Sanna Venäläinen

Moi! Please tell a bit about yourself.

My name is Sanna Venäläinen. I’m 29 years old, I come from Kouvola (about 120 km from Helsinki) and I live in Vantaa. I am a Physical Education teacher (I studied Sport and Health Sciences – Terveystieto) and I’m a CrossFit athlete.

What is CrossFit?

That’s a hard question! (laughs) Basically CrossFit is both a fitness philosophy and a competitive sport. In CF you run, do pull-ups, lift weights, and so many other things, always testing your own condition against yourself, and against others, if you want.

Where does this sport come from?

It was created in the US. Here in Vantaa we have an affiliated gym, and the philosophy and the rules are the same as in the US and any other affiliated CF gym in the world.

How did you start with this sport?

It was seven years ago. I was studying Physical Education and a friend of mine told me “you have to come with me to CrossFit, it’s great!” and I said no-no-no. Because when I was young (between 9 and 18 years old or so) I did track-and-field, cross-country skiing, and many other things, so I didn’t want to do any sport seriously. But she kept insisting “Sanna, you have to come!” So I said okay, there’s no harm in trying… After three weeks I was like “hey, this is fun!” (laughs) And I’ve been doing it for the last seven years.

And you compete against others?

Yes. I’ve been participating in two or three competitions per year, in Finland and in other countries too. 2017 in Cyprus, 2018 twice in Germany, 2019 in France and Riga, and this year in Norway, last February.

February in Norway? That has to be COLD!

Yeah, it was cold. We were running in the snow. And in Cyprus it was incredibly hot, but we had to swim.

Do they tell you what the event will include?

No, they don’t. The only thing we know is what type of equipment we need, so you get a general idea.

It seems you like to compete.

Yes, I do. Before the competition I am a bit nervous, but when it starts I feel it’s the place where I want to be.

How did you do at the international level?

In Norway it was my best competition ever; I got third place and a CrossFit Games slot.

What does it mean?

It means I won the right to compete in the CrossFit Games, which happen once a year in the US. Usually the slot is awarded to the winner, but she already had a slot, and the second place also got one, so it went to me.

Cool. When are the games taking place?

On September 18th, 19th and 20th. But due to the pandemic, the athletes will participate from their own countries. They do it like this to be fair to people who live in countries with closed borders, like Australia, for example. So I have to do it on my own, give it my best, upload my score somewhere, and wait for the ranking. It was my dream to fly there, but… this is what we have.

And you’re a Phys Ed teacher too.

Yeah, I teach kids from upper secondary school (yläaste), twelve to fifteen years-old, in a school in Vantaa.

Do they treat you like a celebrity?

(laughs) They don’t know. Or some may know, but they don’t care. And it’s okay. When I’m a teacher, I do teacher stuff, and when I’m at the CF gym…

You climb ropes like Batman!

Yeah, I like Batman! (laughs) Roles are so different, from school teacher to CrossFit athlete.

Do you ever tell your kids “C’MON! Try HARDER!”

No. (thinks) Sometimes. (laughs) I care a lot about them. If I see somebody is sad or something I go “Oh no! What’s wrong? Tell me…”

What’s your experience with CF and injuries? I hear it’s very demanding.

I myself haven’t had any big injuries, only minor things, and I’m super happy about it. But yes, it can happen because in CF you’re supposed to give 100%. I know people who’ve had injuries, and if you need surgery it can take up to a year before you can get back to the gym again.

Is there an age peak for this sport?

It depends on the person, I think. For me, CF has been easy to adopt because I’ve done track-and-field, and gymnastics, and so many other sports before I started. So maybe for other people it’d be harder to start, and take longer to get up to speed. 18-20 year-olds can do very well, others can do well at 30, so it depends. In CF we have the Masters category, which starts at 35.

What’s the community like?

This place is great. It’s a little gym where we all know each other. For example in Jyväskylä I trained at a gym that was much bigger, but I personally prefer smaller gyms.

Do people share information and techniques freely?

Some people do that. I myself have a coach who tells me what to do and I just do it, I don’t have to think. He has coached me for four years and he’s gotten pretty good. So I come to the gym, I do my best, and I go home.

Does it get aggressive, at the international level?

No. We’re very focused, we don’t talk too much. But we’re friendly, wish good luck to each other, smile.

And here in Finland?

Hmmm. In Finland, when you compete and you get good, sometimes people can grow cold. Most are like “Sanna, you are so good!” but others can become jealous, and it’s not nice. But I have very good friends from the CF community.

Do you represent Finland internationally? Do you get support?

Locally, I represent this CF gym. In other countries I represent the gym and Finland. Support varies with each competition. When I started I had to pay for everything myself. Now I get some support if I go abroad, but it depends. In general, I always have to pay for something, like flights and hotels.

What are your plans for you and CrossFit?

Now I’m 29, so I think I’ll compete for two years more, maybe. I always think “one more year and that’s it” but then I keep going! (laughs) I guess one day I will say it’s enough. I have competed so much, in track-and-field, ski, and seven years of CF… So one day I will stop, I just don’t know when!

In your opinion, what makes a good CF athlete?

You’ve got to train hard, often. You have to sleep enough, and eat a balanced diet. During training, you can’t be talking with others or checking your social media, you need to focus on what you’re doing. And you have to give your best, every time.

You can follow Sanna on Instagram. She took part in the international CrossFit competition mentioned in this article (all the photos are from that event, in fact) and she did GREAT. This article made in collaboration with Pelti-Ässät Oy. Photography ©2020 Jorma Laakkonen.