Athlete of the Month: Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan

State your Name and/or Nickname please.
My parents named me Melissa Kathryn Joulwan back in 1968, but you can call me Mel or Melicious.

My day job is “Senior Content Strategist” for Razorfish, a giant interactive agency. But my real job is writing. I have a blog called ‘The Clothes Make The Girl’ that’s all about my CrossFit and paleo adventures, and I wrote ‘Rollergirl: Totally True Tales From The Track,’ a memoir of my transformation from total nerd to Rollergirl (a.k.a., total nerd on skates that knocks other girls down for fun).

Words to live by?
When I first started CrossFit training, I decided that no matter how much my ego and body suffered, I would do every rep with full range of motion – even if it meant I was (really) slow – and I would complete every single rep in the workout. That’s when I started thinking, “Never cheat. Never quit.” It stuck, and I still train (and live) by those words.

What is your fitness background?
I was an overweight, inactive kid who really liked food and books. After broken ankles and constantly getting picked on at school, I stuck with reading and practicing the piano and roller skating to the library. I missed many PE classes because I was “sick” or “forgot” my gym clothes. Even though I avoided sports, I secretly admired the athletic kids, but I just didn’t even know where to begin. After college, I secretly started doing workout videos at home. It was years before I ever stepped inside a gym, but thanks to a strong attraction to step aeorobics, I eventually became an aerobics instructor. When that ran its course, I trained for triathlons and finished the Wildflower Half Ironman in 2000. I was the last finisher with a time around 9 1/2 hours; I was just too stubborn to stop. When I moved to Austin in 2001, I helped start the Texas Rollergirls Flat Track Roller Derby — the first time that I ever played a team sport. Since then, I also started running and ran a few half marathons.

It’s been a long transition, but I realized recently that I’ve now been an active, athletic person for just as long as I was overweight and inactive. It’s definitely time to stop thinking of myself as that chubby, clumsy girl I used to be.

How long have you been CrossFitting?
I started CrossFit in October 2007, just after I retired from Roller Derby. I was overweight and feeling pretty lousy at the time.  I knew I needed to find an athletic activity that would keep me motivated and radically change my body. I started at a bootcamp, then moved to CrossFit Austin last year. In my time at CrossFit Austin, I’ve conquered some big-time fears that seemed insurmountable before I met Tristy, Wes, and Boone. At the age of 43, I kicked up into a handstand for the first time EVER in my life. I’ve also learned how to do double-unders (32 unbroken is my current record), and I’ve fallen in love with strength training. Who knew all of this was possible?!

What’s your favorite part of CrossFit?
There are two things that make CrossFit — and particularly CrossFit Austin — indispensable to me. (1) I feel inspired to try stuff that I know I won’t be good at doing. This is a huge for me! Being in an environment where failure is OK as long as I’m trying is totally freeing — and makes me take myself much less seriously. It’s been a revelation to learn that falling on my butt with the barbell can be totally exhilarating. (2) Without exception, I feel grateful for the people who train with me in the morning. I was welcomed so warmly on my first day and that sense of camaraderie has only grown.

What are your training goals?
Instead, I’m committed to training 3X a week at CrossFit Austin and working as hard as I can in every class. I tend to hold myself to sometimes unachievable standards, so my non-goal for 2011 was to just live like the best version of myself and see where I end up. That means eating a fairly strict paleo diet, hitting workouts hard, and getting plenty of rest. I’m also battling the fallout of having my thyroid removed so I try to feel fortunate for my workouts and accept what my body can do right now — while still striving to do my best.

Favorite sport or activity?
I really love to travel to new places and go running to explore. Right now, my favorite daydream workout is a run through Old Town Prague to a long stone staircase that leads to Letna Park. It’s the perfect place to sprint stairs, do pushups and lunges, and run along cobblestone streets. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I also really love to load the barbell and bust out front squats. There’s something about submitting to the extreme uncomfortableness of front squats that helps me conquer the fear at the bottom of the squat. And I feel like about a million bucks every time I kick up into a handstand against the wall.

Recent adventure you’re planning?
This summer, I’ve been writing a paleo cookbook that will be released in December. That’s been a huge adventure because my husband Dave and I are doing all the recipe testing, food styling, and photography ourselves. In October, when the cookbook production is done, we’re going back to Prague for three weeks, with a stop in Paris for a few days on our way home. I’ll definitely be working out at CrossFit Praha while we’re there… and doing that run in Letna Park.

Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I read Jane Eyre at least twice a year because it’s my favorite book, I’m a natural blonde, my left hand is about 1/2 inch larger than my right hand, and I can recite Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky” from memory.

Longhorns or Aggies?
That’s football, right?

Essential footwear, High heels or Chuck Taylors..go!?
Black Chuck Taylors. Always. Gotta be wearing get-away shoes in case I’m chased by bad guys.

Leave the fine folks of CrossFit Austin with some parting words?
Preparing and eating high-quality food is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and others. Learn how to cook a few things that you really like to eat and keep yourself well fed. Also, get some sleep!