Athlete Profile – Tina Spagnoli

Appeared on Summerlin CrossFit, September 2015


By Christopher Lewis

The sun barely peaks above the horizon on a beautiful July morning as Tina strides out of her house on her way to CrossFit.  She fiddles with her keys as she walks to her car, but suddenly glances up in shock.Where’s my jeep?  She is surprised not to see her car.  Didn’t I park it in the driveway?  Her head whips up to the right as she scans the street and then to the left.  And that’s when it hits her.

She lays on her driveway and tears begin to flow down her face.    She loved her gray Jeep Liberty.  She loved her wheel cover with the big pink peace symbol and her Disney seat covers.  But anger is now creeping in as she realizes she left her gym bag in the car and she’s also going to miss CrossFit this morning.  They were doing thrusters today too.  She loves thrusters.  Dammit.


It’s ironic that Tina’s second biggest disappointment that day was missing CrossFit.  It wasn’t even her idea to try it two years ago. It was Alina, her sister, who proposed the idea.  She was never very active growing up, and no one would have ever considered her an athlete before CrossFit.  Although Tina never enjoyed working out, she was obsessed about being skinny. She would show up to Las Vegas Athletic Club with her sister, use the thigh machine, do some sit-ups, walk the indoor track, lounge in the sauna, and then call it a day.

Her idea of the perfect diet was eating fudge for breakfast, Lean Cuisines for lunch and dinner, low-fat yogurt for snacks and drinking diet soda all day long.

Self-conscious about the size of her legs, she refused to wear shorts. Whenever she would see someone who was quite thin, she would sour with jealously.

In high school, she constantly suffered from panic attacks and admits she would become overly dramatic over the slightest problem.

During the first month of CrossFit, there was no way she would continue to do it she thought to herself.  The last thing she wanted to gain were muscles, and many times she would leave in tears because it was so hard.

Why it all changed for her is unclear, but her mindset did change about a month into it.   It was Thanksgiving Day and it was during the hero WOD, Tommy Mac – a brutal workout consisting of burpees, thrusters, power snatches, cleans and overhead squats.

In the middle of the workout it clicked for her.  Although she thought for a moment she was going to die, euphoria struck that morning.  It’s been a love/hate relationship ever since.


Later the same day her car was stolen, she finally makes it to CrossFit.  She tries to get her mind right but it’s difficult.   She’s expecting a call from the insurance adjuster but hopes the call will come after class.  It’s weird being there in the evening.  She hasn’t been to CrossFit at this time for quite a while.  As she takes part in the warm-up, she feels slightly uncomfortable with the amount of people in class.  She likes her mornings better.  Less people and less stress.   Besides, she’s quite fond of the am crew.  Half the reason why she enjoys CrossFit so much are the people she works out with.  Everyone in the morning is older than her, and she’s always felt she had more in common with a more mature crowd.  Tina is not your typical 24-year-old.  She would rather be home on a Friday night watching reality TV while snuggling on the couch with her dog Cupcake, than clubbing the night away chocking on second-hand smoke and having drinks spilled on her.  She admitted to herself years ago she’s a creature of habit.  She wishes she would have just been at the 6:30 am class.  Just as the warm-up is completed, her phone rings.  Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.


No more than a couple of years ago it is doubtful Tina would be handling this situation as well as she is.    But then again so much has changed since starting CrossFit.  Being skinny is no longer her number one priority.  She would rather be healthy than be skinny.   Although she tried eating a paleo diet, she really didn’t take to it – meat is gross.  But she’s since found a way to eat more whole, natural food and enjoy it.  If she could survive eating just watermelon and grapes she would.

It’s hard to say whether it’s CrossFit that led to her life change or just a matter of maturing. In the end, the reason why doesn’t matter to Tina.  For the first time in a long time, she feels great.  She’s finally happy and content with her life.  She says she wouldn’t change a thing.  These days, she doesn’t hesitate to wear shorts.  She still has her “moments” from time to time, but she is more confident about herself and handles setbacks much better than she ever had before.  When life gets challenging, she will remind herself other people have it much worse than she does.

Almost two years ago, just a few months after she started CrossFit, her brother, Jimmy, was crossing Sahara Blvd on foot late at night when he was struck by a car.  He died later the next day.  The driver was never caught.  Jimmy Ortiz was 26-years-old.

The tragedy was a difficult as you can imagine for Tina’s close-knit family.  The entire family struggled.  Tina’s mom couldn’t get out of bed for days.  But regardless of the pain Tina felt, she still showed up to CrossFit the following day.  Unless you read the paper or one of Tina’s Facebook posts, you would never know she just lost her brother.  She doesn’t like to bring attention to herself.

