May 10, 2015
Brooke Ence: Powering Through
May 12, 2016
The 2015 Games saw the introduction of a number of impressive rookies, but none came into the competition with more attention than Brooke Ence. If you’ve participated in the Open over the last two years, you may have recognized Ence as the demo girl from the HQ videos showing the movement standards for each workout. In 2015, Ence finally demonstrated her raw athleticism—highlighted by her explosive power—throughout the California Regional and Games, leaving many a fan curious as to how this talented rookie will develop into the future.
While Ence made her first appearance at the Games last summer, her athletic history is as diverse as it is interesting. Ence grew up in St. George, Utah, roughly 120 miles north of Las Vegas. As a young girl, Ence was highly active and eager to participate in as many sports as she could—including soccer, softball, swimming and even musical theatre. She also gave gymnastics a go, but broke her arm when she was 12 and never continued, fearing she would suffer a re-break. As she got older, Ence started to narrow down her sports before realizing her passion for dance. “In high school I danced every day, before and after school,” says Ence. “I would travel and dance in New York, California, and once I realized that’s what I wanted to do I started auditioning for dance schools.”
Ence enrolled in the Modern Dance program at the University of Utah, but she always harbored ambitions to ‘end up’ in New York, Chicago or L.A. While in college, Ence attended a kickboxing class that was run by a female coach with ‘a phenomenal body’ who inspired her to supplement her dance work with additional strength training. Ence struck up a friendship with a personal trainer in college, and she began working with him to participate in figure competing. That’s figure competing, not bodybuilding, as Ence makes abundantly clear. “Figure competing might fall under the umbrella of bodybuilding, but it’s not bodybuilding. You’re a little more built than someone who is just doing bikini shows, but I wasn’t trying to build muscle like a bodybuilder.” Ence won her first figure competition, qualifying for Nationals in 2008. However, her experience in that world wasn’t without some drawbacks. “I took a year off from competing in 2009, as I had developed some body image issues—a lot of the insecurities I had came from that world,” Ence recalls. “My mom told me that I couldn’t compete again until I learned to love myself. So for a year I didn’t compete—and that’s when I found CrossFit.”
During Ence’s year off from figure competing, she received an invite to audition for Le Reve, a show in Las Vegas. However, Ence had never performed a lot of the movements that any prospective dancers in the show would be required to do—such as a rope climb, for example. Ence was in Utah at the time when a friend who worked at a Gold’s Gym told her about a new gym that had opened called CrossFit Dixie, and that she should check it out to help her prepare for the show.
Ence can’t recall what her first workout was at CrossFit Dixie, except for that it felt ‘like hell’. After Ence spent the summer in L.A., she returned to Utah and moved to Salt Lake City, where Games veteran Tommy Hackenbruck had just opened Ute CrossFit.
After training in CrossFit for just one year, Ence was part of the Ute CrossFit team that qualified from Regionals for the Games in 2011. However, Ence did not make the trip to Carson to compete. “We had an athlete named Mary Lampas who had competed as an individual that year, but she didn’t qualify for the Games. The executive decision was made to put Mary on the team, and I didn’t go. That was extremely hard for me, but it’s also what’s motivated me to do it on my own.” So does she bear any resentment towards Hackenbruck after he denied her the chance of competing at the Games? “Me and Tommy are good friends, but I told him that I hated him for a little bit. I was so mad and so sad because I knew that every year it was going to get harder and harder to get there [the Games].”
The following year, Ence and her then-boyfriend (now husband) Marston Sawyers moved to Santa Cruz, CA after Sawyers accepted a position at CrossFit HQ, where he is a video producer and editor for the company. Ence began training with Games veteran and CrossFit HQ staff member Miranda Oldroyd, whom she credits with exposing her to the dedication an aspiring Games athlete needs to make it to the big show. “She was training then the way that I started training a couple of years ago—actually committing my life towards a major goal. She would always tell me, ‘If you trained the way I train, you would be amazing.’”
