The Best of Both Worlds: Shellane Demarest bridges the gap between bodybuilding and CrossFit

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You wouldn’t know it now, but CrossFit Level One trainer, fitness model and NPC figure competitor Shellane Demarest has not always been the effervescent, confident individual is today. The eldest of three siblings raised in a small New Jersey town by a hardworking single mother, the trials and tribulations of adolescence hit her hard. “I had always been overweight,” she says with a laugh, “but once I hit puberty, all of a sudden these extra curves and inches came along and my clothes didn’t fit anymore.”

Awkward and embarrassed, Demarest withdrew from her already small world. “I stayed home a lot and ate for comfort,” she says. “When I started high school, I felt isolated. I had not developed the people skills necessary to interact and get along with my peers.” Fortunately, she had a passion for sports. “I wasn’t necessarily good at all of them,” she says, “but I had a lot of endurance. I did well with the 400-meter and 800-meter runs. I also did discus, javelin and shot put.” Athletics, along with a burgeoning talent in art, gave her life purpose until graduation—but that purpose didn’t last.

After dropping out of Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design, Demarest spent several years job-hopping. “I was looking for something that would make me happy,” she says. She eventually joined the military, serving in the Army from 1988 to 1992. It was here that she discovered a new purpose in a very unlikely place—remedial physical training. “I passed the sit-ups, the push-ups and the run,” she says, “but when it came time to actually weigh in and get taped, I fell below standards. I was assigned remedial PT and went into it grudgingly, thinking I was a failure.”

It didn’t take long for her platoon sergeant to notice Demarest’s natural athleticism and ability to pick up new exercises quickly. He soon had her assisting in and leading drills. “It was pretty cool,” she says. “Eventually the excess weight came off and I longer had to do the PT, but I continued anyway because it was fun.” She discovered she not only enjoyed developing her own physical fitness, but also motivating and inspiring others.

After leaving the Army, Demarest began a career as a fitness instructor. She spent more than a decade teaching everything from freestyle aerobics to Les Mills Body Pump and Body Combat at establishments including Gold’s Gym. Then she suffered an injury that led to a change of course. “I wish I could say I was doing something really cool like jumping a 30-inch box,” she laughs. “But no, I was teaching a Body Jam class and I landed wrong, ripping the meniscus in my left knee.” It was her first experience with surgery, and she believed her teaching career was finished.

“Sometimes things happen to catch our attention, to help us take advantage of different areas of fitness that we’ve disregarded as well as teach us about our character,” she says. After three months of healing and physical therapy, Demarest was able to resume her career as an instructor. But something had changed. “That’s when I decided I was no longer going to hope or wish but just do it,” she says, referring to a dream she had quietly fostered since seeing Lenda Murray, a champion female bodybuilder, compete for the title of Ms. Olympia in the 1990s.

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“I eventually competed in four or five shows,” she says. “I did okay, but after every show, I would approach the judges and ask them what I could do to improve in the areas where I fell behind in points.” To satisfy recommendations such as tightening her glutes, enlarging her shoulders and flattening her abs, Demarest’s then coach suggested flipping tires, pushing sleds and climbing ropes. “I was like, that’s CrossFit,” she exclaims.

Like many devotees, Demarest’s first WOD hooked her on the sport of fitness. “I believe it was Fran,” she says. “I quickly discovered that I don’t like any of those girls,” she laughs. She likens that addictive love/hate relationship to a scene in the movie “Rocky.” “Remember when he’s punching the slab of meat?” she asks. “And you hear the music playing? Everyone has a Rocky moment in CrossFit. Maybe it’s when you pull that last rep out of your butt—you don’t know where it came from because you’re spent—but you still have that music in your head and you do it. It’s that feeling of accomplishment, when you realize you’re good enough. But I still don’t like Fran.”

While Demarest has only been CrossFitting since 2012, she has participated in 10 competitions including Wodapalooza in Miami, the Pantheon Games, Caution Ground, Tampa Throwdown Fitness Festival and, of course, the Reebok CrossFit Open. “That’s going to be my first one this year,” she states with confidence. Now a certified Level One CrossFit coach, she recently set a PR on the clean and jerk with 105 pounds and another on the deadlift with 275 pounds.

While bodybuilding was fulfilling, Demarest prefers the objective nature of CrossFit as well as the functional muscle she has developed while WODing. “There is nothing subjective about CrossFit,” she says. “You either completed the rep or you didn’t. It’s not like that in bodybuilding. If you happen to look like the judge’s ex-wife, you aren’t going to place. Plus, thanks to CrossFit, not only do I look great, but I’m physically capable of lifting more than I was able to lift when I was just a bodybuilder,” she adds.

As far as the antagonism that seems to exist between CrossFitters and bodybuilders, Demarest would like to see both sides call a truce. “I live in both worlds,” she says, “and I wish CrossFitters would understand that bodybuilders have the same commitment and passion as they do—it’s just for a different sport.” The same goes for bodybuilders. She continues, “I think athletes from both sports should appreciate the drive to excel that they all have.”

At CrossFit RSX in Longwood, Florida, Demarest is using her bodybuilding background to build a bridge between these two worlds. “It’s no longer considered correct to just WOD to be fit,” she says. “You have to do accessory work in order to be a better, well-rounded athlete. That’s where bodybuilding can come in.” Instructors have added components of Olympic powerlifting programs to the regular CrossFit WODs. “We’re doing bent over rows, dumbbell flies and strict—rather than kipping—pull-ups,” she says. “Those are exercises borrowed from the bodybuilding world that we weren’t doing a year ago.”

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