Libby DiBiase’s May 2015 graduation from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) was never a sure bet. For nine years, she chipped away at her degree, working hard to balance her roles as mother, elite athlete, and student. Her degree in Health Administration has been a long time coming—Libby began her journey at UNO in the spring of 2006 as a transfer student from Kearney. Although Libby started her college career as a sprinter on the track team for the university, she soon shifted her focus to CrossFit, a then emerging fitness methodology started in 2000. Within the CrossFit community, she is well-known as an early adopter who helped pioneer the sport and bring it to a larger audience (Kratochwill). Early in her CrossFit career, she had her son, Cruz Patrick, and began balancing motherhood, work, school, and CrossFit. Yet thinking back over her life and her many successes, Libby says earning her degree from UNO in May of 2015 stands out as her greatest achievement (L. DiBiase).
Libby was born Elizabeth Anne DiBiase, the only child of Sharon and Pat DiBiase, in Omaha, Nebraska on October 7, 1987. According to her mother, Sharon, Libby was “very energetic and full of life” as a child. “She loved being outside and riding her bike. I couldn’t keep her inside” (S. DiBiase). Libby showed athletic promise at 3 years old when she was enrolled in gymnastics. She continued with gymnastics, and when she was 10, began participating in soccer as well. Her athletic talent was evident from the beginning, as was her propensity to be an integral part of a team. Libby was so fast, she was on the middle school track team as a fourth grader because her times were faster than the older runners’ times. She excelled in soccer, playing on Millard Star Arsenal, a club team, during middle
Jonathan Priester, Libby’s track coach at Westside, agrees. “She always led by example…was always encouraging. She was always the first to congratulate her opponents and to tell her teammates great job. The girls that came after her had an example of what you were supposed to strive for and be when you stepped on the track.” Her freshman year was his first year as the Girl’s Track head coach, a position he still holds. When asked about Libby’s impact on the community, he said, “As far as…her impact, she truly has meant everything to the track and field program at Westside High School. When I first took over the track and field program at Westside was absolutely in the tank. Her ability to bring people to the sport was phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better face for our
This determination, combined with innate ability, led to a partial scholarship for track at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2006. Libby was unhappy there, saying she wished she would have started out her college career at UNO, as she preferred living in Omaha (L. DiBiase). She transferred and ran a successful season of track at UNO in the spring of 2007, but her track career was short-lived. “I did really bad in a lot of classes, so I didn’t do track the next year. I was the classic example of coming in and failing a couple of classes” (L. DiBiase). Most disappointing to Libby was that she missed out on running for UNO’s All-American 4×100 team the following spring, which she would have been part of if she had been eligible to run. “I didn’t get to run
Though Libby was unable to participate in track during her sophomore year at UNO, she was still able to utilize the training facilities on campus. She liked lifting weights, and met two UNO strength and conditioning coaches while in the weight room. Joe Westerlin, UNO graduate and football player, and Ricky Frausto Jr., a UNO graduate and wrestler, had recently founded CrossFit Omaha out of UNO’s facilities. In 2008, when the business began to thrive, they quit their jobs with UNO and moved the gym to 8938 L Street, where it continues to operate with Joe at the helm. This was the first CrossFit box in the Omaha area. While still working out of UNO, they approached Libby in late 2007 and told her she should try CrossFit. By the summer of 2008, Libby was competing at the second
Libby continued to attend UNO throughout her pregnancy, though it was a struggle. “I had a lot of setbacks and…I just found out I couldn’t juggle school and a sport like that. I just can’t. I’m not a naturally gifted person academically” (L. DiBiase). Pregnancy didn’t make it easier. “I was pretty pregnant and I couldn’t even fit in the desk” (L. DiBiase). This led to some attempts at online coursework, and some breaks from school, but eventually, Libby returned to UNO to complete her degree. Although she felt unprepared to have a child at 21, she managed the emotional stress through doing what she loved—CrossFit. “I was doing it before. I knew what to do, Joe helped me a lot, and I didn’t do anything nuts. It definitely helped, I think, for the delivery, too” (L. DiBiase).
