April 30, 2013
Doing CrossFit Right: Tracy Shuford
By Laura Gonzo

At 41, Tracy Shuford is one of the few who had the choice to compete as an Individual, on a Team or as a Master.

Photos by: Pam Kontogiorgos

Tracy Shuford, 41, of College Hill CrossFit has achieved something few have in the CrossFit community. She qualified to compete at this year’s Regionals as an individual, on an affiliate team and as a Masters competitor.

Shuford was heavily involved in collegiate-level sports. At Elon College, she played three sports, but eventually focused on softball and NAIA level soccer. Trying to replicate that competitive environment after college proved to be difficult.

“I had a great experience as a multi-sport athlete in college,” she says. “You never know how good you have it until you get out and then, as an adult, you struggle to find that same level of camaraderie and challenge.”

After college, Shuford morphed into what she describes as a “weekend warrior gym rat.”

“There were periods when I was really good about training, but always wanted more,” she recalls. “I dabbled a little in sprint distance triathlon, amateur boxing and was a North Carolina kickboxing champ. Finally, I went to Physician's Assistant school and decided to use my head for something besides a punching bag.”

In June 2010, one of Shuford’s colleagues persuaded her to try CrossFit and she went to her first fundamentals class at CrossFit Greensboro.

“I remember hanging on coach John Meeks’ every word. Then they hit me with five minutes of wall balls – that‘s the dirty trick they play on all the newbies over there. I couldn’t breathe for three hours,” Shuford remembers. “Anything that can kick my ass like that I want a piece of.”

Shuford trained hard and in 2012, she qualified to compete in the Mid Atlantic Regional as an individual. CrossFit Greensboro also qualified as a team, so Shuford decided to compete on the team. That year, Greensboro finished in first place.

“I knew I didn’t have the strength to go up against the big dogs in the heavy lifting. Team was certainly the way to go,” she says. “We just had an amazing team. Everyone just fell into place at the right time. At Regionals, we were on. It was a combination of the right athletes and favorable workouts and we shined.”

CrossFit Greensboro competed in the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.

“At the Games there’s no hiding. All your weakness are terribly exposed. There’s no strategy other than ‘Go!’ and you better be strong at that point,” she says. “There was some strength things we needed to learn to compete. I think some of our luck ran out. The combination of workouts didn’t play to our strengths.”

That, as well as a few injuries, caused the team to not do as well as they wanted.

“That being said, it was still an absolutely incredible experience. When you’re standing in line next to Taylor Wright, Lindsay Bourdon, Tommy Hackenbruck and those guys, you’re just in awe,” she says. “It was an incredible experience for me to be treated like an athlete again, 20 years out of college, to get some of those butterflies back!”

After competing at Regionals and then the Games, Shuford changed her training in the offseason. She felt her two major weaknesses were Olympic lifting and strength, so she began to follow blogs and training programs with a focus on Olympic lifts. She also changed her diet and recovery. 

“I allowed myself to be a little looser in my diet leading up to the Open to gain weight and get stronger. Shanna Duvall of CrossFit Asheville told me I need to eat to win; strict paleo wasn’t giving me the food I needed. I ate a lot of Ben & Jerry’s.”

She also added swimming to her training program.

“We’ve seen swimming in the last two years for individuals. Swimming has allowed me to train through a knee injury. Obviously, it’s a good option for conditioning harder for longer with less impact on the joints,” she says. “Plus, it’s a nice active recovery workout.”

Going into the Open this year, Shuford wanted the option to go Individual, Team and Masters. She focused her training on Masters and even with the smaller number of women in that division, Shuford was nervous. 

“There are some strong women out there in Masters,” she says. “I got there nonetheless.”

Shuford did reach her goals and after the Open, was ranked 36th in the Mid Atlantic Region as an individual, 17th worldwide in her Masters category, and College Hill CrossFit was eighth in the regional team division.

“I’ve decided to go team,” she says. “I’m dealing with a nagging knee injury and not being able to lift as much as I want right now. We have some amazing athletes in our box — letting them have that experience is going to make them better athletes in the long run. Plus, team was fun last year! There’s something about the camaraderie of standing next to your peers and knowing they’re relying on you and it makes you work harder. This is our first year as a team at College Hill CrossFit.”

In addition to a full training schedule, Shuford has a demanding career as a Physician’s Assistant and is also part owner and coach at College Hill CrossFit. Shuford’s key to success is her healthy drive and determination, and also her support system.

“It’s difficult. I don’t have much of a social life outside of CrossFit,” she explains. “It’s difficult to balance. Being a PA is not a 9 to 5 job, it involves call and weekend hours, so it takes some planning. I’m lucky that my co-owner, Pam Kontogiorgos, allows me time for training and I don’t have a demanding schedule as a coach. She understands that my focus needs to be training right now, especially leading up to the Games. It’s a win-win. We have an awesome lineup of coaches here and they’re doing a great job. So, some days I win and some days I don’t – I don’t get it all in.”

She keeps a positive attitude about her CrossFit goals and competitions in general.

“Through so many years of so many depressing workouts in a globo gym, it’s just a privilege to compete on this level again, and to compete with these elite athletes. CrossFit has given me this opportunity. You see people everywhere talking about CrossFit and saying, ‘It’s changed my life.’ If CrossFit hasn’t changed your life, maybe you’re not doing it right.”