How To Win At Life: Elite CrossFitter Val Voboril's Tips For Balancing Family, Work And Training
Val Voboril is focused. She lathers her hands in chalk and hoists herself up for muscle-ups on the rings of the CrossFit training apparatus in the backyard of her home in El Segundo, California. She then churns out a set of 20 consecutive sumo deadlifts at 225 pounds before switching to handstand push-ups. She smiles for the first time upon seeing her 4-year-old daughter, Vin, bounce up and down on the family's trampoline. "BOING! BOING! BOING!" Vin screams in the air between giggles, hugging her red and green stuffed dragon. "Fly, Vin, fly!" Voboril says, beaming.
These are the moments Voboril, 36, cherishes as she juggles being a mother, a full-time elementary-school teacher and an elite CrossFitter. At times she endures 14-hour days during the season, training two to three times a week and even conditioning during her school's lunch breaks. Sometimes she grades papers at CrossFit competitions, yet manages to squeeze in time for tea parties with Vin and relaxing on the porch with her husband, Steve. "My favorite analogy someone gave me recently is, 'How many circus plates can you have spinning at once?'" Voboril said. "A lot. It's a game I play."
Fitness has always been at the core of Voboril's identity. Growing up she was stronger than the older boys across the street; she could carry bikes and they couldn't. She beat her school's vice principal in a pull-up contest as a fourth-grader, busting out 20 for the win. She'd later channel her competitiveness into gymnastics, rock climbing, mountain biking, triathlons, aerial silks and Krav Maga (self-defense) before discovering CrossFit in 2008. Voboril has risen to the highest ranks of the sport, finishing third at the CrossFit Games in 2010 and 2013 and fifth in 2014. Although she did not qualify for the 2015 Games, Voboril is determined to make the field next season.
"CrossFit never defined Val," said Voboril's coach, Julien Pineau. "That's the biggest difference. Most of the athletes out there, if you ask who they are, they will tell you they are a CrossFitter first. That's not Val. Val is a CrossFitter, but she is a mom, a teacher, and then a CrossFitter."
Here are eight ways Voboril manages to strike that balance.
1. Find a support system
Surrounding herself with family and friends helps Voboril handle a demanding schedule.
Her husband supports her endeavors and frequently trains with her to make workouts fun. The couple often visits Voboril's parents and sister, who live nearby. Pineau understands Voboril's time constraints and adjusts workouts accordingly. Vin is always there to make Voboril smile, including the time Voboril lost a race at the end of a training session (a 100-foot heavy harness sled drag). "Mommy," Vin whispered. "This time, it was whoever was slowest won."
2. Plan meals ahead
Voboril makes a weekly trip to Costco and buys all the food she needs to prepare meals for the upcoming week. She then plots dinner for each day on a whiteboard in her kitchen, which includes anything from chicken and veggie stir-fry to Indian food. She prepares Vin's first three lunch boxes and assembles the last two on Wednesday. "She just plans everything. I'm more organized because of her," Steve Voboril said. "It makes your lives simpler when things are prepared and you know what's coming."
3. Make home work
Adding her own CrossFit training facility ("Rig") to her backyard in 2012 allowed Voboril to limit the time she spent driving to CrossFit facilities and increase the time she could spend at home with her family. Her Rig includes barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, bench, rings and stacks of bumper plates.
Voboril makes it a point to smile a certain number of times during training sessions, as enjoyment of the sport can easily disappear amid the pressure of competition. She was reminded of the importance of this practice at regionals, as she performed better once she focused on having fun rather than competing well. Smiling a few times made a difference: "My lungs would open up and I could breathe better," Voboril said. "Everything felt better."
5. Choose quality over quantity
Voboril focuses on maximizing quality of time rather than quantity of time. She and Pineau make each drill count during training, often squeezing a two-hour workout into an hour and 20 minutes. When Voboril has a pile of papers to grade, she concentrates her energy on grading five at a time. She prefers spending an hour of quality time with Vin rather than spending two hours interrupted by emails and phone calls. As a result, she accomplishes more tasks in shorter periods of time. "It doesn't mean it all gets done," Voboril said. "It means it gets done to the best of my ability for that day."
6. Set boundaries
Normally Voboril competes in three competitions each season: the CrossFit Open, Regionals and Games. Yet this year she accepted invitations for additional competitions, which limited time with her family and added more stress to her life. Discovering what she could and could not handle, amid the growing demands at work and at home, she learned that saying "no" is not only acceptable, but necessary. She was reminded of the importance of accepting herself for who she is and what she is capable of, without comparing herself to others. "I think women who trust in and know who they are can be successful on what fronts they choose to pursue," Voboril said. "The more true we are to ourselves, the better we can be at everything else that we do."
7. Sit in hot tubs and play board games
Scheduling time for activities outside of training helps Voboril stay grounded. Voboril, Steve and Vin enjoy hot-tub time a few times a week. The couple often reads books with Vin, holds pillow fights and tea parties, and rides on a tandem bike with her. Once a week, Voboril's parents and sister come over and play board games, such as Ticket to Ride.
8. Keep perspective
Voboril used to run six miles three to four times a week with Steve, but was no longer able to once she gave birth to Vin. For the first time, she was forced to walk and appreciate the sights around her. Slowing down taught her the importance of maintaining proper perspective. The Voborils now share "gratefuls" at most meals, reflecting on the things they are thankful for on a given day. Focusing on the positives in her life is something Voboril continues to strive for. "It's reminding yourself of how far you've come," she said.