Ence did the Open in 2012, but didn’t qualify for Regionals as she ‘didn’t take it seriously’. But the following year, she was all business. Ence began coaching at CrossFit West (now her home affiliate), splitting her training time between the box and the gym at CrossFit HQ. Though Ence qualified as an individual for the NorCal Regional, she elected to compete with the CrossFit West team instead, which took 6th at the competition. That summer, Ence went to the Games as a spectator, and ran into her old coach Tommy Hackenbruck. “I sat down with Tommy and I told him, ‘OK—now I’m ready. I’m ready to make it here.’ And Tommy says to me, ‘OK—but you’re not going to like it.’” As soon as the 2013 Games finished, Ence got right to work, training on her own and doing the programming Hackenbruck sent her. “I told myself I would never know how great I could be unless I fully committed myself to this goal—even though it sucks a lot of the time.” Ence qualified for Regionals again in 2014, and this time she decided to compete as an individual. She had an impressive showing, finishing in 6th, just 30 points outside of a qualifying position for the Games. Ence was buoyed by her performance that year, and continued to devote time to her goal of making it to the Games in 2015.
“The biggest change for me [in 2015] was my mindset,” says Ence. “I was physically capable in 2014, but when I was suffering in a workout, I was far more likely to rest and pull back. Now I use it to fuel my fire—to find that pain and fight through it.”
Ence certainly brought the fire in 2015. Ence produced a consistent display throughout the California Regional, placing in the top-5 five times (with only one event finish outside the top-10) en route to winning the competition. At long last, she was going to the CrossFit Games.
Ence’s years of hard work and sacrifice paid off, but she had no plans on showing up to Carson as a rookie who was simply thankful to be there. Speaking a week before the start of the 2015 Games, Ence revealed her goals for the competition. “I think a lot of people want to hear from a rookie, ‘I’m just going there to have a good time and have fun.’ Hell yeah I’m going to have fun—but I’m going there to podium.”
At the Games, Ence, 26, displayed her raw power by taking 1st in both the Snatch Speed Ladder and the 1-Rep Max Clean and Jerk (lifting 242lbs—just three pounds off her listed max). However, she stalled in the longer endurance events, placing 30th in Murph and 28th in Midline Madness. Even so, Ence had a solid rookie debut at the Games, finishing 14th overall. Given her track record of improving year on year—not to mention her renewed sense of focus and mental fortitude—expect Ence to return to Carson in 2016 and climb her way up the leaderboard. After all, she’s is a living example that failure doesn’t equate to defeat—it’s just a bump in the long road to success.
Do any CrossFit athletes serve as your role models?
BE: Two of my favorite people in CrossFit who have become really good friends of mine are Annie Sakamoto and Jenny LaBaw. Annie is an OG [original gangsta] CrossFitter. She’s had two kids, she looks phenomenal and she is all smiles all the time. Her happiness is contagious—you can’t be around her and not have a good time. I’m fortunate enough to be able to train with her and learn from her. I really admire her for her age, her experience, and the way she’s able to balance CrossFit and the other important things in her life and still compete at the level that she does. Same thing with Jenny—she loves the outdoors. She loves her dogs, boating, skiing, and she finds a way to balance all of the things she loves.
Do you think your experience in figure competing and dance helped your career in CrossFit?
BE: I’m not sure if the training I was doing for figure competing helped, but I know that dance did. My family is very athletic, and I have always been very athletic, but the reason dance has allowed me to catch on to things faster is because of how much body awareness I have. I’ve been dancing since I was 3, so I learned how to move my body and change little things at a time. I developed balance, stability and bodyweight strength, which has really helped me grow in my fitness with regards to CrossFit.
Do you have any hobbies outside the gym?
BE: We started playing a lot of sand volleyball last year, which was really fun. I go to yoga every weekend, and I love to surf. But the water is really cold here in Santa Cruz so I stopped for a while—but I just picked up a new wetsuit and board so I’m going to get back out there. I love shooting—shooting clays, shotguns, hand guns. I’m a country girl, so I love to be outdoors.
Photo courtesy of Reebok Inc from the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games