May 29, 2013
Melissa Dixon: Shark Mode
By Carla Conrad

“As it is with all things, it isn’t how you start, it is how you finish.”

When Naval aviation rescue swimmer Melissa Dixon encounters an obstacle, she goes into “shark mode.”

“I hear a lot about ‘beast mode’ and I think sharks are pretty cool. It ties in with being a Navy swimmer. They are fast, strong and sleek. They set their focus on their prey and go after what they want,” she says. “I don’t think I have ever met anyone not afraid of a shark.”

She has gone into shark mode on the job and in CrossFit competition. As a three-year Regional competitor, she knows the challenge of preparing for and surviving Regionals.

Her first experience was in 2011 when she joined the team from Outlier CrossFit at the SoCal Regional. That weekend, the team came just four points short of qualifying for the Games. Although they didn’t make the cut, the experience infected her with the competition bug.

“After I had seen the amazing women in Southern California, who were strong and could go for six and seven events over three days, I knew that was what I wanted. I wanted to be like that,” she says.

That summer, she transferred to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Washington. With her new box, CrossFit Anacortes, she started training for the 2012 North West Regional. Within months, she held third in the North West Region in the 2012 Open and was poised for a killer Regional appearance.

Then came Diane. She took third in the event with a time of 3:10, but she knew from the start that something wasn’t right.

“After the first set of deadlifts, I knew something was not right — I just grinded through the rest of the workout. When I finished, I got in the ice bath and I could have sat in there all day because it felt amazing,” she recalls. “I have taken ice baths before and they were not amazing, so I knew something was off.”

She realized she had to be mindful of how to proceed through the rest of the events and take care of herself, at the same time determined to continue. It wasn’t until after Regionals that Dixon was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

“I attempted to rest, but when I am sick, I can’t sleep so the situation just compounded itself. Still, I never had a thought like ‘I should quit,’ though I logically knew I shouldn’t continue in this state. I managed to get some rest, get some food in me and just like the first event, grind it out for three days.”

She decided that, instead of quitting or holding back, she would attack everything no matter how bad it hurt. It was then that shark mode came in. She learned that even though competing while sick is painful and difficult, she could still get the work done.

Despite being ill, she came in sixth at the Regional. Her worst performance was a 125-lb. snatch on the Snatch Ladder (16th).

After the Regional, her goal was simple — get stronger and work on her weaknesses, primarily heavy barbell movements.

“I'm not very big, so I had to improve my overall strength,” Dixon says. “I spent almost the entire year increasing both my back and front squat strength, as well as my snatch technique. Squat strength is only valuable if it carries over and improves other movements, so my coach and I worked to improve some positions and then increase loads. We worked on snatch balances for load, generating bar speed with vertical hips, pulling under the bar and overall speed from the legs and hips.”    

Olympic lifts have been the highest priority since she started working with her coach, Cody Looney. He thinks she will do well on the Overhead Squat Complex at this year’s Regional.

“She has worked extremely hard to increase her strength and mobility, as well as being fast. She snatches or drills the snatch in some form two to three days a week and clean and jerks one to two days a week,” Looney says.

From the rack, she has a 185-lb. overhead squat, and is currently working on hitting 160 lb. from the ground for three reps.

“She won't win the event, but she will be able to build to her heaviest load quickly and with very little fatigue, which will help her significantly in the Burpee/Muscle-up Event,” Looney adds.

She came back a stronger athlete in 2013, able to not only handle the 120-lb. snatches in 13.1, but go on to get six reps at that weight to win the region. Everything was on track for a good run through the Open and on to the Regionals with sights set on a trip to Carson.

Then the unexpected happened.

On March 11, Dixon was sent with her Naval Rescue team to recover the crew members lost in a crash of an E/A-6B Prowler from NAS Whidbey. It was a difficult mission for the team and the impact hit Dixon hard. Not only the loss of fellow Naval personnel, but Dixon would learn on the return back to base that the pilot of the Prowler was a friend and fellow CrossFitter, LTJG Val Delaney. It was a combination of the change in weather traveling across the state, the stress of the mission and losing her friend that contributed to what was to become an obstacle for 13.2 that week.

“The rest of the week, she couldn't eat, didn't workout and had a hard time just getting through her daily routine. She performed 13.2 in a zombie-like state and still placed 85th in the region,” Looney says. “After digging deep and going shark mode, she was able to get herself together and finish the Open extremely strong by placing second, fourth and eighth on the remaining Open Workouts.”

“As it is with all things, it isn’t how you start, it is how you finish,” Dixon explains. “I am back on track, this time supporting my immune system and getting plenty of sleep. I didn’t before so that is a new discipline for me this year. I also heard that if you get enough sleep, you become a Jedi,” she says with a smile.

After what she has been through, she isn’t worried about the challenges ahead at the North West Regional.

“I am excited that it is going to be challenging. Who wants to do 100 chest-to-bar pull-ups? And I will admit that box jumps and I are not necessarily friends, but I have been training well and I am looking forward to it.”