Talk Story: Adam Tabalno

  • Photo courtesy Adam Tabalno

    Kauai CrossFit coach Adam Tabalno, center, celebrates finishing in first place during a recent weightlifting competition at Altius gym.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai CrossFit coach Adam Tabalno demonstrates the bench press during a weightlifting class in Lihue.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai CrossFit coach Adam Tabalno settles a weight at a weightlifting class in Lihue.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai CrossFit coach Adam Tabalno gives instructions to Mark Kunimoto during a weightlifting class in Lihue.

To say Adam Tabalno is an active person would be an understatement.

His many hobbies include surfing, paddleboarding and weightlifting.

The coach from Kauai CrossFit in Lihue recently competed in a couple of competitions and came away with some first-place results.

At the inaugural Altius Athletics Winter Classic weightlifting competition in Kapaa, he was the top pound-for-pound finisher. In the CrossFit Liftoff, he was first in his weight class worldwide.

They’re exceptional achievements, but he doesn’t do it to prove his worth. The rather soft-spoken Lihue man does it as a means to hopefully help others.

Tabalno, 38, sat down with The Garden Island and talked about his experiences in the sport, his family ties to Kauai and his aspiration to help people be the best they can be.

So, where are you from?

My family’s from here, but I’m from all over the country because I was in the Marine Corps. I moved here about a year and a half ago to take a job here at (the Pacific Missile Range Facility) and to be close to my family. I’m the chief of security there. I’m in charge of security for the base.

PMRF? That’s a long commute.

Yeah, but it’s worth it. There’s not a lot of traffic. I was living in (Washington, D.C.) before here. In the same time it takes me to drive there, it’s like, I only get two miles in D.C.

How long have you been doing CrossFit?

I started CrossFit in 2011, but I probably didn’t start competing until 2013.

You were in the Marines, so I’m guessing you’ve always been fit. Have you always been an active person?

My thing is that I’ve always dabbled in a lot of sports, and I try to take every sport to the next level. I was a professional mixed martial artist before getting into CrossFit. I did triathlons for a while. I did the Ironman. Wrestling. You name it. And I do surfing.

I’m really active with everything that I do. CrossFit just brought a lot of stuff together because mixed martial arts is not good for a 38-year-old body — my neck was starting (to hurt). So, I wanted to find something competitive that I could do for a long period of time.

Where did this need to live an active lifestyle come from?

Being the oldest of six kids, I learned early that leadership by example is my big thing. I always wanted to be an example for my younger brothers and sisters as well as people I coached.

Any athletics. If I was the captain of a team, a leader at PMRF or whatever, I have to be able to lead by example. I think that’s the biggest thing.

What drew you to CrossFit?

It’s a tight community. It’s nothing like a regular gym where you just come in, put on your headphones and not talk to people. It’s a pretty social atmosphere. We get to do stuff with people outside the gym, talk to people and be a community.

And then the competitive aspect of it was something that challenged me. I had never done a lot of their workouts and stuff. That attracted me, and it allowed me to be a competitor at my age after the fact of doing all that stuff when I was younger. I can still compete, but also have the community aspect.

How did you feel about your first-place finish in the Liftoff?

I was kind of surprised about being first in the world, but I have a high standard for myself. I constantly train. I eat good. I don’t drink. I don’t party. My focus is, like I said, leadership by example. When I coach people, I expect to do what they do because I have to be able to lead by example.

I didn’t really expect that, but I did put in the work and the time to expect good results. First in the world? Maybe not, but it just ended up that way. I’m happy it did. I’m happy to represent Kauai and Hawaii.

It sounds like these first-place results aren’t a big deal to you.

The biggest thing for me, in fitness and being a coach, is just representing the community here and doing well so I can lead others to find their true potential. I want to inspire others because there’s a lot of people that have potential. They just don’t have direction. They don’t have that inspiration. I feel like if I can put that out there, I don’t really care about the places and I don’t really care about showcasing me. What I do care about is what effect is that going to have on any of the athletes or people, or even people on Kauai. Maybe they can see that and be inspired by that. That’s what really drives me to do what I do. I want to be there for them and show them that I can do that.

I have a company now that I’m starting. It’s called “True Human Potential.” I’m starting this company, basically, to inspire others to find their true human potential. It’s catered for any athletes. What I’d do is individual designing and programing. I assess who they are as an athlete and a person. How much of a priority is it. How much are you willing to commit to bettering yourself.

The whole take- away is fitness, and that is a vehicle for me to measure their potential and to help them reach something they never thought was possible. It will increase their potential with everything they do in their life.

To people who may be hesitant to join a CrossFit gym, even if they admire people who do, what would you say to them?

The biggest thing I can say is, like my class tonight, we have every type of person here. We have a middle-aged mom. We have kids that are 13, 14 years old, all the way to people that have missing limbs. We have that ability to cater and specialize their workouts according to their fitness level.

