making a huge scene of this or becoming angry at others.

Sean (00:58:29):

And it’s just kind of one of those things where I just kind of needed to tell myself like, who do you want to be in this moment? Like do you want to be the guy that throws a tantrum? Do you want to be the guy that everybody’s like, Oh well that was kind of a jacked up situation but he also handled it bad. Like what do you want other, how do you want to influence other people in this time? And I think in my opinion for what is important to me is I think that I chose wisely there and I think that I handled them well and to move forward. And just to continue to do my best and to not have put a huge negative spin on it. And I was proud of how I handled adversity that day, that time. So those would be my three times.

Woodland (00:59:15):

Well listen Sean, I appreciate your time, man, great answers to all those questions. I didn’t even get to ask you half the ones I wanted because you basically answered them yourself, but I just want to wish you best of luck moving forward and hopefully we see you back on the competition floor soon.

Sean (00:59:26):

Awesome. Thanks man, appreciate you calling.

Woodland (00:59:28):

I really want to thank Sean Sweeney for taking the time to talk with me today. If you want to follow him on social media, you can check him out on Instagram. He is @CrossFitcowboy45. Do you want to take the guesswork out of entrepreneurship? We have a ton of free resources to help you do just that. For free access to guides on marketing, retention, buying, selling and more, visit Thanks for listening Two-Brain Radio, everyone. I’m Sean Woodland and we’ll see you next time.


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