Cynthia Roulston, Canada

Chicago Kettlebell Training

Cynthia Roulston, Canada

Meet my friend Cynthia Roulston, who hails from Canada.

We met in June 2013 at an IKFF (International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation) Competition in Chicago, where she hit a Personal Record — triple digits in the Long Cycle event! In the brief time that I got to know her, three things about Cynthia impressed me the most: she shares awesome healthy recipes; she’s an ambassador for Kettlebells for Autism, a nonprofit organization founded by fellow girevik Christina Danos (I will be featuring Christina and her organization later this year); and her breathing during her entire set was so consistent and strong — a huge part of excellent technique! You’ll see what I mean when you watch a video of her competition set, which you will find at the end of this post.

Competition Event: Long Cycle
Rank: Rank 1, Sporting Perfection
Coach: Jason Dolby

1. How did you find out about GS/kettlebell sport?
I work part-time as a trainer at StrengthBox. One of our trainers Boris Terzic was training and competing in girevoy sport (GS) back in 2009- 2010. He would sometimes come into the gym to film a set while I was teaching, and I wondered what the heck he was doing. He then formed the East York Kettlebell Club and encouraged me to try it out. He offered weekly GS classes for newbies and I took all of his sessions. He bugged me for a year to get on the platform and I wouldn’t. Then he invited Jason Dolby and John Wild Buckley from the Orange Kettlebell Club  (OKC) to our gym for a weekend workshop, where I learned even more about GS technique and programming. After this I was hooked and Boris started coaching me, although it took an additional year before I stepped on the platform the first time.

2. Describe what it was like to step on the platform for the first time.
Stepping on the platform was a little bit nerve-wracking. I was nervous about my ability to execute proper technique, to be judged by my fellow lifting peers, and if I had the stamina to last 10 minutes. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t even know about ranking tables. This was probably a blessing and saved my nerves. I was just going up there for the experience and didn’t even know what number of reps to shoot for. My first competition was the 12kg long cycle at the Canadian Championships in April 2012. I missed Rank 1 by 1 rep and had several no counts, but of course I didn’t find out how close I was until after. After my set was over I was hooked. It was after this competition that I left my volunteer coach (who was also taking a hiatus from the sport) and decided I needed more intense and sports-specific programming. So I approached Jason Dolby of the OKC to coach me, and I’ve been with him ever since.

3. When did you start lifting kettlebells?
I’ve been lifting kettlebells for at least 5 years but in a fitness/Crossfit capacity before I discovered GS. I didn’t discover GS until 2010.

4. What motivated you to become a girevik? Why do you lift?
I have been a competitive athlete my entire life. I’ve had minor success and accomplishments in running, soccer and Ultimate Frisbee. The times in my life where I have been the least healthy and the least fit were when I took an absence from competing, or was not participating in any formalized sport. I realized this after gaining about 30lbs and being completely miserable just 2 years ago. I thrive off of structure and routine and the camaraderie of teammates to help motivate me to train consistently. Once I hit the age of 40 I realized that I was not physically where I wanted to be, and I felt that I had to ability to train and compete, but I just didn’t know at what.

I love GS, and I LOVE what I have found with the Orange Kettlebell Club. The amazing coaching I have received from Jason Dolby helped me lose 30lbs, and his technical instruction is what I credit to climbing the GS ladder so quickly. The OKC is also an amazing and supportive community of lifters who all work together to support each other with our lifting, and life. It’s really incredible and one of the motivating factors that keeps me interested in lifting. I do love to lift though because I enjoy the challenge.

But, if you want to have any longevity in the sport at all you can not be in a rush to get there. Allowing the body time to physically and mentally adapt to increased loads takes time. Spending time honing proper technique is essential…at least to me and my coach. I want my reps to be so clean that no matter where I am competing they would be recognized and even appreciated as technically solid. That is more important than any number. I seriously derive a huge sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from cleanly hitting my numbers and working my ass off to do so. I’m also motivated by the wide range of different personalities and characters who are my fellow lifters, and seeing them hit their rankings motivates me to keep chasing after my goals.

5. How many competitions have you participated in? What is the highest rank you’ve achieved thus far?
I’ve participated in 4 competitions:
April 2012 – Agatsu Canadian Championships, Rank 2 (12kg long cycle) – 121 reps
Nov 2012 – IKFF Nationals, Novi Michigan, Rank 2 (16kg long cycle) – 83 reps
April 2013 – Agatsu Canadian Championships, Rank 1 (16kg long cycle) – PR (Personal Record) 99 reps
June 2013 –  IKFF Chicago Classic, Rank 1 (16kg long cycle) – PR 114 reps

6. What is your athletic background?
I raced track and cross-country for over half of my life. I was a middle distance runner (400, 800, sometimes 1500m). I also played competitive soccer for the same length of time. When I hit my 30’s I competed in Ultimate Frisbee and participated in 5 national championships and 1 world championship. After this I had a long hiatus away from team sports and took up Crossfit, and MovNat. These activities helped me stay in some form of “shape,” but they did not truly motivate me as there was no real closure or end outcome. I’m very performance-driven and derive satisfaction from achieving goals. Just mere fitness itself is not rewarding enough a goal for me. I develop my fitness through the training necessary to accomplish some kind of task. Although those activities were not satisfying for me in that way, I did learn some really important principles of training in terms of taking care of my body and insisting on proper movement efficiency before increasing intensity or work load. I think these were the perfect skills to take with me to GS, and probably what eventually attracted me to the sport.