We’re not here to show our ego or show how big or ripped we are. We’re here to make sure that, one: find your true human potential, and two: just have a good time. A lot of people, I think, they see the stuff on TV and they’re like, “Those guys are ripped.” Yeah, they are, but they’re at the highest level of CrossFit. And they’re doing it for that reason.

A lot of people that come in here, they do it for the social aspect and just to get in better shape than they were. We try to cater that to them. We don’t have egos. Like I said, it’s not here to show anything. We’re here to inspire people, and try to get people through that door to make sure they reach that potential.

As a coach, what are some of the good and bad experiences you’ve had?

The best things, I think, are seeing people do things they never thought was possible. There’s a lot of people that have no idea. They come in here completely intimidated, but they come in here and we coach them through it. I think the best aspect is seeing them reach personal bests in lifting. What they learn in here, they’re able to apply it to other aspects of their life. So, they start eating better, which affects their attitude, which affects their family life. It’s a big chain of events. And they build that social community here. A lot of us are good, best friends. We go camping together. We do outings together. We go surfing together. You name it. Most of us are like that. I think that’s the best part of coaching.

The bad thing, I would say, is just not seeing more people. I think it can reach. I think sometimes people get a bad rap. There are bad gyms out there that (have) bad coaches. I can’t speak for everybody. But I think if people can just come in here, humble themselves and just listen to what coaches have to say, soak in what the community is about, I think they’d enjoy it. It’s just, half of any battle is showing up. You’re already 50 percent there if you just show up.

The CrossFit Open is coming up (beginning Feb. 22). Can you describe it?

Everything falls under the CrossFit Games. The CrossFit Games is the pinnacle. It’s like the Olympic Games. The way to get to the CrossFit Games is to go through this type of competition. So, the first part is the Open, where the entire world competes in five different workouts. The best guys that rank in those workouts, they go to the next level which is regionals. It would be like nationals for weightlifting. It would be like the Olympic Trials. And then the best people that go to regionals, they go to the Games. It’s just a stepping-stone to get to the ultimate.

A lot of people do it just to compete against themselves. They can do it year after year — see how they do and see how they rank against the best people in the world. … Someone can be the fittest in a gym. But how do you rank up against CrossFit Poipu or CrossFit Kapaa? How do you do against those guys? And then taking it to the next level, how do you do in the whole U.S.? It’s a good way to gauge that, and some people do it just for that. Some people want to go to the Games.

How far have you gone?

I’ve made it to regionals. I made it to regionals in 2014. … My focus, to tell you the truth, hasn’t been CrossFit or being a competitor. It’s more about coaching, and then surfing, paddleboarding. I’m really into camping and traveling, and just living life. CrossFit, it prepares me for life and it prepares me better to be fit for all the other sports I do. I use it as a mechanism to build me as a person and do other stuff. I don’t do it just for CrossFit. It’s like my foundation. It makes me more fit for everything.

Do you plan on doing the Open?


Any other CrossFit things you plan on doing?

Just the Open right now. I’ll probably do the Liftoff next year. My biggest priorities right now are tying to build my new business and coaching, and also working my normal job. I’m also a Marine Corps Reserve. I do that on Oahu. So, my schedule is pretty packed.

I’m going to do standup paddle racing this year. That’s a new thing. So, I’m using CrossFit to build me up for that and standup paddle surfing. I’d like to do the Na Pali Challenge. So, I got all those goals ahead of me. But it’s not necessarily just for CrossFit. It’s just for building me, making me fit, leadership by example and inspiring others is a huge thing.

Between your job and all your interests, it sounds like a lot. How do you handle all of it?

I would say the biggest things are time management, and I have a huge support system. My dad is awesome. My family is great. My community here is great. My girlfriend is great. They all support me, and they all know how busy I am.

I don’t get home until late sometimes. All day. I would leave at 6 in the morning and not get back until 10 at night. They understand that, and that’s OK. They’re busy as well, so they have the same type of attitudes. They have that same type of drive, so they have that commonality and understanding.

Where is your family from?

All of my family is from Southside, from Koloa. My grandparents migrated here (from the Philippines) a long time ago, and they had numerous children. They all grew up here, and they spread out. So, I got family here and on Oahu.

My mom is from Southern California. (My parents) met when my dad was in the Marines. That’s why I’m not from here. When he was 18, he left to Vietnam.

So, he was stationed all over the U.S. because he was in for 22 years. I was born in the U.S. Eventually when he retired, he moved back here. He was like, “Hey son. Whenever you get a chance, come back. I’m going to try to build the foundation here back up. Try to extend it to new generations.”

I was trying to finish school and finish my tour. Eventually, I got out of active duty and finished my master’s. I was like, “All right. Now I can get a good job.” I eventually made it back here. So, it’s a dream come true to live here. It’s an absolute dream to be here and do all this stuff. Now, I just want to take care of the island, represent Kauai as much as possible. … and take care of the community.


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