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CrossFit queen Emma McQuaid reveals dedication it takes to reach peak of her sport after being shortlisted for Belfast Telegraph’s Game Changer Awards

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Ring wonder: Newry woman Emma McQuaid during her extensive training regime

Ring wonder: Newry woman Emma McQuaid during her extensive training regime

Emma McQuaid competing at the 2021 CrossFit Games

Emma McQuaid competing at the 2021 CrossFit Games

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Ring wonder: Newry woman Emma McQuaid during her extensive training regime

You’d be doing well to catch Emma McQuaid in between all her various training activities.

On Tuesday, she finished the first stage of the CrossFit Open qualifiers. It was three gruelling weeks of events held online.

Next weekend will be the quarter-finals, where the field of competitors is cut from 5,000 people across Europe to just 60.

That will also be held online and such is the beauty of CrossFit, none of the competitors know the nature, or the frequency, of the workouts in store, so you basically have to stay within touching distance of your peak at all times.

Get into that top 60 bracket and it’s off to London for one group of 30, Amsterdam for the other 30. Ten altogether will qualify for the finals of the CrossFit Games.

She’ll make it, of course.

Well, her formlines demand that she does. Back in January, she won the Wodapalooza Event in Miami, scooping the big cash prize of $100,000 (£76,000) and her incredible achievements mean she has been shortlisted in the elite section of the Belfast Telegraph’s Game Changer Awards in association with Electric Ireland.

It’s a novel, unusual way of making your living, but the girl who grew up in Newry and lives in Lisburn is wired differently.

“It’s different! It’s not the norm,” she concedes. “But I think my mum would always say I never was a normal kid, so it probably suits me down to the ground.”

Since she was two-years-old, a fascination with an electric quad bike remained through her teens when she raced competitively.

That’s how she met David Wray. It’s now 10 years since, being a pair of 19 and 20-year-olds smitten with each other, a life-changing event.

Both were racing quad bikes in Tandragee in 2012 when the safety flag was raised. One person didn’t make it back into base. It was David. His bike had landed on him and crushed vertebrae in his back.

David never recovered enough to walk again. But he had Emma. And the two never parted as he adjusted to life in a wheelchair and she helped him through everything.

The two married last December when they had an intimate celebration at home, erecting a teepee for the event and bringing in a band and barmen. Again, as she says: “Not the norm.”

It was on a trip to San Diego, on a visit to a ‘Project Walk’ programme for David, that she wandered into a CrossFit session. She asked to take part and was refused. She asked again and again until the instructor shooed her off to the back of the room to make all the mistakes that beginners do.

And that was enough. She was hooked. Ten years on, she fully expects to break into the top 10 in the world.

And how do you do that? Through repetition, repetition, repetition. Competitive CrossFit is only for those who can give themselves entirely to a sport, heart, body and soul.

“Usually every morning is similar, some kind of conditioning,” she explains. “So we had 80 minutes of conditioning, a wee bite to eat and then just out of the swimming pool as well.

“Every Tuesday is cardio and swimming in the morning, and then the same on Thursdays. The rest of the week will be conditioning, into gymnastics or a strength session. I get to chill now for a couple of hours, usually between 12 to 2 and then go for another two to three hours.”

The variety, such as it is, is choosing what cardio to do between biking, running, skiing and rowing. But they are all CrossFit disciplines anyway so you have to check in on all of them at regular intervals.

“I will have a leg session this evening, that will be about two hours or so, and then a movement session to finish the day,” she adds.

“I have physio at 5.30pm and then I will go home, get a sauna, stretch and chill out, just relax. I like to be finished training by five o’clock every day and use the evening to chill, relax and get ready to go again.”

If it sounds relentless, it’s because it is. At present, Emma’s coach is the vastly-experienced James Joycey of Manchester who sets out her programmes. Others are benefiting from similar levels of expertise and so the only way to find your edge is for the one percenters.

“I think the biggest one is sleep,” she says. “For me, I always try to get a minimum eight hours. If I can get nine it would be better. And I always try to get a nap during the day, 30 minutes during the day. It all adds up.

“That’s the biggest thing to help with recovery. I take Vitamin C, D, all that. But the biggest game changer is the sleep.”

On matters of diet, she gives the impression that she doesn’t dwell on it.

“I eat when I am hungry, and don’t eat when I am not hungry. That’s my rule,” she says.

“I don’t over-complicate it, I keep everything clean and healthy, no processed food.

“I try not to complicate the nutrition side of things as you have enough during the day to focus on without stressing about what you are eating.”

But she is meticulous in recording what she eats, limiting herself to a calorie count that most hungry men would consider more than generous, but the difference is she is training for almost a third of the entire day.

There are others who take shortcuts. In the past, Emma has been a victim of that.

At a previous event, she was pushed out of the final day of competition when she finished 20th overall. Two months after the event, it emerged that Greek woman Anna Fragkou had tested positive for a banned substance during an in-competition test. The difficulty was that she was just one of seven, but also that her being placed in the top 20 knocked others — namely Emma — out of the competition at the time.

McQuaid maintains a righteous anger about doping in sport. She will take part in weightlifting events, so that she is tested by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) as well as CrossFit’s own checks.

“It can happen in any sport. People are given an inch and they take a mile,” she says.

“But I can only control what I can control, and that is what I put into my body and that’s all I am worried about.

“I know if I finish 15th or 20th in the Games next year, I know that it is done through honest, hard work. I’d rather finish 20th in the Games knowing it was done with hard work, than finish fifth in the Games and have cheated.”

She adds: “Whatever anyone else does is their own decision. They are the ones that will have to tell their mum or their dad, or their children down the line, that they finished say fifth, but can they say they did it through hard work?

“People that cheat, it will eat them up forever. I am honest, it is done through hard work and the results I get are earned. Eventually, the guilt will eat them alive anyway.”

And off she goes, to the next challenge.


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