July 17, 2013
No Expectations: Emily Carothers
By Carla Conrad

“All I know is that I can only control what I can do and continue to work on my weaknesses. Just show up, head down and focus on what I can do for that event. I don’t have expectations, but I want to be competitive.”

Emily Carothers finished in the top five in four out of seven events at the 2013 North West Regional and sealed the third spot to the CrossFit Games.

Last year, she finished the Regional weekend in seventh overall. After missing the Games by a small margin, she debated quitting CrossFit competition.

“Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure I would compete again,” she says.

For months, she pushed competition to the side. A couple of months before the Open, she went to a training camp that shifted the way she trained.

“In the early part of the new year, I went to a training camp with Rudy Nielsen and it sparked something in me,” she says. “I started following his programming, I liked it and the results I was getting, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it.”

So, she signed up for the Open.

“I signed up for the Open thinking I would qualify with a team,” she says. “But as it worked out, I placed second in the North West Region, and our team didn’t qualify.”

With only a couple months to train for Regionals, she looked for ways to quickly “pump up the volume.”

She felt prepared come Regional time, she says.

“I felt really ready this year. My body felt good and my strength had increased dramatically. I was prepared in all the right areas,” she says. “The Regional Events this year turned out to be much more in my wheelhouse than last year.”

She got off to the best possible start with an Event 1 win, finishing Jackie in 6:25. To close out the first day of competition, she got one overhead squat at 180 lbs. (seventh), and 28 burpee muscle-ups within the seven-minute time cap, tying for the win in that event.

“That first day, I did surprise myself. I didn’t anticipate doing as well on Jackie. The muscle-ups I knew I would be competitive with, but to come out with the win on Jackie, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a great start,’” she says.

The next morning, she chased Kendall Burnham to a second-place finish on the 100s. She kept these stellar finishes in mind as she entered her least favorite event: the deadlift/box jump couplet.

“I do struggle with deadlifts, both physically and mentally, so I wanted to be in a good position on the Leaderboard, with as big a lead as possible going into Event 5,” she says.

Finishing the event in 5:21.7, she plummeted to 15th.

The next morning, she took fourth on Event 6’s chipper (11:50) before falling to 16th on Event 7.

She was able to swallow 31 points without dropping out of the top three overall. In fact, she finished the weekend 16 points ahead of Kendall Burnham.

Now, she’s preparing for her first-ever CrossFit Games.

“All I know is that I can only control what I can do and continue to work on my weaknesses. Just show up, head down and focus on what I can do for that event,” she says. “I don’t have expectations, but I want to be competitive.”

Although she’s new to CrossFit, she isn’t new to competition.

Thirteen years ago, she earned a scholarship for NCAA gymnastics at the University of Washington. During her time there, she earned both NCAA Regional and conference titles, and won 20 event titles. Today, she still ranks in the top three on the Huskies' all-time score lists for parallel bars, vault and all-around.

“I think that my collegiate experience has prepped me for this stage. I am competitive. I know how to focus and zone-in for this level — the mental aspect of competition,” she says. “Gymnastics is a little different in that you practice the same thing over and over to get proficient with your movements. CrossFit is drastically different than that.”

The training focus as the Games approach is working on her strength. She is spending at least an hour a day on the barbell, plus skill work such as handstand push-ups, ring dips and chest-to-bar pull-ups. She has also added conditioning sessions that combine strength and gymnastics.  

“I have been incorporating longer endurance days, such as swimming, running or biking. On those days, I try to stay off the beaten path and swim in open water, and run or bike on trails as opposed to the road,” Carothers says. “I'm focused on high volume while also addressing some of my weaknesses and pushing my body to perform when it's fatigued. I work at keeping my motor up and getting through multiple workouts in a day, then recover, go back, do more, so I am ready for that come Games weekend.”

After college, the focus was on family. Married with two small children, she admits to the ongoing struggle to find balance, especially in preparing for the Games.

“With CrossFit, I can incorporate my family. My children can be here with me when I work out,” she says. “I quit my job in December to spend more time with my kids and now I have picked up this ‘job’ of training. So it is a balance that I work on daily to make sure they are not lost in all of this. Some athletes may be spending time worrying about their weaknesses. What keeps me awake at night is, ‘Am I being a good mom? Am I spending too much time at this? Am I being too selfish?’ I don’t know that I have that balance figured out.”

At each step in the season, she has the support of family and friends.

“I am very fortunate that outside of family, we are so blessed to have a large network of friends, especially my Maple Valley CrossFit community. I was so touched by how many stepped in to help me with Regionals, helped me with my children, helped me train in order to get to this point,” she says.

And when the Regional rolled around, her kids were in the audience.

“It was awesome to have my children there at Regionals. It is more significant to me now as a mom, including my college athletics, to have my kids be a part of this process and watch. It is a good lesson for them, to see their mom and dad be passionate about this. The influence shows up as they want to be active, and I know it is instilling a good foundation. When they find their own sport, they will know what it is like to work hard toward a goal or an outcome.”

Even an average 31-year-old mom with two kids can get to the Games and have fun, she says.

“I would say I am an average CrossFitter because it is not my everything ... I have heard that CrossFit is not for the average person, that you have to take it so seriously to see any benefit. I don’t agree with that because it is a sport that anyone can reap benefits that are personal and meaningful to them at any level,” she says. “I am preparing to compete at the highest level, yet I want people to know that this is still fun for me.”

Nine years and two kids later, she feels stronger than she did in college.

“Almost a decade after college sports, I find that I have to spend more time with my mobility and I don’t have the same recovery that I had in college,” she says. “I just have to be smart about it and give the time I need to recover and treat my body correctly. But my capacity is bigger than it was in college and what I am doing now has expanded the possibilities for more.”