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Knit One, Curl Two: How the Women of CrossFit are Made

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In the world of sports, the so-called “fairer sex” has come a long way since Amelia Jenks Bloomer introduced the first generation of comfy workout pants in 1851. From Annie Oakley’s outperforming her champion-marksman husband in an 1875 shooting match, to 16-year-old Marilyn Bell’s feat of being the first human to swim across Lake Ontario in 1956, to Danica Patrick’s 2008 first-ever female win at an IndyCar race, the long list of women’s athletic achievements is enough to make anybody from the double X gene pool proud. But chances are good that even today, when you think of the word “athlete,” your initial vision isn’t of someone with a baby in tow or a penchant for knitting. Female athletes are still more likely than men to juggle responsibilities of home and family along with their athletic pursuits, and the word “fairer” is only beginning to be an apt expression of the way women athletes are paid in comparison to men. (Just five years ago, in 2007—the same year that CrossFit held its inaugural Games—the Wimbledon tennis tournament finally resolved to pay equal purses to winners of both sexes.)

Suffice it to say that women who can dedicate themselves to any sport and excel in it are a special breed, even today. In this issue, we salute three of the finest femmes in CrossFit: Heather Bergeron, Michele Letendre, and Rebecca Voigt. We take a personal look at each woman—to see how they got into the sport, and how they balance work, working out, and life in general—both in and out of the box. Whether you’re a veteran CrossFitter looking for fresh inspiration, a CrossFit fledgling wondering if you have the right stuff to rise through the ranks, or a complete novice to the sport, still slogging out your workouts on the “dreadmill,” these CrossFitters will reaffirm your faith in the fact that normal people with normal lives can make amazing strides in fitness.

Heather Bergeron, was eighth-place finisher in the 2010 CrossFit Games, is co-owner (with husband Ben) of CrossFit New England, and was about to deliver her third child at the time of this writing. Earlier this year, she posed for a story on CrossFit during pregnancy.

Michele Letendre is a top Canadian CrossFit athlete and co-founder (with partner Louise Hodge) of the CrossFit Ladies of Canada, a group that supports women in training and competition, with an emphasis on fun. She placed second in Canada and 25th overall in the 2011 Games. She trains and coaches at Abattoir CrossFit Plateau in Montreal.

Rebecca Voigt is a respected CrossFit athlete and trainer with Valley CrossFit in Van Nuys, California. She’s served as an ambassador for the Reebok-CrossFit partnership. In 2010, she finished seventh at the CrossFit Games, and in 2011, she took the bronze medal.

SRX: What’s your story? Did you play other sports before CrossFit? How did you end up as a CrossFit competitor?

HB: In high school and college I was a competitive cheerleader, but also [participated in] volleyball, soccer, softball, and dance. I got a college degree in Philosophy and English, then went to grad school for accounting and business. I got married right out of college, had kids early (first at 23, second at 27), divorced at 31 and remarried at 33 to Ben Bergeron. Through college and post-college I did a lot more distance running/marathons, taught group exercise classes, played in a dodge ball league, and started triathlons and Ironman right before I found CrossFit. Now I work out for a living and will be paying off all of that college debt till I die…or win the CrossFit Games.

ML: Before CrossFit, I swam competitively, and I played water polo for 6 years, competing in national- and international-level tournaments. I played for the Quebec Team as well as the Canada Youth team. I dabbled a bit with synchronized swimming (yes, synchronized swimming) as well as diving. That didn’t last very long—turns out I’m afraid of heights, and guess how I found out? I love sport in general and I started training in a regular gym about a year and a half before finding CrossFit. I have a bachelor’s in Fine Arts, majoring in Design (Industrial Design). I found CrossFit in my last year of university and quickly realized that I wanted to compete again as well as start teaching this method that changed my life. I got certified as a Level 1 trainer in August 2010 and I’ve been coaching ever since.

RV: I have played sports my entire life. I learned how to walk on a soccer field as a toddler, and when I was four I played in my first soccer game. I was fascinated with gymnastics when I was nine years old but realized that it wasn’t a good sport to do when you’re really tall. [Ed note: She’s a stately 5’9”.] I fell in love with basketball when I was twelve and played the sport through college. Before CrossFit, I was working at a bank and working out in a globo-gym.

SRX: What’s a day in your life normally like? How do family, work, and training fit together in a day’s schedule?

HB: My kids go to schools in different towns, so I get up and get them up at 6 every day [and we’re off to] Starbuck’s imMEDiately (Americano for me, breakfast for them!). Then I drive the kids for 1½ hours to their schools, I train at the gym for a couple of hours, prep/cook dinner for later, drive another hour to pick up the kids, coach a kids’ class at CFNE, [have] dinner at 6:15 sharp every night, [play] street hockey or basketball with the kids before showers-reading-snuggle time—lights out at 9; day done.

