One of the many reasons people in the fitness community enjoy CrossFit is that they have discovered world-class athletes who are entertaining to watch and inspiring to follow. Thanks to the platform provided by the CrossFit Games, new stars have emerged and those opportunities can lead these elite competitors to develop their own brands and build followings that are both large and meaningful.
If you want an example of this, look no further than Dani Elle Speegle. She went from fitness rookie to world-class elite athlete in a relatively short time. Now she can add 2019 CrossFit Open U.S. national champion to her resume.
FloElite was able to talk with Speegle about her journey to this point, the process that is now used to qualify for the Games, and a unique way she has found to help those people she is coaching achieve success in their own rights.
FloElite: Everyone at the elite level has some form of athletic background before CrossFit. What’s your athletic origin story?
Dani Speegle: I was a competitive gymnast for about 10 years and I suffered a back injury and had to quit. After getting recovered I bounced around different sports. In high school I did volleyball and track. I actually did some diving. I got on scholarship for rowing my freshman year in college and did that for a year. But I couldn’t deal with getting up at 4:30 every morning [laughs]. I found CrossFit my senior year in college. A friend showed me CrossFit Games videos. She said “I think you’d be really good at this. You should give it a go.” And I did. I started in Melbourne, Florida, and that’s all she wrote from there.
Who were the athletes you looked up to when you started out training and competing?
I loved and still do Sam Briggs. I think she is the epitome of this sport and proves that longevity in this sport is definitely possible. I competed with her in Dubai and she’s awesome to be out there on the floor with. The other one is Kara Webb, now Kara Saunders. I would watch her and think, “Well, we have similar body types and she’s out there crushing it. So ok, these big legs can learn to do all the endurance stuff and not just look heavy.” So she gave me hope that I could make it up there at the Games.
When did you realize that you, yourself, could compete at the level that they did?
I honestly believed that I could do it at a high level early on. I was two months in doing the regular classes when I called my parents to let them know that I was going to go to Orlando and join a team and try to do this for real. I was really going to put my chips in this basket for a while and commit. I knew I had really good genetics for CrossFit. I could build muscle easily and was really strong. The year of rowing definitely helped. I knew I had all these different components that would prime me to be a CrossFit athlete.
I think after my first individual Regional when I buckled down on nutrition and worked with a coach who I still have and he helped me fine tune a lot of things. After a good year of training and showing up for Dubai I realized I could really compete at a high level.
All athletes that compete and excel in strength disciplines do so alone on the platform or stage but will also attest that they don’t get there alone. Who would you consider a part of your team or support system?
I have an amazing support system. First and foremost, I have to give it to Alex, who is my coach and my boyfriend. He has done everything for me to chase down this dream I had from fine-tuning my nutrition to being at every training session to working on my programming while I’ve been asleep for two hours. He really puts in a lot of work for me, so he gets the No. 1 spot.
My parents as well. I’m sure it was overwhelming for their daughter to call them after four years of college and getting student loans and going in debt for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to go do this sport that no one has heard of and go all in on that.” They were like “OK” and they signed up immediately with almost zero hesitation and they are on the computer seeing everything about me, looking at the leaderboard more than I do. My dad lets me know, “Here is what you have to do.” And I tell him, “I got it. Thanks.” And honestly everyone I have come in contact with at my CrossFit box. They give unconditional love and support. From traveling to doing watch parties, they are always cheering me on. It’s incredible that so many people invest in me.
Let’s talk about the Open. You obviously did pretty well this year, so what were your own thoughts on your own performance and results as well as overall?
I definitely can’t complain. I went in with the goal of top 20. I thought that was realistic. I didn’t think top five and winning U.S. was possible until the final week when I realized it was. That was a really nice surprise. I’m really happy with my performance and can’t complain at all. I think the Open had everything that could challenge athletes. It was awesome. I think the Open was beautifully written this year.
Tell us your thoughts about the Sanctionals that you’ve been a part of so far and how you feel it has affected the competitive state of the sport.
So I have done five of these events now. I honestly love it. I love the setup. I love how competitive it has made the sport. I think they have offered more opportunities than just the Open, Regionals, Games setup. A lot of athletes have goals of doing this for a career, as a job. There were many opportunities for branding and athletes couldn’t negotiate with sponsors and say “I have value for the entire year.” This is a year-round sport now. After the Games we have about a month and a half and then the Open starts again. Turning it into a year-round thing where athletes are constantly traveling and competing around the world. For athletes that want to do this for a full-time career, now they have a chance to do that. I think it’s great for the athletes. And now we’re finding out the Sanctionals will change and next year they are in Dublin and Egypt and all these places that athletes may not have had the chance to visit. Now they can go and compete and get paid for it.
Word is you have been working with HowUDish. What’s going on with them and what should readers know about them?
They brought me on as their athlete influencer. I have my online nutrition business that I run. I fell in love with HowUDish because I have clients who have the typical problem of, “Hey, I do well Monday through Friday and I am clean, I hit my macros, but the weekend comes and I go to brunch and I go out with friends.” The problem was they didn’t know how to order at restaurants for their nutrition programs.
They could get salads, but they didn’t know protein or fats. HowUDish helps athletes figure out what to eat at restaurants based on what their goals are or what type of athlete they want to be. “These are things I can have.” They are on the phone and it’s as simple as that. I can follow them and see what they have eaten at that place. And I can use it to keep my goals in check. It’s easier and can be a social thing. I love that concept and my clients love it. It’s currently available for the iPhone at the App Store. I believe they are working on an Android version currently, but it’s not available yet. If you get it for the iPhone, you can sign up and join with different athletes that are on there.
How does the schedule look for you between now and the Games?
I will be at Rogue coming up in Ohio in May. I will also be a part of a team at the Granite Games along with Cody Mooney, Jessica Griffith, and Alex Smith. We’ll be there at the end of May and after that, that’s it. All eyes on the Games after that.
Roger Lockridge is from Lewisburg, West Virginia. His work has been featured on numerous platforms and magazines in the fitness industry over the last 10 years. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @rocklockridge.