Posted: 07/02/2011 04:24:21 PM PDT

There was a time when Meshelle Mifsud couldn’t see the allure of a gym, even if she loved lifting weights. That time wasn’t long ago — just four years past, in fact — yet it feels like ages to the 39-year-old Mifsud.

“The whole idea of the gym scene seemed very odd to me,” said Mifsud, a Novato native and Terra Linda resident. “I never really saw the appeal of it until I started doing Crossfit.”

Now, 31/2 years into her competitive Crossfit career and two years after she began weightlifting competitively, Mifsud has a chance to put her name in the national record books. Mifsud will compete in the USA Weightlifting national championships July 15-17 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The trip marks an exercise high point for Mifsud, who was once a workout agnostic but now owns her own gym, Tamalpais Crossfit in San Rafael. She qualified for nationals at a competition in Los Altos on May 22, where her combined snatch and clean-jerk lifts of 141 kilograms — or nearly 311 pounds — put her in the nationals as a top lifter for women in her weight class.

That’s a big jump from when Mifsud began training in Olympic-style weightlifting two years ago. In her first competition, also in Los Altos, Mifsud’s combined lift weight didn’t crack 100 kilos, and she’s now snatching more weight than she could clean and jerk when she began.

“She stands out,” said Freddy Myles, Mifsud’s lifting coach and owner of Myles Ahead Weightlifting in Rohnert Park. “She’s made a big improvement, especially for someone who didn’t start lifting really young.”

Mifsud, who went to San Marin High, said she wasn’t an athlete in high school. Her aversion to the gym scene kept her from athletics, and she’s never found much interest in team sports.

As a result, Mifsud found herself out of shape and overweight when she finally started Crossfit. Since then, she’s embraced the team aspect of the activity while still getting to lift weights in a comfortable setting.

Mifsud didn’t even begin lifting as a goal, but rather as a means to an end of improving her Crossfit skills. Crossfit combines weightlifting, cardio work and speed exercises in a group setting. Mifsud quickly found the program to be exactly what she was looking for in a workout and sought out Myles to help improve her Olympic lifts.

Mifsud said having Myles as a coach is a main reason she’s improved so dramatically — he’s been so good, in fact, Mifsud has stolen some of his techniques and styles and implemented them into her gym’s routine.

“His approach is slow and concise, definitely focusing more on baby steps,” Mifsud said. “You go up in weight slowly, and focus on the technique.”

Mifsud opened Tamalpais Crossfit with co-owner Michael Papes in January 2010, and the gym had just 10 members in its first month, “half of which weren’t paying dues,” Mifsud said. Since then, the gym has grown exponentially — TCF now boasts 140 members and a packed schedule of classes throughout the week.

Mifsud has long been comfortable with most aspects of the Crossfit workout, but because Olympic weightlifting is so dependent on perfect technique with as little wasted motion as possible she said she needs a coach like Myles to help maximize her lifts. Once the competitions come around, however, it’s up to Mifsud to put it all together, and her qualifier in May saw all the pieces fit.

In less than two weeks, Mifsud will try to put it all together again, with a chance at a national championship on the line. Much like the high jump in track and field, the lifters in Mifsud’s events July 15 will start at a predetermined weight and progressively move up. Each competitor gets a total of three lifts in each event, at any weight they choose; at the end, the lifters with the highest snatch, clean-jerk, and combined lifts will be crowned national champs.

“I definitely see her setting a personal best at nationals,” Myles said. “You never know, she might sneak onto the podium.”

“I’m just trying to have fun with it,” Mifsud said. “There’s going to be some amazing lifters there.”

Click here to view the article in the Marin IJ online.