If there is one thing the functional fitness CrossFit and Marine Corps communities have in common, it's that they are both filled with tough, competitive people with the determination to accomplish seemingly super-human feats.
That is likely why so many Marines are drawn to the functional fitness community, including two female Marines who have turned their passion for high intensity tactical training CrossFit into a paid gig as professional competitors who can outrun PT most of their peers men and women alike.
Both Staff Sgt. Christen Wagner and 1st First Lt. Taylor Drescher are now members of the National Pro Grid League, which holds action packed, CrossFit-like team competitions that are designed to be spectator friendly. The league, which just aired its first season on NBC, is made up of eight teams in major cities from Los Angeles to Boston. Their rosters include some of the country’s top male and female athletes, who square off in two-hour-long relay competitions that require strength, agility and endurance.
"I believe what they have accomplished would be akin to a Marine being a player in major league baseball, in terms of difficulty of task," said Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett, the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's top enlisted leader sergeant major, who knows Drescher through his CrossFit-style workouts in the Camp Pendleton, California, area. "The fact they have been able to balance being a professional athlete while still being active-duty Marines is remarkable."
That is likely true. She Drescher scores perfect an impressive 300s on her physical and combat fitness tests Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Tests and can lift more weight than most men her size at 5 five feet, 10 ten inches and 175 pounds. Wagner similarly has a 295 PFT and a 300 CFT.
Marine Staff Sgt. Christen Wagner is team captain of the National Pro Grid League's Baltimore Anthem. Wagner can bench press 175 pounds and gets near-perfect scores on the Marine combat and physical fitness tests.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NPGL
When it comes to weightlifgting, the numbers speak for themselves. Drescher can bench press 210 pounds and lbs, deadlift 440 lbs, snatch 180 lbs, and clean and jerk 245 lbs. For Wagner can bench 175 and deadlift 330. Wagenr those numbers are 175, 330, 190 and 225, respectively.
For the two, cCompeting with the National Pro Grid League takes more than strength and fitness. Wagner and Drescher They must balance being on active duty with their work as full-time Marines and paid professional athletes. It isn’t always easy, but both Drescher and Wagner say it's the tradeoffs are more than worth it.
Drescher, an 0402 logistics officer who supports Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and is a member of the Los Angeles Reign, believes being part of the NPGL's Los Angeles Reign team helps earn respect on the job.
First Lt. Taylor Drescher and her Marines get ready to start a ruck run emphasizing teamwork. Drescher said her fitness skills help her earn respect from her Marines.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Taylor Drescher
"As Marines, it is understood that respect is earned, not given," she said. "I love [physical training]PTing with my Marines and I am typically the only, or one of the only females, and can outperform or perform to their level. It shows I am willing to work just as hard as they work to be an effective leader and team member. It creates trust that they can rely on me."
It allows her to lead by example, too, she said. Some of her Marines have attended her NPGL competitions.
"Them coming out to watch was hopefully an inspiration," she said. "I hope I can lead through my actions, not just my words."
Wagner, who is currently in the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program and studying nursing full time at George Washington University with the intention of transitioning to the Navy, said being a pro athlete compleiments her military career.
Staff Sgt. Christen Wagner, who is currently in the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program and studying nursing full time at George Washington University, started doing CrossFit while based in Okinawa, Japan. She now competes professionally.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NPGL
As the NPGL's Baltimore Anthem's team captain, she said she is able to exercise senior leadership skills that she hasn't always been able to leverage as an enlisted Marine.
"It is a great experience to put years of knowledge from the Marine Corps to good use and learn new ways to become a good leader," she said.
That she hopes will make her a better Marine and eventually sailor.
The Marines got into Each came to CrossFit in slightly different ways.
For Wagner, it started when she was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Her now-husband and his friends were into functional fitness CrossFit, and she said she finally went to the gym just to "shut them up," but she quickly fell in love with the sport.
She first competed in 2012 and made it to the regional CrossFit games in Korea, where she qualified for the main championship held each year in California.
