Back in the Saddle Again

Published on Tue, 2014-04-15 10:00
Lisa Zane

“That’s the big discovery that I got from CrossFit. Of course you can’t do 100 of these or 100 of that. But you can do one. And if you just keep doing one, eventually, you’ve done 100.”

Photos by Claire Perks

When 65-year-old Anne Thompson found out she had placed in the top 200 in the world in her age group in the Open, she was characteristically humble and upbeat.

But when she found out she was the oldest Canadian woman to complete all five Open workouts, she was more than a little surprised.

“I’m only 65—there’s nobody older than 65?” she said. “Oh wow! That’s cool! That’s pretty fun!”

“Fun” and “cool” are two of the most common words in Thompson’s vernacular. The retired physical education teacher has a decidedly positive approach to life, a sentiment that is mirrored in her business. Thompson and her husband, Chris, own a ranch in Millarville, Alberta and have been teaching Western riding for the past 35 years.

“We called our place the Laughing Horse Ranch because everybody says they have fun here and they laugh a lot in a safe environment,” Chris said. “She brings that light to the place.”

Although Thompson has been active all her life—teaching physical education, playing field hockey and always riding horses—she came by CrossFit a little differently.

In the winter of 2002, she and Chris were driving one night when they hit a patch of black ice. They lost control of the vehicle and it rolled.

“It was a brand new Acura that had a faulty weld between the front window and the side window on the driver’s side,” she recounted. “The roof came in on his head and broke his neck.”

Confined to a hospital bed after fracturing three vertebrae and suffering from a stroke, which caused doctors to remove part of his brain that was “bigger than a golf ball but smaller than an orange,” he spent seven months in the hospital with Anne by his side. Both had physically deteriorated due to the hospital stay.

“I was there for probably 12 hours a day,” Anne said. “I didn’t do anything, and I didn’t take care of myself. I lost all my core strength to the point where by the time he came out of the hospital in the spring of ’03, I couldn’t run at all, couldn’t jump even a foot, couldn’t do anything, really.”

Fast forward a few years and Chris had made an unbelievable recovery. He even taught himself to walk again. He was regularly attending physiotherapy with Anne in the same building as Natural High CrossFit in Okotoks, Canada. The couple would poke their heads into the gym curiously, but never imagined they’d be “doing the whole CrossFit thing.”

“It looked too hard to be something that we could do,” Anne said.

Eventually Chris decided to sign up. When Anne saw how much fun he was having, she followed suit. Now, she has 14 months of CrossFit training under her belt.

“We’ve just kept at it,” she said. “We go every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. We wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer just after staring CrossFit, Anne kept with it and returned to training full swing after having a small tumor removed and undergoing radiation treatment.

“She’s made a full recovery,” Chris said. “CrossFit really helped her. It gives you mental fitness and everything else that comes with it. The support of the other ladies, and everybody in the gym—that positive energy is important.”

Although training regularly, Anne admitted she was apprehensive about signing up for the Open. It wasn’t until a chat with a friend, Brenna Goodwin, at Natural High that she seriously considered competing.

“I said, ‘Brenna, there’s so many things … I can’t do it all,’” Anne recalled of the conversation. “(Brenna) said, ‘They will adapt it for masters. You’ve got to at least try.’”

So she did.

“(Chris) said I had awakened a beast within (Anne),” Goodwin said. “She was moving furniture in her living room in order to practice double-unders, getting to the box early to get at least one toes-to-bar, etc.” 

Over the course of the five weeks, Anne surpassed many of her own goals, including getting her first double-under in 14.1—then going on to complete 39 more. She also PR’d her toes-to-bars in 14.4. After only having accumulated three the week before the workout was released, on game day she completed 23.

“That’s the big discovery that I got from CrossFit,” Anne said. “Of course you can’t do 100 of these or 100 of that. But you can do one. And if you just keep doing one, eventually, you’ve done 100.”

While tenacity helped her place 168th worldwide, Anne gives a lot of credit to the positive people at Natural High CrossFit.

“They’re the most supportive group that you could ever imagine,” she said.

Now she said she’s riding like she was 20 years ago and has more energy to help out around the ranch. Anne’s approach to CrossFit, and to life, is simple: Surround yourself with good people, and always try to be better than you were yesterday.

As she looks ahead, she admitted she’s a little jittery thinking about the next stage: the Masters Qualifier.

“That’ll be a challenge,” she said. “I’ve never tried to do anything like that. But of course I’m kinda excited to try it.”

Glen Hutchinson, a coach at Natural High who works with Anne every week, calls Anne an inspiration.

“She moves with a fluid gracefulness that often makes you wonder if she really is over 60 years old,” Hutchinson said. “She is living proof that you are only as old as you feel.”


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