From Quad Racing to The CrossFit Games (w/ Emma McQuaid)

Today I’m talking to multi-time CrossFit Games athlete Emma McQuaid, who just qualified for the 2022 CrossFit Games. The Irish athlete has a length background in sports but didn’t find CrossFit until she was 24 years old. Now in her 30s, the Wodapalooza champion talks about her background in quad bike racing — ATV racing in American slang — how it both helped and hurt her career in elite fitness competition.

Before we get into that, I want to give a quick shoutout to today’s episode sponsor, Colter Dillon. Do you struggle finding a t-shirt that fits as well as that ONE t you loved until it wore out? Do you wish a standard medium was JUST a little bit longer, or maybe a large wasn’t so baggy for you? Then you’ve got to check out Colter Dillon. They personalize the fit for YOU, and they have tons of color options — you can even personalize artwork on the shirt! They deliver your perfect t-shirt every time. Check out Colter Dillon today.

Emma McQuaid on the BarBend Podcast

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao and Emma McQuaid discuss: 

  • Making huge strides in confidence and Emma’s mental game (2:20)
  • Why it can be hard for athletes to verbalize their feelings (4:30)
  • How swimming has become critical to CrossFit Games success (7:30)
  • Emma’s unlikely transition from quad bike racing to CrossFit (10:30)
  • Mobility deficits Emma had to overcome (13:00)
  • Recovering from major shoulder surgery (16:50)
  • Battling the heat and Emma’s plan to recover between events (19:50)

Relevant links and further reading



Just as simple as getting it out instead of holding it back and pretending you’ve got your shit together when you don’t. [laughs] I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for me is talking to my coach and saying, “Even though maybe it’s right or wrong, I’m the wiggle competition.”


I was like, “I feel I need to do more.” He was like, “OK. Sure. Chat with my kids.” I literally talk to him every single day for ten days leading in the semifinals. I think that made a difference.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and mines from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by


Today, I’m talking to multi-time CrossFit Games athlete Emma McQuaid, who qualified for the 2022 CrossFit Games. The Irish athlete has a lengthy background in sports, but she didn’t find CrossFit till she was 24 years old.


Now, in her 30s, McQuaid talks about her background in quad bike racing, that’s ATV racing in American slang, and how it both helped and hurt her career in elite fitness competition.


Before we get into that, I want to give a quick shoutout to today’s episode sponsor, Colter Dillon. Do you struggle finding a t-shirt that fits as well as that ONE t you loved until it wore out?


Do you wish a standard medium was JUST a little bit longer, or maybe a large wasn’t so baggy for you?


Then you’ve got to check out Colter Dillon. They personalize the fit for YOU, and they have tons of color options – you can even personalize artwork on the shirt! They deliver your perfect t-shirt every time. Check out Colter Dillon today.


Now, let’s get on with the show.


Emma, thanks so much for joining me today. This is the first time you’ve been on the podcast. It’s fantastic to have you. You’re fresh off of qualification for yet another CrossFit Games. How has the season gone relative to your expectations coming into the season?


Yes, just everything, like training has been going good, healthy, no injuries, no niggles, and no major setbacks. I think we’re right on target to obviously pick properly for the games this year.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’ve been improving on your games placements pretty steadily over the last few years. If you have a spot in mind this year, do you have a goal with your coach going in?


Yeah, our goal is to place top 10 at the Games. I really just want to keep improving every year. I really think we’ve made huge progress from last year, even just confidence alone. Obviously, Wodapalooza and Strength in Depth start at the weekend.


I’m a big confidence athlete. I just think confidence alone is a lot higher than it was last year leading into the games. As long as we can keep ticking away with training, I think without getting any fitter or any stronger, I believe I’m a better athlete just with confidence alone.

David TaoDavid Tao


Let’s talk about that, the mental aspect. What are some tips or tricks that you use to make sure that when you’re heading into competition, regardless of how fit you are, that you’re dialed in mentally?

I think the biggest thing for me is talking. I would be quite bad for just holding everything in. In years past, that just got all too much for me with [inaudible 3:41] the competition. I’ve just underperformed because of stress, so much emotion that can basically wear me down.


Now, I’ll talk to my partner. I’ll say to David, I’m like, “Oh, I’m absolutely shitting myself here. I’m so worried.” Or just as simple as getting it out instead of holding it back and pretending you’ve got your shit together when you don’t. [laughs]


That’s probably one of the biggest things for me is just talking to my coach and saying even though maybe it’s right or wrong, the week of the competition, I was like, “I feel like I need to do more.” He was like, “OK, sure.”


