March 11, 2014
Wake Up and Fight
By Tim McIntosh

"I get up and train in the morning because if I didn’t, I’d be disappointed in myself. If something is hard, you keep working at it. Gymnastics taught me that."

Photos courtesy of Zac Smith

Former gymnast Emily Morris walked into Eugene CrossFit in the summer of 2013. She moved to Oregon from Boone, N.C., to begin a master’s degree at the University of Oregon.

“Gymnastics and CrossFit have a lot in common,” Morris said. “Both demand core strength, both train you how to train safe, both teach you how to use your body in space.”

Eugene CrossFit coach Jenn Blackburn knew Morris had potential from the moment she walked in.

“The first day Emily stepped through our door, I knew she’d be good … she just looked strong,” Blackburn said. “She worked out with me that first day. I was blown away.”

Gymnastics to CrossFit

Morris, 21, walked away from gymnastics at age 17. For a few years she tinkered with running and cycling. Then a friend took her to CrossFit Boone in North Carolina.

After training there for 18 months, she moved to Oregon for school. For a couple of months, Morris attended Eugene CrossFit’s athlete’s workouts, but when school was in session, she had to adjust her schedule. The only gap in her day was at 5 a.m.

From September until March, she awoke in the cold drippy Eugene mornings to train alone.

On occasion, Morris’ schedule allowed her to join Sam Jay’s strength class.

Jay insists he “discovered” Morris.

“Don’t let Jenn tell you otherwise; I discovered Emily,” he jokes. “I saw her destroy a workout and I thought, ‘Oh wow, she has got to come to our gym.’”

When Jay heard about Morris’ gymnastics background, he challenged her to a handstand cage match, a battle that involves heel boxing from a handstand position. The tradition stuck. Jay’s strength athletes follow Rudy Neilson’s Outlaw Way, with heaps of Olympic lifts and when Emily attends, a few handstand cage matches.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

“I’d see Emily arrive at 5 a.m.,” Blackburn said, “and my heart went out to her … I sent her a Facebook message. I wanted her to know how much I respected and appreciated her.”

Emily finds motivation to train alone through her own internal drive.

“I get up and train in the morning,” she said, “because if I didn’t, I’d be disappointed in myself. If something is hard, you keep working at it. Gymnastics taught me that.”

“There’s a song I listen to when I train,” she continued. “The lyrics are something like, ‘When are you gonna wake up and fight?’ I like that. That’s how I feel.”

Morris’ best movements are snatches and cleans. Her PRs include a 170-lb. snatch and 205-lb. clean and jerk.

But months of solo work can depress even the most self-motivated athletes. After weeks of training alone, Emily hit a wall. The weights seemed a bit heavier and the results arrived slower.

Then she got the Facebook message from Blackburn.

“Her message said she respected me,” Morris said, “for doing the work alone, for continuing to show up. It was really nice that she … noticed. It meant a lot.”

That little nudge kept Morris going and helped her get a respectable 177 reps on Open Workout 14.2. She currently sits in 32nd place in the North West Region. 

Straying from her solo training, this week, Blackburn and Morris plan to tackle 14.3 together.