Whitehorse athletes finish CanWest CrossFit Games strong

Jamella Hagen

Special to the news

At the 2022 CanWest CrossFit Games, athletes lined up on three sides of the arena. As the announcers called the start, all three teams fired in action.

At one end of the stadium, 12 women were climbing ropes. At another station, teams of men threw 200-pound sandbags over their shoulders. In front of the stands, mixed couples started to do synchronized butterfly pull-ups to banging rock music.

In CrossFit, the winners are those who do the most reps, those who lift the heaviest, and those who are the fastest. Gold medals weren’t the goal for the Avalanche Athletics of Whitehorse, but the Yukon team had the biggest cheering group, and all the athletes came home with personal records. According to participating Yukon members, the community spirit of their local gym is why they do CrossFit.

The whole scene may surprise those unfamiliar with CrossFit, a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that was developed in California in 2000 and has since spread around the world.

CrossFit’s signature movements derive from a variety of other sports, including gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting, as well as cycling, rowing, and running. It’s the way these activities combine into timed workouts that is unique to the sport.

Whitehorse’s Peak Fitness began offering CrossFit classes in 2012, and the sport has continued to expand in the Yukon as elsewhere.

COVID-19 has hit gyms hard. At Avalanche Athletics, now located in downtown Whitehorse, the situation is no different, according to co-owners Cliff and Erin Schultz. Despite the setbacks, the gym took its greatest team ever to the CanWest CrossFit Games in Coquitlam, BC on July 15-17.

When the COVID-19 lockdowns started, “we went from a growing gym to zero,” Cliff said, “and we still had to pay rent.”

“But,” Erin added, “not a single member has canceled their membership.”

As the pandemic progressed, she said, over 95 percent of members continued to pay their monthly dues.

“It was the community we built and participated in that got us through it,” she said.

During the lockdown, the gym initially offered Zoom fitness classes.

“We had people from our community who weren’t even in the Yukon anymore, from Calgary and other cities,” Erin said.

As pandemic restrictions eased, classes resumed, with number caps and distancing. When the opportunity to travel and compete as a team arose this summer, Schultz said athletes who had supported each other during the pandemic were excited by the idea.

At CanWest, the Whitehorse athletes held their own against the competition and competed in three categories.

The middle-men team “Two Old Guys and Phil”, consisting of gym owners Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness and Grant Sullivan, placed eighth in their category.

Urness, a physician, said he does CrossFit to train for functional fitness that allows him to “get into every activity in life” and model a healthy lifestyle for his children and patients.

For Sullivan, “The community is really the most important part of CrossFit.”

The women’s Libra team “The Yu-Kon Do-Its” (Maggie Schultz, Amil Dupuis-Rossi and Gabrielle Herdes) placed 13th. The members of her team are new to CrossFit, and competing in the entry-level category was a new step.

Herdes, who started CrossFit about a year ago, joked about the badass-looking muscles she’s built in the sport and encouraged anyone interested to try it.

“CrossFit isn’t just about throwing around insanely heavy weights,” she said. “It’s about striving to improve your physical and mental shape in a supportive, safe environment.”

Her teammate Maggie Schultz, the youngest member of the team at 22, agrees. Shultz performed her heaviest lift ever at the event and credited the crowd’s energy and her teammates’ support for the performance. She emphasized CrossFit’s accessibility, saying that people often see that “the main competitors are lifting heavy weights, and that’s not really the point. You can take it slow.”

Intermediate Mixed Double Team “Out With the Old, In With the New” consisting of Annina Altherr and Shane Clunies-Ross placed 16th and in a competitive category. Both have been doing CrossFit for over a decade and have emphasized the mental and physical benefits of the sport.

“I do CrossFit because it’s so varied. It’s definitely one of the most challenging sports I’ve ever done. There is always something new and there are always opportunities to improve,” Altherr said.

Clunies-Ross’s advice to anyone considering the sport is “go for it and don’t be scared or intimidated. We are all at different fitness levels and we all do the same workouts at our own weight and pace.”

Some have called CrossFit “cult” or opposed certain CrossFit traditions, such as CrossFit lingo can feel like a foreign language at first, as it’s stuffed with acronyms like “WOD” (workout of the day), PR (personal record), and AMRAP (as many reps as possible).

But, as Avalanche athletes have described it, CrossFit sounds more like a team sport than a cult, and while it’s true that the workouts are popular with law enforcement and the military, there’s undeniably broad appeal that spans ages, genders, Occupations and interests includes .

According to Shultz, Avalanche has athletes ranging in age from 12 to 70. The gym has many female and male members, and women make up nearly half of CanWest’s athletes, both on the Yukon team and at the event as a whole.

For social worker Amil Dupuis-Rossi, CrossFit is more than strength training. She said CrossFit helped her rebuild her life when she moved back north.

“CrossFit teaches you to overcome discomfort and sit with discomfort,” she said. “I see a lot of people facing adversity in their lives, and I think that’s an important life skill.”

She also feels CrossFit will help her age well and build bone density in her 40s, while motivating her to try new things. “It’s like, maybe me can try a ring muscle up.”

Schultz stressed that it was not necessary to have a background in weightlifting or gymnastics to participate.

“I have a new member who has never held a bar before,” he said.

Jamella Hagen teaches creative writing at Yukon University. your poetry collection, Kerosenewas released in 2011. Her non-fiction books have been published in Okanagan Life and Ricepaper magazines.

Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness, and Grant Sullivan.  (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)

Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness, and Grant Sullivan. (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)

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