Patrick Vellner is proving you don’t need a full slate of sponsors to be a top athlete.
All it takes is desire and commitment.
The five-foot-11, 185-pound Red Deer native has become more than just a weekend warrior in the crossfit world.
The McGill University student got into the sport in October 2012 at the recommendation of some of his friends in Montreal. What started as a friendly rivalry among peers has pushed him near to the top of the pile in Eastern Canada.
At the Canada East Regionals in Toronto over the May long weekend, he finished fifth overall as one of the few independent athletes at the event.
Though he just missed qualifying for the Canada CrossFit Games, his placing as a virtual unknown has caught the eye of sport.
Since then, he has had people approach him about sponsorships and affiliations, but it’s not something he is necessarily going to jump into with both feet.
For Vellner, 23, there was a certain amount of pride in doing it on his own.
“It was funny to be that dark horse coming in,” he said. “Being in that top heat for the second and third day, and beating a lot of the guys that everyone knows, you can just hear people saying, ‘Who is that guy?’ Nobody really expected me to do that well.”
Crossfit is one of the fastest growing forms of exercise in Canada with gyms, or boxes, popping up all over the country.
The format works the entire body with simple movements, with completely different workouts every day — or WODs (Workout of the Day).
It is also adaptable to most levels of fitness.
Vellner just wrapped up his third year of kinesiology at McGill University and is working in Montreal at the school through the summer. He picked up crossfit after a bunch of his friends took it up and it didn’t take long for him to get hooked.
“It’s a pretty fun way to train, everything is always just a little bit different and there’s lots of skills to learn and to master to perform well at it,” he said.
Vellner comes from a strong athletic background, focused mainly on gymnastics, but he also played rugby, lacrosse and hockey while growing up in Red Deer and attending Notre Dame High School. He believes all of these sports helped him in picking up crossfit.
To qualify for regionals, athletes take part in a series of open events and workouts that are graded and scored. This year in the Eastern Canada region alone, there were more than 3,300 athletes who participated, but only the top 48 move on.
In 2013, he threatened to qualify but was just on the wrong side of the cutoff. This year, he ranked 38th, qualifying with one of his friends.
Still, he did not enter with the expectation to set the world on fire.
He was competing against well-known athletes who have been in crossfit for a years and who are well sponsored. Many have their own gyms.
He was Tin Cup at the U.S. Open.
“It was funny coming in, everyone was there and they have their whole gym community there to support them and cheering for them and we were both there with no cheering section,” said Vellner, adding his family did fly out to give him some support.
The East Regional is a three-day, seven-event competition in which the body is tested like never before.
The first day let him know what he was in for. In the first event, the hang snatch, he finished in a tie for 29th with a lift of 215.0 pounds. But the second event is where he started to make his mark, finishing first in the handstand walk at 305 feet. He finished the day by tying for 13th in muscle ups, single leg squats and hang power cleans with a time of 9:56.
On Day 2, he continued to climb up the leaderboard, placing 11th in an event that combined reps of handstand pushups, front squats at 195 pounds and burpees (13:36) and seventh in the fifth event which was a 200-foot sprint and a rope climb with no legs, 10 times (4:14), to sit in fifth place to enter the final day.
On Sunday, he jumped into contention for the podium and a spot at the Crossfit Games by winning the marathon-like sixth event, combining a rowing machine, box jumps, deadlifts at 185 pounds, wall balls and dips on the rings in a time of 21:21. But he was unable to improve on that spot in the seventh event, finishing 25th — 64 pullups and eight overhead squats at 205 pounds.
“It was cool, after the second event I won, I was sitting only 10 points out of second place … but I knew going in that last event was not going to be where I was going to gain ground,” he said. “I had already played all of my cards and I just had to try to survive for the rest of the weekend.”
Vellner says he has a lot of room for improvement, especially in his overall strength‚ as evidenced by his 25th place finish in the seventh event and 29th place in the first event.
His performance did spark the dream, however, that one day he could advance on to the Crossfit Games. “It would be amazing,” said Vellner, noting that his career and schooling will come first.
He has received offers from all over Ontario and Montreal to train with other crossfit athletes and at their gyms, to help him reach his full potential.
But one offer stood out, and that’s from four-time East Regional champ Albert-Dominic Larouche, who just opened a gym in Montreal.
“It’s been overwhelming. I didn’t expect anything of that scale to go down, it’s been a bit of a ride since then, but I’m enjoying it,” he said.
“I’m not going to jump into any affiliations or anything like that. Clearly the programming that I’ve been doing and what I do for myself seems to work well enough. Of course, I think I would benefit from some coaching, but I want to find something that is going to work well for me.”