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Live it!: New London woman making a name for herself in the local CrossFit ranks

Andrea Swenson is naturally long and lean. But since incorporating CrossFit into her workouts a few years ago, she has sculpted her frame into 5 feet, 9 inches and 160 pounds of taut muscle. (GREG HARP | LIVE IT! MAGAZINE)

Andrea Swenson just finished her shift at The Oaks at Eagle Creek in Willmar.

She’s a waitress there.

It’s been a long day. A large party booked the banquet room, and she was back and forth between the kitchen and bar like a yo-yo.

She’s tired, her feet throbbing.

In a few hours she’ll wake her three children and spend the day homeschooling them.

The allure of a warm beverage and the soft cotton of her bed is no less than appealing.

But in reality, Andrea likely won’t be pulling into the driveway of her rural New London home anytime soon.

She lives by a code of three Fs: faith, family and fitness. And today, only two of those boxes have been checked.

Across town is a gym, and it’s calling her name.

Her exercise program of choice is CrossFit.

It's brutal.

A scroll through YouTube videos with CrossFit in the title reveals a conditioning program so intense it’s as if it was pulled from the pages of some “007” yarn as the torture mode of choice of one of those stone-faced villains with daddy issues and impeccable taste in Italian fashion.

“It’s not for everyone,” Andrea says with a broad smile. “But it works for me.”


Andrea has spent the past five years advocating this grueling regimen, while in the process sculpting a naturally lean 5-feet, 9-inch frame into 160 pounds of taut muscle.

Those results have made the 26-year-old a name in the local CrossFit circuit, a scene that finds itself in the midst of unconstrained popularity.

Beast Mode

“She’s a beast,” Dr. Jon Haefner says of Andrea. It’s an assessment uttered with endearment, “beast” the most complimentary of nouns in this regard.  

Jon is a Willmar-based chiropractor and well-known CrossFit aficionado.

So strong is his endorsement of the program, he incorporated the CrossFit Attila gym — CrossFitters call it a box — into the multifaceted Meridian Disk Institute, a clinic he owns and operates in the strip mall just west of the Cash Wise Foods parking lot.

There, coaches teach four daily CrossFit classes and a free public class each Saturday.

“The results I’ve seen through CrossFit wouldn’t have occurred with my old workouts,” Jon says. “I was one of those guys everyone sees in the gym: I’d put my headphones on and go through a slight variation of a standard routine each time. But after a while you get bored and you plateau. When I took to CrossFit, I quickly began to drop weight and create leaner muscle mass. Now I’m at the stage where my weight is coming back, but it’s all muscle.”

In simplest terms, CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program.

It was devised 15 years ago in Santa Cruz, California, by Greg Glassman, a former gymnastics coach. Since then, more than 10,000 CrossFit “boxes” have popped up nationwide, per a 2014 article in LA Weekly, while the exercises have been incorporated into workouts popular with players in the National Football League and military personnel, among others.

CrossFit is built for a broad base of fitness, and the workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics and strongman exercises, Jon says.

Rather than working muscles in isolation, CrossFit exercises involve the entire body, a method designed to aid weight loss, functional strength and overall fitness faster than traditional workout programs.

“The results don’t lie,” Jon says.


In the zone

Bar Path CrossFit is located in a renovated storage building just north of Willmar.

It’s owned by Jason and Lourdez Schwab, both personal trainers.

It boasts an affecting tribute to area military personnel killed during the Middle Eastern conflicts of the past decade-plus.

Beyond that, however, the space is uncongenial and barren.

No mirrors line its walls.

No benches stretch across its rubberized tiled floor.

The interior paneling is white, with but a hint of luster.

If it’s a traditional gym experience you seek, look elsewhere.

Bar Path is a place simply built for sweat; a place to push yourself and others around you to an optimum fitness goal; a place for CrossFit newbies to fear and ultimately embrace.

It’s where Andrea out-lifts and out-squats men twice her size; where she balances 10 feet above the ground between two gymnastic rings, until her brown eyes bulge, her triceps twist, and her deltoid and pectoral muscles purse and burn; where she reels off chin-ups like a Marine in boot camp; where she channels that inner “beast.”

“It’s where I get into the zone,” Andrea says of her CrossFit “box” of choice.

You really love this, don’t you?

Andrea smiles, her response succinct: “to me strength is beauty.”

And it’s that philosophy she now aspires to impart on others.

So for the past few weeks, between those shifts at The Oaks and the kids’ homeschool curriculum, she squeezes in a few instructionals for Bar Path’s growing horde — some of whom hope to mirror her look, others who merely want to tone up or simply complete the most menial of daily tasks without feeling sluggish or jaded.

“It’s amazing to watch people push themselves beyond what they think they can do,” she says.


How do I know if CrossFit is for me?

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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