ML: I usually wake up around 6-7 a.m., have breakfast, and go for my first training session. If I don’t coach the noon class at Abattoir CrossFit Plateau, I’ll have lunch and catch up on some work/sleep/reading/errands, then have a second training session followed by more coaching in the evenings. I’m lucky enough to coach as a living, which allows me to have a very flexible schedule around my training schedule. I keep in touch with family the same way everyone does and I get to spend as much time as I can with them. They are my greatest support group and I love them very much.

RV: In my day-to-day, I start off by helping my boyfriend and his son get ready for work and school. I then get myself ready and head out to personal train my clients. In between my clients I train myself (sometimes twice a day). Then I go home and cook dinner and relax. And then do it all over again.

SRX: How often do you usually eat, and what do you eat?

HB: I kind of graze about every two hours every day. I cook a ton, so it changes all the time. Our house is pretty strict Paleo, so mostly veggies, grass-fed meat, chicken/seafood/eggs, berries. Right now I have some favorite blogs I steal recipes from: paleOMG, Paleo Plan, Health-Bent, Everyday Paleo, The Clothes Make the Girl, Fast Paleo. We’re more a high-maintenance home-cooked meal/leftovers family than a simple, consistent-staples family (although there have admittedly definitely been stages of this pregnancy where we lived off of chicken sausage, avocados, scrambled/hard-boiled eggs, salads, etc.).

ML: I’ll eat about 3-4 meals a day—nothing crazy. I eat very strict Paleo however and have even been known to do the “Paleo Debile” (French for Crazy Paleo). I don’t eat fruit or nuts and seeds. I feel by taking out the sugar in my diet I have less chances of cheating and fewer cravings. At first it was difficult, but like any addiction, once it’s out of the system, it’s smooth sailing.

RV: I eat about 5 to 6 times a day. I eat very clean—typically I eat meat, avocados, coconut shreds, and kale. Obviously there is more to what I eat, but that will give you the gist.

SRX: What’s your life like “outside the box” (i.e., when you’re not doing CrossFit, what fills your time)?

HB: Unfortunately, I am in my car a ton. But, when I’m not driving, I’m cooking, working on house projects, hanging out with my kids (my daughter is more athletic/sporty than either of us, and my son is obsessed with snuggling-reading-drawing).

ML: I love to read about nutrition, art, and design. I love to cook; it really makes my “diet” easy because I have to be so creative with what I prepare. I love shopping and spending time with my sisters and family.

RV: Life outside of the box? Ha ha ha—just kidding! Right now it’s tough because we are right in the middle of season. But when I am not at the gym I try to be at home, hanging out with my boyfriend, his son, my family, and my friends.

SRX: Do you have any advice for women who might be considering CrossFit, but have never set foot in a box?

HB: Don’t wait for that huge milestone to start—after the next holiday, New Year’s Day, a birthday. Tomorrow is the best time to start. Commit to it like you commit to brushing your teeth every morning: it’s just gotta’ be part of your routine. But be patient with your progress. Real life changes like this don’t happen overnight.

ML: To me, CrossFit is like gym class in elementary school. Sometimes you don’t want to be there, but when you manage to loosen up and decide to play, you literally lose yourself in time for an hour. It’s so effective, it’s so stress relieving, and you just might make some great friends. I often hear of women not having many girlfriends as we age, but CrossFit is a pool of great people looking to have fun while they work out. You really can’t ask for more in a training regimen.

RV: My advice to anyone out there who might be considering CrossFit is to just do it— what do you have to lose? You might be afraid, but you might just have fun! Have an open mind and take the leap!

SRX: Tell me something that your CF buddies or those who are following your CF career might be surprised to learn about you? For example, are you a world-class knitter, a former Beastie Boys groupie, an Angry Birds addict?

HB: I LOVE sewing. I made the final cut auditioning for Stomp. I LOVE country music, and the Beastie Boys, actually (Toby Keith and Beastie Boys are my favorite Pandora lists). My first job was coming up with the choreography for my high school gymnastics team’s floor routines. I also did work as a caricature artist in college.

ML: I knit. Not often, but I do knit. I love the mindless aspect of knitting…just making knots. Kind of the same effect I get with CrossFit, just doing another rep…slightly less intense though. But I can be a pretty intense knitter! I also have a twin sister. She just started CrossFit two months ago and has already managed to string 5 kipping pull ups! I also have a coffee addiction. My mission is to find the best coffee in Montreal, so far Café Olimpico in Montreal’s Mile End has my vote!

RV: I like to cook, Excel spreadsheets are cool, and spinach makes my teeth uncomfortably squeaky!

The women of CrossFit, unlike Annie and Danica, aren’t looking to compete head to head with men. Like all athletes, they find their fiercest competitor within. But they still bear the children, and—to a greater extent than men—cook the meals, oversee the household, and run the gauntlet of other family and livelihood challenges that could easily sap the energy of the fainthearted. The strongest among them continue to prove that they know how to keep body and soul together, inside and outside the box.

Sources:

Stats on history of women in sports: http://www.factmonster.com/spot/womeninsportstimeline2.html

Heather Bergeron photos and CrossFit during pregnancy story: https://www.againfaster.com/en/blog/2012/02/17/pregnant/

Michele_1

NicoleBedardPhotography-CFNE-17

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