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Williams Lake rugby coach, CrossFit trainer inspiring future generations

Natasha Johnson coaches Kalli Campbell and Gabrielle Knox in rugby and CrossFit

A couple of high school athletes are using CrossFit to help train for another rugby season in Williams Lake.

Lake City Secondary School Grade 12 students Kalli Campbell and Gabrielle Knox have both been playing rugby for a few years now. As they gear up to compete in their final season with the school, they are also relying on their CrossFit training to help them succeed on the pitch, drawing inspiration from their coach in the process.

Their rugby coach, Natasha ‘Tasha’ Johnson, is also the gym manager at Total Ice Gym, where she does CrossFit training and works alongside many rugby athletes whom she also coaches, like Campbell and Knox. She currently divides her time between the gym, hockey and rugby teams, and her experience with CrossFit-style training has helped her when she’s coaching on the ice or pitch, and she is hoping to inspire the next generation of athletes.

“I strongly believe that those who inspire us have the power to inspire others as well,” she said.

Knox first got into rugby because of Johnson and CrossFit, and has been playing for three years now. She used to swim competitively and would always work out at Total Ice. Once she quit swimming, she chose to stay at Total Ice to keep fit and eventually got into CrossFit, which then led her to rugby.

“With Tasha being the coach for both CrossFit and rugby, I got more and more involved in the rugby community,” she said. “CrossFit and Total Ice Gym [have] been amazing for keeping me fit and strong for rugby and my other endeavours.”

Campbell was inspired by Knox along with Johnson, who was also her rugby coach at that time as well, to give CrossFit a try. She started doing CrossFit when she was in Grade 10, and competed in the CrossFit Games that same year. The competition involved uploading CrossFit scores online, and Campbell placed 11th in all of Canada.

“It’s a great way to stay fit if you like cardio and strength training,” Campbell said. “The community is also very welcoming and inclusive, which is an awesome atmosphere to be in when you are pushing yourself.”

Since Knox was first introduced to rugby in the fall of 2021, she has gone on to play club rugby, in addition to the school team, having recently competed in Australia with the BC Bears sevens team. She explained that she went to Total Ice constantly, like she still does now, to get into prime condition for that tournament.

“Overall, rugby and CrossFit have been a huge part of my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful to have Tasha as my coach for both.”

When Johnson first started playing rugby, she admired a coach from the opposing school. The coach, Claire Lee, was “incredibly strong and knowledgeable,” and her team respected her greatly, according to Johnson.

Despite having multiple coaches throughout her rugby journey, Johnson credits Lee for showing her another side to preparation and training.

“Claire, who was not only an amazing player but also an exceptional coach, taught me the importance of off-field training for overall health,” she said. “Claire was always the voice of reason and encouragement, pushing me to excel and reach higher levels of play.”

Johnson was then taken under the wing of strength coach Elliot Richardson during her time at Acadia. He provided Johnson with opportunities to work as a strength and conditioning coach for other varsity teams and youth groups.

She also attended a CrossFit gym, where she learned more about building a supportive community, and this experience fueled her desire to create a similar environment at her Total Ice gym.

“With the help of Claire and Brendan Lane, we started incorporating CrossFit-style training, fostering a sense of community within our gym,” she said. “Claire, who originally inspired me in the gym and on the field, is now my best friend and training partner. She continues to be my sidekick and cheerleader.”

In addition to the Lake City team, Johnson also coaches club rugby for girls in the fall, and she loves being able to work with and inspire the girls both in the gym and on the field.

“I firmly believe in giving back the time and inspiration that I have received,” she said. “It truly is the best life, being able to make a positive impact on their lives.”

Both Campbell and Knox are looking forward to the rest of the rugby season, hoping to once again place at the provincials. They brought home bronze last year in 15s and bronze in sevens the year before. They recently competed in an invitational sevens tournament, and both were positive with the way they kick-started their final year with Lake City.

READ MORE: Lake City Secondary girls gear up for new rugby season