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Its not your fathers PE class
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Annisity Miller tracks her name on the board hanging high above the weight room at Sierra High.

Up there, she’s in rare company.

The senior is one of the fittest students on campus, boy or girl, by virtue of a fourth-place finish in last year’s competition of the same name.

She might have contended for first, but she dropped a bar on her head performing a push press.

Oh well. If she’s not the fittest, Miller is certainly the toughest. 

Dean Barnwell’s focus is solely on the finishing move. The junior says he looks forward to slamming the weight off the mat, signaling the completion of his WOD, or workout of the day. 

As he finished his final round of Friday’s grueling WOD – the Bear Complex – Barnwell smiled, savoring his victory against the grizzly exercise.

Dean 1, Bear 0.

The rewards and goals are different from class to class, student to student, but the opportunities and challenges are the same for the hundreds enrolled in Sierra’s unique body conditioning and body tone classes.

Nearly seven years ago, Sierra High instructors Nick Hobby and Richard Boyd set out to change the DNA of their department. They had grown bored of the traditional weight-lifting program and its obvious struggles – students waiting on machines, students loitering around the bench press, students appearing more distracted than determined.

Today, that transformation is complete. The agent of change: CrossFit. 

Discovered by teacher Todd Vick, circa 1997, and implemented by Nick Hobby, Sierra has reinvigorated its PE Department by adopting the methodology of the fastest-growing gym in the world.

“The kids love this,” said Hobby, also part owner of Manteca’s CrossFit Excel, home to National Pro Grid League athlete and CrossFit Games competitor Buddy Hitchcock. 

“The kids that sign up for this class work extremely hard. In the old days, kids signed up for body conditioning to hang out on the bench. It’s completely changed.”

Modeled after programs in the Sacramento region, Sierra is the torch-bearing department for area schools. While some may have adopted similar workouts, no school is as committed to CrossFit as Sierra. It is the only campus in the Manteca Unified School District with three CrossFit Level 1 certified trainers– Hobby, Boyd and Julie Cannon – and two owners.

Boyd is part owner of Ripon’s Alpha Omega Fit.

“Our ultimate goal is to instill a lifelong love of fitness in these kids,” Boyd said. “Kids today spend so much time sitting in front of a computer or staring at a phone or playing video games. It’s good to get them up and exercising and moving.”

“Moving” seems so understated for this bunch.

The scene on Friday morning is something of a small-scale CrossFit Games. A lot of moaning and grunting. Buckets of sweat. Rock music clashing with the sound of iron bouncing off the rubber mats under foot. 

Bodies fly around this tight space in sort of a controlled chaos, racing between 30-inch boxes, pull-up bars, medicine balls and weights.

“Let’s see who ate breakfast today,” bellows Boyd, the department’s chair.

It’s an awful thing to say, but so too is his workout, “Fight Gone Bad.”

The WOD consists of three rounds of a five-exercise circuit. Each student is tasked with accomplishing as many reps as possible. “Fight Gone Bad” was inspired by CrossFit creator Greg Glassman for fighter B.J. Penn and is meant to simulate an MMA bout.

After three rounds, the students in Boyd’s class are gassed and exhausted, but they’re still standing. 

“This isn’t your normal expectation for PE,” said senior Jojo Macias, a varsity track athlete. “It’s a high-intensity exercise that trains you – body and mind. They’ve (Hobby and Boyd) taught me everything from diet to workouts.”

Macias says he’s noticed a change in the athletic arena, where he competes in the pole vault, long jump and sprints for the Timberwolves’ decorated program. 

He’s added muscle but managed to retain the speed necessary to hurdle his body through the air or down the track.

“I used to workout body-building style and I noticed my body getting bigger. But my endurance was slowing down,” he said. “As soon as I started CrossFit, I could see the changes in my body and I wasn’t losing speed. I felt fit. I felt awake … I felt wide awake.”

Miller is only getting faster. The varsity soccer player says she’s quicker now than she’s ever been.

And good luck, knocking her off the ball. 

Remember, she’s as tough as she is fit. Miller is one of five girls to transfer into a predominately all-boys body conditioning class. 

“The girls’ class wasn’t a challenge. This is a lot better,” she said after completing her fourth round of the Bear Complex.