Two-time Olympic sailor and gold medalist, Anna Tunnicliffe, recently qualified for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games after placing second at the South East Regional. Although they are two very different platforms, CrossFit is a great accompaniment to her Olympic sailing career.
“The difference is that I had a lot more confidence in my abilities at sailing going into the Olympic Trials. Regionals? I didn’t really know. We knew we would do well, but how well was the question,” she says.
“CrossFit is all about community, isn’t it? That’s what I love about it! So, to experience that here (at Regionals) is phenomenal. In the Olympics, well, I guess in my sport in the Olympics, only one person goes when entering the trials. You’re battling everyone. Yeah, you want others to do well, but ultimately there is only one spot, so you’re all fighting for it.”
Tunnicliffe, whose coach is Brad Tobias of Peak 360 CrossFit Body and Soul in Miami, is not only preparing for the Games in July, but also the European Championships in sailing at the end of June.
“We have so much to work on between now and the Games,” she says.
Tunnicliffe, 30, was born in England where she learned to sail on her parents’ boat. As a child, she began competitively sailing an Optimist, a small single-handed dinghy. When she was 12, Tunnicliffe’s family moved to the United States. She continued sailing, moving through the Optimist, Club FJ, Club 420 and Laser fleets. At age 14, she helmed for a team at the Rolex Women’s International Keelboat Regatta and is still the youngest helm on record at this event.
Despite several offers from colleges to run track and cross-country, Tunnicliffe chose to pursue sailing and attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where she earned several national titles and was named the 2005 ODU College Female Athlete of the Year.
After college, Tunnicliffe moved to Florida to start training full time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. At the Olympics, she won a gold medal in the Women’s Laser Radial class, bringing home the first U.S. women’s Olympic gold sailing medal in 20 years.
“When the opportunity to train for China came, I took it. It was one of the hardest four years because of the competition of the trials, but making it to the Olympics and realizing your dream was an amazing experience,” Tunnicliffe says, who at 13 recalls telling her parents she wanted to win a gold medal at the Olympics one day.
It was while training for the 2012 Olympics a year-and-a-half ago that Tunnicliffe discovered CrossFit.
“I got started when Kevin and Carrie Teborak of CrossFit E-Town in Evanston, Ind., introduced us to it,” she says. “My 2012 Olympic team was up there training for sailing. They told us to just come and check it out, and we could work out while in town.”
“I was immediately hooked,” Tunnicliffe says. “I can't remember the exact (workout), but it involved running, pull-ups and kettlebell swings. I was getting sick of a regular gym workout, and my training was stagnant. I just did the standard globo gym stuff. I had a trainer and a program, but I wasn’t really getting any stronger. I was getting a little bored. I found CrossFit, and it made working out fun again.”
Though Tunnicliffe qualified for the South East Regional last year after placing 14th in the Open, she did not compete because the competition was one week before the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“I had to pass on them and focus on the main goal for that year — the Olympics. Brad and I worked on a training plan that got me slowly stronger, but more importantly, kept me safe throughout the sailing season so I could be fit and well for the Olympics,” she says.
Once again, Tunnicliffe ended up making the U.S. Olympic sailing team. She and her crew finished fifth in the women’s Elliot 6m match racing at the London Games. Since then, Tunnicliffe says she has been focusing on making it to the CrossFit Games.
“I had a bad knee injury at the beginning of September, so I have been training hard since that healed up. Since then, it's been intense to get my strength up and my skills better. Hours at the box, but I love it!”
Tunnicliffe trains five to six days a week depending on the week and the workload.
“My coach and I work out the plan well ahead of time, and we adjust it as needed depending on what my body is feeling,” she says. “I'm mainly focusing on strength. My lifts, especially my Olympic lifts, are where I spend a lot of my focus other than the (workouts). Having done regular globo gym stuff for years, my strength was OK, but nowhere near where it needs to be. We are getting there now though.”
Tunnicliffe cites endurance as her strength in CrossFit and says CrossFit has carried over into her sailing career.
“I feel extremely fit, so when I’m out on the water, it’s a non-issue,” she says. “You know when you are physically tired you get tired mentally. A lot of sailing is a mental sport, so (CrossFit) has allowed me to stay sharper and it’s fun. CrossFit is like a huge hobby for me. Just try to have fun with it. With sailing being my sport and profession, and it being a very male-dominated world, I wanted to be as strong as possible so that strength would be as little of a factor as possible. I also wanted something to distract myself from thinking about sailing 24/7. Now each sport distracts me from the other.”