There aren't many professional female athletes competing at the top of their game while also raising two teenagers—and even fewer doing it in their late 40s. But Connecticut-based Amy Mandelbaum, 47, is doing all that and more as she prepares for her role with the National Pro Grid League, a new organization that aims to bring functional fitness and spectator sports together starting this fall.
Mandelbaum is a founding member of the New York Rhinos, one of five teams that will compete in the NPGL (formerly the National Pro Fitness League) starting this August. Matches will consist of two teams competing in head-to-head CrossFit-like workouts: overhead squats and handstand pushups, for example, or power snatches plus pull-ups. Each NPGL team must consist of five men and five women, and one of each must be over 40—a requirement that made Mandelbaum, already a competitive CrossFit Masters athlete, a shoe-in for the league.
We caught up with Mandelbaum to chat about her future with the NPGL, her favorite workouts, and why she thinks every woman should learn how to clean and jerk.
Shape: How does a 40-something mom with no fitness background got a spot on a professional sports team?
Amy Mandelbaum (AM): It was kind of a happy accident: I've always been in shape, but for a long time I was one of those women who ate lettuce and ran or took different classes at the gym, and that was it. When I was 42, a friend suggested I try CrossFit, and one of the coaches there saw my potential. He suggested we work together, and two months later I entered—and placed second—in my first competition. After that I really committed myself, and once I turned 45 I was able to start competing in the Masters division at the CrossFit Games. I've been lucky enough to get great sponsors, and one of my sponsors (Nutriforce Sports) is owned by the company that also owns my team, the New York Rhinos.
Shape: Are you glad that Masters athletes are being given a prominent role in the NPGL?
AM: I think it was a brilliant move, and a great way to capitalize on how fast CrossFit's Masters' division is growing. We may not be as strong as our younger teammates, but we are still more than capable of competing, and we're going to reach a whole other demographic—housewives, moms, dads—that's still so important to the sport. It's great to be an older athlete who can hang with the young ones!
Shape: You have a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. Are they following in your fitness footsteps?
AM: My son has recently started doing CrossFit, so it's really cool to watch him learn and improve, and my daughter is really into dance. It's nice to be able to set an example for them, and I think they appreciate it. My daughter texted me recently and said, "My gym teacher knows who you are!"
Shape: Do you think it would have been harder to compete at this level if your kids were younger?
AM: If I had this opportunity in my 30s, I would have been all over it. I think that whether your kids are 2 or 12 or 20, it's important to be dedicated to fitness and to find the time, somewhere in your day, to set aside for yourself. It needs to become something you're committed to and you do without thinking, just like breathing or having your morning cup of coffee.
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Shape: You teach a class for women called "UpLIFTed," about how to feel safe in physical situations. Do you think CrossFit-style workouts are an important part of that?
AM: It's all about being able to overcome daily obstacles—like being able to pick up something heavier than you thought you could. I think any woman who wants to face her fears and break boundaries would benefit greatly from this type of workout. A woman might be able to run four miles every day, but when you ask her to pick up a barbell and put it over her head for the first time, you're really challenging her and putting her in a new position. She might feel weird, it might make her sweat a little, she might be sore tomorrow, but that's what makes it so rewarding in the end.
On August 19, the New York Rhinos compete against the Los Angeles Reign at Madison Square Garden. Go to ticketmaster.com/nyrhinos and enter "GRID10" to get access to pre-sale tickets and receive $10 off middle tier prices.