July 17, 2014
Building Momentum: Physics CrossFit
By Lisa Zane
In 2013, Physics CrossFit was new to regional competition. A year later, the team is headed to the CrossFit Games.
In 2013, Physics CrossFit was new to regional competition. A year later, the team is headed to the CrossFit Games.

In 2013, Physics CrossFit was new to regional competition. A year later, the team is headed to the CrossFit Games.

 
 

In 2013, Physics CrossFit was new to regional competition. A year later, the team is headed to the CrossFit Games.

In 2011, François Leclerc and his sister, Isabelle, opened Physics CrossFit in Ottawa, Canada. In September 2012, they assembled a competitive team of athletes from the gym’s current members. For its debut appearance at the Canada East Regional, the team finished sixth.

“Last year we were so new, (it was) by no means our year to win,” said Leclerc, who was the team’s coach last year but is now a team member. “We had done one other local competition. But we showed up at regionals and finished in sixth place.”

The team competed that year without any expectations. The athletes planned to do their best and gain experience. But this year was different, Leclerc said.

“We knew that if we had one more full year of smart training ahead of us, we could be competitive,” he said. “From the start of the offseason we were motivated. We were going there to win.”

Physics placed within the top five in every regional event and earned its first trip to the Games with a second-place finish overall.

“After our three females hit the finish mat (after Event 8), we knew the competition was done and we had made it,” said team member Timothy Hemmerick. “The next feeling was just pure excitement to be going to the Games. … A dream come true for us.”

“It felt like we did exactly what we set out to do,” Leclerc added. “We trained our asses off. Every single team member made sacrifices. We had a planned approach to the weekend. It felt like we did a good job at preparing all year round, and it was really nice to feel that we put our efforts in the right places. Everybody’s dedication paid off. It was a really great moment.”

The team is a mixture of youth and leadership, in addition to having a wide variety of skills. First-year team members Lisa Joyce and Leclerc join returning teammates Hemmerick, Nathalie Connors, Alex Howard and Ann Ladouceur.

Ladouceur has a gymnastics background and is known as a leader among the women on the team. Joyce is a gifted, technical athlete and one of Ladouceur’s childhood friends and old gymnastics teammates. Joyce joined Physics CrossFit in summer of 2013 after competing internationally in fitness competitions and twice being named Ms. Fitness Canada. The two are both elementary school teachers and Ladouceur runs the Physics CrossFit Kids program.

Hemmerick said he’s “all fitness, all the time.” An all-around athlete who played high school football and competed in long and triple jump at university, he now coaches at Physics part time and is a fitness equipment salesman.

For 42-year-old Connors, a mother of three who works full time with the Canadian Coast Guard, it will be her third trip to Carson, California.

After competing with L’Usine CrossFit Ottawa at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games and as a masters competitor in the 40-44 Division in 2013, she earned two tickets to the Games as a master and with the team this year. Connors chose to compete with the team.

“I am so excited to be going with the team,” she said. “This year, I will be able to share (it) with five other members of Physics. This, to me, is priceless.”

Remaining members Leclerc and Howard both share a dedication to CrossFit born out of two separate eye-opening experiences.

Leclerc, who was balancing running the gym and training as a competitive weightlifter, all while coaching at Physics, shifted his focus after watching regionals last year.

“I was just so amazed by the atmosphere, the scale of the event, how well it was organized and the camaraderie,” he said. “Although it was great to coach those guys, I told myself I wanted to switch over and dedicate myself to CrossFit.”

Howard, a former Junior B lacrosse player and ex-garage/basement CrossFitter who started doing main-site workouts in 2008, dove head first into coaching and competing after the 2013 Games. Along with Leclerc, Isabelle Leclerc and Ladouceur, Howard traveled to Carson last year to support Connors. Motivated after watching the athletes throw down, he never went back to his full-time job.

“He was like, ‘Pretty sure I’m not goin’ back, guys,’” Leclerc recalled with a laugh.

Howard added: “François told me there were extra hours available at the gym and that if I ever wanted to quit my job, work with Physics, and concentrate more on my training, he and Isabelle would do anything they could to make it work.”

“Once we got home after the Games, I still had a week of vacation left and made up my mind,” he continued. “I called my boss and told her I wasn’t going back, and the rest is history.”

With Leclerc doing the majority of the programming, heavily influenced by Physics lifting coach Daniel Robitaille—a five-time national Olympic weightlifting champion and former national team coach—the team’s training evolved over the past year and was focused on technique and skill.

“We focused all the demands of our training on what the team events could possibly look like,” Leclerc said. “This year, more than last year, a lot of us trained two times a day. That was one of the bigger changes.”

Balancing hectic schedules, the three men regularly trained together during the day, the women in the evenings and the entire team on weekends.

“We always come up with some crazy workouts so it worked for us,” Leclerc said.

“The three of us girls all work during the days in our respective careers, so we knew we had to train at night,” Joyce explained. “We wanted to be together as much as possible because we knew it was important to see, push, encourage, and support each other on the road to regionals, and ultimately the Games.”

“Lisa and I work full time and rushed from school to do a first workout (in the) late afternoon, and then would go home and eat dinner to be back at the gym for a second workout,” Ladouceur added. “I spent most of my lunch breaks doing marking to have less stuff to do at night between practices.”

Dialing in on the details, the team did a test run through all the regional events.

“We did the entire weekend as is. Exactly as is,” Leclerc said. “We did the events in order, with the same amount of reps as we were going to be doing at regionals. And then we were able to evaluate, go back to the drawing board and really pick out the elements we had to refine.”

That same analytical approach to training has carried over into their preparation for the Games.

“We’re mainly trying to focus on the same things that have made us successful so far,” said Leclerc, who added they have increased their outdoor training since regionals. “We’re trying to train in the heat of the sun, even if that means bringing our rowers outside and sweatin’ it out there and going through that sort of adaptation.”

“We are running, biking, sled pulling and doing whatever we can outside,” Joyce said. “Living in Canada makes it impossible to train outdoors all year round, so when the nice weather hit, we were out!”

Just a few weeks away from testing themselves against the best in the world, the athletes are more concerned with how they perform as a team, rather than their final ranking. 

“We’re gonna go there and try to do our absolute best,” Leclerc said. “For our first year that we’re competing, we’re looking forward to being able to put our best performance forward.”

“At the Games, anything goes—it’s a true testing ground,” Hemmerick added. “I think we have a gifted team of athletes and we will be able to adapt quickly to the unknowns. I can’t lie, it’s going to be pretty awesome to compete alongside the top CrossFitters in the world who we’ve all been watching for years.”

They’re also looking forward to representing Canada East.

“Our region is growing. It’s competitive now and we’re all really, really proud to be able to represent,” Leclerc said. “We’re really excited to go there for the first time and see where we stack up.”