Age Group Competitor Antonio Nieto Credits CrossFit for Saving His Life

April 20, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Anne Giebel (@annegiebel)
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The men’s 40-44 division in the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Open in Mexico had a total of 257 athletes enter a score. Antonio Nieto came in first place, which is no small feat for anyone let alone someone who has dealt with hardships throughout his life.

Nieto started CrossFit in 2011 at 30-years-old after a friend told him about the sport. The gym where he started was located in California and Nieto recalls being non-committal to the sport until the owner of the gym kicked him into gear.

  • “By 2012 I was in and out of CrossFit. I was just too afraid and it was too complex. It was just too much work. I had to learn but you know, I kept going,” said Nieto. 
  • “The owner of the gym was really nice. He was the one who really got me into really liking CrossFit. Whenever I would not go back for two weeks, he would call me and say ‘hey, what’s going on? I thought you were coming last weekend’”
  • “I wasn’t willing to go through it. I wasn’t willing to learn about the movements because I thought they were too complex.”

Nieto added, it wasn’t until he was watching a competitive team working out that he started to fall in love with the sport and went all in. 

“[The team] competed for regionals at the time and they invited me to one of their competitions and I was stressed and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to do this.’ That’s how my CrossFit journey started and I told myself I’m going to learn everything,” he said. 

While that is how his CrossFit journey started, Nieto, only a year earlier was battling something much deeper. 

  • “This is where it gets kind of emotional, but in a good way because when I started CrossFit, literally the year before I had gone through a really rough year where I was introduced to a substance,” said Nieto.
  • “It kind of was taking over my life. And when CrossFit came I was still dealing with that issue and I feel like CrossFit came at the right time.”
  • “In a way CrossFit saved me because I wanted to learn about all these movements and I feel like if I didn’t have CrossFit at the time this substance abuse that I was dealing with, I feel like it was gonna take over my life.” 
  • “I feel like I probably would have ended up either dead or in jail or homeless but because I have CrossFit in my life I have a community of people.” he concluded.

In fear of shame, Nieto kept his substance abuse a secret and dealt with it for several years. He adds, he was afraid to tell anyone, especially in the CrossFit community and at times isolated himself from them. But it was and still is CrossFit that keeps him on a healthier path. 

  • “It’s something I’ve been free on and off. It hasn’t gone away, but I know how to control it,” said Nieto. “I learned to control the substance abuse. But you know, the reason I feel like CrossFit came into my life is that I would set goals and in those goals I had a purpose.”

Fast forward to today and Nieto has thrived within the CrossFit world. He currently trains under Rise and Reign Athletics, an online programming, which he says has made him a much more conditioned and competitive athlete. He started following the program two years ago and became much more disciplined with his training and following a customized plan. 

Nieto trains out of Washington, DC and has found a core group of athletes and coaches to train with at CrossFit Hierarchy. As much as it’s about the fitness, for Nieto it is about the friendships and relationships he’s made in the sport that hold him accountable. 

  • “It for me gave me a purpose and I also felt like I belonged to something,” said Nieto. 

“There’s no greater feeling than belonging to something because like these days relationships are very important. People are not willing to build relationships and what CrossFit taught me and what CrossFit has given me is a community and friendships, and it has been easy for me, and so I didn’t want to give up and that’s why I always say CrossFit saved my life.”

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