9:30 a.m.  /  Workout No. 1

One by one, members of the CrossFit Mayhem Freedom teams (there are two, consisting of four people each) walk into the barn. I immediately recognize newcomer Tasia Percevecz, who placed 15th in her first-ever games appearance in 2016. She moved to Cookeville three days prior to claim her spot on the team, and is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch—all the while, working remotely as a sales rep for her day job.

Percevecz isn’t the only one uprooting their life for rural Tennessee: Something interesting’s happening in Cookeville, as it slowly becomes a hub for elites of the sport. Most notably, current Fittest Man on Earth Matthew Frasier relocated to the area from Vermont within the last few months, training with Rich and the Mayhem Freedom team on the regular. Rich’s cousin (one of 25 male cousins, actually) Darren Hunsucker, another Mayhem Freedom teammate, moved to the area back in 2009 from Chicago. Rich tells us about a few more guys, including Josh Bridges, who are looking at property in the area. And then there’s Kristin Miller, filling the final Mayhem Freedom spot for the 2018 team, uprooting her life from Houston.

The group congregates around a large whiteboard at the front of the barn as Rich writes out the warm-up. The Fronings’ two dogs, Gilligan and Gipper, join Bowser—Hunsucker’s bulldog—for a game of tag near a stack of Rogue wooden plyo boxes as the team crushes 36 minutes of cardio-intensive fitness total. This burner’s the first of three workouts Rich will do that day. Typically, the team works out two or three sessions—which could include multiple workouts—per day. Sundays are their off-day, although I get the feeling an “off day” is working out only once.

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“Usually in the morning we do something like this just to get out of breath, and often that includes intervals,” says Rich, who tells me that swimming is on the agenda for the following day. He likes to mix it up. Also: Swimming is much less impact on his knees.

By the fourth round of the workout, the clothes are at a minimum. Abs everywhere. Biceps everywhere. Tattoos everywhere (Rich has a total of three). Sweat, everywhere. Mission accomplished for Rich, who says breaking a sweat daily is essential to his being. After this workout (and each subsequent one throughout the day) he heads to the back of the barn and reaches in the fridge for his post-workout drink of choice: chocolate milk.

“Fitness is a big part of what I do and it’s kind of who I am,” he says. “I have to move. Sweat. Do it everyday if I can. Because then I’m a more pleasant person to be around.”

10:30 a.m.  /  Prehab

After the “warmup,” Rich grabs a resistance band and a few plates and brings them into a corner. For the next 30-or-so minutes, he proceeds to do mobility exercises—including BOSU eccentric lunges, banded single-leg swings, and single-leg deadlifts—as a part of his his meniscus rehab from an August 17 surgery.

Outside of these movements he does on his own, he’s also meeting with a physical therapist at least once weekly at the gym. Each week, she gives him a new set of exercises that he does at least once daily.

“You think surgery’s going to fix the pain, but literally every step that I’ve taken in the past six or seven months, it feels like someone’s stabbing me with an ice pick,” he says. “It’s starting to get to where it’s not like that anymore. It’s been so frustrating. There was a point where I didn’t even want to squat. I just wanted to be able to walk. To run.”

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As Rich tells me that he’s finally getting the full extension on his squat back, his daughter Lakelyn runs over to us wearing a pink princess dress. Equal parts bashful about our crew being around and excited to see her dad, she starts to do some gymnastics-type movements around the barn. Rich lowers a Rogue Infinity Kid’s Pull-Up Bar to her desired height, and she starts to do some somersaults.

“As long as my kids live here, they will do some type of something active,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be Crossfit [although Lakelyn does do CrossFit Kids classes at Mayhem]. I just want them to do some sort of physical activity. It’s about the life lessons.”

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