"Most competition until now has just been me keeping my head above water and trying not to waste too much money," she said.
Being pro this year has changed all that.
"Now iIt is incredible because I get paid to do what I like," she said.
Drescher started CrossFit-style workouts about the same time she joined the her Marine Corps career kicked off. She eventually become a coach at a local gym while studying exercise science during college at the University of Louisville where she studied Exercise Science. In 2011, between her junior and senior year, she attended Officer Candidates School to become a third-generation Marine. She immediately began outperforming her peers in physical tasks, she said, highlighting how functional fitness CrossFit can make Marines better.
By 2012 she was participating in regional CrossFit competitions. She became a member of the NPGL in and by 2014, she was a member of NPGL.
Getting to the professional league NPGL wasn’t easy for either of them. First there was a pro day where anybody could tryout. Only the strongest were invited to compete again back after initial tryouts, and then they were to a combine and put through the ringer again. Then they faced a draft similar to that which the re was a draft based on those results that is similar to a National Football League uses. draft, they said.
Wagner became the top draft pick for the inaugural season in a league populated by other professional athletes.
Drescher said it was an impressive accomplishment.
"A lot of them are currently elite level CrossFit athletes with previous sports background – volleyball, track, cheerleading, gymnastics, football, baseball," she said.
PT tops How to train like a pro.
At competitions, two 14-person teams square off against each other lifting weights and performing body-weigh exercises in a two-hour relay. That takes grit, so meaning Marines interested in following in Drescher's or and Wagner’s footsteps will need a solid workout and nutritional regiment — and but also the psychological fitness and fortitude to match.
"I focus 100 percent on any given task," Drescher said. "When I’m at work being a Marine on duty, I focus on being a Marine. When I’m being an athlete, I don’t focus on the million things at work." Drescher said.
First Lt. Taylor Drescher pulled 405 pounds in the deadlift ladder against Phoenix Rise in Anaheim, California.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Drescher
She does credits her sergeants and staff noncommissioned officers for allowing her to do that because they have a solid working relationship and she has confidence in their ability to run things, even when she is using her personal leave to attend competitions. But, focus is paramount.
Staying motivated about Keeping one’s motivation to workouts is also crucial, and not always easy, Wagner said. critical, too, even when it isn’t easy.
"For me, now, the hardest part is trying to find the motivation to balance studying and then turn around and try to tell yourself you want to pick up heavy weights during really early hours in the morning or really late," she said. "So I just constantly remind myself why I got into it in the first place and find people around me to motivate me."
Staff Sgt. Christen Wagner said finding the motivation to work out while balancing school or work can be difficult. But finding good workout buddies helps motivate the Marine.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NPGL
Good workout partners can help hold you accountable, she said. Drescher added that logging her workouts helps keep her motivated. But it is all for naught if you don’t stay motivated so track you workouts with a log.
"See the progress you make over the weeks. Slow progress is still progress," she said. "Compare to last week or month instead of the Marines around you."
Getting the right nutrients is also key as it'll help Marines feel energized enough to keep up with stringent workouts.
Finally, diet and exercise are most critical. Wagner said the key is to eat right and touted high-intensity CrossFit workouts as the best way to stay in shape.
"CrossFit is my predominant training regime. It is all about getting that intensity in. Doing something efficiently, but as fast as you can," she said.
That is because Crossfit balances strength with speed, agility and endurance much like the Marine Corps spin off called High Intensity Tactical Training. The idea is to switch it up and avoid doing the one thing you like so you become a well-rounded athlete.
Wagner also credits CrossFit and 'Grid' with having a culture of "nutrients and filling the body right."
Drescher, agreed that the role of food cannot be over stated.
"I tell them Eat to perform, don’t diet," Drescher said. "I just recommend you not eat processed foods, drink water and eat vegetables. Get nutrients from food, not supplements."
For now, both are enjoying the off season, but they will compete again when the next NPGL season kicks off in June and have high expectations.