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A 51-year-old Alabamian is one of the world’s best athletes, but you’ve never heard of him

Paul McCrary

MADISON, Ala. — 324,307 athletes competed for a shot at making it to the 2016 CrossFit Games, an athletic competition sponsored by CrossFit Inc. and Reebok that sets out each year to find the “fittest (man and woman) on earth.”

Out of those hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe, 51-year-old Alabama native Paul McCrary finished 7th, placing him among the world’s most elite athletes.

For context, Men’s Health once ranked former CrossFit games champion Rich Fronning the fourth most fit male athlete in the world, ahead of more well known freak athletes like NFL wide receiver Calvin Johnson, NBA superstar LeBron James, the most decorated Olympic athlete in history Michael Phelps, and undefeated boxing champ Floyd Mayweather.

CrossFit has become a cultural phenomenon in recent years, the rare workout craze that endures after its novelty has worn off.

In the lead up to their signature yearly event, thousands of athletes compete in workouts that they learn about just hours or days beforehand, consisting mostly of an assortment of standard aerobic, weightlifting, and gymnastics movements, as well as some additional surprise elements that are not part of the typical CrossFit regimen.

After finishing 15th in the qualifying portion of the CrossFit games, Alabama’s McCrary was invited to L.A. for the main event featuring the world’s top 20 CrossFit athletes, where he finished 7th overall.

But long before McCrary was a CrossFit phenom, he was a star on the hardwood. As a basketball player at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, he won numerous individual and team honors, including Birmingham Southern’s all-time assist record (544).

In 2007, he was inducted into BSC’s Hall of Fame, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Huntsville-Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.

McCrary is also a strong Christian.

Before the start of his junior season, he spent six weeks in the Philippines and Korea with the Athletes in Action team, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International.

“It was a great experience,” McCrary told Al.com in 2011. “Getting to share the love of Christ with others while pursuing my passion for basketball is truly one of the highlights of my basketball career. Also having the support of my grandparents and parents at the games is a memory I cherish.”

He became involved with CrossFit four years ago when he joined a gym in Huntsville. Two years later, the coaches there told him that he had a shot to make the CrossFit Games.

“I started out doing it just to get exercise,” he told Yellowhammer in a phone interview. “But I just kept getting better and better.”

(courtesy photo)
(courtesy photo)

Training with incredible tenacity, McCrary gave it his all in an attempt to make the games in Los Angeles last year, but came up just short. “It’s super hard to get there. No doubt,” he said. But after missing the cut, he went back to training and secured a spot in the top 20 to qualify for the 2016 games in LA.

With his incredible 2016 finish, McCrary says he is done competing in the CrossFit games. While he thoroughly enjoyed the success and competing against the best in the world, he told Yellowhammer that “It takes up too much time to compete at that level.”

When not dominating the world’s best athletes in CrossFit, McCrary spends his days running his endodontic practice in Huntsville and lives in Madison with his wife and two children. During his grueling training regimen, he missed a lot of time at his practice and said he needs to get back to work. “I was away from my office too much,” he said.

It was not just work that McCrary missed; he also lost the opportunity to travel. Because of the strict dietary, sleep, and workout schedule, he could not do much of anything else. But despite all of the difficulties, his wife and children were very supportive. His children even enjoyed working out with him.

After completing his own CrossFit journey, the world-class athlete had nothing but positive things to say about the program. “If you’re looking to get into good shape, CrossFit is a good thing to do,” he said. “There are a lot of positive people there.”

Paul CrossFit crew

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