Sam Briggs has been a mainstay at the pointy end of the CrossFit Games for nearly a decade, and is best known for winning the competition in 2013. Having consistently shattered barriers throughout her career, Sam’s obsession with performance now sees her embarking on her tenth trip to the Games, at the age of 39.
I DIDN’T FIND CROSSFIT UNTIL I WAS 27
A lot of people tell stories about how they dreamed about being an athlete, but even though I enjoyed a lot of sports, I never envisaged myself being a professional athlete. I was into a lot of different sports, but the only consistent one was soccer. This might sound weird, but I was very competitive and wanted to win at everything I did, but that wasn’t a driver to become a professional athlete. I just enjoyed being active.
I didn’t find CrossFit until I was 27. I was a firefighter, that was my career and my passion. I was doing really well and was in the process of going for a promotion as my fitness career started to take off. I loved being in the fire service. I was fortunate in that I was able to organically move over as CrossFit started taking more and more of my time and passion. It was after the 2011 CrossFit Games, where I came 4th, that I started to actually realize I was pretty good and that I could do this properly. I am really fortunate in that sense, that my career transition happened over the span of a few years, as opposed to a sudden change.
My mom’s always been really supportive of anything that my brother and I have wanted to do, so she supported me 100%. A lot of people thought I was crazy for giving up an awesome career to go and play around in a gym, but my mother being fully behind me made it much easier. To know that I had the backing of my family meant a lot.
I’d been thinking; if I’ve come fourth at the Games at age 30, it’s kind of now or never to really have a go at it. There was this ‘rule’ that no-one podiums at the Games if they’re over 30, and I thought that was ridiculous. I thought I could do it. The sport wasn’t as big back then and there weren’t as many sponsors, so I started saving up, working night shifts and any overtime I could get, to get as much money as I could. I applied for a six-month sabbatical from the fire service, which was approved, and in February 2013 I worked my last night shift. From then on, I lived and trained as a professional athlete and won the CrossFit Games later that same year.
BACK IN THE GAMES
In 2015 and 2016, I finished just outside the podium at the CrossFit Games. In those years, all my training and mentality was geared towards winning the Games again. In 2016, I competed with an injured shoulder that we didn’t know the extent of. After the competition, I went in for an MRI and it turned out I needed surgery. I thought I was going to have to retire. I’d never had major surgery before so it was a new experience for me. It crossed my mind that this was my body telling me that enough is enough. We had a good run!
As it turns out, I had the surgery, did my rehab, and I was feeling awesome. I spoke with my coach and we decided to try a few competitions. I’d always wanted to do this event in Dubai which is one of the biggest competitions outside of the Games, and I ended up finishing second. That result changed the mentality to get back and qualify and see if we could get back into the top 10. I was back to lifting some of my old numbers in 2018, and then, unfortunately, I ruptured a ligament in my elbow - more surgery! The day before the operation, I did the Masters qualifying for the CrossFit Games and ended up finishing second in the 35-39 category, which gave me another boost to push to see if I could get back to competing at the top level again. The elbow will never be the same again, it doesn’t take a lot of volume, so I’ve had to change a lot of my training and accept the limitations that come with that injury. So, I have to be very smart with how I train now, but things are going well and I’ve qualified for the Games again this year. I’ll be going back, competing as a 39-year-old.
THE BEST TRAINING PARTNERS
I’ve got two dogs, an adult, and a puppy, both pitbull mixes. When I’m training at home in the garage, they’ll both come in and watch me train. It’s nice to have them involved. This morning I had a three-mile run so I took them into the woods with me. It was the puppy’s first time out running. The first mile he was flying, the second he got a bit bored, and the third mile he picked it back up again. I wasn’t sure how he was going to go, but he did fine. They were both exhausted after that.
Often, going into competitions, we don’t know what events we’re going to be doing. That makes the fueling aspect of our sport really difficult, as opposed to sports where you know you’re going to swim, bike, and run for this distance, or run around chasing a ball for 90 minutes. There’s a lot of trial and error, especially when you’re new to the sport.
In training, especially in the lead-up to an event, we try to replicate and practice the fueling aspect. Sometimes, one of the last things you feel like doing is taking on fuel, but if you’ve just done a max lift, and then you’ve got to row a marathon an hour later, you have to refuel. There’s a lot of baby food consumed by CrossFit athletes, and a lot of liquid carbs. For me personally, in training and in competition, I know that as long as I have a big breakfast, I can survive with a light lunch and snacks. I like a constant drip-feed of fuel throughout the day, and then a big meal at night to replace whatever I’ve been unable to replace during the day. Learning that balance has just come over time and getting in tune with your body.
ONE PIECE OF ADVICE
If I had some advice to give, it would be to not put limits on yourself. You never know what’s possible. If you can think of it, why can’t you do it? There was a limitation placed on me that you can’t finish in the top spots if you’re older than 30, but I proved that to be wrong and here I am at 39 going for my tenth CrossFit Games. Don’t believe what other people say because it plants a seed in your head and you start to believe it. If you can dream it, why not go after it? You never know what will happen.