CrossFit: Lucy Campbell, dubbed the UK’s fittest woman, on women’s sport and competing at the highest level

Lucy Campbell says she “can’t believe how well this season has gone”.

All Lucy Campbell has ever wanted is to be a professional athlete in a sport that makes her happy.

Easier said than done when faced with a media landscape that, until recent years, offered limited coverage of women’s competition, which in turn contributed to keeping their participants from earning a decent wage.

Broadcasting sport attracts sponsors and their investment helps organizers host events and pay wages – being a professional athlete is hard when the cameras are not rolling.

“It is really clear how underappreciated women have been in sport,” CrossFitter Campbell told BBC Sport.

“It’s great to see that changing now and it’s about time women got some recognition.”

We would be wise to listen to Campbell, from Windsor, because she has been involved in high level sport her whole life and was recently dubbed the UK’s Fittest Woman after becoming the only British woman to qualify for the CrossFit Games main eventexternal-link in Wisconsin, United States.

“For too long the narrative around women’s health and fitness has been about being skinny and not having any muscle – I’m glad to see that changing a bit,” she said.

“The more we see different types of bodies and abilities being publicised, the better it will be for women, and I think it will improve their relationship with body image, food and exercise.”

Lucy Campbell has been dubbed the UK's fittest woman
Lucy Campbell (centre) was the only British woman to qualify for the 2022 CrossFit Games

‘I’ve been to dark places in training’

The CrossFit Games is an annual competition in which athletes are scored across a number of lung-busting exercises, such as weightlifting, burpees and pull-ups, all designed to bring you to your knees.

The exercise regime was created by American Greg Glassman and those who qualify and win at the CrossFit Games are given the label of world’s fittest, with Campbell the latest to join those ranks.

“The CrossFit Games is like the world championships of the sport. The workouts are really varied and you could be lifting a barbell at maximum weight or doing a marathon row – you just don’t know what the organizers are going to throw at you, ” she continued.

“In the first event we had to do 75 toes to the bar (a movement that sees athletes hanging from a rail and flipping their legs up to tap the bar above their heads with their toes), followed by a five mile off-road bike ride, then back to the bar for 75 chest to bar (a movement similar to a pull up), then another bike ride and a run to the finish – it was chaos.”

CrossFit is arguably most popular in the United States but with more media exposure – and slick documentaries showcasing the sport and its athletes on streaming platforms – it has grown across Europe and elsewhere with more than 15,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms across 160 countries.

Campbell, a former gymnast and national swimmer, won two events at the Games and finished 16th overallexternal-link – she thrives on the demands of the sport.

“You don’t have time to think about how much pain you’re in or how high your heart rate is,” she said.

“Mentally, it’s sometimes just a case of switching off because being too positive and saying ‘I can do this’ just isn’t realistic.

“I’ve been to the dark places for six hours in training – so I know I can do it for an hour during a competition.”

Lucy Campbell is the UK's fittest woman
Lucy Campbell midway through one of the grueling challenges at the 2022 CrossFit Games in Wisconsin

‘I just want to see how good I can be’

Despite being dubbed the UK’s Fittest Woman, Campbell still describes herself as semi-professional because she earns more from her regular job as a CrossFit coach than she does through sponsorship.

For many top female athletes, earning enough to continue their sporting dreams is a big challenge, and the gap between them and the men remains significant.

Things are trending in the right direction, at least for now. This summer women’s sport has held a more prominent place in the mainstream media thanks to events including the Women’s Euros, Commonwealth Games (which featured more women’s events than men’s), The Hundred and the long-awaited Tour de France Femmes.

Lucy Campbell is the 'UK's fittest woman'
Lucy Campbell won two events at the CrossFit Games 2022

Recent dataexternal-link from the Women’s Sport Trust shows the number of people watching elite women’s sport on TV doubled in the first half of this year with 36.1 million viewers compared to 17.5m in 2021.

“Let’s be honest, it’s about time isn’t it?,” Campbell said whilst on a well-deserved sunny holiday following her CrossFit Games success.

“It’s incredible and there are more female role models for young kids to look up to. It’s super exciting to be part of an increasing appreciation for women’s sport.

“I’m semi-pro right now but after my success at the CrossFit Games, I really hope to get some more sponsors on board and take it to the next level.”

Campbell’s first competitive season has been one to remember. She began her campaign by winning an event at the season-opening Wodapalooza event in Miami where she finished fourth overall and was the highest-placed British woman.

“Honestly, this season has been significantly better than I could have imagined. It’s hard to put into words. It makes me so excited for next year,” she continued.

“The aim is to one day be top of the podium but I recognize the girls I’m competing against want that too and they’re all incredibly strong and capable athletes.

“I just want to see how good I can be whilst making sure I enjoy the sport. At the moment, I’m living the life that I’ve always wanted.”

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