Sometimes you just get, whenever you’re deloading, I’m feel like I’m not doing enough. Yeah, it’s just like chatting with my coach. I’d literally talk to him every single day for 10 days leading into semifinals. I think that made just a difference. Where it was Friday the week before, I was like, “I feel way too fresh.” He was like, “OK.” He was like, “You’ll not feel fresh tomorrow,” [laughs] kind of thing.


Things for me, like the Sunday before semifinals, I had a girl’s day. We went paddleboarding. We went for breakfast, just getting out of the gym, getting away from the normal routine. Just wee things like that, I think, all make a big difference.

David TaoDavid Tao

They really add up. I think experience is going to play into that. At your level, you’re not going to get 50 percent fitter one year to the next. It’s just impossible. Those mental edges, I think, are really important. Is there any athlete in competitive CrossFit whose mental game you look at, and you’re like, “Wow, they’re really dialed in.”

Everyone seems so dialed in. Don’t they’re alike. It’s hard to know. I just really try and focus on myself and what works for me. I know obviously, I train myself full-time most of the time. Sam Briggs, she’s smoking upstairs and all this is ridiculous. That’s pretty cool to be around and experience it firsthand.


What she dealt with this year leading in the semifinals and stuff, I was there every step of the way. I’ve seen it. In two weeks, I wouldn’t even know if she was going to be on the competition floor but she handles it so well. You don’t even know that she’s hurting because she doesn’t show that much emotion.


That’s just awesome. That mindset, she’s an outright born competitor. That’s been, my role model. It took a few years for me to get that mentality, but it’s definitely all pan often helping me develop as an athlete too.

David TaoDavid Tao

One thing I love to remind folks about Sam Briggs is that she is a career firefighter and there’s probably no one…Having met Sam once or twice, there’s no one I would want more to pull me out of a burning building.


[laughter] Yeah. Big time.

David TaoDavid Tao


I would fully trust her. If I’m in a vulnerable position and I need someone to carry me out, she’s top of my list. I can’t think of anyone I would prefer.


She’ll get there quick as well.

David TaoDavid Tao


 Even if she has to row a marathon right before that to get to you?


She’ll get there.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit about your training post-qualification between now and the games. We’re recording this in mid-June. We’re about a month and a half out from the games.


What is training look like for you? Are there any particular weaknesses? I say weaknesses, being relative because if you have huge weaknesses you wouldn’t be going to the CrossFit games yet again.


Are there any particular things you’re really tackling and trying to turn on the engines for heading into the final part of the season?

Keep leveling up like CrossFit strengths or that kind of thing. We’ll reintroduce the pegboard, the pig flips, playing purses, heavy pause like those things that you know not coming up with semi-finals. Refine all those aspects.


For me, I need to get back into the lake swimming. Swimming for me definitely is not weakness this year. I’ve got a swim coach. I’ve joined a swim club. I’ve done everything in my part to become a better swimmer. For me, it’s the fear of open water. Obviously, I live in Ireland. You can’t really swim all year round.


The water still sitting about eight or nine degrees, it’s flipping cold. I’ve got a new wetsuit. I’ve got a thermal swim cap. I’ve got gloves and I’ve got boots. I’m going to get into the water regardless of the weather. I am, at least twice a week for the next five weeks before I leave to go over to Briggs.


While I’m in Cincinnati, I’ll get into the open water two, three times a week. A little bit warmer and climate, hopefully. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Slightly warm in there. I grew up close to the Ohio River where you’ll be. That makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I’m brave enough to tackle open water swimming around there. Kudos to you.


Let’s talk, if you don’t mind, about your athletic background because you found CrossFit a little bit later in life than a lot of elite competitors today. When I look at the field today, I see a lot of teenagers, a lot of 17-year-olds qualifying for the CrossFit games.


It makes me feel kind of ancient. If you don’t mind, tell us about when you found CrossFit, how old you were when you found it? What it’s like competing as an athlete against some of this teenager up comers who might have been doing CrossFit since they were in grade school?

 I found CrossFit when I was 24. What was that? 2014. Basically, started from there. Did my first open, couldn’t do double unders, couldn’t do pull-ups, couldn’t do anything. I remember the last workout that year was deadlifts and I placed 34th in the world.


Turns out, when there’s no skill, I’m actually pretty decent. We were like, “Let’s learn skills, let’s see where we’re at.” Then 2015, I jumped to 34th or 35th in the world and made it to regionals for the first year in Europe.


