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Portrait of an Austin CrossFit Star

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Orion Hones talks about 2018 Regionals, the state of CrossFit and his role in an Austin fitness jewel.

By Evangelos Fuge, Photos by Caleb Kerr

Orion Hones is among the .22 percent of the fittest men on the planet. A CrossFit coach and international competitor, Hones participated in the 2018 CrossFit Open, where he placed 19th for the state of Texas and 564th for the world. The grueling workout competition is not for the faint of heart or muscle.

“You have to want it,” Hones says. “You have to want it really badly. … I don’t have anyhobbies. I don’t have time for hobbies.”

The Wisconsin native originally moved to Austin for the music scene. An aspiring singer-songwriter—and at that point in time, an admitted CrossFit detractor—wanted a place to workout and ended up in a South Austin CrossFit gym. Three months in, Hones was coaching.

“I knew that I wanted to compete pretty much right off the bat,” Hones says. About a year later, he would have his first experience at local gym CrossFit Jääkarhu. “I loved it. This is where I needed to be to be competitive. I literally took a 5:30 class here, drove back over and coached my 7 p.m. class at the old gym, then put in my two weeks’ notice.”

CrossFit Jääkarhu sits just off South Congress Avenue in a back lot. The sprawling warehouse is equipped with all an athlete could desire. The walls are adorned with words and phrases representative of the gym’s ethos: “Work hard, stay humble.” If you didn’t know this gym churns out serious competitors, the first thing you might notice is the friendliness of both the coaches and athletes. The community houses the best elements of Austin and CrossFit.

“Yeah, lots of people think of us as a competitor’s gym,” Hones says. “We have that program and that’s great, but the money, overwhelming support and positive energy comes from the general populous, those who are just trying to stay fit and healthy. And there are lots of people who think, ‘Oh, you’re not a competitor. Why would I give you my time?’ I’ve made great friendships with everybody here. It’s not an us-versus-them mentality. It’s about the group.”

In a city filled with CrossFit boxes, Jääkarhu has achieved international renown. What is the gym doing right?

“There is care put into the coaching, programming, atmosphere and community,” Hones explains. “You have to be diligent about what kind of community you want to have. We haven’t been perfect all the time, but we continuously try to hone in on it, promoting positivity, discouraging negativity and making sure people are looking out for each other. And that starts with the coach, obviously, but when you’re looking out for your athletes, your athletes are looking out for your athletes and they started looking out for the people who are dropping in.”

The proof is in the pudding. Hones, led by head coaches and Jääkarhu Co-owners Mike Winchester and Jessica Estrada, had already been to three regionals and one CrossFit Games with team Jääkarhu when 2018 rolled around. He also previously qualified for regionals as an individual in 2016 (when his open performance ranked seventh in Texas and 113th in the world) and again in 2017. After qualifying once more in 2018, Hones decided to head to regionals as an individual competitor for the first time in his career.

ATX ManTell us about your schedule from morning to night, especially during competition training.

Orion Hones:  A regular day would be wake up, come here and coach. Usually, I coach the 5:30 and the 6:30 a.m. and train from 7:30-ish to about 8:30, 8:45. … It might be like some strength or gymnastics or something like that. PT from 9 to 11, then back here and possibly train again before noon. And if I don’t do that then, I’ll come back and coach and then I usually have a bigger piece in the evening. I’ve had two-a-days pretty much since I can remember. I come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday then [take]Thursday off, Friday and Saturday, then [take]Sunday off.  And now my training volume is probably the same, but lower intensity.

ATX ManHow was the competition experience different as an individual?

OH: Not that I didn’t have fun doing team stuff, but I had a lot of fun, and not that there was less pressure, but not having the pressure of being on a team and feeling like you have other people to be accountable to maybe relieved a bit of stress. I don’t really get stressed out with competitions anyway. From just a pure physical aspect, it was way more volume than team, obviously, which I was prepared for going in. I would have done some things differently a week or two leading up, in terms of peaking. It was lots of fun, though. The competition was legit.

ATX ManHow have you seen the competition change in the last few years?

OH: Well, especially in the South region, everybody is super-close. If you look at the [CrossFit] Open, 10 seconds can separate 100 spots.

ATX ManYou said you would have done some things differently leading up?

OH: Me and my training partner, Andy St. Germain, went to train at elevation a week or so prior. We knew we’d have to adapt to the elevation but thought that after three or four days of recovery, we’d be ready to go. So, we hit those workouts hard, got some pretty good times and thought we were going to go into it great. Where we kind of f—ed up in retrospect is when you’re at elevation, your muscles will probably recover as quickly as they do at sea level. But your cardiovascular system, if you blow that out three or four times really hard, will take a couple of weeks to fully recover. So, we both woke up coughing and were like, “Oh, it will be fine.” Then we started [regionals]and we couldn’t breathe. … “Oh no, we did something wrong.”

ATX ManWhich events went as well as expected?

