It takes a lot of grit, hard work and dedication to make a name for yourself in the world of CrossFit but Jen Hughes is doing just that. With only around 2 years of serious competing under her belt, Jen is rising up the ranks.
We sat down to speak to Jen at GW Performance in South Yarra, where she is also a coach, to find out exactly how she manages to balance following her passion as an athlete, whilst coaching the sport she loves.
Jen first stumbled across the sport in 2014 when a personal trainer she was working with recommended she try it. She did a bit a ‘youtub-ing’ and was blown away by the female CrossFit athletes ridiculous strength and capabilities, not to mention their bodies, having had weight fluctuations of her own over the years. While she was a bit intimidated, she was also extremely keen to try it out. After doing so and discovering how grueling it actually was, she had a ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ kind of start. However she soon returned, coming back again and again, before deciding it was the sport for her.
Indeed it seems like her naturally competitive nature is what lit the spark for her.
Growing up, whenever someone told Jen she couldn’t do something, she made it her mission to prove them wrong. She began noticing with CrossFit, that would get that little bit better each session, being able to achieve what she previously thought she couldn’t do. In 2014 things were very different and it wasn’t as common for a female to compete in high intensity gymnastic events like those at CrossFit. She soon realised that this was something she wanted to be able to do, as a test her own personal limits.
While Jen had always had quite the obsessive personality, she found she’d often start things but never finish them. She wanted CrossFit to be different, to be the girl with all the potential who actually made it, instead of the girl just going in circles. She found ways to balance her busy schedule of working, studying and competing with good nutrition, recovery and sleep, to enable her to put her on the course to CrossFit success.
Jen’s defining moment in CrossFit came at the Australian Fitness Titles in Pakenham in 2015, her first ever CrossFit competition. It was a rather emotional finish, with Jen thinking she had absolutely no chance of winning the comp, only to find out, to her disbelief, that she had indeed won. Through this reaction, it became apparent to her just how serious she was about the sport, it clearly wasn’t just a Saturday hobby. This encouraged her ramp up her efforts, finding herself competing against the top 30 athletes in the Torian Pro in 2017, leveling up with the best.
In the 2018 CrossFit Open Jen decided to separate her work from her coaching and competed with the team from CrossFit SouthWharf, under the guidance of Mitch Sinnamon. This enabled her to have 5 weeks of shared experience with like-minded people, without it impacting her performance or her coaching responsibilities at GW.
To her dismay, just before the open commenced she fell ill, and then suffered a shoulder injury. She pulled out all stops and, incredibly, managed to make it in around the top 100 mark in Australia, her highest placing yet (results are still being finalised at the time of writing). Although she is first to admit that 5 weeks of competing do not define you as an athlete or person, it did prove to her just how far she had come, to achieve such a finish with the odds stacked against her.
CrossFit from a female perspective
Being a female in CrossFit is amazing, according to Jen, as it is a sport where she is NOT seen as second best. It is helping break down the stigma of women in the weight room, and perceptions of what the media would have us believe a woman SHOULD be. The community is equal, men and women can throw down together, have a laugh and congratulate each other at the end of tough session. It is empowering, this much is apparent just from being in Jen’s presence and hearing of her personal experiences and those of her clients.
This is one of the main reasons why Jen is also a coach. She relishes being able to have an impact, and help people overcome the limits they have put on themselves. In fact she screams louder than her clients do when they hit their successful first muscle up or clean.
Jen finds that by helping them realise their capabilities on the gym floor, it often translates to their life. They feel confident to go get the jobs they want, and do the things they’ve only dreamed of doing. The fact that she’s a woman means her female clients can relate to her, they are not alone and she is one of them, she can draw from experience.
Jen encourages any females thinking of taking up the sport, to do their homework, find a good coach, a good gym that will educate you, and to never settle for second best or feel forced into training where your friends train. Go with your gut, find the right place for you.
How she finds her drive
Being so driven, where does Jen draw her inspiration from? Indeed it is from the CrossFit community itself, especially all the competitors who have yet to get up on that podium but keep persisting their their sport, never giving up despite not getting the recognition of the big name athletes.
Jen credits a solid support network and her boyfriend, also a coach who understands the demands of the sport, for helping keep her grounded. She emphasizes the need to be surrounded by people with the right mindset to help keep her on track. At times, she’s struggled to relate to friends as it is hard for them to understand why she would endure what she has for the sport.
She also credits her sponsors True Protein and Virus, for not only supporting her vision but also treating her like family, constantly checking in with her. In fact she believes the Virus slogan, ‘The passion that defines you’ represents her own journey and struggles, fuelled by her passion to succeed in the sport she loves. She may also be guilty of owning our bioceramic pants, in every colour, but loves the fit, the thicker waist band and the fact they don’t ride down when she needs to perform. She’s also a fan of the Active recovery track pants, for the fact that she can chill in comfort while they help her recover faster.
And recovery is what she claims she will be focusing on for a while, that is, of course, unless she makes it to the regionals, in which case she will once again be throwing down with the best of them.