Brimming With Confidence

March 5, 2014

Greg Okuhara

“I don’t have to ask for help from anyone to open jars or take boxes down from the shelf. I don’t mind shoveling snow. In fact, I look forward to it ... Overall, I have a better sense of satisfaction with life.”

Photo courtesy of Shannon VonKaenel

Top photo courtesy of Sean Flaherty

Micky Ruiz has no time for excuses.

The 65-year-old grandmother is too busy concentrating on the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.

When people learn Ruiz trains at CrossFit Templar in Apple Valley, Minn., she’s typically greeted with responses that range from disbelief to skepticism.

And she’s always prepared with a rebuttal.

“I get a little bit frustrated because people say, ‘You’re so lucky you can do that. I wish I could do that,’ Ruiz said. “And I say, ‘You can do that. Come with me and I’ll show you, you can do it.’ Or they’ll say, ‘Oh, but that’s a lot of money,’ and I’ll say, ‘I’m investing in my future.’ Give me an excuse, and I’ll give you a reason why it doesn’t wash.”

Ruiz started CrossFit in September 2012 when her son, Jon, signed her up for a fundraising workout without her knowing. She was 64, overweight and had shoulder issues. How was she expected to do Fight Gone Bad? 

“Fear,” she said, referring to her first thought when she found out she was signed up. “I was so out of shape. I weighed 30 lb. more than I do today. And I had recently been to the doctor and blood tests showed that I could be pre-diabetic.”

With some additional encouragement from her son and daughter-in-law, Ruiz decided to go through with it. She had recently lost her mother to heart disease, so deep down Ruiz knew she needed to make a lifestyle change. She knew the CrossFit coaches would scale the movements and weights to ensure she could safely perform them.

“I was open to it,” Ruiz said, “and I knew they wouldn’t make me do anything I couldn’t.”

Once the workout started, Ruiz’s stubborn nature took over. Her scaled movements included a weighted PVC pipe for the push press and stepping on a barbell plate instead of box jumps. But she was determined to give it her best shot. When the clock stopped, Ruiz had managed to complete 176 reps.

“I actually felt really good,” she said.

Soon after, she tried an introductory class. Then her son paid for her first month’s membership. It was the only nudge Ruiz would need. The same stubborn attitude that helped her tackle Fight Gone Bad also serves as a source of motivation as she continues her fitness journey.

Since that first workout, Ruiz has lost 30 lb. and won CrossFit Templar’s recent paleo challenge. She deadlifts 155 lb. and has progressed to 20-in. box jumps.

“When I start something, I want to finish it. And I know that’s helped me with CrossFit,” Ruiz said.

Jon knew his mother needed to improve her fitness, and he wanted her to be healthy, as well. He saw the fundraiser as a perfect opportunity to get her on those rubber mats and exercising. Now that she’s been a regular at CrossFit Templar for more than a year, Jon said the differences he sees in his mother go beyond just physical strength.

“Confidence,” he said. “After more than a year, she’s just brimming with it now. She’s more outgoing and sure of herself. I always knew she’d do well, but she’s blown my expectations out of the water.”

The elder Ruiz said some of the credit for her fitness gains belongs to sticking with a paleo diet.

The challenge included a before and after body composition test at the University of Minnesota’s Recreation and Wellness Center. During the six-month competition, Ruiz said she learned what foods would best fuel her fitness goals and still sticks to a paleo diet today. And while she was impressed with the amount of body fat she lost, she was more interested in the amount of muscle she developed.

“I don’t think I could have progressed as much as I did if I hadn’t been paying attention to my diet,” she said, admitting she also didn’t think she would be the winner. “People would say to me, ‘Oh my, the progress you’ve made, you’re going to be hard to beat.’ I just thought they were being nice to me.”

Over time, she discovered people were “nice” because that’s what the CrossFit community promotes: inclusiveness.

A self-described introvert, Ruiz said she’s found a group of people who are just as interested in the success of their fellow athletes as their own.

“And again, I don’t know if they were just being nice to me because I’m an old lady, the grandma,” she said. “It just seemed really genuine. And that’s really helped me. I really feel like I belong here. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, and then I totally did. Regardless of what your score is, they know you are working just as hard as everyone else.”

Now she’s shifted her attention to the Open. After watching the 2013 workouts, cheering on her son and daughter-in-law, she said she was envious of the competitors because they looked like they were having fun.

She’s taking this year’s competition seriously. She wants to measure herself against other women her age, so she’s pushing herself to lift more weight and complete more reps, recently recording a personal best, 53-lb. clean and jerk.

After completing 112 reps during 14.1, Ruiz is among the top 100 masters athletes worldwide.

The gains Ruiz sees in the gym are also paying dividends at home. She has more energy to play with her grandchildren, and she notices she no longer has nagging aches and pains.

Ruiz said she’s seen what happens to older adults as they age and neglect their health. She doesn’t want to become dependent on others to help her with basic, everyday tasks.

“I don’t have to ask for help from anyone to open jars or take boxes down from the shelf,” Ruiz said. “I don’t mind shoveling snow. In fact, I look forward to it. Your confidence just builds (as a result of doing CrossFit). That keeps you going. Overall, I have a better sense of satisfaction with life.”