Morning Chalk Up Community

Madison McElhaney: From College Gymnastics Hopeful to CrossFit Athlete

July 25, 2022 by

Madison McElhaney was practically born already walking on her hands so when her parents put her into gymnastics at a young age, it was a perfect fit. Madison spoke with Morning Chalk Up, and she explained that she was so “all or nothing” that her parents asked her to quit gymnastics. It was proven to be a hard sport on the body and the academics. She pushed through until age 16 where she suffered a career ending injury during a competition and her gymnastics career came to a screeching halt. 

She quickly found herself questioning her purpose and her diet which led to an eating disorder. Knowing she had to shift her mindset, she moved overseas for schooling and to get a fresh outlook on her life. Once she moved back to California, she stumbled upon Martial Arts where her teachers noticed she was an absolute natural and was given the nickname, “Baby Hulk”. She started to compete and once again found herself paying close attention to her weight and diet to be within weight classes. The constant focus on her weight did a number on her body and left Madison at a crossroads within her competitive career. She was breaking bones left and right and even entered her final fight with a broken ankle. She knew it was time to move on.

Fast forward to the present and she’s hungry for a spot at the CrossFit Games. We had a chance to ask Madison some questions and we think you will find her answers inspiring. Read on to find out what she has to say about her journey, the obstacles along the way, and where she’s headed to next. 

Q: Competitively, you started out in Gymnastics, tell us a little bit about how you got into the Gymnastics world.

A: I started gymnastics when I was 3 years old in one of these Super Kids classes. I immediately fell in love and dove head first into training as young as I was allowed. I was constantly walking around the house on my hands, watching TV upside down, and doing flips on the couches. I took gymnastics very seriously at a very young age, and dedicated the better part of my childhood to it. I would leave school early everyday to go to practice, and I spent more time in the gym than I did anywhere else. I was competitive up until the age of 16, when I suffered a career ending injury. This devastated me, as my dream was to go to college as a gymnast on scholarship. 

Q: How did you find your way into Martial Arts?

A: I had a rough go from [ages] 16-20, as I was lost and had nowhere to put my energy. I suffered from anorexia during these years, because I went from training 6 hours a day, to doing essentially nothing outside of being depressed. To try and get over my eating disorder, I moved abroad and spent a year in Europe, healing and finding joy in life again. Upon returning to The States, I was ready to get back into it. I went to a cardio boxing class one day for fun, and the head coach of the gym came up and complimented my rhythm. He asked me if I was interested in MMA and I said absolutely not. Somehow he got me to go join a practice the next day, and it turns out I was very interested, haha. I went 0 to 100 overnight and poured the next four years of my life into this sport.

Q: What style of Martial Arts was your favorite to practice and/or compete in?

A: I enjoyed stand-up the most, particularly Muay Thai. Although I also really enjoyed wrestling, I found the stand up game to be the most fun. Plus, I never minded being hit, so that made it easy.

Q: What year did you make your way into the CrossFit scene?

A: I began Crossfit in 2018, after retiring from MMA. I pretty much switched overnight, once I realized I was tired of trashing and torturing my body in MMA. I suffered constant and serious injuries, and after breaking my ankle the weekend before my final fight (which I still fought), I was done. So the next week I joined Crossfit with a boot and a broken ankle.

Q: We all struggle with both mental and physical setbacks. For you personally, which has been harder to overcome?

A: Definitely physical. Beginning around 12 years old, my body started falling apart on me. Since then, I have broken/torn over 30 bones, and had 7 surgeries. Although, [I’m] tough mentally; my mindset never wavered. I always knew I would come back stronger if I could just heal my body. I also suffer from autoimmune issues, and this has been a big setback in my athletic career. Whether it be MMA or Crossfit, I have had a tough go with staying healthy long enough to make the progress I wanted to make. But this is my year!

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you can give someone who continually runs into setbacks in their competitive career?

A: If you are still loving what you do, keep at it. But if you feel the spark you once had has been lost, there is always something waiting for you on the other side. So don’t be afraid to move on. It isn’t quitting if you are making the decision to move on.

Q: Do you currently still train in both Martial Arts and CrossFit?

A: Nope, I stopped MMA pretty much cold turkey. I dabble in mitt work here and there, but purely for fun.

Q: What initially drew you into CrossFit?

A: Honestly, not much as I was always super anti-CrossFit. I thought it seemed culty and like all the people who did it were obsessed with themselves. I was absolutely wrong, haha, but at the time I started, it was merely because my MMA gym had a back room with CrossFit. And I was injured and couldn’t train any sort of fighting… so it was a last resort.

Q: Now being fully immersed in the CrossFit community, what is your favorite part?

A: I love that every day I get to go in and spend hours training with my friends. I get to eat food (I didn’t get to do much of that in MMA), I get to lift heavy weights (never got to touch a weight in fighting cause I always weighed too much), and there is so much variation in training. We get to do it all and I love it!

Q: Similarly, what is your favorite part of Martial Arts?

A: I loved that I got to beat up a bunch of dudes everyday, haha. 99% of my training partners were men, and I thrived. I built up a lot of confidence during those four years of my life, just knowing that no matter what, I could take care of myself. Plus it was fun as shit.

Q: What is the biggest mental shift you’ve had to adjust to when moving from Martial Arts to CrossFit?

A: Honestly, Crossfit is so easy and simple compared to MMA. I get to have fun now, and everything doesn’t always have to be so serious. In MMA, it was more of a life of death mentality. You ALWAYS had to be on your game, and one wrong move and somebody could have been seriously injured. I never got to eat what I wanted, and I was always exhausted from being malnourished. I had to cut about 20 lbs every single time I fought, so my food was veryyyyyy restricted. Now I eat to fuel my body, not to lose lbs on the scale. I also train to have fun and see what awesome things my body can do, not to stay alive.

Q: What is your favorite CrossFit workout to do?

A: I could say a lot of things here, but my all-time favorite would probably be a crazy heavy snatch ladder.

Q: Do you have a favorite CrossFit movement?

A: Bar Muscle Ups, anything handstand and snatches.

Q: What was your favorite memory of Martial Arts?

A: Probably signing with Invicta. This was a huge accomplishment and one of the biggest fight leagues around, so I was very excited and proud.

Q: Body image issues have plagued young athletes (both male and female) for as long as we can remember, what's one piece of advice you could give your younger self when she was struggling?

A: You eat to fuel your body. And here and there to treat yourself. But the better ingredients you put in, the better you will feel. And aesthetics will always follow. You shouldn’t only work out to look good, or eat to feel good. There has to be a happy medium. So teach your body this early, and find that balance.

Let us know your thoughts and be sure to tag us, @Wodify, so we can share your feedback!

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