With social media savvy, CrossFit athletes help grow sport


As a CrossFit athlete, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet works every muscle in her body. Lunging over and over, she works her glutes. Doing a legless rope climb, she works her arms. And firing off tweets and captioning pictures on Instagram, she also works her fingers.

CrossFit, a fitness regimen that involves intense interval training, has been around since 2000. After debuting in 2007, the Reebok CrossFit Games are being held in Madison, Wis., through Sunday. The sport’s popularity has ballooned over the last decade, thanks in part to social media.

Leblanc-Bazinet, female winner of the 2014 CrossFit Games, boasts more than one million followers on Instagram. The 28-year-old was hesitant at first to dive into social media. When her agent urged her, she countered that she didn’t understand why people would be that interested in her life.

When she wasn’t training, Leblanc-Bazinet was working on her degree in chemical engineering, which she hopes will allow her to  make a difference preventing climate change. Eventually, she found social media could also make a positive impact in her sport.

“It was just a really great way to strike a good example of what I wish I had growing up: strong women to look up to that are confident and work hard,” she said.

“Social media for me, I’ve always been extremely real. What you see if what you get.”

Brooke Ence, who competed in the CrossFit Games in 2015 and is serving as an analyst this year while injured, echoed the goal to use her platform to benefit the sport. Top CrossFit athletes have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media platforms. Ence describes a nuance: building a platform means gaining a greater following, but increased numbers are not necessarily her goal.

“I’m not in it to get followers or to build a following,” she said. “The natural progression for me is to become a bigger influence and to have the opportunity to inspire and affect hundreds, thousands, millions of people, and hopefully just keep growing in a pretty positive way and change their lives.”

The community doesn’t just end in cyberspace. Ence, 27, has used social media to arrange meet-ups at coffee shops. She’s working on an app to get more people active and involved. She was cast in this summer’s hit Wonder Woman after someone spotted a picture of her online.”

The power of social media has been made clear to Ence, and this week she will be helping with social media at the CrossFit Games, encouraging viewers to chime in.

“We really just want a conversation. We want everyone to have a voice,” she said. “When you feel involved, you feel important, and it just grows the community even more.”

Hashtags and conversations around sporting events are nothing new, but for a sport like CrossFit that often grows by word of mouth, it becomes more important. Both Ence and Leblanc-Bazinet have had strangers direct message them for advice about getting started.

Social media is also tied to sponsorships for CrossFit athletes. While there’s more prize money available at the top levels of the sport,  a few athletes such as Leblanc-Bazinet find a steady stream of revenue through sponsored posts on social media.

“That’s pretty much how we’re able to survive — all through building social media,” said Leblanc-Bazinet. “In 2010, I made a couple of grand in sponsorship, and now, I’ll be able to live from it.”

To be able to compete at an event such as the CrossFit Games, athletes spend an immense amount of time working out. The Games are comprised of events like weightlifting, repetition of squats and cross-country bike races over the course of four days, as competitors test their physical limits.

With countless hours of preparation in the gym, a chiseled physique is just one of the by-products. But for Leblanc-Bazinet, it is not a singular goal.

“I feel like there’s a lot of stuff now going around saying strong is the new beautiful, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a second!’ If we say that, we’re still labeling people. As long as we do that, we are qualifying people with the way they look,” said Leblanc-Bazinet, who withdrew from the Games on Thursday due to a shoulder injury.

“For me, it’s more this message of just gaining confidence and accepting who you are, that’s what’s beautiful.”

 



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