By: Sherrie Shover
We hear a lot of athletes talk about priorities: how their goals—as a CrossFitter, Olympic lifter or powerlifter—are so important to them that they sacrifice everything else in their lives to try to make their dream a reality.
The stories we don’t hear as often are the ones that involve sacrificing what they love.
Stories like Amy Mandelbaum.
Last year, like the three prior, Mandelbaum qualified for the CrossFit Games in the 45-49 division. It would have been her fourth straight CrossFit Games competing as a Masters athlete, an accomplishment that demands an incredible amount of time, commitment and sacrifice.
But five days before she was supposed to get on a plane to head to Carson, Calif. Mandelbaum’s home was broken into. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving her husband and kids alone after the scary incident. So, Mandelbaum decided to forgo her spot competing against the fittest in the world.
“It was one of those ‘What are you doing? Are you really going to get on a plane and compete basically after someone has violated your life?’” Mandelbaum said of what was going through her head at the time.
“It was such a huge disruption in our lives that it was not the right thing to do. As much as I love competing, my family comes first.”
After her decision to withdrawal from the 2015 Games, the 49-year-old also evaluated some other big things she had going on in her life. That April, Mandelbaum had just become the owner of CrossFit Westport in Norwalk, Conn.
“Prior to that [owning the gym], I was just a coach and an athlete. I could spend all my days doing what I wanted to do and take care of my family,” Mandelbaum said.
“Owning the box, having employees and people who I care about and members who I care about just took extra energy away from me.”
Adding to her hectic schedule, her daughter—a musical theater major—was also in the process of selecting colleges to attend in the fall of 2016. And since that not only requires submitting applications but also going to the schools to audition, Mandelbaum and her daughter, Julia, were forced to travel, a lot.
“We were all over the place and everywhere we went, we ate shit,” Mandelbaum said. We didn’t sleep a lot and my schedule was off. I wasn’t able to train the way everybody else was training.”
When Mandelbaum sat down with her coach, Jason Leydon of CrossFit Milford, she told him that she needed a two-year plan. There were things she couldn’t —and wasn’t willing —to put aside this year to focus solely on training.
And while Leydon was fully on board, it was still difficult for Mandelbaum to take a step back and focus on 2017.
“There were moments when I was like, ‘People are surpassing me. What am I going to do? Am I going to be able to get back [to the Games]?’ I see people posting stuff [on social media] and I wonder if I could do that if I just pushed a little harder,” she said.
“I would look at people’s scores during the [CrossFit] Open and watch my name drop on the leaderboard. So I was a little stressed out about it. But I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to redo any Open workout. I was going to enjoy myself for the first time ever without stressing about a redo or if I messed something up during it.”
There was, however, a silver lining: Mandelbaum got to enjoy her life a little more.
“I missed so much shit doing this [training for the Games]. There are moments that are like black holes in my life simply because I was training. I would be at the gym all day long. I missed things, I skipped out on things, I would forget things constantly,” she said.
“I was sleeping a lot because I was training so much. So, I definitely missed a lot of time with my family. I even planned vacations around my training. It’s not possible to do what we do, whether you’re 22-years-old or 50-years-old, without sacrificing relationships and friendships. It can be a very selfish thing.”
One of the things Mandelbaum loved the most about sitting out the 2016 Games season is the chance to focus on the little things.
She wanted to concentrate on getting stronger and more stable, and she wanted some of her lifts and movements that she spent a lot of time thinking about to become second nature.
“I’ve never really had time. From om the beginning of my CrossFit adventure to now, it’s always been ‘Go, go, go, go, go.’ I never had that time to just grow, become more skilled and become a safer athlete,” said Mandelbaum, who is a big believer in the Active Life Bulletproof programming.
“So much damage was done to me early on was because I just pushed myself too hard and was pushed too hard without actually learning how to do certain things.”
Mandelbaum will soon be shifting gears again to focus on her 2017 season. She plans to amp up her training next month, but will approach things a bit differently this time around.
“It won’t take over my life now. I’m training with proper intent now. I know what quality training is. I’m not wasting time or effort,” Mandelbaum said. “In my mind I’ll get there doing it this way; if it doesn’t happen, I’m going to be ok. But the journey back is amazing.”
“Mentally, I know I’m aging into the next age bracket which means I’m a baby in the 50s which gives me hope for the podium. And I feel great about my training. I don’t feel like I’m rushing the clock at all anymore. I don’t feel like it’s a race against time. I’m at a place right now where it’s just enjoyable. It’s hard as hell but it’s really enjoyable.”
Sherrie Shover is a contributing writer who trains at Yankee CrossFit in Farmington, CT.