June 17, 2013
Driven to Carson: Kelly Graham
By Kate Rose

"I remember thinking to myself as I watched these amazing athletes perform, 'I'm on the wrong side of the fence.'"


Photos by Louise C. Beard

Kelly Graham is going to the CrossFit Games.

Graham, who placed 20th in the Women’s Masters 45-49 Division, is a high school teacher and mother of three. She has been training for about a year-and-a-half at Huronia CrossFit.

“I had only been doing CrossFit for six months when the Open began in 2012. I had not yet participated in any type of CrossFit competition at that point in time,” she recalls. “I remember being in awe of the athletes in our gym who could perform Rx’d movements daily.”

She participated in the 2012 Open, but didn’t give it much mental energy.

“I would do the workout on the Thursday and head home, never thinking of it again. I finished 58th in the world for women 44-49 and was the alternate woman on the team heading to Regionals.”

When she traveled to the 2012 Regional in Toronto to cheer on her team, a fire was lit.

“I remember thinking to myself as I watched these amazing athletes perform, ‘I’m on the wrong side of the fence. Next year I will be a competitor.’”

To that end, Graham has worked hard over the past year.

“I have worked on key gymnastic elements such as linking muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, bar muscle-ups and walking on my hands,” she says. “My strength has improved, but I still feel my front and back squat one-rep max is not in proportion to my upper body strength and I need to fix this.”

In December, Graham took one more step toward her goal.

“I decided in December that if I wanted to see how well I could do this year in the Open, I need to make some additional changes. I gave up alcohol and became even more aware of my food choices,” she explains. “Although I am not 100 percent paleo, I am pretty close.”

With a different focus, and a goal in mind, the 2013 Open was a different experience for Graham.

“I would not look at the (workout) on Wednesday nights before bed because I knew I would not sleep well — that I would be analyzing every movement and wake up exhausted from performing thrusters all night in my dreams,” she says.

She would do the Open workouts twice each — once on Thursday and a second time on Sunday.

“I always saw an improvement in my score.”

Graham sticks to a three-on-one-off training plan.

“I have really tried to limit myself to working out no more than three days in a row, with a rest day to follow. It’s hard to rest, because I love every minute I am at (Huronia CrossFit),” Graham says.

Graham attributes much of her improvement to the trainers at her box.

“Each trainer at the gym adds something special to my week,” she says.

Louise encourages her to lift heavier. Kelly offers technical advice. Rebecca, a former student, gives her someone to compete against. Tiff, a fellow mother of three, offers someone to commiserate with. But it’s Joanne and Alex Jeffrey, the owners, who really push Graham.

“Two days ago, I checked the whiteboard for the top male and female scores from the previous day. I was listed third from the top, but had completed the most rounds,” she says. “Jo decided we need to lift heavier, that I was already fast, but had to get stronger, so the ranking was now being done by weight used in the strength portion of the day, not the WOD result. So I started to lift heavier. Jo’s a smart woman.”

The Jeffreys’ ability to motivate and lead has fostered a deep level of respect for Graham.

“Joanne completed all five weeks of the Open and was seven to eight months pregnant! Jo is a confident, powerful woman. She knows what to say to keep me focused during training and competitions and never allows me to use my age as a crutch,” Graham says.

Alex has a similar ability to push Graham.

“My schedule doesn’t jive with Alex’s very often anymore, and I miss having him as a trainer. He always seems to be able to squeeze a few more reps out of me.”

Graham also has the strong backing of her husband.

“Ed has never made me feel like my time would be better spent somewhere other than the gym. He understands CrossFit and, more importantly, understands me.”

 What will the Games experience mean for Graham?

“Face-to-face competition brings out my competitive spirit and I usually excel in this situation,” she says.

She is hoping for a top-12 finish this year, and a podium spot next.

“I will move into the next category of 50-54 next year and my scores from this year would have put me as a favorite to medal.”

Though Graham is new to the competitive side of CrossFit, she is excited to compete at the Games and is already thinking about 2014.

“Because I am relatively new to the sport of CrossFit, these three months of preparation before the Games will give me time to improve upon my weaknesses.”