By Vincent PAGE
Like a vegan diet or Apple, CrossFit has swept across America, dominating the weightlifting world since the 2010s. La Crescenta and the surrounding areas have been swept up in the excitement surrounding this exercise philosophy.
A local gym, CrossFit Survival, has experienced a plethora of achievement from a couple of individuals on their weightlifting team. Laurie Espinosa, a mother of three and a full-time employee, and 13-year-old student Michael Melendez, have both recently reached national success.
Espinosa came into CrossFit Survival roughly 40 pounds overweight, just looking for a way to get back into shape, and was drawn to the training affiliated with CrossFit.
“I was always interested in lifting weights, but the strength aspect of CrossFit is what attracted me to it,” Espinosa said. After a short time of lifting, CrossFit Survivor owner Shannon Franklin saw enough passion in a small group of lifters that she was inspired to start a weightlifting team. She selected Espinosa to be on the team, an idea that Espinosa believed to be “random,” but Franklin said she knew Espinosa had the drive to be an asset to the team and in her own success.
Three years after joining a sport she had barely known about, Espinosa recently competed in and won the U.S. Masters National Championship gold medal for the 63 kg (1 kg= 2.2 pounds) 50- to 55-year-old division.
Espinosa, who last participated in organized sports in high school, said she would not have been able to commit this much time – roughly 1.5-2 hours five nights a week – 10 years ago when her kids were still living at home. Now that her youngest child is 16, she said she can dedicate this time for herself and she felt training has now become a part of her life.
But Espinosa is not the only recent champion that CrossFit Survival has produced.
Michael Melendez, 13, began at CrossFit Survival in the youth program, with very restricted weight lifting. However, after that class was disbanded, Franklin asked Melendez to join the adult lifting team. It was not until he hit puberty, though, that Franklin allowed full lifting, so as not to skew his growth. A couple of years later Melendez found himself in Austin, Texas competing in the USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals meet. He hit his goal on all six of his lifts, already an impressive feat, and won gold in the snatch, clean and jerk (both new personal records), and won gold for the best overall total at the meet.
“When you’re up on that platform, and you hit your lift and know you’ve won, it’s unexplainable,” Melendez said on winning gold. For most sports, winning the championship is the endpoint, but for CrossFit there is always somewhere else to go to get even better.
“It gives you something to strive for, like a quest in a way. You can never achieve perfection, but you’re still always trying to get there,” Espinosa explained about the driving factor of CrossFit.
This could not be truer for both athletes. Espinosa said she hoped to continue lifting more to improve her maximum weight for each lift and to continue to win national championships in her age and weight group. Melendez is currently chasing the youth American records for his age and weight group for the clean and jerk (105kg) and the snatch (88kg).
Franklin said she hopes to be coaching Melendez for years to come as he chases his dream of competing for the United States in the Olympics. The United States is currently a step behind most of the better weightlifting nations such as Russia and China because the USA was relatively late to weightlifting. However, with recent intrigue in the sport and performance-enhancing drug abuse found in multiple Olympians from other countries, America has been gaining ground despite sending only one person to Rio in the upcoming Summer Olympics. Franklin said the path to getting into the “best weightlifting country” conversation is to continue to improve at international competition, and to do it cleanly.
“CrossFit has had an amazingly positive effect on weightlifting and has brought more people to the sport than ever before and is looking to put the U.S. on the map. I also think a lot of the negative hype around CrossFit is dying down and people are realizing that it’s here to stay,” Franklin explained.
Lifters like Melendez and Espinosa, dedicated people who see a sport on the rise, and coaches like Franklin plan on keeping this sport alive for a long time, while achieving success for themselves and inspiring future generations to take part in the CrossFit movement.