CARSON CITY, CALIF. - Her arms. They immediately caught my attention. Defined, toned and feminine: a striking balance of strength and beauty.
The first time I met Mary Swiger we were among a dozen or so others at a fitness class in Makawao, trying a still-new-to-Maui style of workout called CrossFit. Mary emerged as a leader, who performed as strong as she looked. My theory that her arms were for aesthetics only was quickly shot down.
Unlike the other women, including myself, she did "man" pushups, full range of motion, never wavering in her plank; her running was top speed; her form on each of the movements was sound; she did everything to the fullest capacity. To add to it all: Mary, then at age 48, was beating me at the timed workouts. I was 27 years old, and I had no excuses. This woman, old enough to be my mom, baffled and inspired me.
Mary Swiger, the first Maui resident to make it to the Reebok CrossFit Games, sets up on the pullup structure for an event that involves touching toes to the bar during last weekend’s competition in Carson City, Calif.
The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo
I wanted the drive she had - and admittedly, I wanted the arms she had - so I approached her after class and asked about her regimen.
Do you take protein powder? What do you eat? How often do you work out? What do you do for workouts?
Two years later, and thanks to the example Mary still provides, I can finally answer my myriad of questions with two words: hard work.
"My family is blue-collar; they've worked hard all their life," the Makawao resident told me recently. "And they instilled all of that in their kids. Hard work is how you get what you want."
Mary's tireless efforts paid off recently when she qualified for the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, making her the first Maui resident invited to the prestigious athletic contest and the fourth Hawaii resident to compete this year. CrossFit is an emerging and evolving sport of fitness that combines powerlifting, sprinting, gymnastics, Olympic-style weightlifting, kettlebells, calisthenics and more.
The Games, sort of the Olympics of CrossFit, are a grueling, multiday, multievent competition in which elite athletes and teams from around the world compete in what's promoted as the ultimate test of fitness. Hundreds of well-rounded athletes, ranging in age from 17 to 72 this year, trained to be prepared for unknown events announced just before the competition. For the first year, the Games, which started in 2007, created a Masters division for ages 45-50, 50-55, 55-60 and 60 and older.
The initial wave of competition to qualify for the Games came in March. For an exhausting six weeks, Mary competed against close to 150 women from around the world to snag one of 20 invitations to the Games for her division.
Sponsored by Reebok and broadcast live on ESPN3 and the Internet, the 2011 Games were held last weekend at the Home Depot Center in Carson City, Calif., about 15 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport. I traveled with Kristi Buen, the co-owner of CrossFit affiliate Raw Fitness Maui in Wailuku, where Mary trains, for a whirlwind weekend trip to serve as Mary's support crew. We logged in to our GPS system, navigated through the busy streets of L.A. and made sure Mary had enough food, water and enthusiasm for each of her four events.
The Home Depot Center stadium nearly reached capacity with spectators from around the world. Cheering, screaming, pounding, chanting, yelling - the excitement was palpable. It was here that everyday heroes were made through the hard work and tireless training of the competitors.
Our small group from Maui watched as Mary put her heart on the pavement last Friday and Saturday, working harder than ever before. She was battling a cold before the contest, but not once did she complain or make excuses for her performance, which led to a 17th place finish out of 20.
Through the weekend, which drew 7,900 people on-site per day, according to figures from CrossFit headquarters, Mary echoed that she was ecstatic just to make it as far as she had. She left the stadium and L.A. with a bag full of free Reebok gear worth $1,500 and the knowledge that she had given it her all, achieving what others may be capable of, but what she had pushed hard enough to attain.
"We are so very proud of her," Kristi said after the competition was over. "She knew the events were going to be tough, but she didn't let the pressure get to her. . . . Like she always does, gave it her all."
What's next for Mary?
She said she may take up surfing or try biking to Haleakala, new challenges that she has yet to accomplish. Mary added that she'll continue CrossFit as her exercise approach, because "there is always something new to learn, some new movement to master, some new weight to conquer."
CrossFit "makes you feel young," she added "You hang and swing from bars, put yourself upside down, sprint instead of jog, throw heavy weights up over your head. Those are the kind of things kids do. It keeps me youthful."
In the meantime, whether she knows it, she'll continue to inspire me, co-workers, friends, family and even strangers.
"She's able to push through the pain . . . and say, 'It's not going to beat me,'" said Lahaina co-worker Annabehl Sinclair. "And that's how she is in so many areas of her life."
* Kehaulani Cerizo is a certified CrossFit coach at Raw Fitness Maui. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CrossFit includes high-intensity, varied workouts, which range from a couple minutes to about 45 minutes, can be modified for all ages and skill levels and may be practiced with a CrossFit gym, called an affiliate, or individually. Currently, there are 2,800 affiliates worldwide; five are located on Maui, the most of any Hawaiian island.
REEBOK CROSSFIT GAMES 2011 FACTS
Individuals (male, female): 1st, $250,000; 2nd, $50,000; 3rd, $25,000. Teams: 1st, $30,000; 2nd, $12,000; 3rd, $6,000. Masters (male, female, four divisions): 1st, $3,000; 2nd, $1,000; 3rd, $500
BY THE NUMBERS
Judges and volunteers: About 200
Amount of equipment: Nine tractor trailers full of equipment from Rogue Fitness
Countries represented: 10
Youngest athlete competing at the Games: Kallista Pappas, 17
Oldest athlete competing at the Games: Jacinto Bonilla, 72
Individual men competing: 49
Individual women competing: 47
Teams competing: 44
Masters athletes competing (all categories): 148
For details: www.crossfit.com