Carl Giuffre’s wife didn’t sugarcoat it. She told him flat out, “You’re getting fat.”
As a man in his mid-50s who hadn’t been in shape since high school, Giuffre acquiesced that it was normal for someone his age to gain weight. “Yes, but short and fat is not a good look,” his wife replied, “so you need to do something about it.”
So Giuffre decided to try something new, and he hasn’t been the same since.
“I had heard about CrossFit, and I said, ‘Well, let me go see what this is all about,’” Giuffre said. “I walked into the gym and did what they call the ramp up, which is just an introduction to the motion and movements, and I was hooked. It was life transforming.”
Not long after joining Cartersville’s CrossFit Adrenaline gym, Giuffre moved from recreational fitness to challenging competitions. There was just something about the diverse workouts that fueled him.
“Basically, you don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing,” he said. “But you have to be really, really good at a lot of things to be competitive at it. I just took to that like a duck to water. It is so broad and just general fitness. …
“I entered a couple of local competitions and did well. It just kind of snowballed from there.”
Now, Giuffre, who’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 164 pounds, is preparing for the CrossFit Games, as the No. 1-ranked male in the world 60 years or old.
The competition, which is essentially the world championships for the fitness regimen founded in 2000, will be held Aug. 1-4 in Madison, Wisconsin. It will feature only 10 of the roughly 3,000 individuals in Giuffre’s division who attempted to qualify.
“I do feel pretty good about my chances,” Giuffre said. “Of the 3,000 people, they only take the top 10. I can tell you the difference between the guy in first place and the guy in 10th place is not that great. It’s very competitive. …
“I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m just continuing to train as hard as I can.”
The daily training leading up to the games is a little more intense than Giuffre’s regular CrossFit workouts would be. Aside from obvious changes, like using heavier weights on the lifting events, he’s also incorporated some different aspects that could present themselves at the world championships, including rock climbing, traversing obstacle courses, swimming, flipping tires and pulling weighted sleds.
A resident of Paulding County who runs a Cartersville-based business, Giuffre has to train for dozens of possible workouts with the games’ schedule of events not being released until Wednesday, July 31 — the day before the world championships begins. He said competitors will complete two workouts that Thursday, three on Friday, two on Saturday and one final workout Sunday.
“We do not know [the workouts] in advance, and that’s the whole purpose of CrossFit,” Giuffre said. “CrossFit is designed to train you for the unknown and the unknowable.
"It could be weightlifting combined with gymnastics. It could be running; it could be running and swimming; or it could be a mini-triathlon. It could be an obstacle course. It could be handstand walking. You just never know.”
One of the biggest factors, especially in Giuffre’s age group, will be recovery. With so many workouts in such a short window, the ability to bounce back physically (and mentally, if one suffers a setback) will be tested.
During the Qualifier round — the second and final step in reaching the games — competitors got a small taste of what the world championships will be like. Each individual who made it through the first phase in the top 200 had to complete five assigned workouts within the span of a few days in early May.
In the Qualifier, Giuffre finished third, fifth, eighth, eighth and 10th in the individual workouts for a third-place showing overall. That came on the heels of his No. 1 spot earned during the Open. In that initial qualifying round, contestants must complete a different workout every week for five weeks. Against thousands of other competitors, Giuffre remarkably placed no worse than ninth in any of the workouts to finish first by a decent margin.
None of that matters at the games.
Giuffre will compete against nine other individuals — six from the United States, two from Canada and one from Iceland. While Giuffre will certainly have his eye on the pair of 60-year-olds who edged him out in the Qualifier, he said everyone will be focused on the oldest competitor there — 63-year-old David Hippensteel, who is the three-time defending champion in the division.
“We’re all gunning for him,” Giuffre said of Hippensteel. “I’m not entirely sure that guy is human. … He’s one of those exceptions.”
To be fair, Giuffre has pretty much been an anomaly himself since he began attempting to qualify for the games.
Even as he got closer to the upper end of his age group for those 55-59, Giuffre continued to see his world ranking improve. After starting out in the 200s, he climbed into the top-150 in 2017 before soaring to 36th last year, despite being among the oldest competitors in the division.
When he aged up into the 60-plus category this year, Giuffre knew his chances of reaching the world championships would never be better. Although he should maintain a decent chance of returning to the games the next couple of years, Giuffre knows his odds of taking home the crown, barring a Hippensteel-esque abnormality, will only decrease.
“If I continue to train hard, generally, that’s what you’ll see,” Giuffre said of age playing a factor. “Your best shot at standing on the podium is your first year in the age group. After that, your chances diminish. When you’re in your fourth and fifth year in the age group, it’s almost unheard of to actually make it to the games. There’s that much of a difference.”
But even if 2019 proves to be the only year Giuffre qualifies for the world championships, he’ll always have the experience of attending. And should he stumble to a last-place finish this year, Giuffre won’t get discouraged and quit. Because as nice as it is to compete at the highest level of CrossFit, the hardcore and wide-ranging workouts it provides have given Giuffre a quality of life greatly exceeding most people his age (and many several years his junior).
Granted, it wasn’t always easy.
Early on, Giuffre said he took special care to focus on stretching, warmups, cool downs and recovery to ensure the workouts didn’t have any adverse affects on his health. Giuffre eventually worked his way into peak physical condition, and he hasn’t looked back.
“When I first started the process, I had plenty of muscle soreness and stiffness,” Giuffre said. “It was terrible, because basically, I was not athletic for a good portion of my life. I’m actually the poster child for CrossFit. I’d never had a gym membership until I joined CrossFit here in Cartersville. Prior to that, the last time I was in any kind of decent physical shape was in 1977, when I was wrestling in high school.”
He added, “The beauty of CrossFit is that anyone can do it. … It’s the same workout, but it’s infinitely scaleable. It works and puts you in incredible condition. It’s great for everything — my blood pressure is lower, my resting heart rate is lower, my cholesterol is lower. I’m 60 years old, and I don’t take any medications for anything. It’s just great stuff.”