Carole Turnbo uses strength of body and mind to climb worldwide CrossFit rankings

By on April 23, 2015

ELKHART — Carole Turnbo dusted the chalk on her hands, shook out her arms, closed her eyes and envisioned her routine.

Three dozen voices of support called out around the gym as she paced around under the gymnastic rings. Turnbo was determined to knock out her first competitive muscle-up, one of CrossFit’s toughest movements, on those rings.


4:20 a.m. — Wake up.5 a.m. — Cup of coffee and spoonful of coconut cream.5:15 a.m. — Coach CrossFit class.

6:30 a.m. — First breakfast: Two eggs scrambled in spinach or zucchini, fruit — usually a heaping bowl of berries — and another cup of coffee with coconut cream.

8:30 a.m. — Coach CrossFit class.

9:30 a.m. — Her favorite part of each day comes with a Starbucks Americano. “I bring my own cream and add my coconut cream to my drink,” she said.

Second breakfast: Three or four chicken sausage links with an apple and a large bowl of trail mix (no peanuts).

12:30 p.m. — Lunch: Leftovers from the night before. Always some type of meat and vegetables, sometimes a large salad topped with berries, nuts, oil, vinegar and whatever meat she had in the previous night’s dinner.

1-2 p.m — Nap.

2:30-3 p.m. — Snack.

4:30 p.m. — Workout.

5:30 p.m. — Post workout: Eat a banana and gelatin, maca powder and water.

6 p.m. — Coach CrossFit class.

7 p.m. — Coach CrossFit class.

8:30-9 p.m. — Dinner: “Last night we had turkey burgers topped with a fried egg and a slice of bacon. I added spicy mustard, avocado and a pickle to mine. I also had roasted veggies and a large spinach salad with berries, almonds, oil and vinegar.”

10 p.m. — Bedtime “so I can do it all again tomorrow.”

She had the routine in her head and was repeating it like a mantra. She tried and failed in her first few attempts. When she finally pulled herself through a complete rep, the gym erupted in cheers.

Then she knocked out five more.

Turnbo, 45, of Osceola, is a trainer at CrossFit Michiana and is ranked 19th globally (and second regionally) in the CrossFit Open. She started participating in CrossFit in 2007 and quickly bought into the lifestyle.

“I had never exercised in my life,” she said. “I was 38 years old. I was ready to try something different. This was literally the first thing I had ever done exercise-wise. Immediately, I was hooked.”

She soon moved from athlete to trainer, making CrossFit a full-time job. She started competing in the open in 2011 and set a goal this year to land in the top 100 globally. After the results of this year’s first workout came back, Turnbo was ranked 18th.

“I thought, I really need to change my goals, I need to reassess,” she said. “I can possibly get to California.”

California is where the CrossFit nationals are in July, when the top 20 of each age group meet to compete. To get there, she must successfully navigate CrossFit’s weekly workout challenges, which are released every Thursday.

On Friday, March 13, the first challenge was to complete a muscle-up, something she hadn’t successfully executed until the day before, in practice.

The exercise is a test of the mind as much as it is of the body, so Turnbo laid on her bed at home for 20 minutes before heading to the gym and visualized the routine in her head.

“I do a lot of visualizing,” she said. “If my body sees me doing it, it doesn’t know if I am really doing it or not. It picks your heart rate up.”

In between her attempts on the rings, Carole would thumb a purple silicon Alzheimer’s awareness band around her wrist.

She wears it in honor of her father, who died in October 2014 after a battle with Alzheimer’s. He never got to see Turnbo as the CrossFit guru she became, but watching him suffer through the disease sparked her motivation to push even harder.

“I refuse to get it,” she said of Alzheimer’s. “I eat well. I work out. I do my brain studies because I will not end up that way. Knowing that I have someone up there with me is probably my biggest (motivation).”

When the 14-minute timer expired and her six reps became official, she took a breath and beamed: “My dad was with me.”

Turnbo’s children (Brandon Stevens, 24, Brianna Stevens, 23, and Brooke Stevens, 18) have adopted the CrossFit lifestyle alongside their mother and also compete in opens. Turnbo met her husband, Jim, through CrossFit. They’ll celebrate four years together in June.

Her goal in CrossFit extends beyond personal achievements. Turnbo wants to help as many people possible achieve their own goals in the process.

“My goal is to touch as many lives as I can because if I touch your life, you’re going to go out and tell somebody what happened to you, and it’s just going to spread,” she said. “It’s all about making people healthy.”

Turnbo’s devotion to the CrossFit lifestyle extends beyond the walls of the gym. She keeps a meticulous daily schedule — which includes a 4:30 a.m. wakeup and 1½-2 hours of working out — and maintains a food logonline. Nutrition is the most important aspect of an athlete in training, Turnbo says, and she follows the Paleolithic diet, which is based on lean meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Turnbo knocked out a seventh muscle-up that following Monday, completing the workout and earning a top 20 rank in the 45-49 age group worldwide.

She’s far from the 2007 version of herself, who had never worked out a day in her life. Turnbo embodies what she considers the spirit of CrossFit.

“The reason I love CrossFit and the reason I fell in love with it, it’s scalable and anybody can do it,” she said. “It’s doable, but you have to have the mental capacity and the will to say ’It’s my time.’ That’s when it’s going to happen.”

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