We spoke to CrossFit star, Jenn Dancer on her surprise journey into the sport and how her relationship with Christ has shaped her as an athlete both in and out of the gym.
Jenn, describe to us what life was like growing up for you as a kid?
I was very blessed growing up. I had amazing parents that taught me the importance of Christ, getting good grades and understanding what hard work was. I had two brothers who were very athletic. We constantly competed, fought but also had each others backs. Our families life was church, sports and helping others.
You have grown up as an incredibly sporty woman! Tell us about your career in a pro football (soccer)?
Soccer was definitely my number one passion. I was never the best on my team as a professional athlete. All the other 10 members of my team were on the national team and I was the only one who wasn’t. That never bothered me though because I proved to my coach and to my fans that I deserved to be on that field no matter what my credentials were. I proved and taught that being a hard worker, being open minded, coach-able and determined can get you far beyond what your skill level is. Those are the attributes that coaches cant teach. I also was super fast and stronger than most so that helped a lot!
How did you make the transition from soccer to CrossFit?
In November of 2012, I came home from Sweden for the holidays. My husband, Sam, had placed me in a CrossFit tournament for fun, two days after I landed. I had no idea what a snatch was or what ‘Fran’, ‘Grace’ or ‘Isabel’ meant. I was athletic enough to just jump in and figure it out on the fly. I took 3rd place in a scaled competition. Long story short, I decided to move back to America and be done with soccer and 3 months later I did the CrossFit Open and qualified for Regional’s in 2013. The transition was a little easier because I had something new to conquer and it was a challenge. It was hard transitioning my life back to reality but CrossFit definitely helped.
How quickly did you fall in love with the sport? What was it that enticed you?
I quickly became obsessed because I had the athleticism to qualify but I’m still not “in love” with CrossFit. I do it because competing is the only thing I know. There are multiple days that I hate working out! But it’s just in my nature and I don’t know what I would do without it. I think qualifying my first year is what enticed me the most. I thought if I was this good, without really understanding the sport, what would it be like if I did train on a regular basis.
You came 8th at Regional’s in 2016, how proud are you of that? Is the aim to reach the CrossFit games still?
Going to the CrossFit games has never been my aim. Honestly getting 8th at Regional’s last year really surprised me and getting top 10 this year threw me off guard. I train maybe 2 hours at the most so I can’t except to be at the highest level if I don’t put in the time but I do wonder what I could do if I did have the time and passion to put hours a day into my training, Maybe one year I will. Honestly, if I could just become a little more mobile, I believe I could make it to the games. Each year that is what I struggle with the most at Regional’s.
Tell us about your relationship with Sam and how you met him?
I met Sam when I came home from Sweden to visit my parents for the week. He was doing free CrossFit in the park and I swung by to check things out. We quickly got along but he had a girlfriend and I lived in Sweden. Little did I know he broke up with her shortly after and before I knew it, he told me he loved me before I headed back to Sweden. We were long distance for 5 months and then when I returned, I had to make the decision to leave soccer or stay in the States with Sam. One thing I have always prayed for, is a man who can carry out his faith and guide me stronger into mine. So I knew this was God answering my prayers. It all sounds pretty easy, but it was one of the hardest things I had to do at the time. Leave my career, my passion and my life of the last 10 years for a guy. I was very independent so this whole process was very scary and new for me. It was the best leap of faith I have ever done. Now we get to share our love for fitness and Christ together and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, unless Christ calls us to something else of course!
How did you become a Christian?
I have always grown up in the church. But it wasn’t until I left America and really lived on my own to really test my faith and find it for myself. Not because my family was so involved with the church but I really started growing closer when I met Sam and we dug into Christ together. He was a new Christian on fire at the time, so that really started my fire again for Christ.
How important is it for you to see others get involved in CrossFit as opposed to your own performances and success?
I think that CrossFit is important to get into because of the community that is provides. They don’t have to compete but the community of our gym is awesome and I don’t want anyone to miss out of that. But as long as individuals are working out and staying healthy and moving that is all that truly matters. I don’t care how they do it. Working with our down syndrome athletes and working with the adaptive athlete community has opened our eyes and hearts to what truly matters, loving everyone. I try to be optimistic, not judge and truly find happiness in the mist of a crazy world because that’s what James does every day he is in the gym. His life and circumstances are never hindered because of his love and attitude and that has changed my life and how I see each and every day.
Do you believe your ability to do CrossFit is a gift from God?
I believe that my athletic ability and who I am is 100% a gift from Christ. Both of my brothers are campus ministers and use there strengths and personalities through that and being a CrossFit has given me a platform to share my love for Christ. He is allowing me to use my strength that he has given me to talk with others about him.
Best Individual women out there right now is…
Brooke Wells. She is so young in this sport and has so much passion to train that she will be winning the games in no time. He beauty for Christ will take her a long way.
CrossFit is such a brutal sport and can bring about disappointment, how do you cope with that?
If you allow CrossFit to bring so much disappointment when things don’t go your way, then how do you react to disappointment in life? Christ has a plan for you and sometimes those disappointments are avenues to bring you joy or to open another door. Usually when disappointment comes my way I really try and pray to stay focused on Christ!
I don’t believe he allows bad things to happen or he brings disappointment onto someone, but he definitely can use you through those low times for something good or better. It may take a month or years to understand but there is always a plan. I tore my ACL one week after I signed for a full ride to Mizzou (University of Missouri) and I also tore my ACL when I was a pro. Both times were devastating but I knew hard work and fixing my eyes on Jesus would bring a better outcome. I was a better athlete after both surgeries and now I can relate to my clients today and help mentor them through tough moments.
Also have you ever thought that those “disappointing” moments were moments that saved you from something worse happening later or at a more inconvenient time?
How do you get yourself up and into the gym? What inspires you? Simple, to look good and feel good! Other than that I truly hate working out sometimes!