Rookie Games Qualifier Shelby Neal Credits Community for Her Success

May 29, 2023 by
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After placing 9th at the North America East Semifinal, Shelby Neal landed back home in Raleigh, NC, only to be whisked straight from the airport and driven to a local brewery, where the 12th State CrossFit community sat waiting to surprise and congratulate the young athlete on her victorious and hard-fought weekend in Orlando. 

Neal snagged one of the 11 qualifying spots to the Games this summer, and having the opportunity to return home and share in that achievement with her tightly bonded CrossFit family meant everything. 

  • “They have been a huge part of my growth,” said Neal of her 12th State CrossFit community. “They have witnessed it over the past few years, and really seen the hours I put in, so it just meant a lot to me to see them all so happy and excited.” 

Neal credits this community with her ability to stay grounded and focused on keeping everything in balance. She joins in on the house WODS throughout the week, and supplements them with extra sessions as needed. She fits in additional training on the weekends, and is often accompanied by a member or two that want to support her and push themselves. 

  • “I am so unbelievably lucky to have a community that believes in me as much as they do and constantly picks me up,” added Neal. 
  • “It can be easy to get caught up in going harder, faster… training longer and just breaking your body down. Our members really remind me that there is more to all this than just CrossFit and they make it really easy to lighten the mood of a training session,” said Neal.

Remind me: As a 16-17 teen competitor at the Games, Neal took 8th place in 2016 and 6th place in 2017. Reminiscing on her time spent as a young athlete competing on such a large stage, she expressed the doubts that lingered. 

  • “Even as a teen, I counted myself out a bit going to the Games. That first year was all about enjoying the experience and having fun. But the second year, even with experience, I didn’t come in with the confidence that I should have,” recalled Neal. 

But in 2021 and 2022, Neal missed the Games cut, by placing 16th at the Granite Games and 7th at the MACC, respectively. She opted out of the Last Chance Qualifier last year, as it conflicted with Officer Candidate School. The United States Marine Corps had been Neal’s focus throughout her time spent at North Carolina State University. 

Last summer, she began having second thoughts, as to whether or not this was a path she wanted to follow after graduation, and upon participating in her second 6-week-long OCS training, she realized that she had changed and grown, and now had other passions that outweighed her desire to join the USMC. 

  • “It was an extremely difficult decision to make,” recalled Neal, “but it was one I made on my own accord and am proud of myself for sticking to it when it made quite a few people upset. As for my other passions, I was truly excited to use my engineering degree and continue training.”

The 2023 Games season: Neal manages to balance training for the Games this summer with a career as an engineer with an orthopedic medical device company, designing 3D printed implants. She’s excited about the career path she’s chosen and is grateful to be learning so much. 

  • When asked how she can sufficiently devote herself to training, a career, and a social life, she explained that if one loves something enough, they will make time for it. Certain things are prioritized, others move to the back burner. 

Right now, front and center are the 2023 CrossFit Games. Competing as an individual this year, Neal will look to compete with much greater confidence than that of her former, teen-competitor self. 

She’s been putting in hard days with her 12th State CrossFit community and coach, four-time Games athlete, Whitney Gelin. And she’s no stranger to hard work. As a child, training gymnastics, she developed a work ethic and mental fortitude that she has brought with her into CrossFit. 

  • “I’ve always told myself that I maybe wasn’t gonna be the best…. but I was gonna be the hardest worker. And to me that was something I could live with and be proud of when I look at myself in the mirror everyday,” said Neal. 
  • “I think it’s mainly a combination of just loving to work and to be better than you were the day before…. but also using the opportunity to work as hard as you can if you have it,” said Neal. “I think I am just very fortunate to be able to do what I love everyday and push myself; I know a lot of people don’t have that opportunity so I try to make the most of it.”

To celebrate her 23rd birthday, she’s preparing with a backpacking trip with her boyfriend, Frank. They are headed to a destination unknown to Neal, as Frank is in charge of the plan. 

She’s hoping for somewhere remote. This will be her last weekend off before the Games this summer. Over the next few months, Neal’s looking forward to more training sessions and some grueling workouts with fellow 12 State CrossFit athletes and coach, Gelin.

When asked about her mindset heading to Madison, she had some sage-like words to share. 

  • “If we learned anything from this past weekend it’s that I do my best when I am having fun and enjoying every moment so… hoping to do that in Madison! I am in a really unique situation as a rookie–no one expects anything from me. And that is a dangerous position to be in, because no one will see me coming and that pressure on myself for a certain rank isn’t there. I am so excited to get the opportunity to come in and shake things up a bit.”

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