From Pregnancy to Competing at the Games Together, Athlete-Coach Duo Share Amazing Relationship

September 21, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Hailey Rolfe, CrossFit Games
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The CrossFit Games are stressful, no doubt about it. Now, imagine competing at the CrossFit Games at 15-years-old, in your third-ever in-person competition, only able to contact your coach over the phone. This was Michigan-based teen athlete Hailey Rolfe’s first CrossFit Games experience in 2021, when she competed in the 14-15 Girls division with coach Emily Tanner back home in Texas, just days away from giving birth to her daughter. 

  • “I didn’t really know any different, honestly,” Rolfe said. The then 15-year-old placed third that year with no event finishes outside the top ten, an impressive feat for a rookie. “I did learn that FaceTime is a very useful tool, though.”

Despite Rolfe’s amazing success during her rookie season, Tanner had a much more emotional experience. She attributes much of it to being nine months pregnant, but says she cried four times because of the overwhelming emotional rollercoaster of the weekend. The 33-year-old has competed at the CrossFit Games in the team division twice, in 2017 and 2022, and recognizes the mental and physical toll it can take on an athlete. The coach’s side of things, though, was a new experience. 

  • “Any coach, especially one that’s been an athlete in the past, knows that coaching is more of an emotional rollercoaster and harder than competing in that you’re seeing your athlete go through these highs and lows of competing and you just want to be able to do it for them,” Tanner said. 

Nerves and fear-of-missing-out aside, Tanner says the joy and excitement she held for Rolfe held strong all weekend. She spoke high praise of her athlete’s adaptability and maturity. 

  • “If there’s one thing I know about Hailey, it’s that she can handle adversity and take anything thrown at her in stride,” Tanner said. “For being so young and still pretty new to the sport, she’s one of the most level headed people I’ve ever coached.”
Photo credit: Ava Kitzi

Tanner and Rolfe’s original connection is one for the storybooks–Tanner’s mother coached Rolfe’s mother in high school cheerleading, and Tanner’s mother is now a coach at Rolfe’s mother’s CrossFit affiliate. Through the affiliate, the coach/athlete duo were connected, and Tanner started mentoring Rolfe in CrossFit when she started the sport during quarantine. 

The pair has been on a “wild ride” according to Tanner, which didn’t slow down for the 2022 season. After giving birth to her daughter, Delilah, Tanner returned to competition with team CrossFit Greater Heights Ascend at the CrossFit Games. Regarding celebrating her daughter’s first birthday while competing at the CrossFit Games, and the journey she’d embarked on over the last year, Tanner said,

  • “It’s gone by so fast, I can’t believe it was a year ago that she was in my belly and we were watching Hailey at the Games. At that time, I had no intentions of competing again.”

According to Tanner, pregnancy brought a new appreciation for CrossFit, movement, and fitness to her life. 

  • Tanner: “Before pregnancy, I had taken my fitness and ability to move freely for granted. I think being pregnant and having to scale movements and have things be so challenging as simply as a burpee, just getting down and up off the floor, gave me a different understanding of what people are going through when they start their health and fitness journey.”

The hardship extended beyond physical challenges to overcome postpartum. Tanner admits to feeling guilty for competing at the CrossFit Games during her daughter’s birthday, not able to give her attention and a big 1-year-old birthday party. However, she knows her daughter will get to look back and be proud that she got to watch her mom compete at the CrossFit Games on her first birthday. And, Tanner is proud of the environment she’s raising her daughter in.

  • I do CrossFit for different reasons (after giving birth). I love that (my daughter) gets to see me compete, of course, but also she knows the gym, and healthy eating, and being around people who value that,” Tanner said. “I want her to grow up as just having that be part of her everyday life and not something she has to find and choose to be a part of her life. I just want her to grow up knowing we get to move our bodies and we get to be appreciative of the abilities we have.”
Photo Credit: @sierraprime

 This life that Tanner envisions for her daughter is the exact experience Rolfe had – her mom started her affiliate when Rolfe was young, and grew up with CrossFit always in the background. Even with all the time spent in the gym under her belt and two CrossFit Games appearances, though, Rolfe says she can easily get in her head about whether or not she belongs on the competition floor, and struggles with confidence. According to Rolfe, she tends to undermine herself and the work she’s put in. Her relationship with Tanner helps her through these tough spots, though. 

  • “(Tanner) showed me that you can do big things out of a small town, and to chase my dreams,” Rolfe said. “”This year was tougher for me so the fact that she was with me the whole time really helped, I think. It was special.”

Rolfe says she was initially shy around Tanner because she idolized her and her strength, but the two quickly became a dynamic pair and spent the CrossFit Games together. Tanner both coached Rolfe and competed herself in August, finishing in 18th place in the Team division. Rolfe placed 10th in the 16-17 Girls division. Rolfe says she got to warm up and hang out with Tanner’s team throughout the weekend, which was a special experience for her. 

For Tanner, this relationship and Rolfe’s growth over the past two years has been extremely fulfilling, something she wished she would’ve had growing up. As a collegiate athlete, Tanner says she only knew health and fitness as a byproduct of sport, and had to find her athletic identity by herself. However she can aid in this process for young athletes, she says, she’s excited to help. 

“Anything I can do to support younger girls in the sport and their journey (I’ll do),” Tanner said. “Not only enjoying the sport of CrossFit, but really being able to find themselves and their confidence, and who they want to be through CrossFit.”

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