Rory Zambard has one hell of a resume. She’s a Crossfit Games veteran, travels the world as part of the Level 1 Staff, a regular on the Regionals scene and holds myriad accolades, achievements, and sponsorships both within the Crossfit community and out, all at the ripe young age of 24. She has recently opted to turn away from something most Crossfitters can only dream of in the competitive Crossfit life, and instead embark on a new and exciting journey on the island of Kauai, HI. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her and we chatted about all things Crossfit, who inspires her, how her mentality and body image has shifted recently, what she’s got on the horizon, and lots more.
YOU WITHDREW FROM THE 2014 GAMES DUE TO A BACK INJURY. DO YOU HAVE ANY INTENTIONS OF QUALIFYING FOR THE GAMES AGAIN?
Never. Never ever ever. I’m done- it’s hard. It’s mentally, emotionally, spiritually really challenging, and there’s cooler things that my eyes are set on right now. I think I'll do the Open workouts this year, but I’m not sure if I’ll register… I think I’d be afraid to qualify. I don’t want to see my name stacked up anywhere.
SO IF YOU'RE NOT TRAINING FOR THE GAMES, WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR RIGHT NOW?
Just fitness for real life. It’s great to be back to the intention of Crossfit: to be fit for real life, to be a part of the community, to have fun and play, and enjoy the journey again, instead of training for a specific goal. I think goals are a wonderful things to have, but I went for most of my time with Crossfit with really specific lofty goals, and a season without goals has actually been one of the best things that I’ve been able to do. So my only goal right now is to just come into the gym and have fun every day, and stay healthy.
WHAT DOES YOUR DIET LOOK LIKE? DO YOU FOLLOW ANY SPECIFIC GUIDELINES?
When I was competing I did The Zone Diet, which I found the most effective for training- the weighing and measuring brought accuracy to my food. But for the last year, perfectly honestly, I haven’t done anything as far as precision and accuracy go. After withdrawing from the Games in 2014, my intention was to come back and compete again, and I hit a wall hard in January and I took 5 months off of fitness. I didn’t do anything for months, maybe worked out 3 times. I threw it all to the wind- training, fitness, exercising, my diet- it all had to go the wayside so I could reconfigure a lot of parts of my heart and where I’d been spending my time, and a lot of parts of who I am, and get that back in order before I worried about anything else. And now that I feel put back together and feel really whole, I maybe should focus on my food again, but it’s been so much fun to just not have to worry about feeling 100% every day. I know what 100% feels like and how much food impacts that, but for the last year I’ve been willing to not feel that way just so I can go out for Thai food at 11pm with my friends, just for fun.
YOU ARE PART OF THE LEVEL 1 CROSSFIT STAFF WHICH MEANS EVERY WEEKEND YOU ARE INSPIRING AND HELPING PEOPLE HIT THEIR GOALS. WHO IN YOUR LIFE DOES THAT FOR YOU? WHO PUSHES YOU, GUIDES YOU AND BETTERS YOU?
I have a few people who do that for me- my mom is definitely someone that I lean on. She knows me better than anyone else in the world, knows my heart, knows how to make me better in the way only a mom can; In that subtle way that they just sort of shape you, without you even recognizing what is going on. She calls me Lisa V 2.0. She’s my sounding board, she’s my comfort, she makes me better. Also my best friend Lizzy does that for me- she knows the best and the worst of me, she’s my play and I have so much fun with her. But more importantly she knows everything about my heart, and those are the people that hold you accountable, who challenge you, and know when you’re falling short of the mark. Having someone be able to call you on your bullshit is the best part, and to be able to tell you the truth without sugarcoating it. Someone to just shoot ya straight, and it can hurt, but it’s awesome.
Meeting Lizzy was great- we hated each other at first. You know how with women (something I’ve kind of gotten over but every so often it’s there), where you see another woman and she’s strong and powerful and pretty and smart, and you think “oh we could never be friends I hate you”, [laughs]. I don’t know what that is, but it’s a thing! But we had a moment, after I was being stupid and a workout didn’t go the way I wanted it to, and I was stomping my feet and huffing. I walked outside to cool off, and when I came back everyone in the gym had that feeling of “Don’t talk to her- just leave her alone, she’ll kill you”. But Lizzy marched straight up to me and said, “Hey. How’s it going.” And I cried and we bonded and she’s been my best friend since then.
