Mallorca is well known for its appeal to cyclists, hikers and triathletes, but it has also gained a strong following amongst another league of athletes. Elite CrossFit athletes make the journey to train on the island to work alongside the likes of Jacqueline Dahlstrøm. I went to visit Jac at C23 gym in Palma.
Born and raised in Norway, in Fredrikstad an hour from Oslo, Jacqueline says that she was always a sporty kid. “I tried a variety of sports, gymnastics, football, handball, and I did the PE track at school so I was fit, but the only thing that really stuck with me was horse riding.” Jacqueline worked at her local stables in exchange for rides and eventually had her own pony, Gambler, who she competed on successfully in local events. “I loved to be at the stables, I think the most important thing to me was the connection I had to the animals.” Jac also made light work of her academic work at school, excelling at Maths and Physics and going on to university to qualify as an Engineer specialising in Environmental Physics and Renewable Energy Sources. After graduating she chose to train as a highschool teacher, so by the age of 23 she was teaching young people just a few years younger than herself. It was in 2013 during the year training to be a teacher that she discovered CrossFit. “At first I just wanted to keep fit and healthy, but then I started to realise that I could compete again, like I had with my pony and the spark was lit.”
What is CrossFit?
It is a form of high intensity interval training, and a strength and conditioning workout that is made up of functional movement performed at a high intensity level. These movements are actions that you perform in your day-to-day life, like squatting, pulling, pushing etc. It is a good, if not great, way to get fit. Along the way CrossFit has also developed into a rapidly expanding competitive sport which athletes from all over the world compete in with the aim to get to the CrossFit Games finals that are held every August. The first step towards the Games every year is The Open: everyone training in a CrossFit gym is encouraged to take part in to see where their fitness level is in comparison with others. It wasn’t until the Open in 2015 when she finished as the 54th woman in her age group in Europe that Jacqueline realised that perhaps if she took this CrossFit training a bit more seriously she could be rather good at it… By the following year she was competing at European competitions, and made her first trip to the CrossFit Games in 2019. Currently she is ranked 9th in the world and is no longer a maths teacher, but a full time, professional athlete with sponsors such as Hstlmade, GoWod Mobility First, Foodspring, Tyr Sport and Ruster Fitness. She also has close to 80,000 followers on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jacdah)
Female CrossFit athletes are extraordinary, the demands on their bodies to run fast, lift heavy, walk on their hands and endure tough workouts means that they have to train at a very high level. To look at Jac, you might underestimate her strength, you might not imagine she could have lifted a 108kg sandbag from the ground to her shoulder, almost double her bodyweight just last summer. This event, a “lift off” to determine who could pick up the heaviest sandbag, happened last year in Madison in America at the Games cemented Jacqueline in the annals of CrossFit legend as she outlifted 38 female athletes who are better known than her for their strength and was only beaten by one who managed to lift the final bag of 113kg. How did she do it? “I think once a few of the other girls had failed to lift bags and I knew that I wasn’t going to be the first woman to drop out, I just saw it as a fun challenge. There are videos of me walking up to the bag and laughing at it. I approached each bag as they got heavier with the same curiosity, with a “let’s see what we can do” kind of attitude.”
So what makes Mallorca such an appealing place to live?
“The weather is perfect for training almost all year round, except July and August. I had been traveling with my boyfriend John Singleton who is a well known CrossFit coach, for a few months, but I knew if I was going to succeed in getting to The Games I had to have a base and stay in one place to train. You can’t improve your fitness when you are travelling, you can maintain it, but you can’t really work on it. He had lived here previously and spoke Spanish so it was a simple decision. We train at C23 in Palma which is a great gym for athletes, they are very accommodating of us and our needs, and there is a great community as well. Now we have athletes coming to train with us from all over Europe. Mallorca is a great place to come because in CrossFit we don’t just compete in the gym, we might run outside, swim, bike, kayak, there are all kinds of tests which are thrown at us, and having the opportunity to train in those disciplines is important. I think John, and his coaching business The Progrm, have given Mallorca the reputation as a great hub which athletes want to come to to train for a week or so, or stay for longer if they can. It’s also become a really popular thing to come on a training holiday here.”
What is it like living and working as a full time athlete?
“It is a 24/7 job. You aren’t just training in the gym, you have to take care of your nutrition, your sleep and recovery, your mindset, everything you do is focused on improvement. I don’t socialise very much because I need to be in bed and sleeping. For example I would have loved to have gone to the Mallorca Live Festival last weekend, but I couldn’t as I need to prepare for the semi-finals in Berlin in ten days time. You have to maximise everything and focus on the details to be at your best.”
What about your views about women in sport?
“I was lucky that my parents didn’t raise me any differently from my brother. I didn’t grow up with any limiting belief that a girl can’t do something. I am capable of doing anything. The sport of CrossFit is very equal for men and women, we have the same prize money as the men for example, and I think getting sponsorship deals might actually be simpler for women than for men. It is one of the reasons it appealed to me so much. Women’s sport is taking big steps now, it’s not like that story of the women’s football team which had a set of pink dumbbells to work out with whilst the men’s team had a fully equipped gym. Now we are celebrated for being strong, for pushing ourselves. Life is changing!”
Jacqueline will be competing against 59 other women in the Berlin semi finals next weekend with the aim to get back to the CrossFit Games for the fourth year. Best of luck Jac. You can see the training programme she follows here: theprogrm.com