Annina Altherr box-jumps. (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)

Annina Altherr box-jumps. (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)

Whitehorse athletes finish strong at CanWest CrossFit Games

Jamella Hagen

Special to the News

At the 2022 CanWest CrossFit Games, the athletes lined up on three sides of the arena. When the announcers called the start, all three teams shot into action.

At one end of the stadium, 12 women climbed ropes. At another station, teams of men tossed 200-pound sandbags over their shoulders. In front of the bleachers, to the beat of blasting rock music, mixed pairs launched into synchronized butterfly pullups.

In CrossFit, the winners are those who complete the most reps, those who lift heaviest, and those who are fastest. For Whitehorse’s Avalanche Athletics, gold medals were not the objective, but the Yukon team had the biggest cheering section, and all of the athletes came home with personal records. According to the Yukon members who participated, the community spirit of their local gym is the reason they CrossFit.

The whole scene might have been surprising to those unfamiliar with CrossFit, a type of high intensity interval training (HIIT) that was developed in California in 2000 and has since spread around the world.

The signature movements of CrossFit come from a variety of other sports, including gymnastics and Olympic lifting, as well as cycling, rowing, and running. It’s the way these activities are combined into timed workouts that is unique to the sport.

Whitehorse’s Peak Fitness began offering CrossFit classes in 2012, and the sport has continued to expand in the Yukon as it has in other places.

COVID-19 has been hard on gyms. At Avalanche Athletics, now located in downtown Whitehorse, the situation is no different, according to co-owners Cliff and Erin Schultz. Despite the setbacks, the gym took the biggest team ever to the CanWest CrossFit Games in Coquitlam, B.C. from July 15 to 17.

When COVID-19 lockdowns began, “we went from a growing gym to zero,” said Cliff, “and we still had to pay rent.”

“But,” added Erin, “Not a single member cancelled their membership.”

As the pandemic wore on, she said, over 95 per cent of members continued to pay their monthly dues.

“It was the community we’d built and participated in that got us through,” she said.

Initially, during lockdown, the gym offered Zoom fitness classes.

“We had people join from our community who weren’t even in the Yukon anymore, from Calgary and other cities,” Erin said.

As pandemic restrictions eased, classes started up again, with number caps and distancing. This summer when an opportunity arose to travel and compete as a team, Schultz said athletes who had supported each other through the pandemic were enthusiastic about the idea.

At CanWest, Whitehorse athletes held their own against the competition, entering in three categories.

Intermediate men’s team “Two Old Guys and Phil,” comprised of gym owner Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness, and Grant Sullivan, placed eighth in their category.

Urness, a doctor, said he does CrossFit to train functional fitness that allows him “to jump into any activity in life” and to model a healthy lifestyle to his kids and patients.

For Sullivan, “the community is really the most important part of CrossFit.”

Women’s scale team “The Yu-Kon Do-Its” (Maggie Schultz, Amil Dupuis-Rossi, and Gabrielle Herdes), placed 13th. Members of their team are newer to CrossFit and competing in the entry-level category was a new step.

Herdes, who started CrossFit about a year ago, joked about the badass-looking muscles she’s gained in the sport, and heartily encouraged anyone who is interested to give it a try.

“CrossFit isn’t just about throwing around freakishly heavy weights,” she said. “It’s about striving to improve your physical and mental form in a supportive, safe environment.”

Her teammate, Maggie Schultz, the youngest member of the team at 22, concurs. Shultz performed her heaviest lift ever at the event, and credited the energy of the crowd and support of her teammates for the performance. She emphasized the accessibility of CrossFit, saying often what people see is “the main competitors lifting heavy weights and that’s not really what it’s about. You can take it slow.”

Intermediate mixed doubles team “Out With the Old, In With the New,” comprised of Annina Altherr and Shane Clunies-Ross, placed 16th and in a competitive category. Both have been doing CrossFit for over a decade and emphasized the mental as well as physical benefits of the sport.

“I CrossFit because it’s so varied. It’s definitely one of the most challenging sports I’ve ever done. There’s always something new and there’s always ways to improve,” said Altherr.

Clunies-Ross’ advice to anyone considering the sport is, “Do it, and don’t be scared or intimidated. We are all at different levels of fitness and we all do the same workouts at our own weights and speed.”

Some have called CrossFit “cultish” or balked at certain CrossFit traditions like workouts being named for fallen soldiers or named after women, as storms are. CrossFit lingo can feel like a foreign language at first, as it’s filled with acronyms like “WOD” (workout of the day), PR (personal record), and AMRAP (as many reps as possible).

But the way Avalanche athletes described it, CrossFit sounds more like a team sport than a cult, and while it’s true the workouts are popular with law enforcement and the military, there is an undeniably broad appeal that spans ages, genders, professions, and interests.

According to Shultz, Avalanche has athletes from the age of 12 up to 70. The gym has a lot of female members as well as male, and women made up close to half of the CanWest athletes, both on the Yukon team and at the event as a whole.

For Amil Dupuis-Rossi, who is a social worker, CrossFit is more than strength training. She said CrossFit helped her rebuild her life when she moved back to the North.

“CrossFit teaches you to overcome discomfort and sit with discomfort,” she said. “I see a lot of people who face adversity in their lives and I think this is an important life skill.”

Also, she feels that in her 40s, CrossFit helps her age well and build bone density, while motivating her to try new things. “It’s like, maybe I can try a ring muscle-up.”

Schultz stressed that it’s not necessary to have a background in weightlifting or gymnastics to get involved.

“I have a new member who has never held a dumbbell before,” he said.

Jamella Hagen teaches creative writing at Yukon University. Her poetry collection, Kerosene, was published in 2011. Her non-fiction has been published in Okanagan Life and Ricepaper magazines.


Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness and Grant Sullivan. (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)

Cliff Schultz, Phil Urness and Grant Sullivan. (Courtesy/Erin Schultz)