After dominating in her sport, Special Olympian Michelle Feiner will compete against the nation’s best powerlifters in the 2022 Special Olympics U.S. Games in Orlando.
Inside the friendly confines of CrossFit Winter Garden, Michelle Feiner gathers with a small group to run through their WODs — “Work Out of the Day,” for the laymen.
She and the rest in the Winter Garden-based gym are preparing for this weekend’s Bacon Beat Down — a huge CrossFit event in Daytona Beach — and she won’t lie to you, there are always some nerves that come with competing.
Though to be fair, for the longtime Special Olympian, if she wasn’t feeling that way, then something would be wrong. Despite the feeling, there’s always the ability to overcome, she said.
“I’m never confident in myself — that’s how I get — and then I get pumped up, and I start feeling better about myself, and then I just push through it and end up doing (well),” Feiner said. “I’m always nervous when I go to competitions. For me, it’s more of conquering it within the time limit. … We have four rounds within a certain amount of time.
“At comp training, I’m kind of slow, because I’m kind of getting a feeling of it, but then once the competition comes, I’m like, full-blown, and I don’t stop,” she said. “I just say, ‘You know what, Michelle? Stay strong, you got this, push through it, and you’ll be fine.’”
The drive to simply outdo everyone — whether friend or foe — is going to come in handy after some big news Feiner received about two weeks ago. Feiner — the girl who had been lifting for just two years — was invited to compete against the country’s best powerlifters in the 2022 Special Olympics U.S. A. Games in Orlando next year.
DON’T TELL HER SHE CAN’T
When Feiner first walked through the doors of CrossFit Winter Garden — affectionately known as the Wolf’s Den — two years ago, she had no clue what to expect.
She could barely lift anything, and doing squats with the bar on her shoulders seemed impossible. Feiner recalled the frustration from her inability to do the exercise was so infuriating that she had a meltdown. She had to step outside; she felt like a failure.
But what a difference just a couple of years can make.
As a powerlifter, Feiner can deadlift 225 pounds, and she hits 100 to 105 pounds in the back squat and 100 in the bench press.
Although the improvement with weights has been impressive — as well as the weight loss of 50 pounds and getting into shape — the biggest change owner and coach Lee Lovette has seen has been Feiner’s mental toughness.
“She, in particular, has been told she can’t do things for so long in her life — ‘You can’t do this,’ ‘You can’t do that,’ ‘You’re a girl,’ or ‘You’re in Special Olympics,’” Lovette said. “She has always been told she can’t, but when she comes through my doors, everything is always, ‘I can.’”
Feiner agrees. Coming into CrossFit, she had low self-confidence, but through her friends at CFWG, she said she is in a better headspace now.
“It’s kind of helped my personality change — be more confident in myself, be more happy, feel better about myself and my weight,” Feiner said. “It’s kind of helped me learn to make friends. … I’ve met a lot of people who just believe in me.”
TAKING ON THE BEST
To say her selection to the U.S. Games was a shock is an understatement.
Feiner knew how the system worked — the process requires an athlete to constantly win competitions, while also having luck as athletes have their names drawn from a hat — but she never expected to receive the news.
Sitting with her mom at the gym a few Mondays ago, Feiner stared into the computer screen in front of her as a Zoom conference was underway. Originally, Feiner thought she was in some kind of trouble, but then — out of the blue — she was named.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Feiner said. “I didn’t think I could qualify. … I’ve never been to one. It was just really shocking but exciting.”
Lovette said Feiner’s success has come from a variety of reasons — perhaps none bigger than a combination of self-discipline and following the process placed in front of her.
“We’ve talked about nutrition, we’ve talked about lifting, we’ve talked about the importance of technique and things like that, and Michelle is a perfect example of that,” Lovette said. “She has watched what she ate; she’s lost 50 pounds since she has come to me. She’s gone down five or six weight classes, and her (lift) weight has gone up. … She’s losing weight and getting stronger, which just shows not only does the programming and the process work, but she is trusting the process.”
With the games being a year away, Feiner has time to get ready, but Lovette said they would be sticking to their same workout cycles to get prepared.
Feiner hopes to continue to lose weight and get stronger and healthier in the meantime, but she is hoping to make the most out of her experience come time to compete in the (U.S.) Games.
“I’m hoping to make more new friends … I’m hoping to walk out of there with a gold medal to represent the Wolf’s Den,” Feiner said. “I want to represent everyone in this gym, and I want to make it a positive experience that I’ll never forget.”