Get to Know Emma McQuaid: The Fastest in the World At CrossFit Open 20.1

9:11: That’s how fast Emma McQuaid completed the 10 rounds of ground-to-overheads and bar-facing burpees on her first attempt at 20.1 of the CrossFit Games Open last Friday.

7:57: That was McQuaid’s time the second time she did 20.1 the following Monday.

“I was over the moon,” said the 29-year-old McQuaid of Ireland of her sub-8 minute time.

Wait? What? But her score on the CrossFit Open leaderboard—the number one score in the world—is 7:41.

That’s because, just moments after McQuaid’s 7:57 attempt, she realized she had positioned her camera so that it chopped her head and upper body off the screen.

“I decided to set my phone on landscape, because I knew the barbell might bounce and I thought landscape would give me more (lateral) room. But I didn’t think of the consequences that it wouldn’t get my upper body into the screen…It was so stupid,” laughed McQuaid, who made her Reebok CrossFit Games debut last summer.

McQuaid admitted it was a heart sinking moment that brought her to tears.

“I had a good cry on my sofa,” she said.

Then she messaged her coach James Jowsey and talked to her partner and realized she had two options: Submit her score of 9:11 from Friday or “suck it up and do it again,” she said.

No surprise, McQuaid chose the latter, quickly gathered up a coach, who drove to her house to judge her as she attacked the grueling 20.1 for the second time that day.

Somehow, McQuaid found a way to shed 16 seconds off her first attempt from that same day, posting a time of 7:41, which was eventually enough to beat every other woman in the world. And all of the men, too.

Though she said neither burpees or light barbell cycling are movements she considers to be particularly dominant ones for her, her desire to put herself in pain is, and that’s what carried her through.

“I’d say my will to hurt is probably my biggest strength. You know, just simple grunt work,” McQuaid said.

Prior to the 2019 season, this “will to hurt” helped McQuaid come so close to the CrossFit Games on multiple occasions. She placed in the top 10 in the strong European region at the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Regional competitions, but was never quite able to push into the top five.

What kept her motivated to keep trying year after year was her belief in herself.

“I always believed I was good enough to be on the world stage, but I never made it happen, but you know, in my head I always knew I was good enough to be at the CrossFit Games, so I kept trying,” she said.

When CrossFit Inc. announced changes to the procedure last year, all of this changed: McQuaid, a perennially strong Open athlete—she has placed in the top 20 worldwide in the Open every year since 2016—would have a chance to qualify to the Games by topping the female leaderboard in Ireland.

Still, she didn’t count her chickens before they hatched.

“Obviously I knew my Irish competitors, but I didn’t necessarily know who holds an Irish passport (and who might represent Ireland),” she said.

Regardless of who held an Irish passport, McQuaid more than proved herself, winning four of the five Open events in her country and placing 15th overall worldwide.

Finally, McQuaid had broken through.

[Read about another 2019 CrossFit Games rookie: Emily Rolfe.]

“Dreams can come true. To be inside the top 20 (in the world) and to win Ireland was so amazing,” she said.

Though McQuaid is serious about her athletic career, and serious about returning to the Games this summer, she’s not the tunnel-visioned athlete you might expect. She still has a full-time job as a personal trainer, and she has more cheat meals than some, she admitted.

“I don’t like to be too serious. I like to have a little fun, too. A lot of people we’re like, ‘What, you’re having Chinese food on Saturday night in the middle of the Open?’ But I think you gotta enjoy your life too. I like to have a nice work, training, life balance,” she said.

In light of this, McQuaid’s hope is to push hard during the rest of the Open workouts, qualify to the 2020 CrossFit Games and then enjoy some well-needed downtime.

“I’m going on holidays for three weeks in December. It’s my 30th birthday, so no gym at all…just whatever walking we do between bars and restaurants. And then when I get home before Christmas, I’ll start moving again doing some light running,” she said, adding, “I’ll probably have some extra cushioning from the vacation.”

And then it’ll be time to ramp back up again.

Regardless of her finish in the Open, McQuaid plans to do two Sanctional events this season—CrossFit Filthy 150 in Dublin and CrossFit Strength in Depth in London.

“And I would also love to do the Rogue Invitational,” she added.

But first, she has the Open to complete, starting with Open Workout 20.2, where she promises to get her whole body into the screen this time.

Featured image: @mcquaid175 on Instagram