One of the most rewarding parts of the Granite Games is the privilege of watching athletes evolve on their CrossFit journeys. In Tanner Balasz’s case, that journey has been turbo-charged. In January 2019, Tanner had just discovered CrossFit a few months before taking on a Granite Games Throwdown. Not knowing where he landed on the fitness spectrum, he and his team entered the competition in the Intermediate division and handily won themselves a trip to the 2019 Granite Games. After crushing events all weekend and riding a string of 5 event wins, the team’s momentum was curtailed by a team injury, but Tanner took away a great sense of what level he ought to be competing at and a whole lot of valuable competition experience.
It was also at the 2019 Granite Games that Tanner connected with his future coach, Max Elhage with Training Think Tank. He decided he wanted to try to get serious about CrossFit, and another athlete suggested he look up Max. “I actually googled Max Elhage on my phone, thinking, ‘I wonder if he’s here, he probably is.’ And I googled him, looked up his picture, and I see this bald guy literally in front of me. I thought, ‘That looks like him!’ He was right there talking to someone else, so I waited on him and introduced myself. I told him, ‘Hey, I know you don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. I need help [with my training].’ I think he might have thought I was B.S.’ing him a bit, I was 3-4 months into the sport but I want to get serious with this.” Max promised to get in touch and the rest is history!
Since then, Max has competed on a team at Wodapalooza, won the qualifier, had some roster change-outs for pregnancy and injuries, competed in Miami with a couple of new additions, and even without ever having trained together, landed 7th overall that weekend. And now that the pandemic is winding down, he’s back on track, notching an individual Granite Games run under his belt and gaining valuable experience on the competition floor.
What isn’t readily apparent when watching Tanner’s obvious natural talent for the sport is how much he’s worked through in life to be the athlete he is today. He lost his father at a young age and struggled with obesity as a child. “I was 12 years old when my dad passed away, just going into middle school. That’s an age when a teenage boy starts thinking about girls, starts at a bigger school with more people you haven’t met, you’re more self-conscious of what people think of you. Growing up overweight, I was always so embarrassed. I joke now but when I would go to spring break, all my friends had their shirts off and I’d be on the beach in a long-sleeve shirt. Or we’d swim for school in PE and I’d get a doctor’s note or some excuse as to why I couldn’t swim because I didn’t want to be seen with my shirt off.”
Struggling with his weight and feeling uncomfortable in his own skin and losing his father on top of it, Tanner knew he needed to make some changes. “There’s a family heart history on my dad’s side where there’s been maybe one male to live over the age of 50. Obviously, that’s a huge red flag.” Tanner recalls going to the doctor for his physical going into 7th grade, shortly after his father passed, and the doctor told his mother there needed to be some changes made. “I remember my mom crying, I don’t know if she felt like she failed like she took some of the blame. You know, after baseball games when I was younger, I’d ask for McDonald’s or something, and as a mom, she just wanted to make her kid happy. She wasn’t thinking about repercussions long-term.” For Tanner, it was a wake-up call that spurred him into action to take control of his health. He wanted to feel better in his own skin.
Not knowing much, but knowing fewer snacks and more movement would propel him in the right direction, Tanner began riding his bike around a mile loop near home while avoiding the snack drawer. In 8th grade, there was an end-of-year triathlon he knew he wanted to place in. “I almost made the entire year into training for that while still trying to eat healthier. I ended up being top 10, I remember being called up on stage, it was one of the proudest days of my life.” Tanner found a spark of self-belief that day that he could actually do this, he could actually live a healthy life. Tanner found weightlifting and continued to lose weight. By the time high school graduation came along, he was one of the better athletes in football and track in his school. He graduated with a desire to have a career in fitness and to give back by helping kids in his community, which knew him by this time as the fitness guy.