1. How did you get started at the Academy of Lions?
In the three years prior to starting CrossFit, I was very involved in cycling, riding with a club several days a week plus racing mountain bike, cyclocross and road bike. Near the end of that time period, I realized that, although I enjoyed the social aspect of cycling, I didn’t love riding nearly as much as my fellow cyclists. And even though I had good endurance in general, I wanted to become a stronger, fitter and more well-rounded athlete. I had heard a little bit about CrossFit through my cycling coach but then found out about the Academy from a new client. She told me that she went to the gym every day and how much she looked forward to attending classes. It seemed like just what I was looking for and was ready to join up even before I took the free trial class. That was April 2011.
2. You did adventure racing in the past. What is Adventure Racing and what was it like participating in such a time consuming activity?
Adventure Racing (sometimes known as expedition racing) is a multi-sport, multi-day team race that requires moving from checkpoint to checkpoint using map and compass. AR was popular throughout the 1990s and part of the 2000s in the days before smartphones and GPS. Similar to CrossFit where you sometimes don’t know the workouts in advance, these races include the element of the unknown. Teams do not find out details of the race until the race briefing (usually the night before the race start). They receive race maps, checkpoint UTM coordinates, instructions regarding each leg of the race, then are expected to plot checkpoint (CP) locations on the maps and make decisions on how to navigate from CP to CP.
Disciplines include trekking (bushwacking in Quebec and Ontario, mountaineering in mountainous terrain, canyoneering in canyons, etc.), paddling (canoe, kayak, raft), cycling (dirt trails, logging roads), sometimes a ropes element (rappelling, zip-lining) and sometimes horse-back riding. I raced from 1998 through 2002 competing in numerous 150km races, a couple of 300km races and a 500km race that took nine days to complete. For my longest race (Eco-Challenge Morocco), my team (Team Croatia) and I raced camels, ocean kayaked, mountain trekked, rode Moroccan army Arabian stallions, rappelled down 300 feet of cliff and mountain biked all 500 km finishing the race in 18th place out 70 teams.
I loved so many things about adventure racing. I loved the challenge of navigating, the teamwork required (ie. everyone working together to help the weakest members at any given time), the mental toughness required to just keep pushing on through exhaustion, sleep deprivation and pain, and the extensive planning required. Usually only about 20-25% of teams would finish these races within the cutoff times and top teams were known for their physical fitness, extensive experience in the sport, teamwork and excellent navigation skills. In my first year of racing, there was a sharp learning curve as I had to learn numerous disciplines including mountain biking, horseback riding and ocean kayak paddling. Over the years, I learned how to navigate as well and feel confident with my wilderness skills.
3. What other sort of physical activities were you focusing on prior to Academy?
Before joining the Academy, I had rock climbed for 15 years and danced Flamenco for about 8 years. I had also been a runner (on and off) for years since high school completing numerous 10k runs as well as the Toronto and the NYC marathons. I have also practised Ashtanga yoga and Kung Fu. In high school, I was on the swim team and cheerleading squad.
4. With your full time career as a Massage Therapist, what do you bring to your job from doing all these sports and activities?
Having participated in so many different sports and physical activities, this has given me the advantage of experiencing first-hand the usual aches, pains and overuse injuries that come with training and competing. I am also able to share with my clients tips about proper technique and stretches/self-care methods that I have learned over the years. For example, when I was doing a lot of yoga, I used to suggest a twisting stretch for the back. Now one of my favourite self-care suggestions to office workers with tight upper back, neck and shoulder muscles is the shoulder mobility work we do as part of our class warm-up.
5. You have competed in the Crossfit Open as a Masters athlete. How did you fare and why did you get into competitive crossfit training?
I became interested in competing in CrossFit within the first month of joining the Academy. The 2011 CrossFit Open had just started and I discovered the online workouts and followed the weekly leaderboard. I was inspired and knew immediately that I wanted to become strong enough to participate. I shared my goals with a few coaches, and even though I was a novice, was overweight and out of shape, they encouraged, supported and even pushed me by suggesting extra strength gymnastic drills.
I competed in the 2012 and 2013 Open in the 45-49 year Masters age group finishing respectably in the top 24% (172/725) and top 28% (384th/1390) worldwide. In 2014, I moved up to the 50-54 age group and finished in 142nd place (top 15%) in the Open which qualified me to participate in the Masters Online Qualifier. I completed three of the four workouts (the fourth included muscle-ups which I do not yet have) and finished 115th overall. The top 20 in each age division go on to compete in the CrossFit Games.
6. As you are recovering from a back injury you sustained from intense training, how do you work around such a dangers and ease your way back into your regime?
I would like to clarify that that I do not have an injury sustained from intense training. I have two degenerative conditions that cause the nerve roots in my lower spine to be compressed — spondylolisthesis caused by degenerative discs and spinal stenosis caused by arthritis of the vertebrae. Although I was not injured by Crossfit, it appears that certain movements that hyperextend the spine such as kipping toes-to-bar led to extreme and sustained nerve pain symptoms in my legs.
I started experiencing pain in the summer of 2013 and chalked it up to severe hamstring tightness. I continued my training then competed in the 2014 Open and MOQ despite the extreme pain. In late 2014, with x-rays and an MRI, they discovered the spondylolisthesis and stenosis was causing the nerve pain and it was recommended that I stop lifting and modify my movements. I followed my doctors’ and surgeon's advice for over a year but had no real success in eliminating the pain altogether. It was very frustrating and I became pretty depressed. This past spring however, purely by coincidence, I managed to to reset my body and almost eliminate the constant nerve pain mainly by doing a lot of walking the dogs and resting in bed. I started training again in March of this year, slowly and carefully being super-aware of any movements that would trigger pain. I learned that I can do almost everything (including heavy lifting) except for a few movements such as back extensions, hollow back rocks and sometimes burpees. It is a slow road back to just getting fit again but I feel like I am my normal self again.
7. What kind of nutritional lifestyle changes have you made throughout your years before and during Academy?
As soon as I knew that I was going to start CrossFit, I switched to a pretty strict paleo nutrition plan. Over a period of 8 or 9 months, I lost over 30 lbs and leaned out significantly. I noticed a huge difference in how I felt - energetic, more clear-headed and more alive. I did start eating more carbs (sweet potato and potato) with the increase in training but after I got my diagnosis and stopped with the regular exercise, the good nutrition went out the window too. Now that I’m back to training, I’m also back to eating clean and I feel great again.
8. As leading member of our SoComm (Social Committee), You’ve judged and lead many Academy opens and competitions, including Judging our top athlete Leann Lapp and spearheading our fun running Catch Us If You Can summer comp. What drives you to be very involved in our community?
I love being part of the community and when I could not train or participate in regular classes, I decided to fill the void by getting involved in a different capacity. Also, I just really love organizing.
9. Can you tell us something we don’t know about you?
I can tomatoes, peaches and beets.
10. What was one of your biggest achievements at the Academy and do you have any goals set for the future?
My biggest achievement at the Academy has been to become an athlete that understands how to train. I have learned how to build gymnastic and lifting strength, how to mobilize, how to increase cardiovascular capacity and most importantly learned how to take care of my aging body.
My primary goal is to continue on this path of returning to overall great fitness. Secondly, I would like to regain all my gymnastic strength and also learn some new skills such as muscle-ups and bar muscle-ups. Finally, if my body cooperates without pain or injury, I would love to return to competition. If all goes well, when I am in the 55-59 age group in 2019, I would love to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, whether I ever get to that high level of competition or not, I am determined to never again let this spinal condition keep me from training or from the Academy.