March 7, 2013
Masters Women of the South East
By Shelby Levy

The South East Masters Women are taking the Open on by storm.

The 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open is here, and the pressure is on in the Masters division. The top 20 Masters from each age group will go straight from the Open to the Games, so there are no do-overs. All of the past year’s training will be put to the test during the Open as these incredible athletes vie for one of the coveted spots that will send them to California. The South East checked in with some of the top female Masters in the region to look for on the Leaderboard.

Masters Women 40-44 Division

The announcement of the new Masters division for the 40- to 44-year-olds proved to be a game changer for some of the South East’s women.

Fortune Santos, 42, of CrossFit Port Saint Lucie has dreamed of making it to the CrossFit Games as an individual and came close in 2011 when she found herself in second place overall after the third event at the Regional. After suffering an injury to her hands on the fourth event, Santos reluctantly withdrew from the competition. She came back in 2012 and finished 20th at Regionals. 

“When I heard about the news of the new Masters age division, I was both happy and saddened,” Santos says. “I knew my time was up to compete in the (Individual) category, that realistically all heavens and stars would have to be lined up in order for me to make the 2013 Games, unless I went Masters. My dream to compete only once against the greatest CrossFitters in the world that I have admired all these years was over. I could have lived with just one shot.”

Santos, a former gymnast, is expected to make a strong showing in the Open. She has a 180-lb. clean and jerk, a 130-lb. snatch, a 3:07 Fran and an 8:15 Helen.

“I have no idea if this will be my year,” Santos says. “None of us know each other, and I expect there to be a lot of tough competition. Being that only 20 will go, I would be honored to be in that group.”

Tara Philion, a 41-year-old mother-of-two out of CrossFit Threshold, is also making a run for Masters. With a background in gymnastics, Philion turned to endurance sports as she got older.

“I was running half and full marathons when I stumbled upon CrossFit, and it single- handedly changed my life,” she says. “It changed my perception of fitness, and it pushed me into a realm of physical preparedness that I never could have imagined.”

Having been CrossFitting for not quite two years, Philion has recently had a lot of practice on the podium, taking first place at Swamp Monster, WoDapalooza and Ice Monster.

“I would have to say that I am well-rounded. By that I mean, I am not going to pick up crazy amounts of weight, but I can lift heavy weight for my size, run, jump, push, pull and even walk on my hands if you ask me to,” Philion says. “I have endurance, a positive attitude and a hunger for always wanting more and never settling.”

Kim Trego, 42, says she started training for the Open in October in anticipation of competing for the CrossFit North Fulton team. With the news that a new age division was being added to the Masters, Trego had a change in plans.

“I was shocked when HQ announced the new age group, and a little excited, too, because I actually started preparing early for the season,” she says.

Trego, who has been CrossFitting since 2007 and received her Level 1 back when “Coach Glassman, Annie, Nicole and Dave led the seminars,” follows OPT for her programming. She currently has a snatch PR of 131 lb., and a clean and jerk PR of 154 lb.

“The Olympic lifts are my forte, so I would like to see those again (in the Open) this year,” she says.

Billie Fonock, 40, has been athletic her entire life and has always tried to stay fit due to her job as a firefighter. Two years ago, she and her husband, also a firefighter, discovered CrossFit.

“I'm better at moderate weight, high-rep WODs with burpees, pull-ups, kettlebell swings, push-ups, thrusters, overhead squats, snatches, toes-to-bars,” Fonock says. “I can dig deep when I get out of my comfort zone and can keep pushing.”

Fonock, a coach at CrossFit 239, recently competed in several local competitions including Summer Crush Games, Iron Eve and WoDapalooza, placing in all three in the Masters division.

“When I heard the Open Masters division started at 40, I was super excited,” Fonock says. “I can’t wait to see how I rank among not only the South East Region, but female Masters from around the world. I am fitter now than I was at 20, and can do things I never imagined. I’m excited to be getting even fitter over 40.”

Masters Women 45-49 Division

Kerrie Napoli, 45, is looking forward to seeing how she does in this year’s Open. Napoli spent four years doing CrossFit at a globo gym just by pulling information and workouts off the Internet.

“(It) was not optimal, but it got the job done,” she says. “If I didn't know how to do a certain WOD move, I would watch online videos, so those resources were infinitely helpful.”

After placing third in her division in last year’s Open, Napoli decided to join an affiliate and started training at CrossFit North Fulton.

