Sitting in fourth place with one event to go in the 2019 CrossFit Games – the annual competition to determine who is “the fittest on Earth” – Jamie Greene knew she had to give one last push to get on the podium.
She was into her fourth day of demanding workouts, which had included a 1km swim and a 1km paddle board, legless rope climbs, a sled push and a 40m handstand walk.
Then there was the Olympic weightlifting ‘clean ladder’, where the barbell gets progressively heavier with each repetition. Greene ended up lifting 100kg; she weighs just 61kg.
What stood in front of the 28-year-old Kiwi was ‘The Standard’ workout – 30 clean and jerks, 30 muscle-ups (a gymnastic move pulling up your body till your hips are in line with the high bar) and 30 snatches using 43kg barbells.
In the twelfth event of the CrossFit Games, in Maddison, Wisconsin, earlier this month, Greene pulled out her best workout finish. She nabbed second place and, in doing so, cemented the bronze medal.
“It wasn’t until the those last few seconds when I thought ‘I’m going to come third’. You never want to look at the leader-board in CrossFit and think ‘yes I’m safe there’,” says Greene, speaking from Abu Dhabi where she’s based.
The annual CrossFit Games are the world championships for the ever-growing global fitness community – “the world’s premier test to find who is the fittest on Earth”, its tagline says.
Originally from Dunedin, Greene finished just behind Norwegian CrossFit veteran Kristin Holte, who was second, and Australian Olympic weightlifter Tia-Clair Toomey, who pulled off a three-peat as the world’s fittest woman.
It was Greene’s fourth time at the CrossFit Games – she was 11th last year, 8th in 2017 and won bronze in the 2016 teams event with CrossFit YAS, representing the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Also a member of that YAS team three years ago was Greene’s now fiancé Elliot Simmonds, a British-born CrossFit coach who she trains with five or six days a week, for two to three sessions a day.
“We really fuel each other in training and are able to support each other. It’s great,” says Greene, who also coaches. “In CrossFit you really just have to be able to do everything. We train hard for everything.”
A week after the brutal workouts in Maddison, Greene felt her body was in pretty good shape, because physically they’d prepared well.
“My central nervous immune system, though, is shot. I’ve got cold sores, my feet hurt, my hand hurts, and I have so many sores from the ruck,” she says. The ‘ruck’ is a pack loaded with weights carried by the athletes on a 6km run.
“I’ve had limited sleep for the last week so I need some time to chill before I get back into it.”
Growing up in New Zealand with supportive and sporty parents, Greene feels fortunate to have been exposed to a lot of different sports, and having so many opportunities to be active alongside her younger sister Becky, who’s been a national representative in athletics.
“A lot of other kids would go to the movies or go hang out with their friends in school holidays, but Becky and I just hung out,” Jamie Greene says. “We’d pretty much do a triathlon in the morning, swim in the middle of day, do some other exercise in the afternoon and play basketball at night.”
The elder of the two sisters says it was time well-spent – and it was fun. Exposure to a number of sports has certainly helped her in CrossFit, adapting quickly to the different workouts thrown at the athletes.
She developed her fundamental strength doing gymnastics when she was younger. She played rugby, too, from the age of eight until 22 for the Dunedin club Pirates – and spent five years at fullback or on the wing for the Otago Spirit women’s side.
Greene also played touch, basketball, swimming, tennis and athletics through her active childhood.
She went along to CrossFit Dunedin while working at another gym as a personal trainer, and was hooked.
“It’s the people that I love about CrossFit. Wherever you go in the world, everyone is like-minded,” she says.
Greene thrives on the competitive nature of CrossFit, and says her 25-year-old sister Becky’s sporting success has also helped drive her.
“Becky has been hugely influential in my sport to me. I think a lot of it is the hard work she’s put into her sport. I’ve said to myself ‘If she can do that, I need to shut up and get on with my work’,” she says.
One example was in June, when Greene was back in New Zealand visiting family, and it was a freezing, rainy day in Dunedin; she just didn’t feel like training.
“I knew that Becky would be outside running in the rain, and I was going to the gym inside. So I had no excuse. When I came back from the gym, she got home dripping wet from a 90-minute run,” she says.
Although competitive, the Greene sisters are also fiercely proud and supportive of each other.
“I’m very, very proud of Jamie; what she’s achieved is amazing. She’s very relaxed in her nature but when its competition time she can flick a switch,” Becky Greene says.
The same day Jamie was collecting her CrossFit bronze, Becky also won a bronze medal at the national cross country championships in Lower Hutt.
“It was quite a day for our family,” Becky says. “Jamie’s results have certainly made me believe in myself more and she’s given me more confidence to back myself.
“I’ve learnt a lot from her. I’ve definitely been guilty of over-training in the past and I think she’s been a really great influence. I feel like why can’t I be better, too?”
As a young runner, Becky Greene was seventh in the 3000m at the 2012 world junior athletics championships in Barcelona. That helped earn her a full scholarship to the University of Florida, which she completed and is now back in Dunedin training and working.
Having battled injuries in recent years, and with a heart condition that has required two surgeries, Becky says her elder sister is now providing the motivation for her to push for higher honours this coming track season.
‘A bit dead, but happy’
For the first time in the CrossFit Games, the 2019 organisers added the challenge of an athlete ‘cut’ system to the first five workouts, narrowing down the field with every event. From the initial 100 athletes, only ten progressed to the final five events.
“It was a lot more mentally tough this year with the cuts,” Jamie Greene says. “It made people more urgent in every workout and I think the crowd loved it.”
While the reduction in field size proved a brutal end to the campaigns of some athletes, Greene is philosophical about the new order. While the timing of the workouts disadvantaged some, she says all athletes had to rise to the added challenge.
Greene qualified for the CrossFit Games through a regional open competition, posting the best score of any individual New Zealand woman, which effectively made her the national champion and earned her ticket to Maddison.
The CrossFit YAS Coach says the first event, ‘The First Cut’, was her favourite – where athletes had to complete four rounds of a 400m run, three legless rope climbs and seven squat snatches at 59kgs.
“I love being outside, doing the gymnastic-based workouts and competing with everyone,” she says. “It was also great to get off to a good start after so many months preparing.”
Only four athletes in the entire field of 100 completed the first challenge in the allowed time of 20 minutes, including Greene.
Her next major competition is in October to secure qualification for the 2020 CrossFit Games. And then her next challenge is planning her wedding to Simmonds in New Zealand in January.
“Eventually we’d love to be doing what we’re doing back in New Zealand, in Central Otago,” she says.
Greene is adamant she will always lead an active life. “I’ll always work out, but I’m not sure how long I’ll compete in CrossFit for,” she says.
“CrossFit is so basic and the people are awesome. Everyone leaves feeling a bit dead, but happy.”