Emma Gardner on Growing Up with the Greats, Injury Recovery and Committing to CrossFit
Like young basketball players look up to LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and dancers dream of going to Julliard when they get their first pair of ballet flats, you’d be hard pressed to find a teen CrossFit athlete who doesn’t idolize the likes of Katrin Davidsdottir, Chandler Smith and Amanda Barnhart while dreaming of throwing down at CrossFit New England. By those standards, 18-year-old Emma Gardner, who grew up doing just that, is living the dream.
Gardner started CrossFit in 2017 when her mother suggested she try the CrossFit Kids class. She’d always believed the sport wasn’t for her, but instantly fell in love. Gardner says it was a direct result of seeing such successful athletes around all the time that she eventually decided to commit to the competitive aspect of the sport.
- “I’ve thought to myself, I wonder if I would’ve thought to compete in CrossFit if I wasn’t surrounded by it, and when I got there it was Katrin Davidsdottir everywhere,” Gardner said. “(Davidsdottir) and Tori (Dyson) were both just huge inspirations to me, just watching them train and lift heavy things. Like, I wanna do that too.”
Over the years Gardner has gotten an up close and personal look at the ultra-elite lifestyle, becoming good friends with big name CompTrain athletes and coaches before becoming one herself. Gardner remembers CrossFit Open workout 19.1 – which, if you remember, was laughably gruesome – as her first experience working out with Davidsdottir, and saw it as a huge inspiration.
- “I did that workout with (Davidsdottir), and she crushed me, but it was such a cool experience. It’s one thing to watch them do it, and another to be beside them and know that they are hurting how you’re hurting, but they’re doing so much better. And I wanted to be like that too.”
Growing up in a CrossFit-centered environment, Gardner found her friend group away from normal high school kids and with other like-minded people at the box. She recognizes how bad it can look not having friends her own age, but when her long-time friends started doing teenager things, like drinking, Gardner was happy to have a group with similar goals to lean into instead.
- “They were easing into the typical parties and drinking, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that, I want to work out.’”
Gardner graduated from high school in May of 2020 and said it was a big sigh of relief. Though she only took morning classes for her last three years, Gardner remembers feeling lots of pressure from balancing both training and school. So when the time came to decide on a post-graduation plan, the way forward was clear: go all in.
- “Just having to think about training and not thinking about a test in three hours, it’s been awesome,” Gardner said. “I know that at any point, I could always take a class or two if I wanted, but for now, go with it and see where it takes me, and then do life after CrossFit when CrossFit is done.”
Her first dip into the professional athlete life was a little more tumultuous than Gardner expected as the age group divisions were cancelled for the 2020 CrossFit Games, which would’ve been her first appearance. In early 2021, she suffered a major ankle break after landing wrong on a pegboard mat and was out before quarterfinals. Gardner took advantage of the long recovery period to work on her longtime weakness, upper body strength.
- “I think I was just in shock for a while, I was weirdly happy, like okay with it and rolling with the punches. I always knew I was always getting better.”
After the injury, Gardner gained some steam throughout the end of 2021 with a third place finish at the Pit Elite Teen Throwdown in September. She placed sixth at the Wodapalooza Online Qualifier in a stacked division, punching her ticket to Miami, which will be her final competition as a teen as she turns 19 the day after the competition is over. She hopes to keep the momentum going with a podium place in the 16-18 division, then onwards and upwards to the CrossFit Open.
- “I’ve got this great gym, this great opportunity, and I love training. . . let’s just keep this ball rolling.”