Most Kiwis generally know the names of top New Zealand female athletes in the likes of rugby, soccer, netball and shot-put, But more should know Jamie Simmonds’ name and the extent of her fame.
Why she is not so well known is due to her only ever competing overseas – and so far never at home (despite representing this country).
The 31-year-old from Dunedin has signed up for the world’s biggest fitness competition, the 2023 CrossFit Open. If she wins she will be dubbed The Fittest Woman on Earth.
She is set to be one of the top female entrants. She has done well in this competition in the past and is renowned for being strong, fit, fast and having a fierce, never-give-up mindset. Fans fill overseas stadiums to see her sweat, climb ropes, and lift heavy barbells.
I caught up with Simmonds via zoom. She shares inspirational advice, but also who inspires her. She also gives tips to fellow athletes in her sport and answers 11 questions in-depth, sharing her views on strong women, and how to fuel your body away from “rubbish diets”.
Simmonds is based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where she trains at CrossFit YAS – a community she loves being part of “because everyone is training hard and pursuing something and it’s great to be around”.
Her husband Elliot is also a CrossFit athlete, but is not competing in the CrossFit Open this year due to recovering from surgery.
In case you are not into the CrossFit craze, it is a style of group fitness that blends movements like weightlifting, kettlebell swinging, gymnastics, rowing, rope climbing, running and burpees. The aim of the sport is to be great at all the disciplines.
The CrossFit Open competition starts off online for CrossFit athletes of all ages, body types, and ability levels on Feb 16 and goes to April 6 in 2023. About 200,000 people take part globally.
There are a series of three workouts over three weeks and everyone registers their scores online. The cream of these athletes from each category goes through to the online quarter finals. There is also an inspirational category for athletes with disabilities.
The next stage of the competition sees the top athletes compete in person in their region. If Jamie makes it through to this stage she will compete in the Oceania competition in Brisbane – the closest she will get to New Zealand as she has no plans to return home currently.
Then the top athletes from each region go through to compete at the CrossFit Games in Wisconsin in America. This is where a man and woman are named as the winners – or rather in this sport’s lingo: The Fittest Man and Woman on Earth.
Simmonds grew up in Dunedin. She is a former gymnast and rugby player. Muscle-bound and beautiful, she is 163cm tall and 61kg. She says the older CrossFit athletes (called Masters athletes) inspire her and an adaptive female surfer (more on this further below).
But so too does her sister Becky (pictured below).
“When I go home to Dunedin it’s great. Someone might say, don’t I recognise you from somewhere and then they will say ‘oh, aren’t you Becky’s sister’?”
“My little sister Becky is a very dedicated runner. She will put her head down, shut up and do it.”
Simmonds has been publicly on the CrossFit global scene after winning the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open. In 2019 she was the third fittest woman on Earth. In 2020 she finished 12th in stage one of the Games.
Her 2021 season was cut short after week two of the Open when she dislocated her shoulder during some accessory work while training. She says this humbling rebuild back into the sport has made her grateful just to continue to be part of CrossFit on a world stage.
She is excited about the challenge of facing the CrossFit Open competition again this year and feeling as scared as hell. But she loves how it helps her to continue to grow stronger in body – and her mind.
“There is a physical element, but everyone trains hard. Everyone eats well and does the recovery work as much as they can. But when it comes to the comp floor, it’s all a mind game.”
“It’s about having that resilience and going to the last day of the competition and not wanting to get on that assault bike, but you have to pull it from outside of yourself and crank into it.”
Simmonds says the fan base for CrossFit is incredible – particularly for the female athletes.
“It’s one of the few sports events in the world where girls are put at the end because they are the main show. We get more spectators and so we play a big role in it. I think it is because the girls competition seems to be a lot closer and a lot of people come to see this unfold. It’s a sport too where a lot of people know more of the girls than the guys too – maybe because of social media.
Simmonds answers 11 Questions in her own words:
What do you love most about CrossFit?
