Interview with CrossFit Games Rookie Fee Saghafi

Fee Saghafi. Photo via Instagram/@fee.saghafi
Fee Saghafi. Photo via Instagram/@fee.saghafi

You may not have heard of Feeroozeh Saghafi just yet, but you will. During the CrossFit Open, “Fee” finished 24th worldwide…good enough to qualify for the CrossFit Games via the “Top 20”.

Since then, however, Saghafi has competed in two Sanctionals, the CrossFit Italian Showdown and the Rogue Invitational, where she placed 2nd and 13th, respectively.

Saghafi trains out of CrossFit Mentality. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is the gym owned by 8-time CrossFit Games veteran Scott Panchik. Panchik has helped Saghafi grow as an athlete over the years and that hard work has paid off this year.

Check out our interview with Saghafi as she prepares for her rookie debut at the CrossFit Games. Oh, and don’t forget to watch the behind-the-scenes training vlog of Saghafi and Panchik.

The Barbell Spin (TBBS): You started CrossFit in 2014 and told Scott Panchik you wanted to compete. What was your background prior to CrossFit and how did you find out about it?

Fee Saghafi (FS): I walked into my first CrossFit box in 2013 and joined Scott’s gym, CrossFit Mentality, in February of 2015. I first began CrossFit, not to be competitive by any means, but rather it was for myself. I needed to find something that held me accountable and consistent. I needed to surround myself by hard working, authentic, and kind hearted people. I needed a form of therapy that helped me feel strong, put me in a healthier head space, and made me feel like I could accomplish tough goals when at that time I felt defeated in my personal life. When I moved to Mentality in 2015, I had told Scott that I wanted to work towards qualifying as an Elite Individual CrossFit athlete. Ever since that point, he has lead me every step of the way, through every little check point, while also coaching and mentoring me on the mindset, work ethic, and attitude it takes to reach that level as an athlete. Prior to CrossFit, I was always involved in sports throughout high school, specifically volleyball and track. When I was younger, I always was looking to being with the boys while they played baseball, basketball, and football- I was always the tom-boy of my family. But outside of recreational sport and a few years of high school athletics, I don’t come from an elite background that has helped give me an advantage or helped tremendously in developing in CrossFit. When I began my journey, I was back to square one… overweight, fighting strong insecurities, with no gymnastics or weightlifting skills. I started on a clean slate and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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Flashback to 2017 @crossfitgames Central Regionals ➡️➡️ 2019 ready to leave for my first Sanctional of the season and looking forward to having all of the fun and give only my absolute best! Crazy how much can happen in two short years and one thing is for certain… cleaning up and enhancing my nutrition has been the #1 factor that has allowed me to see the best results in performance. ••• Thankful to not only be trained by @rxmentality but to have the help by @cfmentality’s Mentality Nutrition with RD @alyssa_noel87 that helps me perform at my best by knowing how to fuel optimally. It’s a process, and this process requires the most patience, but I promise you it’s worth it! ••• Arrivederci USA!! 🇺🇸 ✈️ 🇮🇹 #CrossFitSanctionals #RoadtotheGames #MentalityNutrition #cfmentality #rxmentality #poweredbypanchik

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TBBS: Over the past five years you have steadily improved. What would attribute that to?

I would attribute my growth over the years to three major things. First, I began setting smaller, manageable, and attainable goals. I needed to work on being consistent in showing up every single day and giving my absolute best effort in each session. I began to do local competitions in the Cleveland area to start to understand myself as a competitor and also to use them as opportunities to understand where my “holes” were so we can attack them back at the gym. Second, becoming more intentional in my training really set me to make even greater gains and improvements. Scott has made me understand the value in quality over quantity in training- it’s not about trying to hit everything in one day, but rather, everything that you do in a session make it intentional and set yourself to the highest standard possible. Lastly, cultivating a true understanding of patience. Patience has been a skill in the making and continues to be a skill I struggle with because of human nature, but nonetheless I have definitely come to understand and appreciate this more than ever before. To me, this means letting go of things that are outside of my control and control what is in my power while trusting that if I do just that, opportunities will come at the right time. Everyone’s chapter is different- some individuals make it as a Games athlete within a year of finding CrossFit and others take a bit longer and that’s OKAY. Being diligent in your work, being patient through the process, and maintaining a positive attitude will get you farther than you can imagine.

TBBS: From Regional team athlete to individual regional athlete to now Games bound, how did each stage prepare you for the next level?

In 2017 I had the opportunity to compete on a Regionals team for the CrossFit Central Regional and this was the year that truly set the stage for my journey to chase the goal of becoming an elite and making it to the big stage at the CrossFit Games some day. While competing on team, all I could think about and really envy were the individual women that I looked up to. I stepped away that weekend excited to get to the gym and was willing to put in the work that was required to be like those girls I have watched on t.v and that I have seen compete individually. We went back to the drawing board, and I had written on a goal board we have at our gym saying “I will qualify for Regionals 2018 as an individual”.