It’s been a progression ever since then, kind of thing. Definitely competing against the younger generation now, it’s unbelievable. They don’t have past sports. Their sport is CrossFit. That’s really cool.

David TaoDavid Tao


I know the answer, but just so our listeners [laughs] can hear. Talk a little bit about your athletic career pre-CrossFit.

Yes. I race quad bikes. ATV racing, I think you call it in America. Quad bikes from I was 6 years old until I was 24. In the transition, I still raised the quad on and off nearly probably till about 2017, 2018, and then obviously fully hung up a boot in 2018. Literally, I had a quad bike for almost two years old.


Legally, you can’t race until you’re six. I had to six. It’s mental. A lot of people don’t see it as a demanding sport, but I think I shared my heart rate status after doing like three 20 minutes races. I averaged 175, 176 heart rate, and max heart rate of 189 over 20 minutes. You do three of those in the day.


The only way I could describe it is doing three 20-minute walk tests going one every 90 minutes. That’s how it feels. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

That sounds terrible. First and foremost, that sounds absolutely awful. That’s obviously a physically demanding sport. I was watching some videos in preparation for this interview of quad bike racing. It’s extremely high impact.


You can’t zone out mentally at any part of it because you could get injured. What other kind of physical preparation besides racing did you do to get into top form in quad bike racing?

Back then, I was a kid so I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew I had to get fit, how to get healthy. I started my personal training course to get better and to learn how to get better quad racing. I was starting out. It was like circuit training. It’s like body weight CrossFit you are doing with us.


We did all-in squats, lunges, burpees, Spark Jones step-ups, pull-ups, Ring Rose, traditional body weight work. We counted towards the last two years. We started doing a little bit of strength training. We started doing back squats, clean, and jerks. Not very good clean and jerks, like muscle clean and strip presses.


I was working towards getting strict pull-ups. I didn’t even have strict pull-ups then. I remember my husband and I used to cut my faith and help me out. He was doing pull-ups. I was doing assisted pull-ups. We did quite a lot of that.


I came in the CrossFit. I started maybe clean and jerking 70 kilos straight away because I developed that strict muscle clean strength previous to starting CrossFit. I couldn’t snatch because I could not get my arms over my head in that position and really bad shoulders from being on a quad bike. Internally rotated shoulders for the guts of nearly 22 years.


Then terrible ankles, terrible hips so my squat was horrendous. That’s a long time because my motocross boots, being like, a short female. Your motocross boots came up to below your knee. You were restricted in a fixed boot. My calves and Achilles and stuff were all was really tight. I decided to work for quite a long time to get my mobility to be able to do the sport.

David TaoDavid Tao

Are you describing your mobility restrictions or mine? Because it sounds like I’m sensing a lot of commonality here, basically.


Your progression, you’re discovering it in 2014. You did well in the Open, or you did well the last workout of the Open, that was the deadlift box jump workout. I actually remember that workout. That was the workout I did best in that year. Again, low-skill, go full, send the stupid stuff.


We have that in common. What were some of the things you really did? Did you start working with a particular coach? Did you do anything else in dialing in between that season and 2015 where you made that huge improvement?

Yes, I still do. The class programming in the gym for the whole of 2014 and the whole of 2015. The coach realized, “Here, this girl could be pretty good.” He helped me quite a lot at the start, like, loads. He helped me with the extra mobility stuff.


I got a good physiology to help me as well to try and limit the injuries because you are trying to get mobility fairly quick. Sometimes it’s on the limit of right or wrong. I had a physio that was helping me. My coach was helping me at the time. I was probably maybe an extra hour a day on top of the classes of extras.


It wasn’t until 2016. I went semi-all-in. I was still working a full-time job. I had a full-time coach then helping me and then kept progressing.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in a second. First, a quick shoutout to our sponsor, Colter Dillon. If you’re struggling to find a t-shirt that fits perfectly every single time, you’ve got to check out Colter Dillon. They make custom cut and sewn t-shirts to your specifications with tons of color options.


You can even personalize the artwork, custom t-shirts for a fraction of the price you might expect. Check out Colter Dillon today.


Are there any big injuries that you have dealt with over the course of your athletic career via quad bike racing or in CrossFit?

In 2014, I actually did my SEO previous to starting CrossFit. I had that near enough rehabbed before I started again. Then I did my shoulder in 2016 training for Regionals. I did it the week before the first Open workout in 2016 and trained on the whole way through, did Regionals, and then add my operation Thursday after Regionals in 2016.


I did rotator cuff humor head by September, the whole shebang.

David TaoDavid Tao


 [laughs] Get it all fixed while you’re in there. Clean it all up for me.


