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Businesswoman gains five world records in two years

A Poway mother of three young kids has muscled her way to five world records and multiple world championships only two years after taking up her sport.

Ella Fox, 45, owns an insurance company and works full time. But that doesn’t get in the way of her passion for competitive indoor rowing. She definitely is rocking the boat in the sports world.

For years, the former Poway High School tennis player kept in shape by doing CrossFit training.

Only recently did Fox discover that her 6-foot-1-inch height and long legs were a perfect fit for the rowing machine at the CrossFit Sun gym where she works out in Carmel Mountain Ranch.

Less than a year after taking up the sport in March 2021, she placed fifth globally in her heavyweight 45-49 age group in the women’s 500-meter championships hosted by Germany in February 2022.

After briefly contemplating giving up the sport, Fox rallied. This year, on Feb. 25, she won the same event, becoming the 500-meter women’s world champion in her age group. Nine days later she captured the age 40-49 one-minute distance title by rowing 353 meters in 60 seconds.

Not resting on her laurels, Fox set three world records for women of all ages last month. On March 20, she became the first woman to break the 1.5-minute record time for a 500-meter row on slides (a rowing machine with a sliding seat that better mimics rowing on water). She covered the distance in 1:28.4 (one minute, 28.4 seconds).

Five days later, she bested her own record for greatest distance in 60 seconds by a woman of any age when she logged 366 meters, rowing on slides.

On March 29, Fox went on to become the first woman of any age on record to row 100 meters in less than 15 seconds, setting a new world record for the 100-meter event on slides.

Ella Fox, 45, holds her latest world record certificate, along with other indoor rowing world record awards she has received.

Ella Fox, 45, displays her latest world record certificate, along with other indoor rowing world record awards she has received.

(Howard Lipin/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

To prepare, she and her coach and trainer, Mark Sun, owner of the workout studio, had viewed videos of top athletes, experimented and developed training techniques. “I could not have done it without my trainer and coach. He’s always believed in me,” she said.

“There’s not much info on sprint rowing training, so we studied how sprint runners and swimmers trained and incorporated some of those methods into our workouts,” she said. “My favorite workout is one that we copied from an Olympic sprint swimmer and adapted to rowing.”

Fox’s ambition was aided by the pandemic, which relegated people to working out in home gyms and popularized virtual competitions.

She broke the three women’s world records previously mentioned in the CrossFit Sun gym in videotaped performances on the Concept2 Slides smart rowing machine, which can be electronically linked to others for global races.

The international competitions since have resumed in a hybrid form that currently allows both virtual and live participants.

When I talked to Fox on Wednesday, she had tried unsuccessfully that morning for another world record of achieving the greatest distance in a four-minute interval.

With the exception of family and close friends, most people have no clue that she is a world-class athlete.

“A lot of athletes have big egos and big personalities,” says Sun. “Ella is a very kind, humble and soft-spoken person. She’s cut from a different cloth.”

Her family-owned firm, American Retirement Services, which she took over when her parents retired seven years ago, sells supplemental insurance to seniors on Medicare.

“I really like working with seniors and helping people,” she says.

Fox admits most would be very surprised to learn of her second life as an athlete.

Another great indoor rower, Ana Caldas, originally from Portugal, has been training in San Diego. She is the same age as Fox and holds some records that Fox became determined to break. The two San Diego women have never met.

On Dec. 12, Fox tied the women’s world record (ages 40-49) in the 100-meter distance in traditional rowing (not slides), matching the 15.9-second time of Caldas. Last month, she broke Caldas’ record for rowing the maximum distance — 353 meters — in one minute for women in their 40s.

“When I set those goals, part of me didn’t think it was possible, but I dedicated myself 100 percent to accomplishing it,” she says. She gives credit to her coach and her fellow gym members — as well as her husband, Devin, an engineer at Northrop-Grumman.

“He was very encouraging and supportive,” says Fox. “He has to listen to me talk about rowing all the time.”

Devin admits, “The first time I even saw a rowing machine was when we bought it for the house.” He describes his wife’s rowing journey as an inspirational experience for the whole family.

“She’s serving as a role model for the kids. She proved that if you set a goal, and set your mind to it, you can achieve it through hard work, self-discipline and determination. At times, she was frustrated, but she persevered,” he says. Her quest even inspired him to take up exercise more seriously.

Fox’s trainer agrees. “It was really cool to see her pick up a sport and one or two years later win world records and world championships,” says Sun. “Her short turnaround was amazing to see. … She’s got a lot on her plate, but she’s still here every day we’re open.”

Her next goal is to break the 500-meter world record in traditional rowing for all ages, currently 1:24.5 (minutes) that is co-held by Caldas and Ukrainian Olympic water rower Olena Buryak.

It will take tremendous discipline and effort, she says, but Fox hopes to achieve that goal in two years. “I’m quiet but I’ve very competitive and I want to win.”

Someday soon, she says, she’d love to take her sport outside and try rowing on water.

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