SPOKANE VALLEY, wash. — She could see the finish line.
It was about 50 feet away, just beyond the turf. It was agonizing, how far away it seemed.
Ehea Schuerch put her head down and kept moving. She grabbed a thick rope that was tied to the end of a 153-pound sled and started pulling. It had been nearly 15 minutes of racing against some of the fittest women in the world and she was almost across the finish line.
Fellow competitor Chyna Cho was just a few pulls behind her. Schuerch pulled the sled harder, sending jolts of pain down her back and through her arms with every tug.
Schuerch pulled the sled across 44 feet before throwing the rope to the ground and turning for the finish line.
“When you cross the finish line, reality sets back in and you’re just like, ‘I’m done!’ “ Schuerch said. “It was pretty cool listening to everybody cheer. It was just so energizing.”
The 29-year-old was far from her home in Spokane Valley, but everyone in Wisconsin knew who she was. She was Schuerch – the CrossFit Games rookie that already fit right into the crowd of career CrossFitters. It was her first time competing as an individual at last month’s 2018 CrossFit Games and she represented the Inland Northwest well – Schuerch finished 17th overall out of 40 top CrossFit athletes across the world.
It was a long road to the games – Schuerch started dabbling in CrossFit about two years ago. She took to Spokane Valley CrossFit, owned by a local couple that aims to bring together people at all fitness levels.
What attracted Schuerch to that particular gym was the drive to compete. Spokane Valley CrossFit was already the home of Cole Sager, a repeated CrossFit Games competitor. Schuerch immediately took to the fast-paced workouts that involve plenty of cardio and Olympic-style weightlifting.
Schuerch’s athletic drive started as early as high school when she helped East Valley girl’s basketball make an inaugural appearance at the State tournament. She went on to play basketball for Spokane Community College before putting away her basketball shoes for good.
Since her college years, Schuerch has been searching for the same kind of feeling she had on the basketball court.
At first, it was body building, of sorts.
“When I wasn’t playing basketball anymore, I didn’t have anything to do,” Schurch said. “ I needed an outlet so I started lifting weights. … I was competing with myself for like six years.”
But Schuerch said she needed more – she needed competition.
“I’ve always been really athletic,” she said. “And competing is just, it’s in my blood.”
So she put her skills to the test against people she considered to be the best of the best in the fitness world and joined a CrossFit gym.
“The intrigue was, wow, these people are really, really strong,” Schuerch said. “They can run really far, they have great endurance, they’re walking on their hands, they’re doing all these crazy things. How fun would it be to be one of those athletes and see (if) I can push myself to this level?”
Schuerch quickly caught on to the CrossFit way of doing things – give it all you have until you have nothing left. And that mentality transferred to her everyday life.
During the day, Schuerch is usually at Spokane Valley CrossFit, putting in a few hours of training inside the gym. But by night, Schuerch switches out her workout gear for a badge and radio and heads to Spokane County Jail for her graveyard shift as a corrections officer.
Her day-to-day job is not a walk in the park – Schuerch works a floor full of criminals who are often violent for sometimes 12-hour shifts. The long hours and the stressful environment often takes a toll on Schuerch, especially when dropping her training sessions is not always an option.
“There are days, there are days that I get held over until 4:00 a.m. and I still need to make my training,” Schuerch said.
In August, Schuerch found herself competing against some of the top athletes in the world, and she appeared to have fit right in. One thing separated herself from the majority of the competitors – Schuerch has a full-time career, while most of those running beside her dedicate all of their time to training for the CrossFit Games.
To keep training regularly, Schuerch said she sometimes has to sacrifice sleep, something that would make any career CrossFitter cringe. Sleep helps repair muscles and improves overall muscle growth and strength needed to compete at such a high level.
Schuerch said her sacrifices have made her stronger.
“You’ve got to go through things to make you stronger,” she said. “If I wasn’t in this situation with having a job and the responsibilities that I have as well as training, maybe I wouldn’t be pushing myself as hard.”
Schuerch said she hopes she will someday join the elite club of career CrossFit athletes before her age and body slows her down. For now, Schuerch is back at work and inside the gym six days a week, working hard to hopefully make a reappearance in the 2019 CrossFit Games.
Schuerch said she has an innate drive to keep improving herself, but it’s her faith that ultimately keeps her striving to be better.
“There’s a quote that’s like, God’s gift to you is your talent and your gift to God is using your talent for him. And so I try to remember that,” she said.
“My main talent is being athletic, being a competitor,” she said. “But also being a good person all the while.”