I love that anyone can do it. We all do the same workout which can be done by an elite athlete or scaled down and slightly changed for an 80-year-old grandma. I also love the community in Crossfit. Everyone is out to better themselves. All new-comers are welcome making it feel like an inviting community. A lot of people are terrified to start but once they step into a Crossfit box and realise no one is going to judge them and everyones is just there to work hard and get a sweat on, they are hooked.
What is the hardest thing about this sport?
There are so many disciplines to cover. You cannot just be strong and fit. You have to be agile, coordinated, and able to learn new skills 10 minutes before going onto the competition floor. You have to be adaptable and mentally strong. The hardest thing about Crossfit is finding the balance of your skill set. You do not need to be the best at anything but you cannot be the worst of anything. Consistency always wins in Crossfit. You must have no weaknesses.
CrossFit builds a strong body for women. What is your take on body image with this sport?
Crossfit promotes what your body can do, not how it looks. Now I think this is where it differs from the likes of ‘functional fitness’ or other sports as there is still a big part of looking the part. But with Crossfit there are so many domains that looking the part can be anything. I think it also teaches women and young girls to train hard to be able to do certain movements or lift certain weights rather than to look a certain way. I also think with training, girls learn how to fuel their bodies correctly, teaching them the correct facts of nutrition rather than some of the rubbish you read on the internet.
What advice would you give to young women getting into this sport?
Firstly, find a gym that suits you, fits your personality, has people you look forward to seeing and people who want to help you to get better. Secondly, take it step-by-step; There is no need to master everything in one day. Thirdly, enjoy it! And fuel your training well. Training is so much more enjoyable when you have the energy to push hard and test yourself in the gym.
Every year the competition seems to get harder and the weights get heavier. How do you face your fears in the competition?
You have to trust that you have put the work in behind closed doors – and this will all be shown on the competition floor. So you need to have put in the hours. But like any sport, the standard just keeps getting higher. But I think that is the challenge I enjoy. I mean it has kept me coming back for the last 9 years!
When the competition hurts what do you think about? Do you use a mantra or saying, or think about anything in particular?
I try to stay in the moment as much as possible but I have always got my family in the back of my head. They have always given me every sporting opportunity I have ever wanted and always supported me 100%. I have also moved my life halfway around the world away from home to pursue Crossfit. So I best make the most of it. I like to keep the mantra of die trying as I train and compete – as it is hard to beat someone who does not give up. I try to always give my full effort and after that there is not much else you can do.
You are an inspirational athlete. But what females inspire you and why?
There are so many out there. When I was younger I loved the Bethany Hamilton story. She lost her arm in a shark attack and still managed to come back and win many world titles, without losing a stride in her step. Now that is not even blinking an eye at adversity. I think it is really inspiring because there was not a moment of her feeling sorry for herself. It teaches us to never play the victim.
I have also always looked up to the Black Ferns. I always wanted to be one after 15 years of playing rugby. Those girls are tough and know how to turn it on when needed.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I do not know. I do not tend to look too far ahead. One day I want to be back home in New Zealand with my husband Elliot, living a simple life and probably helping others live happier and healthier lives through fitness.
What is your favourite message you have received on social media from a female fan?
I think it is cool when you get messages that younger girls have watched you compete and want to try CrossFfit or start a sport. The more kids I can inspire to enjoy fitness and exercise, the better.
How could CrossFit be better in the future for women?
I do not know. I think it is pretty good for women right now.
What do you most want to be remembered for?
For always giving it my all but having a good time while I am at it.
7 tips for anyone competing in the CrossFit Open
1. Do not put pressure on yourself.
See it as a workout that you do as hard as you can and do not leave disappointed. Know that you have given it your all. It does not matter if you come last. It matters that you tried your hardest.
2. Be smart and have a plan.
You do not want to do a 20 minute workout and die in the first two minutes.
3. At the end of the day, enjoy it. “It’s just fitness”.
4. This is a challenge of what your mind and body can do.
Get outside your comfort zone.
5. If you are doing a lift then “gee up a bit” (get excited).
With longer workouts, trust that you have done the training to get through it.
6. You do not want to get off the floor thinking you could have done more.
Give it everything.
7. You learn about yourself when you get out of your comfort zone.
It’s character building.
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