How Jessie Graff Became Her Own Superhero

Photos by @west_studio

From battling injuries to insecurities, Brooke Ence has proven she’s as strong as she looks. We spoke to the professional CrossFit athlete and budding actress about body image, heartbreak, and being a fit woman in Hollywood.

BALLERINA TO BADASS

Brooke burst onto the CrossFit scene in 2015 when the relatively unknown athlete took first place at the California Regionals, then placed 14th at the Games—an extremely high ranking for a rookie.

But a career in athletics was never her original plan. A dancer and musical theater performer since age four, Brooke had big dreams: “I wanted to be on Broadway,” she says. “I wanted to dance for Mia Michaels and be in the movies.”

While studying as a modern dance major at the University of Utah, Brooke was invited to audition for Cirque du Soleil and took up CrossFit to learn skills like rope climbs and tricks on the rings in order to prepare. In the end she wasn’t cast in the show, but she stuck with CrossFit to stay in shape.

In 2012, Brooke moved to Santa Cruz, CA with her then boyfriend (now husband). While there got certified as a CrossFit trainer, took a coaching job, and by 2013, made the decision to train as a CrossFit athlete full-time.

WORLDS COLLIDE

In 2015 as she prepared for her debut in the CrossFit Games, Brooke received an opportunity to read for a part in the upcoming Justice League film. With her impressive physique and background in theater, Brooke nailed the audition and was offered a part in Wonder Woman — a commitment that would require travelling to Europe to film her scenes.

Brooke accepted the chance to experience her childhood dream; however, set life on Wonder Woman wasn’t what she had expected. “Nobody looked like me,” she says. “I was the weird one because I was into fitness and health. I just really stood out. I am very different from any girl you’ll see in Hollywood. Ever.”

The experience conjured old insecurities about her naturally muscular physique, a body type she comes by honestly in a family of athletes. “From a very young age I was insecure about how I looked, thinking that I didn’t look feminine,” she says. “I was very insecure about the size of my biceps. I got teased a lot.”

FINDING THE LIGHT

After filming Wonder Woman, Brooke’s confidence went from bad to worse. She missed qualifying for the 2016 California Regionals by only four points, a performance that received some negative comments on social media from people questioning her abilities. By this time, Brooke had built a large and loyal following of supporters, but the comments cut deep. “I dealt with imposter syndrome after that,” she says. “I had told myself my athletics, how I scored, or how I looked were the reasons people followed me. And that if I didn’t have them, then no one would give a shit.”

Brooke worked hard to pull herself out of a dark place, talking with people she could trust, asking for advice, reading books, and meditating. Eventually, she started to see a secure and beautiful woman in the mirror again. “I made the choice to work hard to realize how wonderful I am.”

Brooke’s big breakthrough moment happened last year when she posted a picture of herself to Instagram approximately one month post-surgery. “I thought I looked soft and I didn’t love it,” she says. “But I thought, I’m going to post this photo and I don’t care if people like it. That was me standing up for myself.”

STAR ON THE RISE

Now, the 28-year-old is feeling more empowered and confident than ever. Having recently hit one million followers on Instagram alone, it’s clear that Brooke’s rawness on social media helps others dealing with similar issues. “I know that through my athletics and showing opening up about things I’ve experienced, I’ve been able to be a positive influence and help so many more people than if I were just in another movie.”

Her powerful presence hasn’t gone unnoticed. This past April, Brooke was nominated for a Shorty Award, an award for top social media influencers, in the Sports category, along with other notable nominees like Serena Williams and Katie Ledecky.

She’s also working on extending her brand, collaborating on the launch of a skincare line for active women called Athia, as well as releasing her own training program, protein powder, and a clothing line. “It’s crazy how things have turned out through hard work,” she says. “I never started doing CrossFit with the goal of sponsorship and money in mind. My goal was to make it to the Games and surround myself with like-minded people.”

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