OH: They all didn’t go as well as practiced except the second to last event, the Chipper [which included 50 handstand pushups, 50 toes-to-bars, 50-calorie assault bike, 50 dumbbell box stepovers, 50-foot right-arm dumbbell lunges, 50-foot left-arm dumbbell lunges with a 70-pound dumbbell and a 17-minute time cap]. I will say…that as far as like, just the workouts in general, I thought this year was super well-rounded, probably one of the most legit they’ve had in a while.

ATX ManWhat did you do to celebrate afterward?

OH: We went out to…Benihana’s…and…hung out with my girlfriend and her dad for a while, then we all went back to the Airbnb and bought a bunch of ice cream and goodies and beer and continued to party.

ATX ManFourteen athletes were banned for testing positive for taking performance-enhancing drugs this year and one was a regional winner. What are your thoughts on the scope of drugs in CrossFit?

OH: Oh man, yeah, lots of surprising data [is]coming out, huh? … Apparently, the tests are super-expensive. … In a perfect world, everybody would be tested. I will say I think it’s more rampant at the regional level than anything else. And again, there are some people who do try to, like, push their gyms as “We’re competitors, blah blah blah.” From a business standpoint, they’re thinking, “I have to make it to regionals because that’s money for me, or, “If I’m an Instagram coach, I can get sponsors,” and s— like that. And again, as you know, you could go to regionals and be drugged and finish bottom of the pack and never get tested. And even then, you made it to regionals, which, again, is good for marketing. I definitely think it’s more at the regionals level than the Games level. I know people sometimes are like, “Man, I think CrossFit [is]covering s— up”. … I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that, but I don’t necessarily think that they wouldn’t because they’re also a business. You know what I mean? And I think the big thing too is if you’re smart doing drugs, you’re not going to get caught. So, it doesn’t really matter anyway. I would say that all the guys out of the South region who qualified are super hard workers and I didn’t have any questions. From my standpoint, I’m looking at my times and scores throughout the whole year. Even just looking at it on paper, I’m like, “Well, I either beat them on some workouts or I’m not that far behind.” And I’m not on drugs, so it’s not like anybody’s doing anything that’s totally insane.

ATX ManWhat’s your advice for anybody wanting to get into CrossFit?

OH: If you just want to get into CrossFit, get into CrossFit. Don’t second-guess yourself. Find a good gym. That’s the biggest thing. And don’t write off CrossFit just because you went to a bad gym. I think that happens a lot of the time. And honestly, it doesn’t have to be a CrossFit gym. … Any sort of, like, cross-training functional fitness and group training is probably going to be beneficial.

ATX ManWhat’s your advice to those who want to compete in CrossFit?

OH: Sort of the same thing. Find a good coach. Don’t worry necessarily about the program; worry more about the coach. A good coach and good atmosphere will make up for a s— program. But a great program with a s— coach and a s— atmosphere, I don’t think you’re going to do as well.

ATX ManWhat’s your so-called death-row meal?

OH: Big rib-eye steak and Oreo ice cream.

ATX ManWhat’s your deserted-island album?

OH: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens.

ATX ManWhat’s your dream workout?

OH: Rep scheme, I don’t care. I kind of like longer workouts. Heavy dumbbell squat snatch would be good, any sort of farmers carry. Throw in some burpee box jumps, just because.

ATX ManWhat’s your nightmare workout?

OH: The first workout from regionals: triple threes. [3,000-meter row, 300 double-unders, 3-mile run]

ATX ManWhat’s a movie you’ve seen too many times?

OH: I don’t know if there is necessarily a movie, but I can say a TV show: The Office. I’ve literally watched that show all the way through probably seven times.

ATX ManWhat’s your favorite workout song?

OH: The Devil is a Lie by Rick Ross

ATX ManWho’s your biggest Influence?

OH: I think I have different influences, depending on where I am in my life. Right now, it would probably be both of my grandfathers, just because I’ve been thinking about joining the military and they were both military.

ATX ManWhat’s one thing you do religiously every day?

OH: Brush my teeth! I’d say one thing I do every day is take my dogs for a walk.

ATX ManIf you could pick one person to have a conversation with, who would it be?

OH: Heath Ledger

ATX ManWhat’s your favorite quote?

OH: Well, it happens to be Heath Ledger: “When I die, my money is not gonna come with me. My movies will live on for people to judge what I was as a person. I just want to stay curious.”

ATX ManSo, what’s your favorite Heath Ledger movie?

OH:A  Knight’s Tale

ATX ManWhat’s next for you?

OH: One of the things I’ve found over the last couple years of competing (I mean, I love competing. Don’t get me wrong.) is to be good at CrossFit, you have to…train hard. That’s obvious. But also you get to a point, and I think I’m kind of at that point now, where the amount of training compared to the amount you’ll gain from training is very small. The rule of diminishing returns really applies. You’re going for half-percents better at stuff, and those half-percents definitely make the difference for sure. But one of the things that made me fall in love with training was the fact that I was learning so much. And now I feel like I’m at a point where I’m not necessarily learning, just mixing things up a bit and doing more of the same. I’m very interested in learning, so that’s kind of what is pushing me towards the military, get more skill sets. But, with that said, if I want to compete, I’ll be able to compete. I’m not worried that joining the military will f— up my fitness.

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