The bar was being bloodied by Joe Corvo’s battered hands on his last rep of a four-workout recorded audition to qualify for the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin.
A year earlier, Corvo—an Oak Park native and 11-year NHL veteran—had tried for the first time to qualify for The Games. He finished 22nd in his age group, two slots away from earning a spot. After months of intense training at O’Hare CrossFit in Franklin Park, he was on the outside looking in.
This made the last rep and the grisly state of his hands even more of a nuisance. It was his second go at his last workout, one he thought he had to improve on to not be short of his goal for a second straight year.
It wasn’t until days later that he received the e-mail assuring him that not only had he qualified for The Games, but he had done so with ease. Corvo sliced his placing from last year in half, finishing 11th in the world in the 40-44 age group.
“I thought I blew it by not improving on my last workout’s time,” Corvo said. “Once I found out I made it, it was such a relief. You’re able to look back at all the work you’ve put in and say that it was worth it.”
Angelo Sisco, Corvo’s coach and the owner of O’Hare CrossFit, is stuck with the task of writing workouts everyday that will prepare Corvo to compete at the pinnacle of CrossFit competition.
“This is by far been the most complex programming that I’ve ever had to do for somebody,” Sisco said. “I have to train him hard enough to be ready for The Games, but also not so hard that I hurt him.”
When Corvo first met Sisco and told him his goal was to reach the regionals, a step before the CrossFit Games, Sisco laughed a little.
“I think a lot of people are very naïve to what it takes to be good at CrossFit and the dedication it takes,” Sisco said. “I was very blunt and told him exactly where he was at, and how far he would have to go.
“I think at right around 90 days I realized that if he could stay healthy and put in the work it was only a matter of time before he could reach his goal,” Sisco said.
Corvo attended Fenwick High School for two years before transferring to Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota for hockey purposes. He played 11 years in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. During a college and pro hockey career that spanned over about 20 seasons and 708 regular season games, the 6-foot-1 defenseman had 92 goals and 218 assists for 310 points.
After hockey, Corvo and his wife Angela moved their family back to River Forest—where Angela is originally from—in an effort to raise their kids somewhere where there was a sense of community. They previously lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, where taking their kids to play with other children always required about a 15-minute drive.
Corvo’s aspirations had obviously advanced from the first time he met Cisco, his attention now focused on The Games. After he qualified, his wife quipped that he could now quit.
“I told her ‘yeah, I don’t think so,'” Corvo said. “I’m going to keep doing CrossFit, and if I’m doing it, I’m going to go at it with a purpose.
“CrossFit saved my life. I have alcoholism on one side of my family, and it’s not healthy to have time on your hands and not be doing anything,” Corvo said. “I really don’t know else what I’d be doing.”
Sisco understands the value of CrossFit as well as anyone. He also is well aware that the competitiveness that drives high-level athletes does not disappear once their playing days are over.
“Many people have addictions, a lot of us are addicted to something,” Sisco said. “Instead of telling people not to have addictive personalities, I think it’s about finding an outlet where being addicted is beneficial and not a negative. When people compete at a high level as an athlete, people literally get addicted to competition. I think from that perspective this was the perfect outlet for Joe to compete at a high level.”
When Corvo started dabbling in CrossFit while in the NHL, he saw the benefits of the intense interval training as it related to hockey. The workout style was similar to the short and exhausting shifts hockey players partake in during games.
Corvo’s NHL experience will be advantageous to him when he competes in The Games in August. Some of the competitors may be competing in front of thousands of spectators for the first time. Corvo, on the other hand, has competed on hockey’s greatest stage, the Stanley Cup Finals.
Leading up to the games, Corvo’s workouts have been comprehensive and arduous. Even for someone who is, as Sisco said, addicted to competing, the training can provoke dread.
“Some of these workouts take you into a dark place,” Corvo said. “I’ll see the workouts and I just know it’s going to hurt so bad.”
The workouts include long stints swimming, biking, and running. Other times there will be short bursts of thrusters and burpees. The next day could be focused on lower reps of Olympic lifting. In a CrossFitter’s life, no day can be the same.
Now that he’s reached The Games, Corvo has developed new goals for the event itself.
“I’d like to try to finish in the top five,” Corvo said. “I just want to improve the position that I’m in, so I want to finish better than 11th, which is where I’m at now.”
An NHL veteran has found a new passion; CrossFit has acquired another athlete’s time and dedication. The marriage—although relatively new— looks to be a strong one, and one that will last for the foreseeable future.
The CrossFit Games will take place on August 1-August 5 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.