Dana Matt continues to push herself, even through unexpected challenges

When Dana Matt went to the gym one day in March, she didn't know it would be her last visit for more than two months.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down facilities throughout the state, the Clark State Community College associate professor and international functional fitness competitor needed to find a new way to work out. That led to an outdoor home gym built by Matt and her husband, Mark.

“I call it my playground,” she says.

They started with three pull-up bars. Then more items were added, including a higher bar for rings and a rope, a target for wall balls and even a fireman's pole.

Although her regular gym has reopened, she continues to use her outdoor gym, too. Before, she would take a class at Champion City CrossFit and stick around afterward for extra training. Now she can either stay and practice or go home for additional training.

“There's a little more flexibility now with what I can do,” Matt says.

Fitness is important to Matt, 48. In October she represented USA Functional Fitness at the Masters' World Championships in Queensland, Australia, placing second in her age group. She also has qualified for the 2020 competition in Portugal, which has been postponed until 2021.

An associate professor in the physical therapist assistant program, Matt began teaching at Clark State in 2009. She has had a career in physical therapy since 1993, and several of her friends in the field told her she should try CrossFit. She was eventually convinced to give it a go about six years ago. She says she has loved it ever since.

“There's really never an end to accomplishing what you want to do because there's always something new to work on,” Matt says. For example, there is something heavier to lift, a higher-level skill to master or more movements in a row to complete.

When she first started CrossFit, she didn't expect to compete. But Matt says functional fitness is a great opportunity for those with a competitive drive to continue competing athletically.

The International Functional Fitness Federation, also known as iF3, is the worldwide governing body, with a goal to include CrossFit-style competitions in the Olympics in 2028. Competitors in iF3's masters' program are ages 30 and older and compete against others in their five-year age group. The oldest age group is 65 and older.

When Matt qualified for the functional fitness Masters' World Championships last year, she told others that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She qualified for her second championship after placing first in her age group in an online qualifier.

“It's an amazing blessing to be able to do this again,” says Matt, who has twin 13-year-old daughters, Gwenivere and Gennaveve, and an adult son, Collin, who lives outside of Cincinnati with his wife, Emily.

Competing in Australia was a great experience, she says. She wasn't sure if there would be much interaction among the athletes, but she was pleasantly surprised.

“Everyone was so supportive and friendly even though we were competing against each other,” she says.

After the competition, she volunteered to become a staff member for USA Functional Fitness, the non-profit organization that is the national governing body for the sport. As the director of masters' athletics, her role includes coordinating and communicating with athletes. She also will be involved with fundraising.

In addition to her trip to Australia, Matt's work has given her a chance to travel a little closer to home – to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. Because of her experience working with a specific machine that is used at the combine, she performed isokinetic strength testing at the event for 12 years, until 2019. The format was changed for 2020, and she is still waiting to hear about participating again next year.

In the meantime, she continues to train five days per week. Even before she began competing, CrossFit changed her life, she says. She subscribes to the exercise style’s philosophy that there is a continuum from sickness to wellness to fitness.

“It gave me something to motivate me to be a better version of myself,” she says.

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

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