Colleen Fahey, one of USWRF’s newest Pioneers, is also one of the top CrossFit athletes in her age group. Since 2013 she’s had five appearances at the CrossFit Games resulting in a first place finish (2013) and a third place finish (2018). She was a member of the 1991 World Cup Rugby team and a starting member of Florida State University’s 1984 and 1985 National Championship teams. A former college rugby coach, Olde Girl and advocate for animal welfare, we’re proud to welcome Colleen as a new Pioneer and WRCRA member.
WRCRA: What sports did you play before rugby?
Colleen: In high school I played every sport I could: basketball, swimming, softball, volleyball and even some track events. I was a Navy brat so we moved a lot; sport was my gateway to friendships and fueled my desire to compete.
WRCRA: How many years have you played rugby and what positions?
Colleen: I started playing in 1983. I played lock for a few years before finding my home at prop. I played competitively with FSU until 1993.
WRCRA: When did your playing days end and how did you make that decision?
Colleen: After 10 years of playing and helping to coach FSU, I was burned-out. My mind and body were ready to try new things but I was still interested in rugby and found various outlets to play rugby. I picked up with a few teams and even went on an amazing tour to Ireland/Scotland with the Boston Women’s RFC.
WRCRA: Accomplishments you are most proud of? Perhaps, FSU Championships, ’91 WC Team and Old Girl dominance of Saranac?!)
Colleen: Definitely the 1984 and 1985 National Club Championships were highlights of my playing days with FSU. As a younger member of those 2 teams, I was in awe of the older players and spent extra hours training and hoping to be up to the challenge. In the following years being part of a team that consistently had “just enough” players to fill out a side but also excelling competitively was a great source of pride. Of course being a member of the 1991 U.S. National Team that won the Women’s World Cup is a huge source of pride. I distinctly remember the moment I got wind of the possibility of a Women’s World Cup team and how I stepped up my training and resolved to make that team. I met so many amazing people on that journey through training, test matches, camps, all-star championships, and finally the team itself. I’m so honored to have been in the company of those women and coaches. Also, I found my way to another amazing group of players through Olde Girls Rugby. We meet at a few tournaments a year highlighted by regular appearances in the finals at the Can Am rugby tournament. Even though the Olde Girls are more of a social team now, the friendships and achievements we celebrate are truly life changing.
WRCRA: Can you tell us about your coaching journey?
Colleen: I coached FSU, a competitive D1 club and later a D1 Collegiate Club for 7 years. I like to think I had a democratic style of coaching but upon reflection I was actually more authoritarian. I had very clear ideas about the commitment I expected from players. My expectation was to strive for excellence or be making progress toward an agreed upon standard of excellence. I loved to use humor to make a point. My favorite moments were standing back and watching as the players skills and talents took over and exceeded any game plans that I had in mind.
WRCRA: What were some of the significant challenges you faced as a coach?
Colleen: When FSU changed from a Club team to a College team we lost a lot of the experienced members, players who were local, graduate students or didn’t attend FSU full time. Even with our success and reputation we had a tough time recruiting undergraduates to the team because playing a tackle sport was unheard of in the south at the time. I’m so glad that times have changed and girls high school rugby is taking off. A LOT more girls have actually heard of rugby and some have played rugby before coming to college.
WRCRA: What did you enjoy most about coaching?
Colleen: I really enjoyed watching players progress from rookies to seasoned, confident players. Seeing that shy player make a solid tackle. That player who never played a sport discover she had a talent for rugby. When older players would start to naturally coach the younger players. Players who showed up to training early or stayed late to practice skills. Watching the team organize and the natural leaders emerge; celebrating with the girls. I also really enjoyed and respected my fellow coaches. We usually had at least one other committed coach and the cooperation and division of coaching tasks was such a critical addition to a positive team dynamic. I’m also a certified Crossfit coach and my rugby coaching experience is a huge bonus to motivating and coaching CF athletes. I’ve even managed to build rugby drills into my class warm ups.
WRCRA: How did you get into CrossFit?
Colleen: After leaving rugby, I was 48 years old and searching for a competitive outlet as well as a way to keep fit. I found a newly opened local CrossFit gym. I was destroyed by my first workout and it lit a fire in me - just as I thought I was ‘too old’ to continue competitive sport here was this opportunity to learn new skills and strengths.
I’m extremely competitive, especially with myself. Everything in CF is measured so it is a daily challenge to get better, whether that is skills, agility, strength, speed, etc. The members of the gym are like my team so CrossFit was a natural fit for me.