And Kurtis from Rainier Crossfit is my compass, like a second dad to me, that’s been instrumental in my development, my character, and perseverance- both in Crossfit and in every area of life. He’s the person who never tells you where to go, but he’ll remind you what north looks like.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO HAVE A BADASS GAMES ATHLETE AS A MOM?
It’s pretty awesome, but also funny because I don’t think about it like that- she’s just my mom. But you can’t quantify how much much of an impact it’s had on me. I got to see a mom who was just as interested in health and fitness as me, and it’s what brought me to the gym and what kept me there. I’m so proud of her and I couldn’t be more thankful that she’s my mom.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT CROSSFIT HAS CHANGED YOUR OWN BODY IMAGE?
Definitely. I grew up chubby, and there’s certainly an impact that has on your heart and how you view yourself, especially when you’re young. To break that image can be next to impossible in our society. But it changed when I started Crossfit, since that showed me I am strong and capable and that’s what’s beautiful. It showed me that beauty isn’t about what you look like- and that held for a while, but then you become an athlete, and then there’s a new set of standards for what you’re supposed to look like, which is the unfortunate part. It’s not just about what you can do anymore, it’s about how many abs you have and how little clothing you can wear. There’s a whole new standard for fitness and what’s that supposed to look like.
DO YOU THINK IT'S CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE FOR WOMEN IN GENERAL IN ANY GOOD OR BAD WAYS?
I think it’s doing way more good than it is bad. But there’s always a drawback, whenever there's a standard being broken there will be an extreme. And it's not Crossfit's job to fix it- that's on us. I think Crossfit has broken down a lot of boundaries, as far as what is “mainstream attractive”. It’s now beautiful to have muscles and acceptable to have abs, and it’s great if your jeans don’t fit because your quads are too big! Those are incredible things that Crossfit is responsible for. Crossfit is the sole reason there are women with abs on the covers of magazines now. It’s given people another option to feel good in their own skin and shows us that capacity is beautiful. It’s beautiful to be strong.
But there’s also a challenge with that; yes strength and capacity is beautiful, but now it’s also unless you have 8 abs to show for it, it’s not enough- we’re chasing a goal that’s impossible to reach.
And the women you see out there who are fighting for top spots in the world look the way they do because it’s their life. It’s necessary to mention that that’s not balance. I say it because I’ve done it. I say that because I’ve hung out with the best in the world, and I say that because I’m guilty of it. When you’re the fittest on earth, and you’re chasing a body fat percentage, you’re not just chasing performance anymore, you’re chasing a body image. It’s not just about what I can do, it’s how I look when I do it. And that is such a tragedy. It’s so sad that we have such capable and beautiful people, from “average” to the best in the world, but they get wrapped up in “I can’t do or eat that because it will make me look like this”. It breaks my heart. I think we should support people regardless and take a stand, and talk about reality instead of this madness, this mission to achieve something that is never attainable. You’re gonna get to 8% body fat and want to be at 7%. When does it end? When are we good enough?
DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY BECAUSE OF YOUR VISIBILITY IN THE SPORT?
Yes and no. There is pressure, and in the last year that’s been something I’ve decided to not acknowledge. I don’t follow anyone on Instagram, I don’t look at social media, because it’s too much visual stimulus as to how the world is saying I need to look. I don’t have everything dialed in, I don’t have everything figured out, just like everyone else, and I need to get my head and my heart straight before I look at anything that’s telling me I need to look a certain way. It’s taken a year for me to breathe and let that stress go.
It’s been a struggle sometimes, but I’m beginning to see that I’m way more than my fitness, and I forgot that for a long time. I cannot behave, act, workout, eat, or do anything based upon how I’ll be seen by the world. And I feel free now. I didn’t think I had a problem with this stuff, but I was dead wrong. I didn’t realize how far into my life I based decisions off of appearance. There’s so much freedom in just finding me, and living my life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE A STRONG WOMAN?
