September 19, 2021
How 17-Year-Old Emma Cary Fought Her Way to the Main Stage
By Kelley Laxton
Leading into the 2021 Games season, 17-year-old Emma Cary was preparing to make her own headlines.
Leading into the 2021 Games season, 17-year-old Emma Cary was preparing to make her own headlines.

Leading into the 2021 Games season, the CrossFit community was abuzz with conversations about reigning champion Tia-Clair Toomey and who would grasp the title of Fittest Man on Earth next. 

But 17-year-old Emma Cary was preparing to stir up the field.

Showing her true athletic ability in line with the fittest women in the world, Cary became the youngest athlete to qualify for the Games as an individual since 2009. 

“Emma Cary is the rare combination of god-given talent, a maniacal drive to win, and a maturity beyond her young age,” Sean Woodland said. 

Making it to the top takes more than just wishful thinking, and Cary understood her goal of not only making it to the CrossFit Games but also competing as an individual was going to be extremely difficult. However, one thing is clear about the 17-year-old: She is true to her word. 

How It All Started

Cary grew up in the small town of Marshfield, Missouri, a speck on the map with a population of just over 6,000. One day, her dad set out to improve his health and joined their local CrossFit gym, Perform Overcome Excel CrossFit. Each night at the dinner table, he would excitedly talk about the workouts he had done that day. Ten-year-old Cary was enthralled.

So in May 2014, she enrolled in the kid’s class and fell in love with the sport almost immediately. Soon after she began CrossFit, the Cary family attended a CrossFit competition in Springfield, Missouri, where they were surrounded by the fittest athletes in the sport. 

Cary’s dad, Mike, said, “Brooke Wells happened to be there and was absolutely amazing to her … . It wasn’t too long after that I think 10-year-old Emma decided that she was going to win the CrossFit Games.”

Mike recalled that a former affiliate owner thought the goal was a stretch and it might be easier to become President of the United States than to win the CrossFit Games. 

Cary made it a goal to prove him wrong. 

The Open

The 2021 Open put Cary’s name on the map. At 16 years old, she secured the fastest time in 21.2’s dumbbell snatch and burpee box jump-over workout. The world was in awe of her incredible speed as she finished in 8:51. That was over 30 seconds faster than second-place finisher Tia-Clair Toomey. 

Had Toomey met her match this year? A 16-year-old? 

After obtaining several more of the “youngest” Open records, Cary sat steady in second place worldwide, right behind the reigning champion. This finish not only astonished the CrossFit community but raised Cary’s confidence in herself. 

“I’m fired up just knowing how much work I have to do and how many improvements I can still make,” Cary said.

Win or Fail — There’s No Other Option

“No matter how happy I am with each individual performance, I feel like I’ve left a ‘what if?’ and I cannot be satisfied,” Cary said. 

After her incredible performance in the Open, Cary knew she had what it took to keep up with the big dogs. But since she was under 18, she had the option to compete in both the Individual Quarterfinal and the Age-Group Online Qualifier to secure her ticket to the Games. 

However, when Cary puts her mind to something, she never backs down. Declining her invitation to participate in the AGOQ, Cary gave herself no other option but to succeed in the individual division. If she failed, she would be waving goodbye to her ticket to Madison.

“Being driven to chase a big dream is a lot better than being satisfied,” she said. 

Cary finished fourth in the 2021 Individual Quarterfinal, proving yet again that she is true to her word.  


See more of Emma Cary’s story in Ep. 05 of Miles to Madison on YouTube.

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