7. What is your diet like?
Although I hate to use the word “paleo” because of the way it seems to have become trendy and misunderstood…it’s pretty accurate. MOST of the time I avoid dairy, legumes, processed crap and refined sugar. I focus on the best protein sources I can afford, carbohydrates that primarily are vegetable-based, some fruits, and a little bit of nuts and seeds. I also try to balance the proportion of carb, protein and fat in my diet. Of course I’ m no saint and I LOVE ice cream and french fries. My main principle has really been to avoid the foods I know offer the littlest nutrition, or make me feel terrible. At least try to  minimize their consumption….I call it “not being an asshole.” I can live pretty healthfully keeping with moderation, but when I am preparing for a competition I keep things super clean. Once the competition is over (stage 5) I allow myself some leeway and forgiveness at the food offenses I make.

8. Can you share your favorite healthy recipe?
Back before I discovered paleo I was a big fan of curry dishes on rice. My old diet consisted of a lot of rice and pastas. I have to say that my vegetable replacements of cauliflower and spaghetti squash are so amazing, that I don’t even miss the old crappy grains. I like this dish in the fall/winter on a cold day. But hey! It’s easy and good anytime.

Broccoli, chopped
Carrots, chopped
Onion, diced
Bell Pepper, chopped
Chicken Breast
1 can of coconut milk
1-2 tbsp coconut oil
Curry powder to taste (or use Thai Kitchen curry paste)
Head of cauliflower
1-2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Cut up the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks (this helps it cook faster).
  • Sauté the meat in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil.
  • Add the onions once the chicken is mostly cooked.
  • Add spices: curry powder, pepper, garlic powder and a bit of cumin (alternatively you can use Thai Kitchen curry pastes).
  • Once the onions became translucent, add the broccoli and carrots.
  • Cover the skillet and let this mix steam for a few minutes.
  • Add 1 can of coconut milk.
  • Uncover the skillet, to steam off any excess water and thicken the mixture a bit.
  • Stir in the bell peppers (they don’t take as long to cook and I don’t like soggy bell peppers!)
  • Let simmer on a super low temperature and start making the cauliflower rice.

Cauliflower rice:

  • Pulse clean cauliflower in a food processor (it makes super perfect texture/size rice instantly!)
  • Place it inside a steamer/strainer and set it inside a pot.
  • Cover the cauliflower in about 1 cup of chicken broth (beef works too) and 1/2 cup of water.
  • Bring to a boil and steam the cauliflower until it looks done.
  • Keep an eye on the broth so that it doesn’t evaporate completely.

Sometimes when I serve the rice I add a loaded teaspoon dollop of coconut oil. Serve the chicken/coconut mixture over top of the prepared cauliflower rice.

9. Who is your GS hero or heroine?
Hmm…there are many. But I would have to say my coach Jason Dolby. He may not be the most decorated lifter, but in my mind he is the smartest and the most hardworking. He is also just a stand-up human being that we should all strive to be in and out of kettle. He is literally the best programming coach I have ever had (in any sport) and is so selfless and generous with sharing his abilities and expertise with others.

I’m sure many kettlebell athletes when asked this question will name some Russian god or goddess, and there are many to be named and admired for their gifts. I approached Jason to coach me because I knew right away our philosophy towards life and training would match. He has really allowed me the opportunity to find my own style and voice as a lifter without trying to get me to conform to a style that doesn’t work for my body. The amazing part is that he has done this while at the same time making small tweaks and adjustments to help me clean up any energy leaks and become more efficient, but has not done so at the expense of my individuality. I really love that he encourages adaptability and innovation in all of his lifters. He’s all about providing lifters with the necessary tools to execute the lifts correctly and efficiently, but allowing the individual athlete themselves to decide which ones they will use and when.

Not only is he selfless with his expertise and commitment to making better lifters, he also uses kettlebell sport as a vehicle to give back on a broader scale – such as the 1 Hour Long Cycle ( which is an annual charity event he runs that has supported various local and international causes. His strength of character, kindness and expertise motivate me every day. I decided early on that he is going to be the coach who will work with to obtain Master of Sport and Master of Sport International Class. I think it is important to demonstrate that North America is just as capable as Russia in terms of turning out talented and experienced lifters. In order to do that, I think it is super important to support North American coaching.

10. What is life like outside of kettlebell sport? What are your hobbies? How do you balance these with training for the sport?
Outside of kettlebell sport I am a full-time elementary school teacher. I feel like it is the next most demanding job after being a parent. Super stressful, but highly rewarding. I don’t have any choice about my career, I just have to make kettlebell training time fit around work. As for my hobbies I still enjoy other types of weight lifting, body weight movements/gymnastics and MovNat, as well as coaching these skills. These activities actually work pretty synergistically with my kettlebell training, and my wonderful coach mixes in some of my favourite movements in my GPP (General Physical Preparedness) training, as well as providing me with new and challenging ones. Similar to my diet, I just have to be very diligent to not over-do it on my recovery days. Usually my recovery days are pretty chill – I will sometimes do bikram yoga or work on my mobility, but sometimes I will be more active and work on other skills. It’s all about balance and listening to your body.

