By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
There were painful knee injuries, ripped pants during a workout and a panic attack in the pool, but Mayra Brandt persevered to bring home fifth place during the 2018 Cross Fit Games for the second year in a row.
Competing comes naturally to Brandt. The 38-year-old Boca Raton mother of two was a competitive gymnast, cheerleader and soccer player in high school.
Now, she is a competitor in the Cross Fit world where she has competed on a global level against the 20 best in her age division for the past two years coming in fifth place both times.
“I felt like I won,” she said from her Delray CrossFit gym just after the 2018 Cross Fit Games.
She traveled to Madison, Wis. for the main event last month. She had already qualified from 20,000 challengers that were whittled down to 200 and then the best 20 athletes in her division of women from 35-39 years old traveled to the competition.
She got into cross fit after someone she went to high school with reached out to her about six years ago and asked if she could help her learn how to do a handstand to help with cross fit training.
Brandt owned a cheerleading gym in Boca and as a competitive gymnast for years, handstands were her specialty.
She began researching cross fit and what her friend’s goals were in order to train her properly. A few months later, she took a cross fit class.
Brandt described cross fit as a high intensity workout that combines weight lifting, gymnastics, skill and endurance.
She became a member of CrossFit Delray and made it to about two classes per week. She was thrown into her first competition when someone at the gym needed a partner.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “I wanted to do more. I really want to go to the Cross Fit Games.”
Her membership at the gym turned her into a competitor. Soon after, she was a coach there and then she became a co-owner of the gym when the owner at the time was looking to sell.
In 2017, she began to figure out how to get to the Cross Fit Games. She made it through the qualifying rounds and before she knew it she was in the airport surrounded by Cross Fit Games advertisements and banners.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect.”
As a rookie, she learned the days would be long and to be prepared. She left the competition with a fifth place title and a desire to return and earn a spot on the podium.
But, 2018 started out with injuries. She tore her meniscus in her left knee six weeks before the games. It wasn’t too painful so she decided to compete.
The first day, her right knee blew out on the last work out of the day.
“It was incredibly painful,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could finish the competition.”
Luckily, she said the second day was a rest day. And the opening ceremonies celebration the games held, similar to the Olympics, is what helped motivate her to keep competing.
The Puerto Rican-native represented her home country with two other athletes and they amped each other up. Competitors came from Canada, Brazil, Switzerland, England and other countries. Some didn’t speak English.
“It was the best experience,” she said of the ceremony. “I felt rejuvenated. They made us feel so special.”
So she got up and out the next day and took it event by event, work out by work out and play by play. With help from her coach, massage therapist and support from her gym members back home in Delray, she pushed through each challenge.
“I did the best I could,” she said. “I wanted to do well. My expectations were high.”
Of course the handstand obstacle course was her best event. She came out on top with a win. She said she likes any handstand challenge, heavy weights and short challenges.
When it came to a rope climbing work out, she would slide down the rope firefighter style. The first slide down the rope literally burned a hole in her pants.
When she slid down the second time, she felt it because the rope was now burning her skin.
Bleeding, she said she had no more tears and just began to laugh.
The next day featured a swimming event. It caused her anxiety in 2017 so she was determined to overcome the challenge this year.
“I was so determined to conquer the swim,” she said.
The event begins with a mass start which can cause chaos and confusion in the water. This year was no different and because she was in the top four ranks at the time she was dead center of the pool to start.
Panic set in as water was splashing around her and she finished last.
On the last day of the games, she was fighting to finish somewhere between fifth and ninth place. Despite the obstacles, she ended up placing fifth.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what I did,” she said.
With two knee surgeries in her future, she said she plans on training to get back in time for the 2019 games.
“I definitely want to be back for 2019,” she said. “I absolutely want to be on that floor again.”