Anyone who has been around since the early days of CrossFit is familiar with the name Eva Twardokens, or more familiarly, “Eva T.” Eva was one of the original CrossFitters back in the Santa Cruz days and the star of many old CrossFit videos. In fact, Eva is one of the women in the now infamous “Nasty Girls” video. For many “Nasty Girls” was the spark for their CrossFit journey.
What most people don’t know is Eva had a long and accomplished athletic career before she ever found CrossFit. A second generation Olympian, Eva is the daughter of an accomplished fencer and began her own career as a skiier at an early age. In fact, as she explained, she got quite the jump-start, she discovered, when she asked her father when she actually began skiing:
I read this book called The Talent Code and my dad read it, too. We were talking about the difference between genetics and conditioning. So, when we were having this conversation, I said “Dad, what do you say to people when they ask you when I started skiing?” And he said, “Well I tell them minus nine months.” He said, “Your mom skied through the whole pregnancy, and I think that had an effect on you.” He said, “You were born and we took you to the mountain and as soon as you could hold your head straight up your mom put you in a backpack and skied with you.”
It wasn’t until she was three that Eva considers she officially started skiing and then at the age of eight she began competing.
My parents being eastern bloc Europeans, they were both always having me do something. As soon as I could walk, my dad would try to get me to do as many types of movement and sports as I could do. But skiing was it – that was their thing. I was three years old was when I really started and started competing at eight in freestyle. Then I moved on to racing when I was twelve. I made the U.S. Ski Team when I was 16 and once I made the team it was basically my new home. I travelled eight months of the year with coaches and other athletes, and I wasn’t home. It was a quick departure from the usual teenage years of going to high school and going to the prom and all that stuff. After that it was just a press to be the best in the world at skiing.
And while Eva may have given up some of the pleasures of her teenage years, she earned herself a spot on the U.S. Ski Team for 12 years and competed in two Olympic Games, Albertville and Lillehammer. She won six National Championships, a World Championship Bronze Medal, and was a World Technical Skiing Champion.
I was known as a giant slalom specialist, but I made the U.S. Ski Team officially in downhill. In the beginning I did all the events – downhill, super-G, giant slalom, and slalom, but I blew my knee out and my surgeon restricted me from downhill. So then I started to do shorter turns and shorter turns and I basically ended up on what we call the technical team on the U.S. Ski Team, which is slalom and giant slaloms, and then I did some super-G. In Albertville I did three events for the Olympics and in Lillehammer I only did two, slalom and giant slalom.
In 1995, at the age of 29, Eva retired from skiing. For a while she would do announcing for ESPN and Outdoor Life, but she knew the life-span of that career would be limited, waning as her retirement took her further and further from her competition days. To learn a quick trade and be making steady money, Eva put in a couple years of schooling and became a dental hygenist. She also crossed paths with Greg and Lauren Glassman, the co-founders of CrossFit, at a local gym where they were teaching spin class and became a private training client of Greg’s.
I retired and it was like, “Why do I need to go to the gym now?” You want to stay in shape but you’re like, “Why?” And it was mostly for aesthetics and my health and I was working out at the gym by myself after I retired, but I didn’t really have a direction. Then I started taking some spin classes Greg and Lauren were teaching and I loved their spin classes because it was all intervals and I was into that. I knew about training and I didn’t want to go to a spin class and crank on the wheel and push on the pedals, I wanted something more. I loved his spin class so much he was like, “Hey why don’t you work out with me?” So I finally had the time and the confidence in him because I liked what he did in the spin class, so I had a training session with him and we did tabata squats, we did a little gymnastics, and we did a very short workout, and I was hooked.
Eva, unlike most of us, had the advantage of her competitive years and life-long athleticism to build her CrossFit success upon. That career taught her an intensity and focus she feels the vast majority of people cannot even comprehend.
I don’t think people understand when you’re in a sport like ski racing. You’re not sitting at home and getting on a plane on the weekend and going to a race. You are living it. You’re living out a suitcase, going from hotel to hotel. You’re with the ski team in Europe most of the time because that’s their number one winter sport and you’re in their venue most of the time. …It was eight months of the year of my life not home and doing something that took focus and, well, put it this way – the feeling you have before you do Fran, for you CrossFitters out there, I had that for probably 17 years. You just can’t relax. That’s the type of intensity on a moment-to-moment basis it takes to make it to the Olympic Games.
And while many people may not have realized the depth of her early accomplishments, and she may be known for her CrossFit videos, in her mind her greatest accomplishment remains her skiing career.
Recently I got inducted to the Ski Hall of Fame. It helped me look back and really reflect on my ski racing career. I think, to my fault, I forgot about it. Watching the CrossFit Games come around has made me also reflect back on my career as an athlete and what it took. I think being an Olympian is my biggest accomplishment. Being a two-time Olympian is my biggest accomplishment. That took more than I think anyone can even imagine. It was a lifetime’s work. And most of that lifetime I was a child.
I look at the big picture and when you meet another athlete, a fellow athlete that’s been to the Olympics, you’ve got this bond that’s very intimate, as far as .001 people make it to the Olympics and .001 know what it takes, unless you coach someone to the Games. The only people who would really be able to conceptualize it are my mother and father who watched it and my father who is an Olympian, and these people, you have a special connection with them. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. People say, “You didn’t get to go to prom and you didn’t have a normal life,” and I say, “No, I didn’t, but I had a different and exciting life.”
Read part two to learn more about Eva’s discovery of CrossFit and the truth behind the “Nasty Girls” video:
To follow Eva’s workouts here on Breaking Muscle follow this link: