May 8, 2014
An Impossible Decision
By James Toland

“It was almost impossible to decide.” ~Janelle Ragusa on her decision to go individual

Photos courtesy of Kathy Owen

Being a 37-year-old rookie at the North Central Regional doesn’t bother Janelle Ragusa of Fit Bodies CrossFit in Bloomington, Illinois.

At the start of the 2014 Open, the mother of three boys had no idea she would have a chance to compete at the regional level. Throughout the early stages of the Open, Ragusa’s mindset was on her team and doing all she could to see if she could help push it into the top 30.  

Then, something unexpected happened.

After 14.3, Ragusa moved inside the top 60 (57th), and then continued to climb. Her 14.4 score moved her to 48th place, and that’s where she landed at the conclusion of the Open.

“When the Open began, this was not even a thought,” she said of her success. “We had a pretty good group and I was thinking we had a decent shot at maybe making regionals, so I was focused on that. It wasn’t until 14.3 that I began to realize that I maybe had a shot at going to regionals on my own. Before that, I hadn’t even considered it.”

There was a problem, though.

With the new rules this year, Ragusa’s scores would be removed from her team if she accepted an individual invitation to regionals, meaning the team, which included her husband, two-time regional competitor Tom Ragusa, would not likely get invited to Chicago.

When the Open ended, Ragusa’s team at Fit Bodies finished in 28th place, which would have given them a spot to compete at Navy Pier. As video submissions were being emailed in from around the world, it was clear there was a large possibility Ragusa would be getting an invite of her own. If she chose to accept, the rest of the team’s scores would not be good enough to hold on to a top-30 spot.

“It was almost impossible to decide,” Ragusa said. “Tom supported me whatever I wanted to do. I think I waited until the last hour possible to declare.”

With the clock counting down, she finally clicked “accept.”

Her husband knew it was tough on her, but he was proud of her.

“It was a stressful couple weeks,” Tom said. “She is such a team player that she almost felt guilty to go individual so she went back and forth. I want her to experience what an amazing experience regionals is because there are no guarantees next year. CrossFit is growing tremendously and it is getting harder and harder to make regionals.”

“I felt like if I went team, I wasn’t going to put myself out there,” Ragusa said. “I can hide on a team. If it’s just me, I have to put my weaknesses out. … If I do bad or mess up, I’m not letting anyone else down. It was so hard (to decide), but I want to expose my weaknesses and see what I can do and hopefully inspire people to try things they are afraid of.”

She said she trains, and often competes, alongside her husband while helping to raise their three boys: Jeffery, 11, Jayden, 7, and Tyce, 4.

Although this couple has been doing CrossFit for four years, it wasn’t love at first sight. Ragusa spent almost 20 years in the personal training business teaching mostly one-on-one and small-group classes. CrossFit wasn’t an easy transition for her.

“I was skeptical,” she said. “I had a firm belief in my one-on-one training methods. I didn’t know how it would be possible to teach a class of all different fitness levels doing Olympic lifting and handstand push-ups.”

Then, she started doing research. Using what she learned with her clients, she immediately saw results. She started doing some of the workouts herself, and eventually she and Tom decided to open Fit Bodies on their son Tyce’s first birthday three years ago. 

Now on the verge of a regional debut, Ragusa is eager to show that even at 37, she can inspire others while finding out about herself as an athlete. And Tom will be right by her side the entire way.

“I am very excited to watch this year. I know she is going to do very well,” he said. “Being good at most things, and her strong mind and amazing spirit are going to be the biggest strengths. We have also been trying to compete on a monthly basis at (local) competitions. Her competition experience and mental toughness are going to really pay off at regionals.”

She admitted she loves to walk on her hands and said she doesn’t see her small 5-foot-3 frame as a disadvantage.

“I’m strong for my size. I love to deadlift,” she said. “If you put me in a clean ladder, I’m probably not going to win. But I’ll do my best. Just because I’m not the best at it doesn’t mean I’m going to hide from it. I want to show people what I can do and hopefully others will be inspired by my effort.”