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Former East Valley star athlete enjoys rapid rise to top tier of fitness competition that tests variety of skills

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 13, 2017, 5:03 p.m.

Eleaya “Ehea” Schuerch lives for an athletic challenge.

High school basketball? She lived to play the game and pushed herself to get every ounce of talent and ability out of her body. She helped lead East Valley to its first state girls basketball tournament.

High school track and field? She admits that she never really took to the sport, but she was still a state champion.

“I’ve always been super athletic,” she says now. “I pick up athletic stuff pretty fast. I just love it. It’s easy for me to train and God just blessed me with a natural athletic ability. That’s the one gift I was given. It’s easy if you love something.”

Like most of us, finding a way to feed that inner drive to succeed athletically becomes a challenge after high school.

“I thought for a while that I wanted to pursue bodybuilding and see just how big I could get,” Schuerch said. “But then I found something else.”

That “something else” is the relatively new fitness sport “CrossFit” created by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in Santa Cruz, California, in 2000.

Schuerch found her way into CrossFit Spokane Valley (“We don’t call it a gym. We call it a box because most of them are a warehouse where they throw in some equipment and get to work,” Schuerch explained).

It was love at first sweat.

CrossFit is a way of exercising that blends a number of disciplines, from high-intensity interval training to aerobics, weightlifting, plyometrics, calisthenics and gymnastics.

But it’s also a competition with an annual CrossFit Games – a competition designed to determine the “Fittest on Earth.”

The basis of the games is simple. Athletes who follow the CrossFit philosophy are at the peak of fitness, and as such they should be capable of doing anything, even if it’s on short notice.

Schuerch is certainly capable. She can squat more than 300 pounds and deadlift 400. And she has proved time and again that competition brings out the best in her – from her pick-up football games with the boys in the neighborhood growing up to basketball at East Valley and, later, Spokane Community College.

Now, 10 years removed from high school, she found a new sport and quickly began to excel.

“At the beginning of every CrossFit season there is the Open and everyone participates,” Schuerch explained. “It’s six weeks of workouts, one workout per week. At first, you’re competing against people in your region.

“I put down my occupation, law enforcement, and I placed 49th in our region.”

That ranking, coupled with her occupation, earned her an invitation to compete in the Wold Police and Fire Games, which were held earlier this year in Los Angeles.

With less than a year in the sport, Schuerch found herself ranked No. 16 in the world for the games. And in Los Angeles, she won her elite age group.

“I want to say I was surprised, but this is what I am working for,” she said. “This is why I do it – I want to compete against these other incredible athletes.”

The original plan, she explained, was to spend her first year in the sport learning the language and mastering the techniques and her second year pushing hard to compete at the highest levels. Her L.A. experience put her ahead of schedule.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” she allowed. “I’m 28 and the top athletes in CrossFit tend to be 25. By the time you’re 30, you’re starting to feel the wear and tear.”

The CrossFit Open begins at the end of February and runs through March, meaning that summer is the off-season for the sport.

But Schuerch is hard at work preparing for Northwest competition in October, the Cascade Cup in Seattle.

“I’m working as hard as I can to get ready for that competition,” she said. “After that I will start to get ready for the Open.

“At the highest levels, the women who compete in CrossFit are incredible athletes and are incredibly fit. I really want to test myself against them. I think the Cascade Cup will give me a better idea of where I am against other women in the Northwest region.”

It’s the competition.

“It’s definitely worth it,” she said. “The competition is worth it because competition makes you better. You make games 10 times faster when you compete.”