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Hitchcock finds his niche in pro fitness league

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Manteca resident Buddy Hitchcock competes for the San Francisco Fire during the Grid Preseason Tournament in Florida July 12.

Photo courtesy of NPGL/

POSTED August 2, 2014 12:45 a.m.

John Hitchcock said it best in front of a small and energetic gathering held at the CrossFit Excel gym Friday night:

“Buddy found Grid, and Grid found Buddy.”

His son, Buddy, 24, is among the first athletes to compete in the National Professional Grid League, which kicks off its inaugural season later this month. The 2008 Sierra High graduate competes for the San Francisco Fire, who chose him with the 22nd overall selection in the third round of the 2014 Grid Draft held July 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A special celebration took place at CrossFit Excel on Friday in Hitchcock’s honor.

“I was actually pissed that he only got drafted in the third round,” said Nick Hobby, drawing laughs in his off-the-cuff speech. He is the founder and co-owner of CrossFit Excel who started the CrossFit program at Sierra High. It was he who introduced Hitchcock to CrossFit exercises as his physical education teacher.

Hitchcock, a trainer at CrossFit Excel, didn’t mind his draft standing.

“I was hoping for that, for them (the Fire) to pick me,” he said. “I wanted to stay local because it’s so much easier.”

A standout track athlete at Sierra — his 100-meter dash of 10.85 seconds still stands as a school record — Hitchcock began competing in the Reebok CrossFit Games in 2010, though he has been unable to advance past the Regional stage. He placed ninth overall in last year’s Northern California regional.

“My downfall has always been the longer-duration workouts, I’ve never had the capacity for those,” Hitchcock said. “I’d get first in some of the shorter workouts at the regional level. I’m a sprinter, that’s my background. I think that’s why I do really well in this league because a lot of it is more quick-twitch.”

The NPGL was created with the idea of making CrossFit a more fan-friendly sport with its shorter, coed team-based events. Each team consists of 20 athletes (10 men, 10 women), with 14 on the active rosters and 10 suiting up for match day. Each team must field one male and one female each aged 40 or older.

The two-hour matches comprise of 11 races, each featuring a myriad of workouts that tests the athletes’ strength, agility and strategy. The grid court has two lanes with four quadrants apiece. Teams must complete exercises from one quadrant to advance to the next.

There are eight teams in all with up to eight expansion squads planned for 2015. The original eight are the San Francisco Fire, Los Angeles Reign, Phoenix Rise, Miami Surge, DC Brawlers, Philadelphia Founders, New York Rhinos and Boston Iron. Competitors come from all over the world; Hitchcock has teammates who hail from New Zealand, British Columbia and Wales.

The Fire have already established themselves as contenders by defeating the DC Brawlers 17-15 in the NPGL Preseason Tournament on July 12. San Francisco trailed early after losing the first four legs of the match. Hitchcock was a big reason for the win.

“I love that ‘ball in your hands with 10 seconds to go’ situation,” Hitchcock said. “That’s what I thrive on. I was an anchor leg in track. I was able to do a lot of the gymnastics stuff as well as the weightlifting in the last few races, and that’s what I’m best at.

“The announcers were saying ‘Hitchcock is the MVP!’ which is cool, but it really was a team effort.”

Postseason will be aired by NBC Sports Network, and regular-season matches stream live at The Fire open the regular season Aug. 28 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, where they host the Philadelphia Founders.

“It’s not for everybody, but if someone is watching at home and goes, ‘This is interesting,’ it catches on and it makes him want to go to the gym the next day that’s perfect,” Hitchcock said. “That’s what the whole sport is about. It’s a fascinating sport to get into.”

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