OCALA, Fla. (BVM) — Most people only think of their blood relatives when it comes to family. But for Shae and David Tozzo, family also includes those who have a love for CrossFit.
The Tozzos, owners of CrossFit Zoo in Ocala, Fla., combined their love of health and fitness with their desire to help people live healthier and happier lives 10 years ago when they opened CrossFit Zoo. Since then, they have changed many lives and increased the size of their “family” along the way.
“For Dave and I, it’s about making people’s everyday lives better,” Shae said.
David was one of the first people in town to discover CrossFit and spread awareness of the fitness regime. While he was a lieutenant for Marion County Fire Rescue, he set up similar gyms at fire stations so his crews could work out and stay fit.
Shae, who was also running her own fitness training and bootcamps, recognized they needed something for David to do when he retired. As a result, the two decided to share their love of CrossFit to the community, opening the CrossFit Zoo.
Now that David is retired, the two are running the gym – also referred to as a “box” — together full time. And since they opened the first CrossFit gym, seven more have opened in Ocala.
CrossFit, unlike other workout programs, is a strength and conditioning workout made up of functional movement performed at high intensity levels. They are movements you perform in everyday life, but at higher levels using various equipment. There is a standard “workout of the day” (WOD) that all members complete on the same day.
Shae and David design and assign the workouts so it is surprising, different and challenging each day for every participant of the 60-member box. It is a workout that is always changing to help keep members growing in their fitness goals.
“For us, it’s about individualizing the program to make things easier and more fun,” David said. “It is good to trick your body into doing something different so it can grow.”
“It’s about watching the light in people’s eyes when they can do something they could never do,” Shae added.
Nikki Robison and her husband, Brad, have been members of the CrossFit Zoo for the past few years. At first, Nikki stood back and watched her husband transform and compete. Then, she decided it was her time to shine and joined him.
“Since January I’ve lost my final 25 pounds (70 pounds total),” Nikki said. “I’ve performed movements that I never knew my body was capable of doing and am in the best shape of my adult life.”
And what makes working out at a CrossFit box different than going to a traditional gym?
“What keeps people in is community,” David said. “The whole community part is what makes it for me. Each gym takes on the aura of the owner. Each one has its own personality.”
Most people get a vision of what a typical CrossFit participant looks like. But in reality, CrossFit is for everyone of all ages, shapes and sizes.
“We have people of all ages,” Shae said. “Our youngest member started at 4 years old and is now 7. The oldest is 74. CrossFit is about being well-rounded. Doesn’t matter what health issue you have.”
Whether it is trying to shed a few extra pounds, improving overall health, or battling minor or serious health issues, members benefit from the specialized, high-intensity workouts.
Shae noted that they have members who have lost 75 pounds. Some have gotten off medications for ailments, while others are trying to live better lives because they have been diagnosed with more debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis.
Tim Connor joined CrossFit Zoo in 2019. Connor, a paraplegic, was encouraged by his older brother and sister-in-law to try it since workouts could be tailored for him.
“I tried it out with their special, and I loved it,” Connor said. “Shae was super excited and enthusiastic about helping me safely push myself to better fitness and ability. I noticed the results within a month.”
And when Connor broke his wheelchair while working out one day, Shae and David were right there to make sure he continued to meet his fitness goals.
“Within a month, she (Shae) had found a sports wheelchair that was made to do CrossFit in, and she started a GoFundMe to get it for me,” Connor said. “Over the next few months, more than 30 members of the gym donated and we even did a photo scavenger hunt fundraiser for it, all set up by Shae. The money was raised, and when I got my chair, it was amazing!”
Shae, a Gulf War vet and former body builder, and David, a former Marine who was at the bombing of Beirut, have focused their lives on fitness. David trained before joining the military and Shae was born in a family of fitness enthusiasts.
“I have done this forever,” Shae said. “My dad owned and ran gyms since I was 5 years old. I remember all my birthday parties being held at the gym.”
CrossFit Zoo member, Melissa Hager, said her husband, Michael – a former Army National Guard member — made an instant connection with the Tozzos because of their military backgrounds and their CrossFit training as it was very similar to military workouts.
“The Tozzos’ ability to create bonds and teach others to build their own self-worth, and a healthier version of themselves is second to none,” Melissa said. “At CrossFit Zoo, they always build leaders. I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and never have I had better coaches. It won’t take you long to fall in love with Shae’s nurturing, but tough-love personality, and Dave’s quieter, yet calculated, demeanor.”
The two have made more than just an impact in the local CrossFit community. They have also brought their knowledge and leadership to the state and national level.
Shae began judging CrossFit competitions after she was seriously injured in a car accident about 10 years ago. She wasn’t able to work out and compete, and it was driving her crazy. So, David suggested they try judging, and right from the beginning, it was a perfect match.
“It was like duck to water,” Shae said.
They have both worked every aspect of judging the competitions, from scoring, to gear, to fan experience. Now, they work two regionals and a game every year, and host two of their own competitions – Reindeer Rumble and Rex Rumble – which draw hundreds of CrossFit participants to Ocala every year.
Recently, Shae was selected to be the Florida State CrossFit Affiliate Representative, which makes her responsible for helping facilitate communication between CrossFit and the more than 400 state affiliates.
As they run their own box, hold and judge competitions, and support CrossFit events around the country, both Shae and David show their dedication to the sport and their CrossFit family. They may push their members in the gym to be the best versions of themselves both mentally and physically, but there is always a lot of time for fun, as well.
Sometimes they hire a band and dance, bring in food for potlucks and hold costume contests at the box.
Shae and David do live by their slogan, splashed on their wrapped vehicles driving around town: “It’s all about the family!”