While Damian Warner was off in Tokyo staking his claim as the best athlete in the world, another Canadian – a 62-year-old woman from West Vancouver – was down in Madison, Wisc., doing roughly the same thing.
Last weekend Susan Clarke won her fifth World Crossfit Games age group title, keeping a perfect record going in the gruelling world-wide fitness competition that she first took part in back in 2014.
On Sunday Clarke won the title in the women’s 60+ age division at the CrossFit Games, an annual competition that sees athletes from around the world submitting scores in a variety of athletic and fitness tests in an attempt to qualify for the 20-person final. She’s won her age group every time she’s entered, including victories in the 55-59 group in 2014, ’15 and ’17, and 60+ in 2019 and ’21.
With the nature of the events contested – athletes face everything from Olympic weightlifting to open-water swimming to handstand walking – as well as the fact that anyone in the world with an internet connection can submit scores, winners have a pretty legitimate claim to be amongst the fittest people in the world. And Clarke, amazingly, has never been beaten.
Clarke, however, said she was just happy to be there this year competing against her CrossFit friends from around the globe.
“I think because of the extraordinary year that we've been through with COVID, I was incredibly grateful to be there to be able to compete on a world stage when really nobody expected that to be possible. It was just lovely to be back on the field and competing against people in my age group from all around the world. That's a really special event and opportunity for anybody.”
It was also against the odds for her even to be there in Wisconsin, not least of all because she “retired” from competition following her win in 2019. But then COVID hit, and when her plans for a jet-setting post-CrossFit life were thrown out the window, she got back into training. It was tough though – with COVID restrictions in place she couldn’t find her normal motivation, which usually came from training and competing with much younger athletes at her gym.
“If I can keep up with them, I feel like my fitness level has been maintained,” she said.
She still got herself into shape though, and her trip to this year’s games was finally confirmed in early July when border restrictions were eased.
And once she was there, it was a simple matter of ripping off huge effort after huge effort in pegboard ascents, sled drags, “pig flips,” 550-yard sprint, yoke carry, “cheese curd burpees over the hay bale,” and much more.
If that sounds exhausting, particularly for a 62-year-old, Clarke wanted to drive home the message that the body is capable of amazing things.
“Don't say ‘I can't do this because now I'm turning X,’" she said. "If I could give anybody any recommendation, it’s don't limit yourself because of an age. That's the biggest thing.”