Former Hoopster Still Competing

I feel like I watched Elyse Umeda grow up on the court. From Kalakaua club basketball to Punahou’s undefeated state championship team in her high school senior season, she was always one of the quickest hoopsters in the Islands. She was not only speedy, but also exceptionally strong despite her diminutive size. She packed more intensity into her 5-foot-3 frame than almost any player I’ve ever seen. Occasionally, it seemed as if she was almost too fast or too strong, as if she had to slow down to let the game catch up with her.

Then, she found CrossFit. Or perhaps more accurately, CrossFit found her.

“I was home from Princeton in 2008 (after her graduation from the Ivy League school), and I was working out at Powerhouse Gym when this small little CrossFit place opened up next door and the guy there asked me to come by and try it,” she recalls. “I went to one workout and absolutely fell in love with it from the start.”

Elyse, now 29, runs her own place — CrossFit 808 — teaching as many as six or seven classes a day at her gym in Kalihi. “We’ve got people from teenagers and above,” she tells me, enthusiastically; her energy and passion for what she does coming through loud and clear.

For those not familiar with CrossFit, she explained it technically as “varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” What that means to weekend athletes and couch potatoes is that athletes work very hard and very intensely in areas of weightlifting, gymnastics and conditioning. Running, jump roping, biking, swimming, lifting, tumbling and much more are involved in the highly varied workouts.

“I’m in the best shape of my life,” she declares. “I wish I had done this back in college. My weight-training coach from Princeton now has incorporated it into the team routine, and the entire Princeton team does it. It’s becoming more mainstream throughout (professional), college and high school athletics.”

This past month, Elyse and her CrossFit 808 teammates took part in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif. Her team included two other former NCAA Division I basketball stars — Kyla Evers and Brandi Richardson — who also have embraced what is being billed as “one of the country’s fastest growing sports.” Elyse, Kyla and Brandi were joined by Josh Akiona, Rich Korth and Adam Jamieson in a competition that was televised by ESPN. The 808 team finished 10th in the nation.

“Oh my god, it was a blast,” she says. “It’s grown so popular so fast that we had almost 40,000 people there to watch the competition at the StubHub Center. We took nearly 60 people from our group here; to see them up in the crowd in a sea of blue was totally awesome.”

Some of the events were downright mind-boggling, like the “Worm Bob,” where competitors had to perform a hand-stand walk, squat and clean a giant log (shaped like a worm), and pull a huge steel sled (nicknamed the Bob), and do so in a team format. “All of the events seem to have a certain bit of nastiness,” Elyse says. “It’s a real challenge, especially when you have to do it as a team.”

Elyse says she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “Since I was 10, I was part of a team, throughout high school and college,” she says. “Now, this fills that void and brings it back again.”

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fun experience that tops off her already terrific workouts. Without a doubt, Elyse Umeda of CrossFit 808 is having the time of her life.