August Athlete of the Month: Elsa McDowell
Congratulations, Elsa! You are NoCoast’s August Athlete of the Month!
Elsa’s CrossFit journey started as a way to overcome injury, balance her body from a collegiate rowing career, and supplement her current rowing training. Since coming to NoCoast, she has improved her overall fitness and become stronger on the rower, while putting in less time. Her fitness has allowed her to enjoy all Colorado has to offer, including skiing, rock climbing, and ice climbing.
When asked about our last nutrition challenge, Elsa says “One of my big takeaways from the challenge is that you can't out exercise your diet. I haven't dramatically changed my activity level, but since March, I've lost 25 lbs, including almost 9 lbs just during the 4 weeks of the challenge and noticed a huge improvement in how I feel.”
How long have you been CrossFitting?
I started about 3 years ago, but I had to take about 5 months off after tearing a ligament during a cross country ski race, so it's been more like 2.5 years of actual CrossFitting.
Growing up in Maine, I did a lot of skiing and hiking with my family, but my main sport as a kid was actually figure skating. By middle school, I'd moved on to playing field hockey and running track. I discovered rowing my freshman year of college and really haven't looked back. I rowed all 4 years in college, captaining the team as a senior and setting the team's 2000m and 5000m records. After college I moved to Wisconsin, where I rowed with an adult team (and coached them for 5 years). I now have my own boat and train on my own a few times a week in the summer and hit the rowing machine in my basement in the winter. When I'm not rowing, I still enjoy skiing and hiking with my husband and also do some rock climbing and ice climbing when I get the chance.
How did you get into CrossFit?
Aside from doing some 5k and 10k fun-runs and mixing in some cross country skiing in the winter, for most of my 20's my only exercise was rowing. I kept having back injury after back injury and going through this cycle of training, injury, and then physical therapy. I really wanted to get back into doing some of the Olympic weightlifting we did as part of our training program in college and do something that would help me stay in rowing shape, but get me off the repetitive motion of being in the boat and rowing machine, so CrossFit was a natural fit.
What is your favorite WOD/CrossFit movement?
Is rowing too obvious? I also really like the Airdyne and power cleans. My favorite WODs are long chippers because I have the endurance from my rowing background to just keep going and going until they're done.
What is your least favorite WOD/CrossFit movement?
All gymnastic movements are my weakness, but if I have to pick one: Handstands.
What is your most memorable CrossFit moment?
Probably my first WOD. I was still living in Wisconsin and my free intro class at my gym there happened to be on 9/11. We did a modified version of the hero WOD the main class was doing, which included a lot of running and air squats. About a month before that class I'd raced at USRowing's Masters Nationals (for athletes over age 27) and won some medals, so I thought I was in decent shape, but that workout really humbled me. I was sore for basically the entire week between the intro class and when I started that gym's Foundations program.
How has the NoCoast Nutrition Challenge changed the way you eat?
And what did you learn from doing the challenge?
I started changing my diet in March (mainly cutting simple carbs) and had made some progress with getting leaner, but doing the Nutrition Challenge in June really opened my eyes to how much of a difference moving to balanced eating and then to the Zone diet could make. I'd been intimidated by Zone before the challenge, but once I figured out some go to meals and snacks I haven't found it that hard to stick with.
One of my big takeaways from the challenge is that you can't out exercise your diet. I haven't dramatically changed my activity level, but since March, I've lost 25 lbs, including almost 9 just during the 4 weeks of the challenge and noticed a huge improvement in how I feel.
How does nutrition play a role in your fitness and recovery?
It's so important, especially for performance. Since I started really paying attention to my nutrition, I've made big gains at the gym especially with body weight movements. IN the past 6 weeks I've gotten my first toes to bar and strict pull ups, and almost doubled my max set of double unders. I've also noticed that I don't have that afternoon energy lull that used to be a daily occurrence.
How has CrossFit improved your overall wellness?
Since I started CrossFit I've stopped having problems with my back and feel much more balanced with my overall fitness. My rowing has actually gotten stronger, even as I've spent less time focusing on it.
How has CrossFit changed your family?
My husband has a heart condition that prevents him from actually doing CrossFit, but as I've improved my diet, he's made some changes as well. Plus he likes seeing me happier and having more energy.
Advice to new people:
Show up. Do the work. Be consistent. There really are no shortcuts to getting better, but if you do the work, no matter where you started, you will see improvement. You're not competing with the other people in your class, you're competing with where you were last week or last month or last year. Track your progress so you can celebrate your milestones. Try to come to some Saturday morning classes so you can get to know more of the NoCoast community. It's a supportive environment with a lot of great people and awesome coaches.