I went into that year with confidence and excitement and that helped set the tone to every session I hit at the gym. I wasn’t hitting two-a-days, I wasn’t training for 6 hours a day. I kept attending CrossFit classes at CrossFit Mentality, followed RX Mentality Regionals programming every day, no missed sessions, and gave every session my best. The difference between 2017 to 2018 was that on my own time, I began to make extra time to practice and condition weaknesses. Also, I dialed in my nutrition and started to make that the most important component to my days.

This process continued, except after placing 32nd at Regionals I finished the weekend more disappointed than proud of reaching that goal of just “making it”. Scott sat down with me one day and told me that he wanted change things up a bit in training. He said, “I believe that you will make it to the CrossFit Games and I am going to help get you there next year.” From then on, I began training under his wing. We worked on learning from each and every single day. He helped me dial in even more on understanding the mindset of a great athlete, the importance of believing in my abilities, and trusting this journey that we are on.

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The fastest way to get defeated is to focus on someone else’s progress, someone else’s goals, and someone else’s chapter. Know that everything negative that you tell yourself, complain about, and how you react to situations are 100% your own choice. • • There are plenty of unfortunate events and situations that are out of our power but what we CAN control are…. asking for help, how you talk to yourself, your work ethic, keeping a positive attitude, how kind you are to yourself and others, being coachable and open to feedback, and holding yourself accountable. • • We don’t get to decide what cards we’re dealt, instead, we get to decide how we want to play them. Our job is to play them the BEST way we know we CAN. ✨👊🏼 #rxmentality #cfmentality #poweredbypanchik 📸 : @michaelcavottastudios

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TBBS: How helpful has it been having Panchik, a Games veteran, in your corner through your journey?

He became more than a coach but a true mentor to me and has gotten to know me better than I know myself as an athlete. Scott is one of the first people that saw potential and decided to invest in me while still balancing his own professional career. I couldn’t have qualified for the CrossFit Games if it wasn’t for the guidance, coaching, and mentorship I have had from Scott Panchik throughout these years. His experience is reflected through his performances as a professional athlete and his knowledge as a coach, programmer, and affiliate owner.

TBBS: Heading into the Open, did you know top 20 would be possible? At what point did you start realizing this was going to be your year?

Heading into the Open, my only intention was to do better than last year’s performance and just see how close I can get to those big names in the game. I honestly didn’t think I was good enough to earn my ticket through the worldwide open, but I wanted to give my best effort and put up a fight each week. Regardless of how that panned out, I knew that I would be proud of whatever my best reflected because it had become my best training season to date! I realized I was making headway and had a true shot at a bid after taking a 10th place finish after 19.4, with one more workout to go. As soon as 19.5 was announced with thrusters and chest to bars, I knew that I was one workout away from qualifying for the Games.

TBBS: Now that you are in full Games training mode, how have you adapted to the increased intensity? What are you doing to ensure you are recovered each day?

With Scott leading the way for programming, I’ve been trusting my growth as an athlete as the intensity increases. Intensity increased week by week, allowing me to adapt safely. Up to this point, we have only been getting stronger as the weeks go by! My nutrition has also adapted over the last weeks, with training going up it has been paramount to make sure that I’m getting enough of a caloric intake to make sure I’m fueled for the next session and recovering with clean nutrition. To make sure I’m recovered fully for the next day, I make sure to stretch and mobilize before bed, continue to stay hydrated even after training sessions, and get anywhere between 8-10 hours of sleep.

TBBS: You have competed in a few Sanctionals this season. What do you think about the new qualifying format this year?

Personally, I really have enjoyed the new qualifying format for the Games. I’m sure it will continue to develop because no format is perfect, but I have enjoyed how it has offered a variety of opportunities to athletes worldwide to fight for a qualifying sport. This year, athletes aren’t as limited to how they can make it to Madison. It’ll be interesting to see how this new format continues to develop down the years.

TBBS: What advice do you have for someone thinking about staring CrossFit and competing?

If you are thinking about starting CrossFit and using it as an avenue to become competitive know that it is not just about training all day, every day, and as much as you can. To those who want to be competitive, make sure you have a good understanding of why you want to compete because that is what you’ll have to be thinking about on the days that you are unmotivated, tired, hurting, and want to quit- and trust me there will be plenty of those days. Instead of focusing on winning, or beating someone else, stay focused on your own track, your goals, and giving your BEST effort every single day. Continue to stay diligent in your work, consistent in your habits, and above everything, you must keep with a positive attitude and trust that you will get to where you want to be. As a result of all of this, you will be rewarded with the PR’s, the podium finishes, and with time, maybe even a ticket to the CrossFit Games 😉

TBBS: What CrossFit Games event would you like to see repeated this year?

There was a workout back in 2013 that was done in the tennis stadium I believe- It was a thruster and legless rope climb event. It was simple and in true CrossFit style! There were rigs and ropes down the entire floor and it looked like such a fun race from start to finish. That’s one event that always stood out to me with it’s simplicity, intensity, and how well it was orchestrated and designed. I have never done that event before but would love to see it’s appearance again!

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