GJ’s Litsheim wins age group title at CrossFit World Games
Mary Beth Litsheim lived with a back injury for 25 years.
Although the gymnastics injury caused her pain, she still exercised on a regular basis.
She re-injured the back 10 years ago spotting a gymnast, and this time, something had to be done.
She had the fourth and fifth lumbar of her spine fused, with doctors putting screws and a titanium rod in her back. She had to wear a back brace for several weeks, but it didn’t stop her from keeping an active lifestyle.
Two years after trying the CrossFit Program, a licensed strength and conditioning program used by many police academies, military special operations units and elite professional athletes, Litsheim discovered her passion.
The 50-year-old Grand Junction woman won the Reebok CrossFit World Games women’s masters (ages 50-55) title last weekend in Carson, Calif. With the title, she was deemed the fittest woman in the world in her age bracket.
“I feel like a little kid again,” said Litsheim, who was giggling while demonstrating a muscle-up, a pull-up on gymnastics rings, Tuesday at CrossFit Red, 625 Colorado Ave.
Litsheim injured her back in gymnastics as a teenager. Instead of having surgery, she learned to adjust to it, being conscious of how she walked.
She moved to the Western Slope in 1989 and won the National Physique Committee Ms. Colorado title in 1994.
Her back injury, though, limited her workouts until she had her spine fused shortly after Christmas in 2000.
She eased her way back into working out again, but was dealing with aches and pains as she inched closer to turning 50. That’s when a friend of hers suggested CrossFit.
She started doing CrossFit workouts on her own at home two years ago. In June 2010, she moved to Grand Junction and joined CrossFit Red.
“I love the CrossFit Red family,” Litsheim said. “I’ve never done Olympic (style) lifting before. This fits my personality.”
She began training for CrossFit Sectionals in December and took fifth place in the CrossFit Red Battle of the Best competition. The competition pitted men and women of all ages against each other.
A couple of months later, the Grand Mesa Middle School physical education teacher aggravated her back setting up her desk at work one week before the CrossFit Sectionals. Shortly after the injury, the sectional competition was postponed one week.
That week proved to be vital for Litsheim. The injury caused the disc in her back to tear away from the nerve, but the pain subsided enough for her to compete.
She placed eighth, qualifying for the CrossFit World Games.
“I learned to be intuitive to my body,” said Litsheim, who incorporates a modified program in her classes. “After I qualified for Worlds, I worked out hard, but smart. My coach and I figured out what to do. I started thinking about my grandson. I want to be able to pick him up.”
At the CrossFit World Games, the athletes don’t find out what events they do until the day before the competition begins.
Litsheim loved that challenge.
“If you’re an athletic person, you should be flexible and do whatever is asked,” Litsheim said.
She took first place in three events, second in one and third in another to finish first overall with 485 points. The events included overhead squat, push-ups, shuttle run, clean and jerk, barbell thrusters (over the head) and chippers, which is a combination of handstand push-ups, wall ball shots (tossing and catching a ball while performing a seated squat), power cleans and burpees.
Another Grand Junction woman, Kandy Sidanycz, 65, tied for ninth place in the women’s masters (60-older) division. It was her first time participating in the event.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’ll ever get there,” Sidanycz said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. I was overwhelmed.”
The CrossFit Games was a much bigger event than Sidanycz expected, with television cameras all around the stage and several people in attendance.
It didn’t help that her first event was her most difficult — the overhead squat.
“That’s the hardest thing for me to do,” she said. “I thought, ‘Don’t put a camera on me,’ but after the first workout I felt better.”
Sidanycz didn’t exercise until she was 50 years old after talking about health with her daughters.
Two years ago, she tried CrossFit with two of her five daughters. She has 14 grandchildren and a great-grandchild is due in December.
“I thought I’ll go and see what it is like,” Sidanycz said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever done. You’ve got to get in and do your work. I mean, you’re flipping tires. There is no elliptical equipment. I thought, ‘I can’t do that.’
“One of the exercises is an overhead squat. You have to lift the (barbell) weight over the top of your head and squat all the way down. For someone my age, that’s a feat.”