April 18, 2014
Setting the Bar
By Lisa Zane
Susan Clarke has always been a competitive person. Not with others, but with herself.
Susan Clarke has always been a competitive person. Not with others, but with herself.

“I have high expectations. If I choose to do something, I try to work really hard at it.”

Photos by Kate Webster

Susan Clarke has always been a competitive person. Not with others, but with herself.

“I have high expectations,” she said. “If I choose to do something, I try to work really hard at it.”

It was this competitive drive that helped the 55-year-old from Vancouver, Canada’s CrossFit BC finish second overall in the Open among the Masters Women 55-59 Division.

“My goal was to give it my all at each (workout),” she said. “After placing first in (Open Workout 14.1), I really wanted to stay on top.”

And she did.

Kimberly Luber in the Central East matched Clarke’s 18 points after the Open, but sits in first due to the tiebreaker—whoever gets a higher placing on more workouts.

Clarke remained consistent throughout the Open, topping the Leaderboard on 14.1, and finishing second on 14.2 and 14.5. Her worst finish was ninth in the world.

When she logged onto the Games site after the final scores went up, she was shocked to find she had maintained a lead.

“It was crazy. I can’t even explain it,” Clarke said. “I don’t have anybody else in my gym that’s my age—all the people that I compete with on a regular basis are 40 and 30 or younger. So to compete with my age group, doing the same thing, it was just fun and amazing.”

First roped into CrossFit six years ago by good friend, Troy Straith, who owns CrossFit BC and is a three-time CrossFit Games competitor in the Masters Men 50-54 Division, Clarke quickly fell in love with it.

“Being active in my life is not an option,” she said. “It’s actually part of who I am.”

From playing on a variety of competitive teams in high school and university, to doing ballet, gymnastics and cycling, Clarke found her diverse background has complimented her development in CrossFit well.

“I think CrossFit is the first time that all of those skills that you kind of develop in the individual sports, which are very sport-specific, all those little elements come together,” she said. “Gymnastics helps with the kipping pull-ups or the ring muscle-ups or the handstand push-ups; ballet helps with crazy balance strength, etc.”

I just think that for the first time I found a sport that pulls together from everything that I’ve done. That, I think, is pretty neat,” she added.

Clarke, a full-time audiologist who owns a diagnostic hearing clinic in Vancouver, has progressively taken her training more seriously over the past year. After competing in the Open for the first time in 2013 and finishing 33rd in the 50-54 Division, she decided it was time to up the ante.

“I increased the amount I was training over the last year,” she said. “I started out with doing CrossFit only Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I kind of hit a plateau. You want to improve your PRs, so I started going four to five times a week, three days on, one day off, two days on. I found a big difference. I just felt better all around.”

With more training, the petite athlete felt ready for the workouts that came out of the hopper this year, especially when they involved lots and lots of reps.

“Having a big engine is my strong point,” she said, admitting she’s not a big Olympic lifter. “I like it and I work hard at it, and probably my one-rep maxes are OK, but that’s not my favorite stuff. Give me double-unders, box jumps, wall-ball (shots) and pull-ups, and I’m a happy girl.”

One of her most memorable moments from the Open came after an illness, Clarke said. Open Workout 14.5 was suited to her strengths, but she became sick the week before and had to postpone doing the workout until Sunday.

“I wasn’t feeling super good,” she said. “So when I did it, honestly, I was flat on the floor and I said to my fellow CrossFitters, ‘That’s all I had in me.’ I had nothing left.”

Her time of 10:57 was good enough to help her finish the Open on a high note, placing second and finishing just a few seconds behind Luber.

While Clarke said training with people younger than herself has helped her improve as an athlete, during the next level of qualification, she will have some high-caliber masters athletes to complete the four workouts with: Gord Mackinnon, a three-time CrossFit Games masters champion, and his training partner, 60-year-old Richard Roston, who has made two trips to the Games as a masters athlete and finished second worldwide in the Open this year in the 60-plus Division.

The two work out at CrossFit BC’s neighboring affiliate in West Vancouver, and Clarke will join them for the workouts from Friday to Monday. But the three of them won’t be alone—the gym has invited other members to work out with them.

“The energy in the gym will be fantastic if there’s a bunch of us doing it,” she said. “I think it will be a lot more fun and way less pressure.”

With the support of the gym and her fellow athletes behind her, Clarke is excited for what’s to come.

“It’s going to be interesting!” she said, adding that throughout the workouts, she will keep the advice Mackinnon gave her front and center: “Just don’t overthink it. Head down. Get it done."