Subry on Mentality

By Sam Redetsky on 01.25.12

I sat down with NorCal badass Gabe Subry on the last day of 2011. He had just finished a workout, which included 40 handstand pushups. Hee was sweaty and wild-eyed with a big red mark on the top of his head from smacking down on the mats during the handstand pushups. Subry doesn’t go for soft frivolous things like ab mats.

In 2008, Subry, with virtually no CrossFit experience, attended a Level 1 Seminar. He remembers looking at two of the trainers, Chris Spealler and Pat Barber, and thinking, ”These are the top dogs? They don’t look like anything special.” Then he saw their videos and his attitude changed.

In the subsequent years, Subry has become a familiar name to the Northern California CrossFit world. Gabe is the co-owner of CrossFit 209 Sport in Stockton, and a two-time Games competitor with a 27th place finish in Carson, Calif., last July. There at the Home Depot Center, he went head-to-head with both Spealler and Barber, something he never could have imagined back in 2008.

Carson and the 2011 CrossFit Games were a proving ground for Subry. By his own admission, he does not have any great physical attributes that particularly stand out. He is not he strongest. He is not the most skilled. He does not have a certain background that makes him a real threat in a specific area, such as collegiate runner or gymnastics. But there he was, at the CrossFit Games, fighting for position with the big dogs, 13th after the beach event.

Enter the cyborg mentality. Subry’s greatest asset is his mental strength – what he calls the cyborg mentality. He does not stop. He is a very instinctual competitor. Where most CrossFitters might have a strategy to tackle a workout, Subry charges it, confident that he will never stop. He trains the cyborg mentality by intentionally going hard out of the gate and not pacing, just to push through the pain and suck.

But the 2011 Games were also a testing ground for Subry. It was not the events; he knew they were going to be killers. It was not the volume; he was ready for it. It was not his competitors; it is no secret these guys are beasts. It was his own cyborg mentality that was most tested. He was sitting in 13th place after the first event, but then came the L-Sit. Regularly clocking nearly a minute in training, he got called after only eight seconds, giving him last place. His judge said one heel touched the plates, and even though Subry disagreed, he knew that there was nothing he could do and didn’t argue. 

That L-sit, “just killed me,” he says. It was the hardest test the cyborg mentality had ever come up against. This was not a failing of his body – he comes up against that every workout. It wasn’t a matter of someone else beating him; he trains regularly with 5th place Blair Morrison and up-and-coming Zack Height. It was something else, something outside himself, something he could not control. The L-Sit experience was so demoralizing that it was only recently Subry recovered from it. But acknowledging the impact it had on him has resulted in a great boost in his fighting spirit and made his cyborg mentality even stronger. 

Subry programs for himself because, for him, “programming is so fun.” He says the mental aspects of CrossFit are paramount. “Focus is so important. Any lift, any WOD, depends on your focus.” 

His example is the Rope Climb/Clean and Jerk Event at the 2011 Games. The last clean and jerk was a single at 225 pounds – not a huge weight, but not something to take lightly after 15 rope climbs and 14 clean and jerks. Spencer Hendel, arguably the strongest competitor there, failed the lift twice, while Spealler, certainly the smallest competitor, nailed it with a power clean and push jerk. “That’s focus,” says Subry. “There was nothing in his mind, but making that lift, nothing.”

For now, Subry is focusing on the NorCal Regional in May. That is where it all happens and no one can afford to be nonchalant about it. One thing is for sure, Gabe Subry, the cyborg, will be ready.