I’m trying to separate myself from that perception of being a “strong woman”. I want to be a graceful woman. I want to be an elegant woman. A powerful woman. I think those things are much more than just being strong. “Strong” to me means you’re built to endure something, and I don’t want to endure life. I want to enjoy it. I think “strong” is something we put on ourselves, and if you walk around with your own armor, you can’t receive life and you can’t give it. I want to be armor-less, and walk through life vulnerable and graceful and full of love.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE WOMEN WHO ARE CHASING THEIR GOALS, WHETHER BIG OR SMALL?
Two things: Be fearless. Just run at it. The worst possible outcome is failure. No matter the goal, failing is getting you closer, and maybe it’s the outcome you needed, not that you wanted. And enjoy the process. I was very “goal-destination”, and when I got to the destination I was already thinking about the next destination, instead of the cliche of enjoying the ride.
It’s one of the things I love about Crossfit. There is no arrival. You’ll never get there. There is no end. It’s why, I think, some people don’t do it- because they’ll never get there, never be the best at everything, they’ll never arrive at the destination. You need learner’s heart. Are you willing to walk into the gym every day with your guard down? Because that’s required. It’s a long journey to a far off destination, and every day you take a step closer to a target that’s moving.
YOU'RE MAKING A HUGE MOVE TO HAWAII IN A COUPLE WEEKS. WHAT BROUGHT ON THIS MOVE AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO BE UP TO OVER THERE?
It’s a calling. I’ve been expressly told to go by God. I went to Kauai with Progenex for the Ultimate Trail Run, and it was so much fun and raised a ton of money for the program that offers free Crossfit to all the kids on the island. I went there when I was in a delicate place in my life and I was feeling exposed, and when I left I felt I left a piece of my heart there. I was overcome by the love there and how remarkable the people were. I just decided to pull the trigger and I accepted Aaron Hoffman’s offer. There’s a piece of advice I had gotten in the past that resonated really hard with me, which is, there are always people waiting for you on the other side of your decisions. The way has been prepared and there are people waiting. It’s not just about you, it’s about more than that. And it’s true- everything for the move has just fallen into place and the process has been way too easy- the way has been cleared.
I’m so excited to be there. I don’t know what the program really looks like yet, all I know is I’m gonna go coach some kids! I’m coaching the middle schoolers and high schoolers a few days a week and helping Aaron organize next year’s Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run, which raised $100k for the kids last year. It gives these kids a place to belong. It’s created a community for kids to show up and know they’re loved. Drug and alcohol abuse is a really big problem on the island- it’s inundated the island. It’s also my family’s history, I grew up in the middle of it and I know what it’s like to see recovering and not recovering drug addicts popping in and out… I have a heart for it, and I love kids, and I have this powerful tool of Crossfit to be able to use. It’s just an amazing mash up of timing and skills and gifts that’s presented itself. Plus the island’s pretty beautiful too!
YOU'VE MANAGED TO ACHIEVE LIFETIMES WORTH OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND YOU'RE ONLY 24 YEARS OLD. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH IN THE YEARS TO COME?
This last season of my life has been about perspective. I was running from destination to destination with blinders on for so long and not actually seeing the world and the people around me. The seasons that are the hardest yield the most growth, and I wouldn’t change it for the world- my ups and downs with Crossfit, the speed I grew up at, I wouldn’t trade any part of it. I’ve been sprinting since I was born- I ran at whatever I wanted and I got it. There’s a lot of ego involved in that “see that and do it” idea, and now I can see that for what is is- a gift.
Where I’m headed, I have no idea, and that’s the coolest part! For the first time I don’t have goals. The only goal that I have is to love people relentlessly. I have the opportunity for a new beginning, and I get the choice to love relentlessly. Whatever that means, I’m not sure, but that’s what I want to walk into.
All photographs copyright Taylor Gage Photography. Hair and makeup by Off White Beauty, Seattle.