By Genevieve Gyulavary
Maddy Espinoza is a sophomore in high school, a 15 year old girl just dreamin’ about the day when she can drive herself to school. Except, Maddy isn’t really like other girls. Maddy doesn’t spend her time at sleepovers or crushing on boys. Instead, Maddy devotes her free time on nights and weekends to her training, recovering, and planning how she is going to make it back to the CrossFit® Games.
Maddy and I are having this conversation right after she finishes up 19.3. Remember that one? It’s hard to forget all those strict handstand push ups. Maddy tells me in between breaths that she was able to make it through 42 of the 50 push ups in the workout.
“I only practiced this movement two weeks ago. I could only do one then,” she says.
I ask her how The Open has been going in general.
“I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury so I’m doing what I’m capable of doing. I have been having some pain through some of it.” She has the fighter spirit in her voice and shows no inkling of letting her shoulder slow her down.
Maddy started CrossFit ® when she was eleven years old.
“When I started there wasn’t a kid’s class so I was taking classes with the adults. My first workout was Fran. I did jumping pull ups and thrusters with a PVC pipe and I damn near died. I could literally do nothing. I’ve had to put in a lot of time and work to get to where I am now.”
The other adult members of the gym were always supportive of her and her younger sister in class. Not to mention, Maddy’s whole family is involved in the gym so class has always been a family affair.
“My mom was the reason I started going to the gym and my entire family stays healthy and fit.”
Maddy placed 9th overall at the 2018 CrossFit ® Games and 8th in that same years worldwide Open. Prior to 2018 Maddy had been to The Wodapalooza Fitness festival where she had her first experience with higher level competition.
Although any and all kinds of fitness make her heart happy, she excelled early on in weightlifting and noticed that she was getting strong rapidly.
“I switch between weightlifting and conditioning whenever I get the desire. My goats are most gymnastics or barbell cycling. I love toes to bar, chest to bar, pistols, double unders, and hang cleans. I also love the clean and jerk. Snatching is okay, but I’ve been stuck at the same weight for about a year now,” Maddy laughs that off, knowing the technical aspects of the snatch is what holds her back more than her strength.
Maddy is inspired by female competitors such as Katrin Davidsdottir and other teens in her division like Mallory O’Brian. Also - Elijah Muhammed. Maddy trained with them recently on a trip to Iowa. She has also been competing globally with Kiana Kreuger- next stop in Venice to throw down as a team.
Maddy has been lucky to create a little network for herself with competition, although many of the other athletes she has met live either out of state or out of the country. This can make training back home difficult for Maddy since none of her friends do CrossFit® or have much familiarity with the sport.
I wondered what other kids thought of her life beyond school and in the gym? The way she has decided to spend her time is a far cry from ‘normal kids’ stuff’.
“I didn’t have the best friends last year. They weren’t very supportive. This year I got a whole new group of friends who are really supportive and always asking me how the gym went that day.”
What did lack of support from friends look like, I ask?
“Just them not caring. If I talked about the gym they wouldn’t want to hear what I had to say and sometimes I would go to the gym in a really bad mood because of it.”
Maddy has also received attention in regards to her body at school. Attention usually in the form of compliments. “It gets kind of awkward at times when it’s by other girls at school,” she says with a laugh.
“I sometimes don’t know how to respond but it always puts me in a good mood. Some people have a problem with what I look like because apparently, ‘this isn’t a girls sport’, but then other people are like ‘oh my god your legs, your stomach’ and it’s cool hearing all those positive things people have to say.”
Maddy opens up about her experiences with being bullied in school. About being singled out because of her body or the sports she chooses to do- or sometimes because of both.
“Last year was terrible. It wasn’t really the girls as much as it was guys giving me a hard time for what I looked like. I wasn’t even that muscular. I am way more muscular now.”
Maddy confesses that there were times last year when it was hard to go to school and be okay with her body. She thought about quitting the sport and weightlifting altogether. Peers would say things like- she looked like a man or that she was taking steroids.
“I tried to keep what I was going through at school hidden for awhile. My mom noticed I was in a bad mood a lot and one day I finally told her what had been going on. We went to the school and after a few weeks it died down. I did lose friends over it.”
When Maddy would lift in front of the wrestling team it would regularly be more than any other guy on the team could lift. She felt that there may have been some intense jealousy over what she was doing not only in school right in front of these boys, but also at CrossFit ® as a competitive athlete.
“I think they bullied me as a way to kind of get to me and stop me from doing what I love. But I’m still here and I’m doing even better than last year.”
Moving away from some of the struggles Maddy has faced this year we talked about a lot of the changes currently happening in CrossFit ®.
“I don’t feel like I need to redo any Open workouts this year because our placement doesn’t affect our points for the online qualifier.”
Maddy has every intention of trying to make it back to The Games. She would like to go as much as she can and knows it’s easier now as a teen rather than a woman in the RX division. She also is hyper aware of the fact that there is a lot of good competition out there in her division this year, which will make things way more interesting.
So what is a normal day of training like for Maddy as she prepares for competition?
“I just recently started using the CompTrain programming. I will usually stretch for 20 minutes, do some lifting, then switch over to some gymnastics conditioning or normal conditioning to finish my day.”
It's ‘really hard and really fun at the same time’, she says. Sounds about right.
“Normally I get to school around 7 am, get out around 3 pm, go to the gym around 5:15. I stay until about 7:30. After that I go home and do my homework. It’s a pretty long day and sometimes I do get tired of doing it all the time”
As we know, motivation can be fleeting. At some point discipline is what takes over to steer us closer and closer to our goals.
As far as nutrition goes, Maddy has not yet hopped aboard the macro, paleo, or Keto craze. She does her best to eat healthy and is sponsored by a meal prep company that keeps her reaching for healthy options. As a teen I think this is a really healthy approach to nutrition in order to foster a positive relationship with food as she moves into becoming an young adult.
Maddy is just about to close the chapter on her Sophomore year of High School and with this academic year she has recently decided she would like to go to college.
“I really don’t want to be more than an hour away from my family, but if I get a weightlifting scholarship further away I would probably take it. My mom works for the highway patrol in California so she is my inspiration to pursue a degree in criminal justice.”
Maddy is also looking forward to driving herself to school and the gym come November of this year.
What does a typical Friday or Saturday night look for a Sophomore in High School and aspiring Games athlete?
“I spend a lot of time with my family on the weekends. During the week I’m not home very much so I try to see them as much as I can over the weekend.”
Beyond the box what has the sport taught her about herself?
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you have a bad day just forget about it. Got to bed and get ready for the next day. As I get older I realize more and more with bad days come good days, always.”