On Centre: Centre Region | Woman’s rehabilitation exposes inner elite athlete

Cathie St. Andrews has been working out at Crossfit Nittany for 3 years and will be traveling to a national competition in July.
Cathie St. Andrews has been working out at Crossfit Nittany for 3 years and will be traveling to a national competition in July. CDT photo

Cathie St. Andrews never imagined she’d be working out with elite athletes — let alone that, at the age of 60, she’d be one.

“I didn’t set out to be a competitive athlete at 57,” St. Andrews said.

But while recuperating from a health issue three years ago, she sought guidance on how to build up her strength, and turned to her son.

In 2010, when Bryan St. Andrews told his mother of his plan to return from the West Coast to open a CrossFit gym in State College, her initial response, she said, was, “That’s nice, dear.”

But her response to his coaching has been transformative.

The State College resident has qualified for the first Reebok CrossFit Games, where she’ll compete for the title “Fittest on Earth.”

The July competition in Carson, Calif., will be the culmination of a series of local and regional competitions St. Andrews has participated in since February, advancing in her 60+ age division at each stage. She was ranked 19th in her regional division, and only the top 20 in each division qualified for the worldwide competition.

CrossFit exercises are highly varied and intense, she said: “But never boring.”

Events include rowing, tire turning, weight lifting, power lifting, gymnastics, jumprope, running, swimming and even yoga.

Bryan St. Andrews, owner and head coach at CrossFit Nittany, likens it to the morphing of boxing and other fighting disciplines into mixed martial arts. CrossFit is a workout routine in a group setting “with random stuff thrown in,” he said.

Athletes work together on conditioning, strength training, weight training and endurance. And that has been a big part of the appeal for Cathie St. Andrews.

It’s a community in which athletes of all levels “do the same thing at their own paces,” she said. “It’s a great community, everyone is very encouraging.”

CrossFit’s popularity has grown at a tremendous rate in the past decade, Bryan St. Andrews said. There are about 10,000 affiliates in the country, and when he started an affiliate in Arizona in 2004, it was the 23rd in the country.

And the Masters division — for the 60-and-older set — has become especially popular, he said.

So, what’s it like for him to be coaching his mother?

“Quite a trip,” he said.

Because Cathie St. Andrews didn’t have much in the way of an athletic background, her son said, he did not anticipate her attaining such a high level — at least not so soon after beginning.

She was a “blank slate,” he said, having had no formal training. She had taken water aerobics and Zumba classes; she ran and was active, but she had never competed.

“The bar wasn’t very high,” she said, “but it was off the ground.”

Her son’s coaching has gotten her there.

“He’s a very good coach. He’s patient,” she said, adding that she trusts him to know her limitations and when she can be pushed. “It’s been a lovely experience.”

In preparation for the July event, she’s been working out more on her own than with the group at CrossFit Nittany. She said she misses that camaraderie but is looking forward to the competition.

“It’s going to be amazing to be around so many elite athletes,” she said.

And despite how she fares among the more seasoned elite athletes in California, it appears she’s already won.

“It has become something I really love to do.”