A three-year journey concludes this week for Emily Rolfe when she reaches the world stage at the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin.
The 30-year-old from Richmond is one of just three Canadians to qualify for the prestigious event that gets underway Thursday — joining Ontario’s Carolyne Prevost and Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault of Quebec — as part of an elite international field.
Rolfe secured her first-ever CrossFit appearance by capturing the Granite Games in Minnesota back in early June — one of 15 “sanctional” events held across the U.S. — with only the winner going to Madison. Rolfe beat out 39 other competitors in the pro women’s field that initially attracted 1,400 attempting to qualify.
What’s most impressive is Rolfe fitting this massive commitment into her everyday life.
She works as a Medical Radiation Technologist at Richmond Hospital and has been training daily at Pure Payne Strength and Conditioning on Westminster Highway under her coach Isaac Payne. Her husband is a Vancouver Police officer with a background in strength training and teams with Payne to put a program together leading up to the competitions.
“We are established in our careers and have no kids yet so it was a time to be selfish and do what I want,” smiled Rolfe. “It’s funny because when I (qualified) for the Games I looked at it as accomplishing my lifetime goal. Then two days later I realized I wanted to do well and not just be there.”
Rolfe’s background makes her a natural for CrossFit.
She grew up in Kamloops as a competitive gymnast and her father happened to be a weightlifting coach. She settled in the Lower Mainland after graduating from BCIT.
“Coming from gymnastics, I was used to training five hours a day. When I stopped I was like what do I do with myself now?” said Rolfe. “I did pole vault for one year and that was an easy transition.
“I came to one free CrossFit class and was like ‘this is cool’ and I was good at it. Two weeks later they are telling me there is a competition and I should do it.”
Rolfe began regularly participating in local events and ultimately earned a spot in the club regionals that featured the top 20 athletes competing for the CrossFit Games. She came up just short in consecutive years before her breakthrough in Minnesota after the qualification process changed.
“It’s a huge sacrifice,” said Payne. “She works shift work and either comes in before or after the 12 hours. Eat, sleep and train. That’s been her priority the last few years and it has paid off in a big way.
“When she first asked me to start coaching her a year or so ago I was a little bit nervous. She was already so good. It’s like somebody handing you a Ferrari and saying ‘make this thing faster.’ You have to find little holes in her game without making her worse in other areas. Trying to make her from a 9.5 to a 10. It’s been an awesome challenge. It’s always a dream as a trainer or coach to have your athlete make the big show.”
To ensure all--round training, athletes don’t know what the events are at the CrossFit Games until typically a day or two before the competition. It usually consists of standard aerobic, weightlifting, and gymnastics movements, as well as some additional surprise elements that are not part of the typical CrossFit regimen, including open water swimming and obstacle courses.
“I have pretty much done everything,” Rolfe added. “Nothing is going to be a surprise.”
So what is life going to be like post-CrossFit Games?
“Eating whatever I want all of August,” Rolfe laughed. “It’s going to be exciting just hanging out with friends, going on hikes and doing fun stuff.”