July 3, 2012
Elisabeth Akinwale: Reaching Her Limits
By John Koenig

"For the Snatch Ladder, I was out there by myself for at least five lifts, doing double-unders in front of all those people. The moment makes you feel human."


Life Before CrossFit

When people tell Elisabeth Akinwale they avidly read her blog, she’s surprised. Unpretentious to the core, she’s flattered to learn her writing means so much to others.

“My blog is honest about a number of things I’d have changed at Regionals,” Akinwale says. “It was a learning experience,”

Throughout the North Central Regional, fans constantly told Akinwale they were fans of her blog, as well as her athletic endeavors.

She’s unfailingly appreciative of people, and always takes time to chat. This openness with fans is consistent with top CrossFit competitors, but Akinwale takes it to new levels. Several times during the Regional she was caught up in lengthy conversations with spectators and fans.

Her sister, Busola, who also competed at Regionals, introduced Akinwale to CrossFit in 2010. She was already an experienced weightlifter. At the time, Akinwale was a warm-weather distance runner, and was searching for something new. She loved CrossFit right away.

“I loved putting the barbell overhead, enjoyed front squats, doing burpees for time,” Akinwale says. “My coach at the time was surprised at the weight I could lift. He doubted my competitiveness.”

2012 Regionals

A European publication named Akinwale “The Amazon of North Central.” She took the title in stride.

“I thought it was funny. It’s human nature to obsess about physical-ness,” she says. “I grew up in sports; was always bigger than other girls. Now, adding size is a positive thing. So yes, it’s a compliment.”

Akinwale says she was nervous for every event at Regionals.

“Regionals were a learning experience,” she admits. “It’s nerve-wracking.”

She finds it distracting to have attention directed at her during her warm-up. This was hard to avoid as she intimidated many athletes with her strength.

Akinwale says she prefers to be alone during warm ups, unless her coach, Rudy Nielsen is around.

As the final competitor left on the floor in the Snatch Ladder, Akinwale says she felt the pressure.

“It’s nerve wracking. For the Snatch Ladder, I was out there by myself for at least five lifts, doing double-unders in front of all those people,” she says. “The moment makes you feel human.”

Akinwale surprised herself during Regionals. Nielsen says he was impressed at how strong she was on the third day.

“I was a little surprised I won the final workout, I didn’t know how I’d stack up against the other girls with muscle-ups,” Akinwale says. “But I know what I’m capable of and go into every workout feeling like I’m capable of winning.”

The Outlaw Way

Nielsen is a constant presence anytime Akinwale competes. At the Arnold Classic last March he was always by her side, whether it was an informal workout, or the competitive events.

“Rudy is sensitive to my needs. We work long distance. He doesn’t know me day to day,” she says. “We’ve learned that over the last few months at training camps, the Arnold Classic and at Regionals. Things have really clicked between us.”

As a coach, Nielsen is more than someone who programs for Akinwale – he’s intimately involved with every aspect of her training. Akinwale came to Nielsen already a strong athlete.

“I was raw. I had strength, drive and desire, but was not refined,” she says. “I could get away with bad form, but I want to reach the absolute limits of my capacity.

“Rudy is like a scientist when it comes to CrossFit. I come from a background of little or no structure in my workouts. I never planned. Every session was just 3, 2, 1 … go! This is all new to me. I knew Rudy could tap into my wish to reach my limits.”

Akinwale is maximizing both her athletic talents and Nielsen’s coaching and training.

Looking Ahead to the Games

Akinwale says she has plans for the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. “Standing on the podium,” she says without missing a beat. “I feel I’m capable of that. I’m working to win, not just to participate. All my decisions in the past year are pointing towards that goal. Annie has a target on her back – it’s going to be a fight.”