“I've since PR'd in ways I could never have imagined,” she says. “The owners and coaches have been so awesome.”

This mother of two recently started following OPT for her training, which appears to be paying off with second-place finishes at two local competitions.

“I would love to see some deadlifts, kettlebell swings, a quick AMRAP (in the Open),” Napoli says. “ As far as strengths, I feel like I'm pretty strong and any (workout) that has a lot of heavy reps, I'm pretty good at.”

Napoli adds: “I look forward to the Open and will give it all that I've got, which is a lot. This is an amazing sport and I am blessed to be a part of it.”

Be sure to also look for Donna Dowd, 47, of CrossFit Embrace, who will be high on the Leaderboard. This mother of 10 finished 29th in the Open in the Masters division last year with only 15 months of CrossFit under her belt. A former high school gymnast, collegiate volleyball player and marathoner, Dowd competed on CrossFit Embrace’s team at the 2012 South East Regional.

Masters Women 50-54 Division

Last year, Kelli Dean, 51, of Lightning CrossFit finished ninth in the Open in her age group and was excited to be heading to California for the Games. At the last minute, Dean withdrew from the competition due to complications with tendonitis in her Achilles.

“It's been a slow three steps forward, two steps back recovery, but I am planning to compete in the Open,” Dean says.

With a 4:45 Fran, 1:17 400-meter run, 115-lb. clean and jerk, and a 95-lb. snatch, Dean will once again be one to watch on the Leaderboard.

After placing 53rd overall in the Open in the Women’s 45-49 Division last year, Colleen Fahey, 50, looks forward to competing in her new age bracket and hopefully to making it to the Games.

Fahey coaches and trains out of CrossFit Black Box in Tallahassee, Fla. A former member of the USA Women’s National Rugby Team, winner of the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, Fahey has been CrossFitting for three years. She has made a name for herself dominating the Masters division at several local competitions, most recently taking second place in the Masters division at WoDapalooza, in Miami.

“For the Open, I'd love to see bodyweight movements, kettlebell swings and high-rep cleans, overhead squats, or squats incorporated into longer or AMRAP (workouts),” Fahey says.

Diane McKinney, 53, of CrossFit North Fulton made it to the Games last year where she finished 16th after placing 19th in the Open. McKinney says she was proud to represent her gym as its first athlete to qualify for the Games, as well as being the first female Master to compete at the Games from the South East. 

After the Games, McKinney realized she needed to work on her strength, so with the help of Lara Sturm of CrossFit Johns Creek, she entered her first powerlifting meet.

“On October 9, I competed in the USAPL Georgia and Southern States Power Lifting Championships,” she says. “I broke all the Georgia state records for my age division in bench, squat, deadlift and total. I also broke the national records for deadlift and total.”

An injury prevented McKinney from CrossFitting until recently, but she says she has been “hitting it hard” ever since. An impending wrist surgery may prevent her from making a return trip to the Games this year.

“But my long-term goal is to be back in Cali for the 2014 Games when I will be competing in the 55-59 year old division,” she says.

Masters Women 55-59 Division

Debra Rose McMahon Levitt, 56, owner and coach at CrossFit City of Athletes, should be a contender for top 20 in her age division this year. With a background in running, swimming, martial arts and weight training, Levitt finished in 24th place in the Open last year and looks to improve her standings this year.

Masters Women 60-plus Division

Last year, Susan Wallis logged 106 burpees on Workout 12.1 and found herself on top of the Leaderboard in what was then her age division. She ended up finishing the Open 27th overall. Wallis, now 60, has moved into a new age division and is ready to tackle the Open once again.

Wallis is a 38-time Ironman finisher with a seventh-place finish in her age group at this past year’s World Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Despite some arthritis in her knee and tendinopathy in her elbows, Wallis says she has been working on her strength this past year.

“My form has gotten better, but still needs work, on the lifts that were hard for me last year,” she says. “If my form wasn't right, then I couldn't lift any heavier than muscling through what should have been a basic movement.”

Although Wallis says she would love to make it to the CrossFit Games, she has other goals in mind.

“I am competitive in nature, but I also know this is not my primary goal,” she says. “My biggest goal is to be on the podium in Kona one day (top five in age group). Maybe I have to wait till I am 65 or 70, and hope that none of the other women in my age group keep doing these races. I hope to keep doing these as long as possible.”