“It was a year's worth of envisioning success, all bundled into one moment. My feet touched that pad and just joy, pure joy."
Mark Burnett, the creator and executive producer of Survivor once said, “The best person to get something done is a busy person.”
If this is true, there just might not be any better person than Rory Zambard.
When I called her at the scheduled time of our interview, she was in the middle of descending a four-mile hike down Mt. Si, a popular hiking destination near Seattle, Wash., that boasts 3,700 feet of vertical elevation change. As if that weren’t challenging enough, Zambard wore a weight vest.
The 22-year-old has been busy this past year — very busy. Since the latter part of 2012, she has rehabilitated from shoulder surgery, earned a bachelor’s degree in American Military History, coached full time at CrossFit Bellevue, traveled nearly every weekend as a member of the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar Staff and trained for and won the North West Regional.
“It was definitely a challenge in a lot of ways,” Zambard says of her busy schedule. “My friends and family and community at CrossFit Bellevue kept me going a lot of the times. They kept me motivated and they definitely kept me sane through all that insanity.”
She adds: “I think the reason I was able to keep going is because at the end of the day, I loved all of it.”
At the North West Regional, Zambard became the champion without winning a single event. Three third-place finishes in the first five events gave her a comfortable lead going into the final two events. While she could have coasted through the final event and still likely have won overall, that was not her approach.
“It’s still game-time for sure. Anything can happen, nothing is ever certain,” she says. “I went into the (final event) not thinking about anything that would happen after. I told myself, ‘This is the last one, do it with my whole heart.’”
And she did, completing the event in 4:37.5, good enough for second place, her highest finish of the weekend.
Zambard may appear to have come out of nowhere, but what most don’t realize is that she has nearly eight years of CrossFit training under her belt. Her mother, Lisa Long, also a CrossFit Games qualifier this year in the Masters Women 50-54 Division, got her started at Rainier CrossFit when she was just 14 years old.
Through high school, Zambard used CrossFit to train for softball. When she started at the University of Washington, she decided to take CrossFit a bit more seriously. She completed the Level 1 Seminar, started coaching and began looking into the competitive side.
At 18, she qualified for Regionals in 2010, placing ninth overall. The following year, she placed 11th.
In 2011, she dislocated her shoulder while walking on her hands. She feels the injury was due to having diminished feeling in her right arm after a car accident where she suffered a pinched nerve in her neck. Despite this, Zambard powered through the 2012 Open and placed 44th, qualifying her to compete at Regionals.
But she did not compete.
“I was told not to compete,” she says.
Longtime coach and owner of Rainier CrossFit, Kurtis Bowler, advised Zambard to take the time to rehabilitate her shoulder and plan to come back even stronger in 2013, and that’s just what she did.
In June 2012, Zambard underwent surgery for her shoulder. She did not do any CrossFit workouts for nearly three months prior, and did no exercise, except for physical therapy, for two months after surgery. Despite the long break, when she began training again in October 2012, she saw rapid improvement.
“I started slowly integrating CrossFit back into my life in October of last year. I was surprised at how little I had lost. Obviously, my overhead stuff was weak. I also had some weakness in other areas due to favoring my injured shoulder, but I hit all of my old PRs by January,” Zambard says.
She attributes her rapid progress to her history with CrossFit. Rest was also a key factor, she says.
“I came back with a vengeance in October,” she says. “Kurtis told me not to compete at Regionals in 2012 with the thought that 2013 would be my year.”
Zambard does all of her own programming, although she admits everything she knows about programming and coaching she learned from Bowler. She still considers him her coach and stays in constant communication with him.
“I still text him bi-weekly,” she says. “He’s always there to help me out and tell me if I’m being stupid.”
At the conclusion of the North West Regional, Zambard was overcome with emotion.
“It was a year’s worth of envisioning success, all bundled into one moment. My feet touched that pad and just joy, pure joy,” she says. “The best part about it was Kurtis was standing right in front of me. I think of eight years of having him as my mentor. I just ran over and gave him a huge hug. It was something we both had been envisioning for a long time.”
Zambard reminds herself in life and training to “play your own game. Live true to yourself. If you give everything you have, nobody will ever think less of you."