Sheila Barden was born to be a competitor.
“When I found CrossFit, my stars aligned. It was like everything in my life aligned because you were telling me I got to exercise and compete at the same time,” Barden says.
In 2011, Barden walked into CrossFit Dewitt, the only box in Syracuse, New York. Three years later, she made her first appearance at the CrossFit Games. She competed again as an individual in 2016 and as part of a team in 2018.
Getting there wasn’t a walk in the park. Barden trained six or more hours a day in the gym and worked with several specialty coaches, from swimming to weightlifting to gymnastics.
“I wanted it (the CrossFit Games) more than I wanted to sleep, more than I wanted to eat,” she says. “And then life and three major surgeries and reality hit hard.”
After recovering from a full rotator cuff surgery in 2017, Barden entered the 2018 CrossFit Games still nursing a back injury. She woke up the Monday after competing unable to get herself out of bed. Barden knew her life would never be the same.
“There’re so many emotions with ending a chapter in your life, and I think that my identity was so caught up in this idea of wanting to win that it feels like failure,” she says.
Barden continued to do CrossFit and live the CrossFit lifestyle, but shifting her focus away from competition was difficult: “I didn’t get to choose when I was done,” she says.
The next chapter in her life opened when she found a love for tennis. Tennis was not only physically challenging but also mentally challenging, much like competitive CrossFit. Barden’s coach says she has accomplished more in a year and a half than most tennis players accomplish in five years.
Alongside tennis, Barden has continued her CrossFit journey as the head coach at The Fit Stop CrossFit in San Antonio, Texas. She isn’t passionate about the high-level competition anymore. Barden is truly passionate about coaching regular athletes.
“Do I change lives? I don’t know. But can I help people change their own lives? Yeah,” she says.
After years of pressure to win the Games, Barden is now living a life without expectations.
“I said no for so long. But now it’s really fun to say yes,” she says.