"I am not the best (CrossFit athlete), nor will I ever be, but the one thing I do know is ever since I was placed on this planet, I knew I wanted to help people. I feel that finding CrossFit has made that lifelong mission happen for me."
“I first got into CrossFit because I was at a pivotal point in my life where I was fat, depressed and borderline diabetic,” Jenn “Streaky” Yates said. “Diet pills didn’t work, starving myself was no longer an option, and there was no way I was going to revisit a gnarly addiction of bulimia that I had battled 10 grueling years with. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of myself. It was time to, as my grandma would say, ‘shit or get off the pot!’”
Yates, 31, had no idea that walking through the door of CrossFit Wellington in Orlando, Fla., four years ago would change her life forever. She said she never really understood what the hype about CrossFit was until she did her first workout. Afterwards, she felt like throwing up her breakfast as she laid on the floor, gasping for air. She was hooked.
For most of her life, Yates was raised by her grandparents, Tommy and Hazel, and was “the daughter they never had.” They taught her many of the values she cherishes today, such as having a garden, writing thank-you notes and dating a true gentleman. She continues to have a close relationship with her grandfather, now 85. Yates said her grandfather sculpted her to be the person she is today, and taught her that the secret to life is to find peace and happiness.
But Yates’ story has a dark past. As a small child, Yates found herself in an unstable household, caught between a mother and father who were no longer together. Yates said the insults from her father, who refused to allow her to see her mother, were constant. She said it “crushed her spirit.”
At age 15, Yates developed bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by binging and purging. She said it was one of the first things she found that made her feel like she had control over her life.
The purging escalated so quickly that eventually a single cracker would send her running to the bathroom. By her sophomore year in high school, she had lost 20 lb.
Her struggles continued and worsened as the years passed. Yates said she “hated herself” and turned to weight loss pills and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. This was her way of life until age 25.
Yates’ boyfriend at the time encouraged her to try CrossFit Wellington with him. Yates had never been athletic growing up, and all she had to do that first day was a 100-m run, 50 air squats and jump rope.
“I didn’t know how to jump rope forward, so I did it all backwards,” she said. “I died during that (workout), and we signed up as members that night. The next day the cigarettes were gone.”
Yates and her boyfriend signed up for a 30-day paleo challenge in their first week of CrossFit, not knowing what they were getting into. They won.
Coach Matt Franco, who coined Yates’ nickname, “Streaky,” due to her multi-colored hair, opened Cast Iron CrossFit in West Palm Beach, and Yates followed. Six months later, Franco convinced her to enter her first competition, The Clash of the Fittest.
Looking for something to wear to the competition, Yates emailed Brandon Morrison, the owner of Lift Big, Eat Big, a fitness website, and asked if she could wear one of his shirts to the competition. She was a fan of the company who focused on strength and encouraged “eating big.”
As soon as pictures of Yates competing in the shirt hit the Internet, Lift Big, Eat Big gained a lot more followers. In two years, they grew from about 500 to over 66,000 people around the world. Morrison offered her an ambassadorship with the company in which she works to promote the brand.
Yates’ fire was lit, and she decided she wanted to do it all—powerlift, CrossFit, strongman and Olympic lift. Though many told her she needed to focus on one area, she said she was motivated to prove them wrong.
In 2013, she competed in her first USPA powerlifting meet where she broke three state records in the Open and Sub Women RAW division for her weight class (67.5 kg / 148.7 lb.) She continues to hold the record in the bench press (70 kg / 154 lb.), squat (115 kg / 253 lb.) and total (322.5 kg / 710.9 lb.)
Yates continued the competition circuit, taking first place at Rob Orlando’s Hybrid Challenge at Gardens CrossFit.
As for her diet, it is very different from the days she struggled with bulimia.
“I eat to perform,” she said.
Though she admits to eating a lot of sweet potatoes and Ezekiel bread, she prefers not to give out too many of her diet secrets.
“I will mention the fact that it is very bodybuilder/Zone like. Every meal is a fat, carb, protein, and I consume around 3,300 to 3,500 calories a day,” she said.
“I want people who struggle with eating disorders to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Yates said. “Focus on where you are going, not where you’ve been. Food can be used as fuel instead of weakness, and if you practice control, you can open the door to your future. Food was the very thing that almost killed me, and now it’s saved my life.”
As the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games season neared, Yates made the decision to quit her full-time job as a manager for MAC Cosmetics so she could dedicate more time to her training. This flexibility allows her to train four to five days a week, hitting two to three workouts per day.
Now led by her coaches, Miki Carey and Lee Arcure at Gardens CrossFit, Yates has hopes of qualifying for this year’s South East Regional.
“Ideally, I would like to place as an individual, as well as on a team for Gardens CrossFit,” Yates said, adding that being on a team with Carey has been a goal of hers since she started CrossFit.
Yates has spent the past few months focusing on rebuilding her engine for metabolic conditioning. Her training has consisted of a lot of running, sprinting, and working with prowlers and sleds.
She counts her strengths as anything leg-related.
“Squats, cleans, anything that involves raw power and strength,” she said.
Yates squats over 300 lb., deadlifts 345 lb., and loves overhead lunges and burpee broad jumps. She is known to squat to failure and has squatted 200 lb. for 28 reps.
Aside from CrossFit, Yates also plans to compete in powerlifting, Olympic lifting and strongman events. Eventually, she would also like to participate in a physique show “just to prove that CrossFit can shape, change and transform any body type.”
Through her athletic endeavors, Yates has become a popular figure on social media. She said her fans inspire her. She often receives personal messages from strangers who have made life-changing habits because of her, which brings her to tears.
“I want to leave a legacy of being awesome. Life isn’t about the accumulation of things. It’s about affecting people and leading by example,” Yates said.
“I am not the best (CrossFit athlete), nor will I ever be, but the one thing I do know is ever since I was placed on this planet, I knew I wanted to help people,” Yates said. “I feel that finding CrossFit has made that lifelong mission happen for me. For a lot of people in our sport, it’s about the fastest time, the strongest person, the best technique. But in my world, it is an infinite AMRAP of inspiring and motivating the world one lift at a time.”
Today, Yates has been reunited with the mother she was not allowed to see as a child. Yates said her mother is her biggest fan and best friend, and helped to instill in her a passion for quantum and motivational physics, as well as a focus on spiritual growth.
“Never in a million years would I have considered myself to be the athlete I am now,” Yates said. “CrossFit opened doors to things and relationships I never knew were possible. If you put in the time and stick with it, you will get the results.”