WRCRA: The CEO of CrossFit recently resigned over racist tweets. What’s your response?
Colleen: I’m deeply disappointed by his racist comments, his noncommittal “apology” and also by an extended period of silence during the pandemic and the BLM protests. I’m pleased that my home gym (although not a CrossFit affiliate) is super inclusive and condemns these remarks too. Many changes are coming for the “CrossFit world” and I’m encouraged by the knowledge that we have built a community that values all people and can pivot away from CrossFit HQ. My personal goal is to encourage and recognize diversity in the sport.
WRCRA: What are some of your CrossFit accomplishments?
Colleen: I’m a five-time CrossFit Games competitor, 2013 Crossfit Games 1st place (50-54), 2018 3rd place (55-59). I am a five-time Miami Wodapalooza Age Group Champion. I recently qualified for my 6th Games. I’ve won lots of other local competitions along the way that gave me the experience and competitive practice to keep up with the top athletes in my age group.
WRCRA: What’s a typical CrossFit training day for you?
Colleen: In a competitive season, I’m at the gym 3-4 hrs a day with two rest days a week. Most days include strength work and a conditioning piece and accessory work like gymnastics practice (handstand walking, handstand pushups, rope climbs, butterfly pullups, etc). On rest days, I do lots of mobility work (stretching, massage, ‘mashing’ sore spots, and general recovery activities) and occasionally endurance work (longer runs, biking or rowing). As a masters athlete, the key is to work hard but know your body and avoid injury. In addition to working out with my gym regulars I work with an online coach and utilize programming specific to competitive athletes.
When I began CrossFit many years ago my training was pretty rigorous. A typical day included two workouts, one strength-based with extra time devoted to skills and/or gymnastics in the morning. After an eight-hour workday at work (as a graphic designer and manager for Florida State University’s Conference Center), I’d return to the gym in the evening for metabolic conditioning (usually a high intensity workout, somewhere from 5-30 minutes that really challenges your heart and lungs) and to help coach a class. It really was an all out effort when I think back! I also lost about 40 lbs during this CrossFit journey and have kept it off. Sadly, when I play rugby now I have a tough time at prop, I'm more suited to flanker now.
WRCRA: What's up with the 2020 National Championships? Will they happen?
Colleen: The CrossFit Games are the annual World Championships of CrossFit. This year the Games were supposed to be held August 1 in Madison WI, but they were recently cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For competitors in the masters division, only the top 10 in the world in each age group were invited. I’m ranked ninth in the 55-59 age group. We are all waiting to hear if or when the Championships will go on. They are hinting that they may move to an online/video competition. I have a Facebook page for my CrossFit life called Team Colleen Fahey. I’ll keep that up to date when they finally announce what’s happening.
“Rugby instilled in me the ability to push past my comfort zone in training and reach for a goal. I was used to following a plan to get results and reacting to weaknesses that came up.”
Family and Volunteer Life
WRCRA: You recently retired? What did you do and how’s retirement working out?
Colleen: I’m two years into retirement from full time work and I feel like I’m just as busy as I was when I worked a regular day. I work out a LOT and also volunteer at the local animal shelter. I’m finally getting to some home projects that have been on the back burner for years. That’s been fun and a huge learning experience.
WRCRA: Tell us about your family life.
Colleen: I live with Lauren, my wife of 36 years and our current pack of 4 dogs. Lauren and I have a lot of common interests and we also spend lots of time pursuing our own interests which actually keeps our relationship solid. Lauren has always supported my rugby and actually was our club president a few years (even though she didn’t play rugby!). Now she spends a lot of travel and support time with me on CrossFit trips. She doesn’t CrossFit but stays fit with workouts I program for her in our home gym.
WRCRA: I understand you and Lauren are involved in rescuing dogs. How did that come about and how do you manage that work?
Colleen: About 15 years ago we visited an animal shelter and our volunteer journey began. I’m a photographer for dog adoption portraits. Lauren has become an excellent dog handler and playgroup leader. Also, we’ve fostered several dozen dogs over the years and it’s so rewarding when they find forever homes. Lauren is an excellent organizer and is president of the local foundation that supports the shelter. We do a lot of work for the foundation such as advocating for the shelter, fundraising, spay/neuter efforts, and adoption events. We have been known to stop and pick up stray dogs. We each spend a good amount of time weekly at the shelter doing whatever is needed - dog walking, dog bathing, making photos, cleaning, working in doggie play groups are just a few of the tasks. Each day is always fulfilling!