I got a nice new shoulder in 2016 and fingers crossed from there. We’ve been on top of everything then. Rehabs being taken a lot more serious, rest days, recovery, etc., has all been a lot more dialed in from that because that was a pretty hard 12 months coming back from that.

David TaoDavid Tao


Are there any games events in your previous visits to the CrossFit Games that stick out to youth at you really enjoyed and on the other side of that, any that you really absolutely despised?


I loved the Peg board event last year. That was really fun. Somehow overhead squat, heavy double on there on the pegboard. That was [inaudible 17:31] in the coliseum. The one I probably didn’t like was the wall ball thruster.

David TaoDavid Tao


 It’s the same thing? Walls balls and thrusters are the same thing? You’re doing the same thing for however long.


That was crap. I wouldn’t fancy doing that one again. Other than that, they’re all awesome.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is there anything that you hope to see at the Games this year besides the pegboard? It sounds like the pegboard, you, and the pegboard are good. I know a lot of athletes are not fans.


Are there any particular combinations of movements or types of movements where you’re like, “Hey, I’m feeling really strong, this is going to help me get a lot of points and really set myself up for a top 10?”


Not really. Obviously, I like the peg. I like the odd objects. Probably the more odd objects, the better. I don’t know, I enjoy that kind of thing. Overall, I’m really excited just to get back, see where I’m at, and just take it from there.

David TaoDavid Tao


I hear that from a lot more European athletes than I hear from American athletes that they like the odd objects. It’s more of the things that you can’t necessarily replicate in the gym. I think a lot of American athletes, we get very hyper-focused. If anything is unexpected, we kind of panic.

In Europe – well, I know where I am anyway — I don’t get to train outside a lot. To be able to do 50 or 60 percent of the events outside on the field, in the lake, or wherever it may be, that’s just really cool for me. It’s just something you don’t get to do. That kind of excites me. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing a workout.


Where whenever you’re in the coliseum, even though some of the events were awesome with the pegboard and stuff, it feels more like [inaudible 19:10] . It doesn’t feel as exciting, I don’t think, inside as it does outside for me anyway.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are your favorite parts of the Games aside from competing? Are you someone who takes time and can fit time in to interact with fans? Or are you after the competition, you’re back to the hotel, you’re shutting down, you’re recovering?


I know some athletes, they get a lot of energy from the fans and sticking around. Some athletes are like, “Nope, I have to compartmentalize and just focus here.”

For me not being used to the heat, I try to stay out of the heat for as long as I can for the event. I got really, really dehydrated my very first year competing in Dubai. I couldn’t finish the final workout because my legs cramped so bad. I physically couldn’t move. I swore that’ll never happen again.


After each event, I try to get back into the aircon and chill out. It’s not that I don’t want to interact with the fans. I would love to be able to go and just experience the outside and all the fans and everyone. For me, at the moment, it’s raining with us. Being in that, anything above 20-degree heat for me is it’s really hard.

David TaoDavid Tao

That makes a lot of sense. It’s something you can’t get exposure to training. You have to minimize how long you’re in that.


Also, the sun is a big disadvantage a lot of people don’t realize. If the sun’s just blaring down on you, even if it’s not super-hot, that can just snap the energy straight from you.

 It is really hard for us. I’ll be out in America two weeks before the games. Obviously, I will make sure I’m getting as much exposure in training to the heat, but for the actual events, even at Wodapalooza, even though it wasn’t hot at Wodapalooza, it was still a lot hotter than I used to.


I seem thing, as soon as the event was over, I was stripped back to the aircon and just chill tonight or getting into the ice baths or just stand in the shade. It’s really hard whenever the climate you live in. The hottest we ever get probably 20 degrees, which would be so winter with you guys.

David TaoDavid Tao


For American listeners, this is all Celsius, not Fahrenheit. It gets hotter than 20 degrees Fahrenheit where Emma is but not much hotter than 20 degrees Celsius. We’ll have to do the conversions in the show notes. [laughs]

Emma, where’s the best place for people to follow along with you, your training, and leading up to the games this year?


Yes, they can follow me on Instagram, mcquaid175.

David TaoDavid Tao


Why 175?


That’s my racing number.

David TaoDavid Tao


Got it. There’s got to be a specific reason for that. Clearly, 1 through 174 weren’t taken.

I was 175. My brother was 75. It was just kept in the family the 1759.

David TaoDavid Tao


That’s fantastic. Best of luck heading into the games. I hope training is fun, but not too fun as you might say, leading up to that. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.


No problem. Thank you.