How A 52-Year-Old Went From Not Being Able To Do A Push-Up To Winning The CrossFit Games
It all began on a hot August day in 2010. Shellie Edington, then 46, was attempting to peel her sweaty, sticky body off of a black exercise mat that was curling up at the corners and causing other gym goers to trip over the edges. "I'm going to die here," she thought, as she struggled to push off the ground.
The former competitive gymnast, who once trained with Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, could no longer do a single push-up.
An extremely humbled Edington looked around the abandoned warehouse. It was a bare-boned CrossFit gym, the newly opened Fit Club in Columbus, Ohio. It had a few barbells in the corner and pull-up bars made out of pipes hanging from the ceiling. When they drove up that first day, her daughter had taken one look at the building and decided she'd be safer sitting in the car in the parking lot.
Yet Edington wasn't intimidated. While she may not have been launching into cartwheels and backbends anymore, she was in her element. It wouldn't be easy—and sometimes she'd feel like it was impossible—but the former athlete believed that if she persevered, she'd get back into fighting shape. And that's just what she did.
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Fast-forward more than six years. The powerhouse mom of three can now easily bang out 21 handstand pushups (which are as hard as they sound) and 28 pull-ups at a time. She still trains at Fit Club, which has since moved locations and now has all of the bells and whistles of a more sophisticated facility. At 52, she's preparing to return to the CrossFit Games for the fifth year in a row, to defend her championship in the Masters Women 50-54 Division.
So how did this former athlete get her competitive fire back later in life? Here's her story.
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The rise of an athlete
While most competitive gymnasts begin tumbling between the ages of 2 and 4, Edington didn't begin practicing gymnastics until she was 12. (Starting sports at a later age and excelling at them seems to be her thing.) Her journey started at Aerial Port Gymnastics in West Virginia, which had been opened by the Retton family. Edington showed great talent in gymnastics, but her anxiety took its toll. She ultimately gave up a full gymnastics scholarship to college. (Here are 16 ways to relieve anxiety naturally.)
"Anxiety caused me not to perform as well, and I didn't know how to handle it as a young woman," Edington says. "Back in the 80s they didn't have any sports psychologists or anything like that."
So she left gymnastics behind, went to college, and threw herself into academics, graduating with a business degree. She went on to teach pre-school during the week and gymnastics classes on the weekends, and it eventually dawned on her: She could combine her passion for teaching children and gymnastics and start her own business. In 2000, she opened a gymnastics company called Tumblin4Kids, which she owns and operates to this day. (She currently instructs up to 300 children, from ages 2 to 12, every week.)
Ten years into Edington's new venture, a parent of one of her gymnastic students asked if she'd ever heard of CrossFit Kids. She hadn't. The woman referred her to Mitch Potterf, the owner of Fit Club CrossFit gym, and encouraged Edington to check it out, as the CrossFit Kids programming was similar to Edington's Tumblin4Kids classes. So, competitors Potterf and Edington struck a deal: If Edington went to a CrossFit class, Potterf would attend a gymnastics class. And so began Edington's ride on the "crazy CrossFit train," as she calls it.
CrossFit is a workout program unlike any other—it's based on high-intensity movements and combines aspects of weightlifting, gymnastics, and running. The workouts are constantly varied, and tend to be short and intense. (High-intensity intervals don't just help you lose weight, they can also reverse aging. Here's how.)
Here's a metabolism-revving workout you can do at home:
A one-hour CrossFit class at a gym, or a "box" as it's known in the CrossFit world, starts with 15-20 minutes of weight lifting, where a coach leads the class through a strength movement that usually involves a barbell, like squats, deadlifts, or cleans. The second portion of the class is spent completing the "WOD" or "Workout Of the Day." The WOD is short, usually no more than 10-20 minutes, and focuses on varied movements such as weightlifting, calisthenics, gymnastics, and sprints.
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"I drove home after that first workout, and an hour later I still wasn't recovered. I couldn't breathe, my heart was still racing and I was shaky," she says. "And I said 'I'm not going back. I'm never doing that again.' And the other side of my brain was like 'You're scared.
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