Chances are that you will meet a person like Heather Gammel once, or maybe twice, in your entire life. Her focus, drive and determination to her sport are rarely paralleled in this world. Some may say her many successes so early in her career are luck, but anyone who’s met Heather knows that simply isn’t true. This woman has focus, hard work and boundless enthusiasm for stretching the limits of her body’s abilities every single day.
I had the good fortune of speaking to Heather about her journey so far. Full disclosure, I knew Heather when she still lived in the mountains. She was no less impressive then than she is now. Some of what I took away from our conversation is…
She’s a firecracker. She’s a spitfire. She’s a force of nature. She is the tip of the spear. She is excelling to new heights in her new career as a professional Crossfit athlete and warrants some attention. This woman is destined for greatness.
For those of you who aren’t familiar to it, CrossFit is a high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise. Weightlifting, powerlifting, running, swimming, and boot camp-style workouts are all part of it. CrossFit is known for the unknown. That means athletes need to be prepared for anything because they don’t know what is going to be thrown at them. Crossfitters are not specialists. Meaning up against a marathoner, swimmer, or weightlifter performing their sport crossfitters may lose. They are not typically the best at anything but are good at everything.
Despite her launch into the limelight of a professional athletic career, Heather keeps her feet on the ground and a humbleness to her that makes her accessible to anyone.
“I feel like a good Crossfitter is not only a good athlete who can do all of the CrossFit movements efficiently, and move fast, but also someone who empowers others. You know, someone who looks around the gym and helps others get better. Someone who not only podiums at events but lifts up their fellow competitors as well.”
When she walks into the room Heather radiates warmth, and confidence. Her smile, like everything else about her, exudes warmness. She has a great smile, arms more wide around than most people’s thighs, and a kinetic energy that buzzes around her. Heather comes in a small package at 5’ and 130lbs. Her package is small, but her spirit is mighty. So is her faith.
Giving all thanks to God for her strength to persevere over the years, Heather’s faith is the foundation of every successful facet of her life. She draws from that faith in big ways in her career and Crossfit, and shows up with some big numbers. Her personal record for the deadlift is 365 lbs. Think about that for a second. Her back squat record is 285 lbs. That’s more than twice her own body weight. Front squat? 255 lbs. Clean 222 lbs. I could go on.
So who is Heather Gammel? She is one of CrossFit’s newest members to join the ranks of professional, and she is preparing to make some big waves.
Born in Englewood, Colorado on a cool January winter morning in 1983 Heather’s family moved up into the mountains when she was still very young. Mountain living stoked the fires inside an already capricious little girl, who thrived running around getting dirty, making mud pies, building teepees, and climbing trees. A childhood growing up in the mountains forged their strength into her and gave her the room to fall in love with fitness, her physical strength and driving her body to its limits.
“I had enough city life to keep me “normal,” but I’m a mountain girl through and through!”
They say it takes a mustard seed of faith to move mountains. Heather has a mountain of faith and she’s moving whole mountain ranges in her pursuit of personal greatness. Her faith is a theme we see over and over as Heather describes her career, her family and her journey.
“GOD CAN DO ANYTHING, YOU KNOW—FAR MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE OR GUESS OR REQUEST IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS! HE DOES IT NOT BY PUSHING US AROUND BUT BY WORKING WITHIN US, HIS SPIRIT DEEPLY AND GENTLY WITHIN US.” EPHESIANS 3:20-21
Once she found a home in a CrossFit gym after relocating out of the mountains down into Denver, the shift into the competitive side of the Crossfit sport came quickly. Those who know her would say that because of her driven and competitive nature, it was inevitable that Heather would someday turn pro. The choice to make the shift from an amateur CrossFit athlete to a professional athlete made sense. Heather has an intensity in her character that is unparalleled, and a personality that can’t get enough fitness. She describes moving from just working out with the group at the gym, to staying after classes to work even more on different skills. Her drive to push her own limits soon had her joining the competitor’s class.
“I could hardly keep up, I’d come home exhausted but yet so fulfilled. I loved it!”
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE PRO
As much she enjoys all of the hard work, taking her journey to the next level comes with a price. There is an increased demand on her time, maintaining peak physical perfection, maintaining the best and healthiest meal planning, and more.
Heather has slipped easily into the rigors and demands of being a professional athlete.
“Someone who just loves a sport can do it for fun. Come and go as you please. Put as much or as little energy into it as you want. Someone who is a professional (or desires to be a professional) has to make a mental shift that even if they don’t feel like it they have to keep training. You have to come in and do the not so fun stuff (stretching, mobilizing, accessory work) in addition to the fun stuff. You have to sacrifice certain things in order to be the best at your sport. In order to be good at anything it takes hours and hours of time on your craft. That means that sometimes you don’t get to sleep in. Or you have to get home early to make sure you get enough sleep the night before a big training day. Eating the right stuff. Keeping your mind focused on your task at hand. It’s all connected. It’s what separates those who do it for fun from the ones who are serious.”
