Experience vs Youth: Fawcett & McGonigle Set Sights on Berlin for European Semifinal

“I only decided to enter Quarterfinals after Week 2 of the Open. I wasn’t happy with how I was executing the workouts, it had been a while since I got myself properly tuned in for an online workout. I thought Quarterfinals would be some good practice for the Age Group Qualifiers,” so says Steven Fawcett, 34, who is currently sitting in 61st in Europe. Now that the scores have settled and will, almost certainly, be offered a Semifinal spot when athletes above him like Dan Tai and Joshua Al-Chamaa accept their team tickets in a few weeks.

Ste started out the season with the aim of going to Madison and competing in the Masters 35-39 category, “I’m a baby in the category so if there’s a chance, this is the biggest year because I’m only going to get older and people are going to get younger after that,” he said. If he does manage to qualify in the age group (Quarterfinals are this week) he would add it to his long list of firsts. Fawcett is the first UK male athlete to make it to the CrossFit Games; first (and second) UK Team to make it to Madison and, soon, first UK Male 35-39 to step onto the floor in Wisconsin.

Speaking of firsts – Berlin will also be 16-year-old Lucy McGonigle’s first foray out of the Age Group category. Having been crowned the fittest 14/15 year old in Madison last year, Lucy is gearing up to punch her ticket to Madison as she steps into the 16/17 category when the Age Group Online Qualifiers kick off. Before that though, she’s headed to Germany for the European Semifinal.

Another shared thread between the duo is that they’re entering the season after a year of change with the potential for distractions away from the gym starting to mount. Ste has joined HWPO as their Pro Program Manager having taken the arduous decision to step back from JST, the program he built over ten years. McGonigle is gearing up for a busy exam period in school as her education moves towards a fork in the road and she also changed coaches during the off season, joining CompTrain.

For Fawcett, though, the changes have actually freed him up to pursue his own athletic endeavours more than recent years. “After 2019 and all the cuts of the field it made me question whether it was worth it or not. I decided to put my time into Fitr and JST and deep dive into coaching. I’d been going 8 years, was happy with my achievements and it just seemed right to step back,” he said.

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Things change though. When Fitr began discussions with HWPO about running the backend for their app, Ste and Mat Fraser, naturally, began discussing training and coaching and, as it turned out, their philosophies were very similar. Fast forward a few months and Fawcett was approached about stepping back from JST and into HWPO as their Pro Program Manager. An unenviable decision…stepping away from something you built from nothing, but, it’s paid off.

Ste now has more predictability in his day, more structure, less pressure on his shoulders. Sure, he still has to do his job and program for the athletes but he no longer has the added pressure of finances and sponsorship calls or managing employees that comes with captaining your own ship. “That’s definitely taken a mental load off, it’s not as much of a mental tax,” he said. With all of that change comes more opportunity to chase his own goals in fitness and combine that with his recent renaissance in training, finding the love for it again, “Finally changing my perspective on training, less emphasis on the need to have to compete to a certain level, just training hard and letting the chips fall wherever they fall.”

For Lucy, the coaching change has led her towards more accountability and consistency. “I’m putting a lot more effort in because I know I’m going to be held accountable for it and I’m doing more of the stuff I need to do rather than what I want to do,” Lucy shared.

From speaking to Lucy for this article and previously for the podcast that I host, I was struck by her maturity and how well put together she was. Anything I asked was given a considered answer and the answers made sense and, more so, made sense for her – not the familiar “I better say what an athlete would say” answer.

It would be easy and pretty understandable for a 16-year-old to qualify for Semifinals and feel like they’ve arrived before, ultimately, crumbling under the pressure and the bright lights. Lucy has had her fair share of expectation weighted upon her already, seen as a start for the last couple of years and talked about since she was 14, she isn’t going to Berlin underprepared, mentally, for what lies ahead. “Last year, being the favorite (for the 14/15 group) really freaked me out which, to be honest, wasn’t even that big so that’s worrying,” she joked. “I’m glad it happened,” she continued, “because now I know what that feels like and how I can handle it”.

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So, what of expectations for Berlin then? For Lucy, she knows she is young in the sport, figuratively and literally, and is doing whatever the opposite of putting her eggs in one basket is. “I’ll still be competing in the teen category. To be completely honest, I know I’m not on the same level as the elites, that’s not a confidence thing, just being realistic with myself. Semifinals are for experience, getting used to the atmosphere and being surrounded by all the big names,” she said.

I haven’t done Chemistry in years, but, when I think of Ste at Semifinals the image that pops into my head is of a free radical. There’s no confines, no expectation, no predictability. It turns out, it’s a view he shares himself. “I have no expectations. I want to come up against the best and see where I fall. The pressure is off and I’m excited to see what damage I can do with that frame of mind,” he said. “I had the realization this week too that people don’t care, it sounds negative but if you have the attitude that nobody cares really, nobody cares if I fail, nobody cares if I succeed. It doesn’t really matter, although you maybe feel a bit of increased feeling of self-importance when people congratulate you for qualifying for Semifinals or the Games, the day after nobody gives a fuck, they’re living their own lives, they have to walk the dog and change the baby. When you take on that attitude you stop caring what other people think, it’s quite refreshing take to have on life, it takes the pressure off.”

I care Ste.

Two athletes bound for Berlin, both with no expectations or weight of pressure on them, both capable of impacting the competition and leaving a mark, both with one eye on a firmer goal, one with youth and vigour, one with age and experience. Hopefully, two new reasons for you to keep an eye on Europe.

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