February 12, 2014
Focus on the Fun: Michael Tancini's Approach to Competition
By Candice Case

“As soon as CrossFit turns into a job and I feel like I’m chasing a paycheck or a sponsorship, it’s not fun for me. I never want to do that. I know that when I have fun and enjoy it, then good things happen.”  

Michael Tancini is aiming to qualify for his third Mid Atlantic Regional.

A student in his first year of a three-year doctoral program for physical therapy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., Tancini said CrossFit is his “playtime.”

“CrossFit is my break. My playtime before class,” he said. “Even if I have to get up at 4 a.m. to do it … it just makes me feel good.”

CrossFit is also his job. A coach at Triangle CrossFit, he unlocks the doors at 4:30 a.m. He starts most days in the cold and dark. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

His resumé

Several years ago, Tancini walked into CrossFit Local in Chapel Hill, N.C., and immediately loved the intense workouts. He was “burned out” from playing collegiate baseball and looking for something to challenge him. Tancini found an outlet for his competitive nature and athletic abilities in CrossFit.  

“I do CrossFit because I love it and I love the training,” he said. “I didn’t start it because I wanted to go to the Games or regionals. I just like doing it. It works out well that I can compete. If I make it to regionals, and hopefully one day to the Games, it’s a great side effect of the training.”

Tancini has consistently improved over the years. He placed 56th in the 2012 Open and 29th at the Mid Atlantic Regional the same year. In 2013, he came back to take 30th in the Open and 19th at the regional. When it comes to competition, Tancini said he tries to maintain a low profile.

“I don’t get caught up in other people. I don’t pay attention to what others are doing. They don’t affect me or my training,” he said. “I’m perfectly fine with going to the gym and everyone not knowing who I am. … I learned a long time ago, as soon as you think you’re something special, someone else will step up to the plate and kick your ass.”

While Tancini doesn’t focus on the outcome, he enjoys the competition.

“There’s something special about being able to compete against everyone in the world and progressing through the season, competing for a trip to the Games,” Tancini said. “When you’ve fallen in love with the process of making yourself the best you can possibly be, it allows you to take part in something as special as the Games (season) and be competitive in it.”

His coach

In the past, Tancini has written his own programming, but prior to this year’s Open, he wanted to lighten his workload, so he reached out to Doug Katona of CrossFit Endurance for help.

“I’ve improved so much in the short time that I’ve worked with Doug,” Tancini said. “Before, I was guessing and hoping I was doing the right things. I know what (Katona) puts out there, I need to be doing. I’m a much better mover.”

Under Katona’s coaching, Tancini is hitting his weaknesses harder, particularly high-rep snatches, and improving his core strength and stability. He does one workout three days a week, double days three days a week and takes one day of rest. Katona does a much better job of “programming what I suck at,” Tancini joked.

His focus

Even with all his hard work, his top priority is keeping CrossFit fun.

“As soon as CrossFit turns into a job and I feel like I’m chasing a paycheck or a sponsorship, it’s not fun for me. I never want to do that,” he said. “I know that when I have fun and enjoy it, then good things happen.”  

While he prepares for the Open, Tancini is also focused on his future as a physical therapist. His long-term goal is to partner up with an affiliate and work closely with the trainers and coaches to transition patients leaving his care.

“Being a CrossFit (athlete) doesn’t make me who I am,” he said. “It’s something I love doing, but I really want to be known as a damn good (physical therapist).”  

Deciding upon a career path was easy for Tancini. After majoring in exercise and sports science, he briefly considered becoming an orthopedic surgeon, but decided on physical therapy because of the interaction with people. While a surgeon can “fix” someone, the idea of working with patients on a long-term basis, keeping them healthy and injury free was appealing to Tancini.  

He loves coaching CrossFit for the same reasons he wants to be a physical therapist, so combining the two is a natural step for Tancini.

“There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing an individual achieve their goals and being in a position to help them,” he said. “I will never be the reason someone achieves their goals, but I can help guide them in the right direction. It’s extremely gratifying for me.”