CrossFit Games Bound Leila Ives Proving Illness Won’t ‘Stop your life’
Leila Ives wants to prove that even severe illness does not have to inhibit your life and your dreams. The English athlete is heading to the CrossFit Games, as the top ranked European athlete in the adaptive, neuromuscular, division.
Ives is seeking donations to realize her goal of traveling to the CrossFit Games.
Ives was told she was developing multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2017, and was diagnosed in 2018. MS is a condition that affects the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include issues with leg and arm movement, and balance.
“When they said it might be MS, I said get me a wheelchair and my life is over. I didn’t know anything about MS, all I knew was what I’d seen, people on the TV in wheelchairs,” Ives, 34, said.
“Then, I learned more, and did my research and realized it wasn’t over. I could use this as a way to get into more sports as I’d read about weights helping, and I thought CrossFit was ticking all those boxes.”
Even with CrossFit, Ives took a long time to come to terms with her new reality.
“It was really difficult. I struggled mentally for a few years. It’s only in the last 18 months I’ve accepted this is my life, it’s what I make of it.”
“Being in the CrossFit community, it’s made me feel better as I could see I can achieve what others are achieving. I’m not defied by it. Although I have lots of symptoms and have to have treatment for life, I can make what I want out of it,” she said
Ives was forced to be even more introspective when she was made redundant by Halifax in 2020.
“When I got made redundant I was glad,” she said. “I feel like having this diagnosis has made me realize there is more to life than working dead-end jobs you aren’t getting much out of. I just had a turning point 18 months ago when I realized life was too short to spend it with people who don’t care about you, or spend it in jobs that don’t care about you.”
“No one cares about you as much as you care about yourself. I turned a corner with it, and realized I’ve got to do what is best for me as no one else will.”
Ives takes this self-reliant attitude and applies it to her training.
“It’s down to me to put in the hard work, it’s up to me to do that effort, it’s up to me to make those changes for anything I need to learn. People can guide you along the way, but if you aren’t willing to do that work, it’s pointless,” she said.
Ives was a top footballer, representing Leicester City Women Football Club 18 years ago and still plays Sunday League football.
“In a team, I feel I have a duty to the other players. If I let a player through, I’ve let my team down,” Ives said. “I feel the same in CrossFit, if I don’t lift, I’ll let myself down. Even though it’s different and a team vs individual performance I always think of it along the same lines.”
Ives was surprised to be in the running to make the Games. She had stopped CrossFit during the pandemic, to avoid the crowded gym as she is high risk. Ives took CrossFit back up just before The Open.
“I didn’t even set out for it, I just entered The Open as usual. I only came across the neuromuscular category when I was updating my profile. I realized at that point I should maybe put in some extra training,” she said.
There are 124 people in the category. The top 20 around the world go to semis, then the top five go to the Games. The semis are not in person, they are recorded. Ives finished seventh in The Open and fourth in the semis.
The only competitions Ives has entered before are in her own gym in Hull, a far cry from Madison. Fortunately, she has her football experience to draw on.
“It’s about keeping calm. I try to think back to my football days. It’s the same as a penalty shootout, you just have to keep your cool. I talk to myself before I go out, I look in the mirror and say ‘you can do this, don’t get in your head’” Ives said.
Then during the competition, she focuses so hard, she appears to have no thoughts.
“I can’t even remember what I was thinking during the semi-finals, I just knew I needed to do the best I can. I look back and I don’t think I wish I did this or that. I couldn’t have given anymore. I think that’s a good mentality, at the end of the day or weekend, if I haven’t done enough to win that’s fine as long as I couldn’t give anymore,” Ives said.
Ives is competitive by nature. She is targeting a podium finish.
“It’s hard when I don’t win. I do get upset as I just get so invested into it. But with the Games, I’m trying to be in two minds,” she said. “One, I’m getting the experience of being at the Games. And two, I want to end up on the podium.”
“I’m trying to disperse them so they are separate, otherwise I’ll get in my head and impact how I perform. So, I’m trying to think I’ve done well to get to the games and I’ll try to enjoy it.”
Ives is crowdfunding to get to the Games. She is approaching half way to her target, and as she gets more media attention in the UK, is even receiving donations from strangers.
“It’s just the feeling of having the support. It’s quite unique that I’m number one in the UK and Europe in the neuromuscular division. From what I’ve counted there’s only 14 people from the UK going to the games in all divisions. It’s quite a rare thing I’m doing,” Ive said.
“I don’t know anyone who’s been to the Games. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and it means a lot to get the support,” Ives added.
“I’m representing the MS community across the UK. I also want to prove to people you can do something even if you have an illness. It doesn’t have to be MS, but if you have an illness it doesn’t mean your life has to stop. You can get out there and achieve these things.”