I remember the day I became a CrossFit Games athlete. It’s 2014 and I’m walking into athlete check-in with Talayna Fortunato and Lauren Brooks. A Reebok rep hands me six pairs of shoes and an armful of jerseys and gear.

They’d accidentally switched my measurements with Lauren Brooks, so I’m handed this jersey with “Bridgers” printed on the back that’s sized up for a 5’7”, 160 pound athlete. I’m 5’1” and a buck thirty-five. Thankfully Reebok had someone on hand just to handle alterations.

It was all such a blur though.

Next thing I know, I’m heading in a bus over to the beach for a 1,000 meter swim in the ocean. “What’s a gymnast doing swimming laps in the ocean”? I thought.

To this day, I still don’t like swimming in open water.

It’s heartbreaking that I won’t be able to run out of the tunnel one last time and hear my name called over the speakers, corralling underneath the stadium next to these super fit, strong and inspiring ladies…but these things are just out of your control.

I remember back in 2016, I went out to California a week early to get more comfortable swimming in the ocean. Stacie Tovar and I were on the beach and I started freaking out.

“This is zero fun,” I said. “Why are we even doing this?”

But that’s the CrossFit Games for ya. That’s Dave Castro. That’s the challenge. How well can you perform in the most uncomfortable environment? And Dave excels at finding new ways to test that.

Becoming a CrossFit Games athlete was never the original goal. I didn’t come into this sport wanting to make it to the Games. I joined CrossFit for me, to get healthy and fit again.

I started gymnastics when I was 3-years-old, and by 7 I was competing. So I guess you could say I’ve been a competitive athlete for 24 years.

After my Freshman year on the University of Georgia gymnastics team, I had a compression fracture in my back. My body had been riding the line since high school and this was the end of the road for me.

I never got to decide I was done.

One day I was competing. The next day I wasn’t. I was in a back brace, tip-toeing to classes. I was done. For three or four months all I could do was swim. I thought my competitive days were over.

I realized I was angry, angry because my gymnastics career got cut short and I felt like I still had something to prove to myself. That anger fueled me, and I let it because I wanted redemption.

After graduating in 2010, I moved back in with my parents, teaching gymnastics and taking some extra courses. I was planning to become a physical therapist. The local Gold’s Gym just closed down so I walked in CrossFit Decatur. Ben Benson, who’d later become my coach and husband, was on duty and signed me up right there. I used leftover graduation money to purchase a membership.

I had no expectations of ever becoming an athlete again. Then the Open came around and I ended up 50th worldwide and a fire just got lit inside me.

My body missed that feeling, the endless grind, pushing way beyond my limits, the three-a-days, the taped up hands, the bruises, the failures, the successes, the whole journey. My body missed competing.

Also I realized I was angry, angry because my gymnastics career got cut short and I felt like I still had something to prove to myself.

That anger fueled me, and I let it because I wanted redemption.

It took me four years of CrossFit and four years competing at Regionals to make it to the Games.

I remember at the 2014 Southeast Regionals, I was sitting in second place after Day 1. Dave Castro walked right up to me. “See you in Carson,” he said.

He knew.

He saw it in me.

He was right.

I took first and I’d go on to win that Region for the next three years.

In 2014, at my first CrossFit Games, I remember walking out into the tennis stadium on Sunday.

I started the day in 15th or 16th and after one event, the Midline March, I jumped to 11th. Then Kara Saunders (Webb) dropped out due to an injury, so then I moved to 10th.

All of a sudden I find myself in the final heat for the last event. I’m warming up with Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Annie Thorisdottir, Julie Foucher, and Michele Letendre, these legendary female athletes and feeling like I MADE IT. I’m competing with all these girls that I’ve known for so long that I should be competing with and I’ve finally proven that to myself.

Then I went and took 6th in Double Grace and jumped from 10th to 6th.

Everything about that day was really cool. I’ll never forget that.

Things didn’t always go so well at the CrossFit Games though.

One of the worst events was heavy DT after being wrecked by Murph that morning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my 8th place finish in Murph had basically given me rhabdo.  Immediately after starting DT I knew something wasn’t right. It was one of those demoralizing workouts where you just want the time to be up. But also you want to finish the workout. I still made a huge effort not to give up. You just have to internalize that, and just be proud of yourself. Like, okay well, I just did that. I still did it.

I knew at the end of 2017 Games that this would be my last year. You’re not just quitting a job and walking out of an office. My job as a competitive athlete is also a lifestyle, and that lifestyle provides me with so many relationships. Chyna and Freddy. Stacie Tovar. Becca Voigt. All of the trips. The sponsors that have supported me for years. It’s a big change.  I’ve spent this last year mentally preparing.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about stepping away, but I am just as ready to leave as I was to start. And that’s the difference this time. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.

To you younger athletes at the Games, or hoping to make it here one day, I hope you don’t lose sight of the everyday athletes around you that you could be helping. You’re never too skilled or too big or important to encourage others around you.

Remember me for making a positive impact on CrossFit in the early years. I was there. I saw it. I did it.

And I want you to remember, the number one thing, that I smiled every time I crossed the finish line.

Every time.

That matters.

But, I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish in this sport.

To you younger athletes at the Games, or hoping to make it here one day, I hope you don’t lose sight of the everyday athletes around you that you could be helping. You’re never too skilled or too big or important to encourage others around you. It’s what makes this sport so special and unique. I hope CrossFit never loses that.

When I turn on the CrossFit Games in 10 years I hope I still see the last athlete on the floor getting the loudest cheers.

I’ll always be competitive, but so much focus has been on me and my athletic training, at some point you want to be able to do all the things you’ve had to say no to, or haven’t had enough time to do. I don’t feel sad. I’m excited. It’s the right time. I’ve fulfilled my role as an athlete. 

Yesterday, I dislocated and tore ligaments in my ankle. Thankfully, it’s not broken but it’s super unstable and I can’t compete any longer. But that’s sports for ya. You push your body and fight as hard as you can, but these things are just out of your control. 

Yeah, it’s heartbreaking to end like this. 

It’s heartbreaking that I won’t be able to run out of the tunnel one last time and hear my name called over the speakers, corralling underneath the stadium next to these super fit, strong and inspiring ladies. 

This might be my last time as a CrossFit Games athlete, but the journey continues. 

It’s been one hell of a ride. 

Thank you CrossFit.

All my love,

Emily.


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