Originally published in Santa Cruz Waves.
Juggling a cup of coffee in one hand and Rigs, her labradoodle, with the other, Brooke Ence faces her camera. It’s outfitted with a furry microphone windscreen and mounted on a flexible tripod with legs that resemble strings of pearls. Ence appears to be the epitome of style, confidence and ease as she shoots a quick video update for social media. The 28-year-old CrossFit legend has an online fan base approximately four times the size of Santa Cruz County’s population: 981,000 Instagram followers and 133,000 YouTube subscribers.
“Social media isn’t hard if you’re being your true self,” Ence says. “It’s hard if you’re trying to keep up with something that’s not you.”
Underneath rock-hard abs and killer quads is a sensitive, compassionate, and sometimes insecure woman who openly admits that she struggles with body image. “I felt a lot of shame about my body growing up,” she says, recalling how other kids made fun of her “manly” biceps. Other forms of bullying have tainted her professional career as a blogger, stuntwoman and athlete: specifically, rumors that she takes steroids. To that, she responds that her unique physique is entirely the product of genetics—that plus three to six hours spent in the gym every single day.
Ence wowed the CrossFit community by winning the West Coast Regionals in 2015 and earning two first-place finishes at the CrossFit Games. In 2016, Warner Brothers hand-picked her to play an Amazon warrior and work as a stuntwoman in the blockbuster Wonder Woman. But even as her successes mounted, Ence says she would experience intermittent “Imposter Syndrome,” or an inability to internalize one’s own accomplishments and fear of being a fraud. “It took me a long time to realize how amazing I am and how amazing all of these gifts that I have are,” she says.
This juxtaposition of vulnerability and strength may be the key to Ence’s cult-like following. People constantly send her messages saying that she has changed their lives: from young girls struggling to fit in to professional athletes coming back from injuries.
Ence recently overcame a major injury herself: in March 2017, she underwent surgery for a herniated disk, which had kept her out of the CrossFit Open. “At that point I had built my identity around being a games athlete,” she says. “I had a hard time understanding that people liked me because of who I was and not because of what I looked like or how I performed in a workout.” Earlier this year, Ence managed to qualify for the 2018 CrossFit Regionals, a huge personal goal and source of inspiration for her fans.
Originally from Utah, Ence moved to Santa Cruz in 2012, when her then-boyfriend (now husband) Marston Sawyers was offered a position at CrossFit Headquarters. “My first job in Santa Cruz was washing towels at a hair salon,” she remembers. At the time, her passion was dance, and a lack of studios in close proximity pushed her to dedicate more time to CrossFit, which she’d already been doing for a few years to stay in shape. Eventually, she became a certified coach and began teaching at CrossFit West Santa Cruz. In 2014, she competed for the first time in the CrossFit Open, placing sixth in the Northern California Regionals.
After several years as a sponsored athlete, Ence is finding her stride as an entrepreneur. Recently, she created her own brand, Ence Wear, a clothing line for men and women with active lifestyles. She says to keep an eye out for new products currently in the works: sports bras, leggings, and the ever-elusive “perfect booty short.”
Ence also launched an online training program for people who want the benefits of CrossFit methodology, without the high bar of competition. As an example, Ence cites her sister, a mother of four who struggles with back pain: “Her goal is to feel good about herself, and live within a body weight and fat percentage that allows her have the life she wants,” Ence says.
The core benefits of the online program are “knowledge, community, customer service, and obviously good training.” And the branding—Bare Naked—speaks to a shared objective most people have in working out. “I don’t necessarily look great or fit in a lot of clothes, but I look good naked,” Ence laughs.
The initial segment of Bare Naked is an eBook, which includes daily exercises people can perform on their own at a CrossFit or global gym. Participants can also subscribe to add-on segments like Peaches: a six-week cycle that targets booty and legs. A mobile app is currently in the works that will offer daily movement videos, live conversations, personalized support, and an online community.
“I feel like what I’m meant to do on this earth is help people understand their potential,” Brooke says. In keeping with that objective, she offers the following advice for getting through hard times: “When you feel insecure about something, say it out loud. Then you realize how crazy it is.”