For meals Heather eats something called “macros.” So she watches her carbs, protein and fat intake. Heather eats higher carbs, normal protein, and low fat.
She always eats ½ of a protein shake, a nature valley granola bar and a banana for her first breakfast.
For second breakfast she usually eats 4 eggs white, 1 whole egg, a Dave’s everything bagel with a little butter on it and half of an apple.
While she’s training she eats a rice crispy treat. It’s the perfect macros plus simple sugar. Sometimes she will eat a granola bar or protein bar as well. After training she always has a snack that is higher in carbs and lower in protein, like a carb shake.
For lunch she usually eat some kind of leftovers from dinner. Usually a meat and a vegetable.
Dinners are always a meat, a carb and a vegetable. They’re usually higher in fat so she tries to keep her fat pretty low during the day. If you are wondering yes, she does eat pizza, will have dessert if she wants it within reason, and the occasional burger.
“I do not deprive my body of what it wants if I’ve been making good healthy choices and training hard.”
Most days Heather trains between three and four hours. She trains five days a week with a semi-active recovery day. That means something like swimming, lights runs, or yoga. Then she has one day completely off.
“Honestly I don’t want to think about anything fitness related on my off days!”
All of this almost didn’t happen at all. A few years ago Heather suffered a major setback with her health. Her spinal cord was leaking fluid. Where she was once an intensely active and thriving woman, suddenly she found herself waylaid in bed barely able to function. Yet, due to her strong will and determination, Heather managed to bounce back even stronger.
“That was by far the darkest time in my life. There is nothing like having everything that is of value to you taken away in an instant. If it were not for my faith in God, love and support from other people and lots and lots of prayer I don’t know how I would have made it through that time. When you have everything taken away that you think is important you realize what is “actually” important. My family became my rock. My support group was my encouragement and the Lord carried me through it! From that day forward I promised myself that I would never take my health for granted again. It is such a precious gift. I’ve had injuries in my sport since and nothing can get me down because I always tell myself at least I can still do what I love.”
Heather, much like the sport of Crossfit, has a strong love of community. She falls easily into the family/sisterhood/brotherhood so often found in the CrossFit gym as members drive each other to greatness.
Heather is the definition of what makes a CrossFit athlete great. What I know of Heather is that she humbly keeps her focus on forging her body into the greatness she knows it can be. She also lifts up those fortunate enough to be around her in great ways. This woman will go far and we’re lucky to be able to witness her in action.
Heather looks inward into the sport she loves and the strength she finds within the Crossfit community for strength and the drive to push toward her greatness.
“Even someone like me, who is a pretty motivated person, needs others to keep them motivated and inspired. I look up to the other CrossFitters in my sport that are better than me. Constantly reading their posts, blogs, watching podcasts or instructional videos. Watching other people compete also keeps me pumped and gets me excited to compete.
CrossFit is a very accepting, encouraging, loving environment. I have always wanted to be the kind of athlete that is encouraging, helpful, loving, and supportive to ALL athletes. That means supporting the other competitors at my gym as well as the lady who came in off the street who just started CrossFit a week ago. I never want to get to the “level” as an athlete where I am too good to help the regular CrossFitter.”
Photo Credit @ On the Marc Photography
Heather has been fortunate, through opportunity and preparation, to have so many successes over the years. There’s the personal records, and beating people at the gym in workouts, and the competitions where she podiumed. Then there is the successes that aren’t as noticeable. Like the growth she has seen over the years, barely being able to squat 65 lbs. when she first started and being able to squat 155 lbs. today. Those successes take years and sometimes are overlooked because it’s just the day-to-day, but they are almost more important than anything else. They are the reason professional athletes keep doing it. Winning is fun but that only lasts a second and then it’s over.
What does a professional Crossfit athlete see when they look to the future? What do dreams for the future look like in that athletic world for the players?
For Heather all she sees are competitions. She always has one coming up, and it’s part of what drives her every single day. In June she has a competition as part of a team of three women called “Triple Threat.”
While it’s difficult to train for particular competitions in CrossFit, due to the variability and unpredictability of the specific workouts that will be included, Heather trains every day to just get better.
Usually a week before competitions they will release the workouts so the athletes have time to practice. That’s when Heather buckles down to come up with the best rep schemes, talking to other team members and making sure she’s properly hydrated and has the best nutrition beforehand.
When you Heather ask her more long-term vision her first and foremost goal is working to make the CrossFit games as a masters in the 35-39 division.
“I was super close this year and I really think that one year of focused individualized training and I’ll be able to do it!”
Beyond this next year her prediction for what her career will look like is more vague, but no less impressive.
“I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. My desire has always been to be the best. As long as my body allows it I hope to still be competing in the years to come.”
“I DIDN’T COME THIS FAR TOO ONLY COME THIS FAR!”
Heather has an energy level that is extraordinary. I asked her about her motivation to keep going at her highest level day after day.
