March 6, 2014
Cheeky Competition
By Bethany Cawood

“I've continued to train hard. You never know what is going to happen on the day or what is going to come up. You've just got to do what you can do, both in training and competition.”

Photos courtesy of Pete Williamson

During the final event of the 2013 Europe Regional, the vibe was intense. But one athlete stepped forward, looked at the camera and cheekily stuck out her tongue.

It’s not exactly what one might expect from a potential CrossFit Games contender, but it is exactly what the audience got from Nicola Simpson.

However, they also go to see her serious presence in the sport, as she finished fourth at the regional, just missing a trip to the CrossFit Games.

“I really did do everything I could. There was nothing else I could have done to get that third place in 2013,” Simpson said. “Now, I think I have to give myself another chance or I might be left thinking, ‘What if?’ I can't live like that.”

After Week 1 of the Open, Simpson sits in 25th place in Europe and is happy with her 14.1 performance.

“I was pleased with it,” Simpson said. “I beat my score from 2011, which shows real progress.”

After finding CrossFit in 2010, Simpson quickly realized her potential. Her experience in Muay Thai gave her an ideal platform to build on. She trains hard, and is committed to her development as an athlete, but outside of competition, things get a little more relaxed. The down-to-earth, self-confessed tomboy doesn’t take herself too seriously and is likely to be caught sharing a joke.

The CrossFit Leeds athlete was aiming for a top-10 finish at the 2013 Europe Regional and exceeded her expectations. Over seven events that weekend, Simpson placed highest in Event 7, taking second. She said her main strength is her gas tank and ability to keep moving. The longer workouts with higher-rep schemes suit her style, as evidenced by her ninth-place finish in Europe on Open Workout 13.3 (150 wall-ball shots, 90 double-unders and 30 muscle-ups.)  

Prior to competing at the 2013 regional, Simpson said she intended to compete in 2014 as part of the CrossFit Leeds team. After performing better than she had expected last season, she found herself in a dilemma.

Simpson is now working hard with her friend, coach, fellow competitor and reigning Fittest Woman on Earth Samantha Briggs. She wants to go to the Games this year.

“It's where I am every day,” she said of her affiliate. “It's where the majority of my friends are, and it has such a massive influence on everything I do. I plan my day around my training, including eating and sleeping.”

Though committed, Simpson said she puts no pressure on herself, and is driven by wanting to perform at her best.

“I've continued to train hard,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen on the day or what is going to come up. You've just got to do what you can do, both in training and competition.”

Briggs has set the standard high for Simpson, insisting she has to believe the Games are a realistic target.

“She is a good all-around athlete, who, sometimes doesn't give herself enough credit so she needs a quick shove,” Briggs said.

Currently, Simpson is refining her skills and building strength. 

“We're now working on getting her strength numbers back up as regionals tend to be heavy movements,” Briggs said.

Briggs is more than a coach and mentor to Simpson; the two are friends, as well.

“We always have a laugh, so training is fun,” Briggs said. “I think we get on well. She's normally my friend, unless she misreads my programming and does 100-m handstand walks instead of 10 m.”

Simpson and Briggs are both in pursuit of a spot at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games, and with only three athletes moving on, it would be reasonable to expect an element of tension between the pair. But, “there is definitely no tension or rivalry,” Briggs said. “I want her to kick ass at regionals. If she beats me, then I just have to train harder.”

“I want Sam to be our champion two years in a row,” Simpson said reciprocating Briggs’ sentiment. “I feel privileged to have her as a coach and training partner. There is no tension whatsoever.”

For Simpson, the Open is a stepping-stone to regionals. However, she is a true advocate of everyone who takes on the worldwide competition.

“The boxes are buzzing with energy during the Open as people come together and test themselves. It gives everyone a chance to feel a part of something special,” Simpson said. “It would be a shame not to be part of it.”

The community and team element of CrossFit is what Simpson enjoys the most and where she finds her biggest inspiration. Simpson said she finds Briggs’ work ethic and determination incredibly motivating, but also seeks inspiration from the community around her.

“I don't have to look at one or two people for inspiration, just look around you, everyday people who achieve things they would have believed impossible at one point,” Simpson said. “You see this every day at the box, people hitting tiny goals, making progress, struggling through even though something is difficult for them, not letting anything stop them.”