Down Under Championship Athlete Profile: The Van Zyls

November 28, 2023 by
Photo credit: @crossfit_urban_energy
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When it comes to superfit families, it’s hard to look past the Van Zyls. 

Katelin and Johann Van Zyl are Australian CrossFit Games veterans, and both have competed at CrossFit’s highest level: Katelin competed as an individual at the Games in 2019, and both Katelin and Johann competed at the Games for Urban Energy in 2021 and 2022 in the team division. 

The Van Zyls are natural athletes. Johann has excelled in many sports from water polo to rugby union, and Katelin played for the Australian field hockey team (the Hockeyroos). In Katelin’s spare time, she’s Raven on Australia’s reboot of the popular ‘90s series, Gladiators.

For the first time, Katelin and Johann have both qualified to compete as individuals in the elite division at the Down Under Championship in Wollongong, Australia, which will be held from December 1-3.

(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before Katelin Van Zyl announced that she had to withdraw from the Down Under Championship due to injury. We decided to still run the piece to celebrate the hard work Katelin put into her preparation.)

The Morning Chalk Up was lucky enough to have a fun email Q and A session with Katelin Van Zyl in the lead-up to the Down Under Championship. 

In our interview, she shared insight into their lives as elite CrossFit athletes, affiliate owners of two CrossFit boxes and how they juggle being parents to their two sons. 

Here’s our interview with Katelin Van Zyl, which has been edited for clarity:

With two elite athletes in your household, I’m sure you have a tight schedule when it comes to your training. Can you share what a “day in the life with the Van Zyls” looks like in terms of running your business, family life and fitting your own training in?

Katelin Van Zyl: It’s very difficult. Johann usually coaches in the morning and I coach [in the]  afternoon. We generally train during the day while kids are at school/kindy.

Katelin, you’re an inspiration to moms out there, from training throughout your pregnancy to returning to elite CrossFit shortly afterward. Can you share one or two pearls of wisdom for other mamas out there who want to continue to train during the pre- and post-partum period?

KVZ: For me, it was important to keep training through my pregnancies. But both my pregnancies were a little abnormal (one premie baby and the other I couldn’t train hard as I had a cervical cerclage), but it’s super important to listen to your body and get professional advice if you have any concerns.

What programming do you follow? 

KVZ: Underdog Athletics with Justin Cotler. Johann [trains with] Jadyn, a guy that programs for our gym, [who] gives Johann his programming. 

Katelin and Johann, you both have impressive team competition resumes. What was the driving force behind your transition to the individual competition?

KVZ: For us, we wanted to test ourselves and see how well we could go on the individual scene. 

How does your training look any different when the focus is on individual competition? 

KVZ: It was a big transition from team to individual, but we love it! I did individual (CrossFit Games) in 2019, so I was definitely ready for it again.

Katelin, your individual competition performances over the last 12 months have been exceptional. After your dominant performance in the Down Under Championship Qualifiers, how are you feeling going into the in-person competition?

KVZ: I’m actually battling with a hernia in my groin at the moment, so I am still unsure if I’ll be able to compete or not, yet which is very disappointing for me. But at the end of the day, I have to keep the bigger picture in mind and get the surgery ASAP to be ready for the season.

For Johann, congrats on qualifying as an Elite Individual for the Down Under Championship. How are you feeling going into the in-person competition?

KVZ: Johann is very excited to compete against all the young guys and see how well he can do. He will most likely be one of the oldest there.

Can you share one or two differences between hitting the competition floor as an individual compared to hitting the comp floor as a team?

KVZ: Team is A LOT OF FUN. Individual it’s ALL ON YOU so you definitely feel a little more pressure. But we love it. 

Can you see yourselves returning to team competition again in the future?

KVZ: Individual all the way unless something super fun came (sic) up later, and Johann is open to either.

Katelin, CrossFit isn’t your first elite-level sport. Can you share your hockey background and how you transitioned from elite hockey player to elite CrossFitter?

KVZ: Transiting from hockey to CrossFit was super hard, I’m an endurance athlete through and through so it has taken me the whole 10 years of doing CrossFit to build strength and get better at gymnastics. 

Katelin, can you share how your experience playing high-level hockey has influenced your CrossFit career?

KVZ: I’ve been an athlete and competitor my whole life so it’s all I’ve ever known. I love competing and I love training. 

What about Johann’s sporting background? 

KVZ: Johann did water polo, rugby union, swimming and he is generally very athletic at everything.

Who started CrossFit first?

KVZ: [I] started CrossFit first and we met at a CrossFit gym in 2014/2015.

Has your “why” changed over the years?

KVZ: Since having kids, they are definitely our WHY!!!! 

What’s in store for the Van Zyls in 2024 and beyond?

KVZ: [I want] to make the Individual division at the Games and Johann would love to compete either individual or on a team at the Torian Pro.

Katelin, can you share any information about Gladiators Australia?

KVZ: Make sure you tune in on 8th January when it airs! It’s going to be EPIC. The bottom line: The Down Under Championship takes place from December 1-3. If you can’t make it there in person, you can watch the Van Zyls and the rest of the amazing athletes hitting the competition floor over the DUC’s livestream.

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