Kicking the Door Down: Deb Cordner Carson

By Jennifer Cochran on 01.28.12

Being lauded as a talented athlete is nothing new for 31-year-old Deborah Cordner Carson. Since the age of eight, Carson was pulled aside by her coaches and told, “You’re different.” 

Carson competed in gymnastics as a child, and collegiate track as a young adult. As a scholarship sprinter at the University of Northern Iowa, Carson boasted a 53.5 second 400m run—averaging a speed of about 16 miles per hour. 

Despite her early accomplishments, however, Carson admits, “I was knocking on the door, but I never opened it. I quit gymnastics, then lymphedema forced me to quit track.” 

When she found CrossFit St. Paul, she didn’t intend on competing—initially. Instead, she was focused on reclaiming her fitness. After being diagnosed with lymphedema, she thought she was “never going to be any kind of athlete again.”

Fast-forward to the 2011 CrossFit Games. Two years into her CrossFit training and a commanding 3rd place finish at the 2011 North Central Regional under her belt, Carson was primed to tear it up at the world level.

Then came the swim. 

“Growing up, I just never learned to swim,” Carson says. Fearing for her life in the churning ocean, Carson was forced to withdraw from the competition. 

“For the first hour or so, I was like ‘oh, woe is me’ and I just wanted to go home,” Carson recalls. Fellow athlete Carey Kepler and her coach Tyler Quinn helped her put the swim into perspective and encouraged her to continue to compete until the first cut. 

After talking with Kepler and Quinn, she realized “this is a blip in my life.” She resolved to “kick the door down” and live fully within the moment. Knowing that she would not be scored for the remaining workouts, she approached them as a unique opportunity to experience world-level competition free of pressure. 

In her assessment, the Games experience was transformative. “It made me take a step back. When I couldn’t make the swim, it really made me feel human—more human than I’ve ever felt in my life. You have to have a short memory in CrossFit. You just have to keep going and pretend like it didn’t happen.”

During the offseason, Carson made swimming a focus, incorporating swims into her training one to two times per week. “I’m just learning to be comfortable in the water.” 

A self-described endurance athlete, she has made strength a focus as well. She says her affiliate community is a huge encouragement in the midst of training. “I don’t like to segregate myself from the group WODs. I like to work alongside everybody—to see them giving all they’ve got, then leaving it at the door when they go home,” Carson says. “CrossFit is a part of their lives, but it’s not their whole lives.” 

Carson identified her recent marriage as her primary focus. “My life outside of CrossFit is always going to be more important. I try not to let my training engulf my life in a negative way. CrossFit doesn’t define who I am fully, wholly.”

It appeared quite clear that Deborah Cordner Carson is not done kicking down doors. While her athletic abilities are well documented, her ability to treat obstacles as opportunities for growth will set her apart in the 2012 field.  

2011 Open Finish:  20th in the World; 1st in the North Central Region

2011 North Central Regional Finish:  3rd

2011 CrossFit Games:  46th

About the author:  Jennifer Cochran is a Level One Trainer at CrossFit Springfield