11. What is the most challenging aspect of being a girevik?
For me, it is most challenging trying to focus on the clock and hitting my numbers, while at the same time finding a rhythm and patience with my body to execute the moves perfectly, and with correct timing. It’s not easy. I am not a very patient person by nature. GS has definitely challenged my ability to be patient with the clock, as well as the overall results I can expect. We might be training to hit pace 10rpm (reps per minute) with the 20kg bell for a certain competition, but this is all so new and unpredictable to expect a result to be certain. Your body will let you know when it’s ready, not the amount of work you’ve done. And if you listen to your body you will eventually be rewarded. If you ignore it, you are likely on your way to burnout or injury. Most people I have spoken to who obtained their Master of Sport took several attempts. To enter into the support expecting to hit that standard the first time is very unrealistic, and I’ve seen many athletes lack the patience to respect where their body is at, and as a result you don’t find them lifting anymore.

12. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a girevik?
There’s a saying “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” This is so true where GS is concerned. I like knowing that there are only a select “few” of us who put in the hours and repetitions necessary to then step on that platform and pour out our blood, sweat, tears and effort. When I hit my numbers and have a beautiful clean set I know that not everyone can just step up and do that. There is a great sense of accomplishment when lifting heavy things, and for me an even greater one testing my endurance across a 10-minute set. The ability to focus and have the patience required to perform numerous repetitions of the same movement is not my strong suit. But I love a challenge! I have noticed that the increased mental discipline GS has given me has transferred over into other aspects of my life and I feel has helped make me a more patient person. I also feel that my GS breathing has also taught me how to stay calm during moments of stress and again, this is something that is not only critical in sport but in life as well.

13. What is one of your greatest accomplishments in the sport? In life?
My greatest accomplishment in the sport so far was at my last competition in Chicago. I finally hit triple digits in long cycle with the 16kg.

14. Can you share your favorite quote/motivational thought?
“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

This came from that popular sport meme video that has been recreated (and viral on YouTube: with different professional and amateur athletes but the message is so powerful and true. Many times we think we want something, but we really only “kinda” want it. Either fears of failure or outright laziness stop us from truly putting the time, effort and commitment necessary to be truly great at something. I have this quote posted in my bedroom, office, and desk at school. I share this message with my students and I try to live it every day. Every day I’m faced with temptations to procrastinate or make poor eating choices and I make decisions every day to drown that out and ignore it so that I can stay focused on my goal. It’s about focusing on what’s important and staying true to what you really want. 

15. What is one thing about you that most people would be surprised to know?
That for a small girl such as myself I like to do things people wouldn’t expect. I can deadlift 2.5X’s my bodyweight, and this placed 3rd in the Tactical Strength Challenge against athletes from all over the world.

16. Quick – if there is one person you would like to interview, who would it be? What question would you ask them?
Well, after all of my talk dismissing Russians, I would actually most love to talk to Sergey Rachinskiy. He is an incredible sportsman and one truly has to be amazed by someone so decorated in the sport. I would love to know what motivates him, and if he has undergone any particular adversity that he draws from that has helped him overcome personal or training obstacles…I don’t think I could narrow it down to one question to ask him but I’d love to spend a few hours over a meal discussing kettle with him 🙂

17. Do you have a next goal? What keeps you going?
My goal by the end of 2013 would be to hit Master of Sport with the 20kg kettlebell in long cycle. I am competing in a meet in August, the 2nd annual Bay Area Kettlebell Championship. It will be a huge stepping stone towards that goal, but most likely I won’t hit it until November at IKFF Nationals. And of course MSIC (Master of Sport International Class) is something I never stop thinking about, but I am very patient!! I know it will happen eventually and I am in no rush to get there. My teammates, my coach and my fellow lifters all inspire me to keep after it….as well as my inner desire to go after my goals.

18. Any advice or message for the community of kettlebell sport lifters and coaches?
Advice I would give to new lifters would be to seek out coaching. Relying on the internet is no way to learn GS! And when looking for a coach, don’t just rely on their accolades and accomplishments – being a highly decorated lifter does not necessarily make one a great teacher or coach. Make sure that the coaching relationship you are in challenges you safely but also takes into consideration your individuality. It should be as rewarding and fulfilling as lifting is. I would also emphasize technique and quality over quantity. Numbers don’t impress me if your technique is lousy. Too many people are in a rush to jump up to the next heavier kettlebell too quickly. Take your time, enjoy every rep and cherish the journey.

See Cynthia in action. Here she competes in the Long Cycle event:
  • How patient are you with yourself when it comes to reaching your own goals?
  • Like Cynthia, we all have temptations around us that may prevent us from reaching our goals. How do you stay focused and stay true to what you want?
  • Do you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe?
Have a great week!
Kettle Bea


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