But someone at the gym did hear of it and posted a message on Facebook about what happened as well as information as to how they could help.  Without life insurance or a funeral fund, the costs were going to be tough for Tina’s family to manage.  Tina didn’t expect anyone from Summerlin CrossFit to help out.  After all, she’d only been going there for little over four months.  These people barely knew her.  But within a day of the post, the donations started coming in – even from people she had never met.  Tina was astonished.  A bond with her fellow CrossFitters was formed from that experience.

As Tina grieved, it would not be the last horrible loss Tina would experience that year.  Before Jimmy’s death, Tina had never been to a funeral in her life.  And before the year would finish, she would witness three more.  Within months of her brother’s passing, her 29-year-old cousin would die from a heroin overdose.  Months later, her grandmother would pass away, and soon after, her uncle would as well.  Throughout it all, her thoughts were not of her own grief but that of her mother for the loss of Jimmy and of her other cousins for their own loss.  It’s just how Tina is.  She remains grateful for what she has, and when times get tough – reminds herself others have it much worse.


In the days following the theft of her car, Tina was finally able to get back into her routine.  CrossFit in the morning, work at the animal hospital, then home to hang out with her boyfriend and snuggle with her dog.

Tina was happy to be back at CrossFit for the 6:30 am class.  Without it, she’s not sure how she would have dealt with the stressful week she’s endured. It’s hard for Tina to contemplate life absent of CrossFit.  Although there have been many occasions in the past couple of years where she considered quitting, each time she was glad she didn’t .  It’s one of the few things that ground her – that helps her achieve balance.

Tina stands in front of her loaded barbell nervously anticipating the start of the workout.  She isn’t looking forward to it:  100 burpees for time with 1 Clean & jerk every minute on the minute after the first.  Tina stares down at the bar and grows more anxious by the second.

Start the damn clock already…3, 2, 1, Go!  Tina slams her body into the ground and then quickly pops back onto her feet and repeats it again and again.  The first 60 seconds seems to take forever. Her breathing is already beginning to labor.  “One minute!” She hears from the corner.  Tina quickly sets up in the front of the barbell by bending over to it first and making sure her hands are in place.  She drops her rear into position and shifts her weight onto her heels.  Her clean and jerk is smooth and precise.  An Olympic weightlifting movement, the clean & jerk is one of the more technically demanding exercises in CrossFit.  As complicated as a golf swing, CrossFitters and traditional weight lifters usually obsess over every little detail, but not Tina.  She admits if she thinks too much about technique she’s more likely to make mistakes.  Instead, she prefers for her mind to be blank for as long as possible as she trudges through the workout.  Although she doesn’t give an ounce of thought to the technical challenges, her technique is near flawless.

The term “the zone” is one of the more ubiquitous sayings in all of sports.  Also referred to as “flow,” Wikipedia describes it as:  the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Tina may take issue with the enjoyment part, but she has found her own way to achieve this state of mind.  Only half way there but fatigue is setting in.  The thought of quitting briefly flashes into her head, but she just as quickly ushers it back out.  The blankness in her mind is being encroached upon by pain and exhaustion.    Tina has been through this enough times though to know how to handle it.  She must now refocus her energy.  With the flick of a switch, she steers her concentration to go from blankness to her own happy place.  The blackness is now replaced with thoughts of Disneyland.

Although her body continues to slog away at burpees and clean & jerks, Tina’s mind is transported to Disneyland’s Main Street.  She strolls past the various candy shops and souvenir stores.  She sees a horse-drawn street car clop by and can smell freshly popped popcorn.

Her concentration breaks and Tina’s mind is transported back to the box.  Just 20 burpees to go.  Almost there. The pain re-enters after her mind falters.  I’m going to die. 

And as quickly as the thought of her demise enters she’s back in Anaheim.  She’s now in the Haunted Mansion.  She sits with her sister in the partly enclosed buggy, which is glides along in the darkness.  The buggy comes to a stop and turns 90 degrees to overlook a grand ballroom where translucent figures in Elizabethan clothing embrace and waltz across the floor.  Although intended to be eerie, Tina only sees enjoyment and pleasure amongst the ghost’s faces, which lifts her own heart.

And just as quickly she’s back to reality.  Done – all 100 finished.  It’s over…until tomorrow, the thought of which brings another smile to her face.

Post Script – Tina has recently replaced her beloved Jeep Liberty with a brand new white Honda CRV with sexy pink rims. She just completed her first CrossFit competition, and is currently training to run her first full marathon – at Disney World of course. 

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