Within most CrossFit
It was more than her performance turning heads. Libby’s beauty and fashion choices were starting a buzz, and she was on the verge of gaining a much larger audience. The 2010 Games were attended by thousands of spectators, and Reebok took notice. In September of 2010, Reebok became the official sponsor of the CrossFit Games. Reebok must have noticed Libby’s potential as a trendsetter as well, because in early 2011, Libby became an endorsed and sponsored Reebok athlete (Kratochwill). Other endorsements with Gaspari Nutrition, Atlas Power Wraps, and various other companies followed (Hinds). When asked about Libby’s impact on the CrossFit community, Addi Kahrs, a CrossFit Omaha coach and teammate, credited Libby’s attire at those early games to impacting the current fashion choices of women in CrossFit boxes around the world; “Of course in 2008, sports bra and booty shorts,
Libby and other CrossFit athletes are working toward goals in the gym, rather than goals in the mirror, focusing on what gains they can make in the gym, rather than what they can lose. Libby’s beauty helps place her in the crossroads, allowing her to act as a bridge between the so-called ideal female body in the entertainment and fashion industry and the muscular body most elite CrossFit athletes have. Publishers of online women’s fitness magazines such as Hardbody News, Strong Fitness Magazine, and Intense Fitness have taken notice as well, featuring Libby multiple times over the past six years. “She may not clear 5’4”, but the young mom from Omaha is a rock-solid, steak-eating, clean-and-jerking machine” (Braz). Libby’s appeal can also be seen in the multiple Reebok ads she appears in, promoting their CrossFit line.
Although, certainly, there are issues with female CrossFitters being scrutinized for their muscles, Libby is one of the women whose participation in the CrossFit movement is slowly working to shift female body ideals away from thigh-gap skinny, toward strong and healthy. While some would say this is still problematic, as any body ideal will be unattainable for many, it is most importantly changing perceptions of what it means to be a woman and of what women are capable of. Libby’s presence in advertising is pushing the boundaries of the ideal female body type. Libby along with other high-profile CrossFit women, is helping to redefine what it means to be a female athlete and challenging gender roles. “Women can be strong but…feminine” (L. DiBiase).
Even with all of her success, Libby expresses some regret about missed opportunities, “I messed up some big things that I could have done with track, but you know what? I guess you live and you learn. Other opportunities came to me later.” And so they did. Libby DiBiase has made a name for herself in the CrossFit community, earned a spot on the Reebok and Gaspari teams among other sponsorships, and continued to excel as a CrossFit athlete, but her goals have shifted since she first started competing. At the 2015 Reebok Athlete Summit in the Bahamas, the athletes were given t-shirts. On the back, they said “Goals 2015” and below, listed that person’s specific goals for the year. Libby DiBiase’s shirt read, “Spend more time with my son and graduate in May.” After her May 9, 2015 graduation,
Libby has inspired many women to work toward fitness goals, to challenge themselves, to do things they never thought they could. Kahrs said the one thing she thinks is most important for people to know is “She is just somebody who is really, really good at quietly managing her priorities. She’s got a busy schedule, she’s going to school full time. She has her obligations with her sponsors so she travels quite a bit. Joe travels a ton, and of course there’s Cruz and the dog and training as well, and you just never really hear her complain. She just knows what she has to do, she shows up, and she gets it done” (Kahrs). This sense of quiet determination has made Libby an elite CrossFit athlete, a dedicated mother, and a UNO graduate. Libby’s early involvement in the CrossFit
Libby DiBiase will be remembered in the CrossFit community as an early adopter and ambassador of the fitness movement that urged women to shift their perceptions of fitness, health, and the scale. Yet, even with all of the athletic accomplishments, endorsements, and internet exposure Libby has experienced as a CrossFitter, the achievements Libby is most proud of in her life thus far are graduating from UNO and being a mother to her son (L. DiBiase). It has been a long road with a few unexpected pit stops, but it has all been worth it to the 27 year old. She is grounded and knows that her days as a sponsored athlete won’t last forever, that her family is what matters. “Her accomplishments as an athlete are impressive, but…family comes first, and I believe Libby knows that and lives that philosophy”