On the Precipice

Emma is a Rookie No More


Emma Lawson has made quite the name for herself, and she’s only just out of high school. The Ontario, Canada native didn’t so much emerge as she did explode onto the elite stage last summer. Her debut appearance at the 2022 CrossFit Games earned her 6th place—with three Top 3 finishes and seven Top 10 finishes—and the Rookie of the Year Award. Only 88 points shy of a spot on the podium, she became the youngest competitor in Games history to wear the iconic white and red leader jersey.

She was 17.

And yet, Lawson is already a veteran in her own right, having been involved in the sport since the age of seven. During her first-ever trip to Madison in 2019, she placed 3rd in the Girls 14–15 Division. In 2021, she was the Girls 16–17 Division Champion, clinching the title of Fittest Teen on Earth. All eyes are on her as she gears up for her second tour on the individual circuit.

I definitely feel pressure going into the 2023 CrossFit Games, but mainly that’s pressure I put on myself. I just really want to do well…I was happy with how I executed most workouts [last year] and overall had a lot of fun competing, so I think my goals this year are pretty similar.”

In May, Lawson took home a 4th place finish at the North America East Semifinals in Orlando, Florida. For spectators and fellow competitors alike, this further cemented her as a frontrunner for the 2023 overall title.

And yes, she’s noticed.

The 18-year-old, who trains out of CrossFit PSC, has spent much of the off-season making herself as well-rounded an athlete as possible. Specifically, this means working on physical strength—a weakness she’s quick to identify coming out of last year’s competition. In addition to multiple daily workouts, she and longtime coach Josh Woolley have incorporated what they call “raw strength” into her programming (olympic lifting, accessories, heavy power loads) to close the gap.

“We've also been incorporating a lot of outdoor training and more swimming and track sessions, which I really enjoy as well. Games training is super fun and I love this time of year.”

With any training—especially that of a competitive caliber—recovery isn’t an option. In fact, it’s just as much part of the programming as anything else. The amount of work can be so intense at times that the only way to push through is to stop.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that even though I feel okay right now, sometimes when I don’t do all the recovery things, those small moments definitely add up. And of course, if I want to be in the sport for the longevity of things, [that part] is super important…I’ve been doing a lot more cold therapy. That’s been huge for me. I definitely feel the benefits of that, especially on high-volume training days.”

When it comes to diet, Lawson simply focuses on fueling her body constantly. Being outside so much, she prioritizes staying hydrated and loading up on electrolytes.

“[I snack] on small things throughout [training] and try to get a good breakfast and dinner every single day as well.”

These external factors are, of course, only half the battle. Since pursuing individual competition in 2018, Lawson learned early on (read: 13 years old) the importance of mental fortitude as well. That juggling schoolwork and a social life and outside responsibilities were just as tough, if not tougher, than the early-morning WODs and late-night gym sessions themselves. For CrossFit newcomers or aspiring pros looking to punch a ticket to the Games, she has the same piece of advice.

One word, actually: sacrifice.

Looking back on my high school years now, I don’t have any regrets, and I think that’s something I’m super proud of as well…I think it helped me have separation from my training. It allowed me to love going into the gym for the most part…On the hard days, I would say ‘Oh I have to go to the gym.’ but I tried to change that mindset to be more of ‘I get to go to the gym today’. or ‘I get to train today.’ I think that’s super important. That, and just really having fun and surrounding yourself with great people is a great way to be successful.”

With the 2023 Games starting on Thursday, Lawson stands at the precipice of another (very possible) first; she is poised to become the youngest athlete to ever win the CrossFit Games. Still, there’s so much more than the trophy to consider. Lawson’s age makes her not just an anomaly—even in the professional arena—but an inspiration. The teen is acutely aware of her own impact, especially since having had the opportunity to go head-to-head with her own idols, most of whom have made careers for themselves in the sport.

I never thought it would ever be possible to be where I’m at today, so I think that I can hopefully be an example for younger girls. If you’re willing to put in the work and you’re willing to be dedicated to something, anything can happen.”

That said, one can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Lawson.

“Up to this point, I’ve loved what I’ve been doing. I love training. I love the whole community behind CrossFit. Of course I just want to continue to be able to love what I’m doing…[As far as personal goals go], I was once told that people remember you for how you make them feel. I always try to keep that in mind whenever I’m interacting with someone. I think my biggest life goal is just to be a good human.”

A good human and a great athlete. It’s safe to say she’s already there.