When Debbie Mizikowski quit her job as a bank teller in 1976 to pursue her passion for downhill skiing, she never thought twice about the impact her slew of part-time jobs would have on her more than 35 years later.
Mizikowski, 55, now a heavily decorated cross country skier and cyclist, qualified for the CrossFit Games, scheduled for Friday-Sunday in Los Angeles, by virtue of finishing 12th out of 240 women at the North Central Regional in April. She will compete in the ages 55-59 Masters Division.
"In a way, I feel like my whole life has been in preparation for CrossFit with all my different jobs," she said.
After leaving the teller's window, Mizikowski sought seasonal positions that would let her follow her dreams during the ski season.
Her decision paid off, as she was selected to the World Cup mogul freestyle team just three years later. But slinging cement bags and heavy packages for construction companies and UPS during the offseason means more in retrospect than it did when Mizikowski's eyes were set solely on the slopes.
"I've been lifting things for almost 35 years," she said.
And lifting is just one crucial facet of the eclectic sport Mizikowski said has been steadily gaining in popularity over the past two years.
While Mizikowski said she enjoys the body weight workouts -- push-ups, pullups and sit-ups -- the CrossFit repertoire also can include gymnastics, kettlebells, biking, swimming, running, rowing, plyometrics, air squats and a gamut of Olympic lifts. Each timed workout varies weekly, drawn from a vast selection of available exercises. The sports of fitness, as CrossFit is billed, abhors routine; participants seldom will do the same workout more than once every two months.
"You have to be able to do everything, but everyone has their weaknesses," she said. "To win, you have to be great at everything."
Athletes will be scored starting with strength demonstrations, but the Masters event also will include dogsled pushes, shuttle runs, rope climbs and program movements. The top 12 from each of eight divisions will compete Sunday morning. The top six will participate in the finals.
While she said she has been used to working out alone for most of her life, Mizikowski said that completing the challenging workouts would not be possible without her trainers and friends at CrossFit EOS, 1220 W. 20th St., as well as friends and trainer Jeff Gibbens from CrossFit FBO/212 Degrees of Fitness, 1311 Chestnut St.
"This group has such positive energy," Mizikowski said. "Everybody's screaming and cheering you on, and there's no jealousy. They're cheering from the heart. I feel thrilled when I see someone accomplish something new."
Mizikowski's journey to the CrossFit games started when she and her husband, Gary, became members of Nautilus Fitness Center 30 years ago. Before Erie had CrossFit gyms, Mizikowski said the program came to the Nautilus via her current trainer, Tim Romanski, and friend Bryan Delio.
"Bryan kept talking about CrossFit," she said. "I went to one class and I thought, 'This is what I've been waiting for my whole life.' "
Despite the intense physical demands, Mizikowski said she would encourage anyone to give CrossFit a try.
"You just have to keep practicing," she said. "There are so many great things about CrossFit. It works every muscle in your body, and I've never once been bored. I'm excited to go work out, and I'm so much stronger than I was three years ago, but I'm three years older."
Mizikowski said she is looking forward to the games, where she'll face off against defending champion Shelley Noyce.
"These girls I'm going against are no joke, but I'm just going to act like it's another day at the gym," she said. "I'm going to put my heart into it and give 100 percent."
Romanski, who also competed in a CrossFit regional in April, as well as fellow EOS member Megan Marsh and trainer Bruce Eicher, have been an inspiration to Mizikowski.
"They have taught me how to push myself," she said. "I could not have done any of this without them. Or my family -- they just let me be me."
Gary Mizikowski said he has always admired his wife's competitive nature.
"When she puts her mind to something, she's going to do it," he said. "She's driven -- she works out with a lot of different people, but she's internally strong."
Though she is no stranger to excelling in her endeavors, Mizikowski said she takes none of it for granted -- not the four Highmark Quad Games championships or record 19 straight Quad ski titles, the road race victories, the World Masters 10K cross country skiing crown or her bike tour of the French Alps in 2009.
"I feel really blessed to have this healthy lifestyle," she said. "I just thank God every day for the healthy life I've been given."
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