“I don’t really have to find motivation everyday…. I know that sounds crazy. I LOVE working out. I love being at the gym. I get energized from it. As far as the motivation to continue to pursue being the best CrossFitter, somedays I need others around me to keep going. Their motivation, their videos, their comments that motivate me. I don’t want them passing me up. I think we all need each other! I hope I motivate people in that way as well!”
She’s not limited to being just a professional athlete. Heather is also a wife and a mother, and spends no less focus and love on her family than she does the gym.
Despite her natural wellspring of energy reserves, it’s still hard work to maintain high energy levels across so many facets of her life.
“When I come home from training the last thing I want to do is clean the house. Sometimes I’m too tired at night to play volleyball with my daughter or connect with my husband. But my family are the biggest supporters of my CrossFit career and it is important to me that they see that I put energy into them and not just CrossFit. It can be a battle sometimes I’m not going to lie. It’s about balance… and sometimes that means setting aside CrossFit in order to give my family what they need.”
Heather’s daughters mean the world to her. She always wanted her daughters to understand the importance of being healthy and taking care of their bodies. However, she has equally tried to make them understand that they do not have to look like Heather does in order to be healthy.
“I am the extreme. I have ALWAYS tried to instill in my daughters that they can do anything they put their mind to. That it WILL take work, it won’t be without hurt or pain, but that if they truly want to do something the time and energy and sometimes heartache will be SO worth it! I want to empower my daughters to be strong, independent women. But to always see that I wouldn’t be the strong, independent women that I am today without the love and support of their father. I couldn’t do it without his support (and I truly mean that with every fiber in my body!).”
Photo Credit @ Tony Ciccone Photography & Design
ADVICE TO THOSE ASPIRING
Heather is an inspiration to anyone looking to make healthier and better fitness choices in their lives. She welcomes everyone to workout with her, from the other pros in the gym to the person just walking in off of the street.
NOT EVERYONE WILL UNDERSTAND YOUR STYLE | BE YOU ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL CHEER YOU ON | RUN YOUR RACE ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL SHOW UP TO YOUR PARADE | KEEP MARCHING ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL AGREE WITH YOU | BELIEVE ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL BE KIND | SHOW LOVE ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL GIVE YOU A YES | KEEP ASKING ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL HELP YOU | KEEP GIVING ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL FOLLOW YOU | SHINE BRIGHT ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL LOOK FOR YOU | KEEP SHOWING UP ANYWAY.
NOT EVERYONE WILL CALL YOU QUALIFIED | USE YOUR TALENTS ANYWAY.
What advice would she give, to inspire us to move harder, be healthier and live stronger?
“First off understand that it’s hard. All of it’s hard. Being overweight, uncomfortable and unhealthy is hard. I get it. Losing weight is hard. Trying to learn new habits with food and working out is HARD! There is nothing easy about it.
Staying healthy is hard. Making sure you get to the gym might mean giving up something else. Not eating bad might mean giving up dinner with friends. Whatever spectrum you are on it’s hard.
So you have to choose what hard you are going to pursue. I can promise you that even though maintaining a healthy lifestyle is hard (and it does get easier!), that it’s so worth it. There is nothing better than accomplishing something you couldn’t do two months ago, or a year ago.
Seeing progress is so rewarding. It makes the whole process worth it. That is what drives me to keep going. I know I’m very strong for a girl, but I can’t even begin to tell you the empowering feeling that a girl gets when she is strong. Strength is not just for boys!”
Heather reminds us it’s important to remember that you have to have a why. Why are you trying to get healthy? For a race? For a contest you are in? To lose weight? To get healthy for your children? Have a why. Without a why it makes it very hard to keep going when the going gets tough (and it will).
Lastly, no matter why you’ve decided to live your best most healthy life DO IT FOR YOU.
“BE SELFISH! What better selfishness is there then deciding that you are going to get healthy? Yes, you will have to take time for yourself. That can be looked at as selfish. But I guarantee you that you will be a better mom, a better wife, a better friend if you feel good about yourself and take time for yourself.”
Heather is a real person just like you. She may have a natural athletic ability but she has worked very hard at getting to the level she is at and equally as hard staying there.
What we can learn from witnessing Heather’s journey is that everyone can do what they dream they can do. Even if it takes work. Good outcomes aren’t without hard work. There will be pain. But it’s so worth it!
“I do think all the time about why I do this. Is my ultimate goal to stand on top of the podium at the end of the day? Yes, I desire that. But I can’t let that be my ultimate goal. Because in some way I’ll be disappointed. Honestly I want my main focus to be to love the Lord, love people, love my family, be a light in this world and use the gifts and passions that God has given me to further his kingdom. Because at the end of the day that’s all that matters!”
“PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO YOUR OWN WORK, FOR THEN YOU WILL GET THE SATISFACTION OF A JOB WELL DONE, AND YOU WON’T NEED TO COMPARE YOURSELF TO ANYONE ELSE.” GALATIANS 6:4
WHERE TO FIND HEATHER ONLINE
You can find and follow Heather online for more inspiration –
Facebook: Heather Gammel
Snapchat: Heatherg – simplyhappy3
Photo Credit @ Jorge Huerta Photography