Fittest at 15

Sydney Sullivan dominated the inaugural teen competition at the CrossFit Games. What's next for this amazing athlete?
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Sydney Sullivan dominated the inaugural teen competition at the CrossFit Games. What's next for this amazing athlete?
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She moved like a machine.

Wall-ball shots, power snatches, box-jump-overs, pull-ups … the movement didn’t matter. Each rep looked identical to the previous, and she only got faster as her rep count climbed. Her face a model of composure, she embraced victory after victory with quiet humility.

No, her name is not Julie Foucher. It’s Sydney Sullivan, and in the inaugural teen competition at the CrossFit Games, she won six out of seven events to take the gold in the Teen girls 14-15 division. She sealed the victory even before the competition ended, entering the final event with a 70-point lead over Megan Trupp, who placed second.

“It’s awesome; it’s really exciting,” Sydney, 15, said.

Sydney joined CrossFit Jenks in Oklahoma two and a half years ago, coaxed into the gym by her father and older brother, five-year CrossFit athletes who couldn’t stop talking shop at the dinner table. Her mother, sister and younger brother joined alongside her, and the family hasn’t looked back since.

“It’s something my whole family does, so I like that a lot,” Sydney said. “It’s such a good community … and I also like the competitiveness.”

She never imagined she’d be a star athlete, sometimes stealthily skipping the strength portion of the daily workout alongside her sister, Meredith Sullivan.

“We didn’t think anything of it at the time because we didn’t know how important it was,” Sydney said.

Still, one year after starting CrossFit, she boasted a 135-pound back squat, a 125-pound clean-and-jerk, butterfly pull-ups and the coveted muscle-up. With no strength or gymnastics background, she credits her rapid progress to pure obsession.

“I had to go every day,” she said. “I’d rather go to CrossFit than hang out and watch TV.”

Though there was no Teen division last year, Sydney competed in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, ranking in the top 20 percent of women in the North Central region. After attending the Games as a spectator that year and meeting two-time CrossFit Games champion Annie Thorisdottir, she knew she belonged on the competition floor in Carson, California.

“It was so much fun watching everyone,” she said. “It was just so cool to actually see it live with your eyes.”

Eight months later, she won the Open in her division. When director of the CrossFit Games Dave Castro announced that teens would compete at the Games, Sydney was ecstatic. “I was so excited; I was screaming,” she said. “I was almost crying.”

To prepare for her Games debut, after the Open, Sydney trained twice a day, joining the 6:30 a.m. class at CrossFit Jenks before school. After the bell rang each afternoon, she returned to the gym to complete personalized programming alongside her sister and training partner, Meredith.

“We support each other with everything, and I couldn’t do it without her,” Sydney said.

It was Meredith’s face she looked for among the sea of mint-green “Team Sydney” shirts in the stands as she took the field for the first time in Carson. As the clock counted down to the first event, a triplet of GHD sit-ups, bar muscle-ups and sandbag runs, she began to feel nervous. The sight of her family helped put her at ease among the cameras and bright lights.

“It was really cool; it made me feel so happy,” she said of watching her family cheer from the sides.

Sydney showed her dominance from the start, rebounding from the top of her GHD sit-ups straight into the bottom of the next rep, her long blond braid whipping over her face. In the final round, she seemed to run faster with the 80-pound sandbag than she had two rounds earlier with just 40 pounds, taking her first win of the week in 4:31.08, nearly a minute faster than second-place finisher Lindsey Porter.

After putting 150 pounds overhead for a one-rep-max thruster for another victory in the second event, Sydney proved she had just as much brain as brawn in SQT, evenly building speed throughout each of the three rounds of snatches and sprints to finish on top. Displaying the maturity of a competitor beyond her years, again Sydney patiently paced the next event, the Long Chipper: 200 beastly reps of ground-to-shoulders, box-jump-overs, pull-ups and wall-ball shots, preceded by a 1,000-meter run broken into three laps up and over the berm of the soccer stadium at the StubHub Center.

While her competitors pushed ahead in the run, Sydney maintained a steady pace. She took her lead back on the wall-ball shots, keeping her feet planted and devouring the reps in large sets while the girls around her wearied. By the time Sydney reached her final set of box-jump-overs, she had more than a 30-rep lead on Trupp, who had finished the run in first. Sullivan crossed the finish at 15:26.25, more than four minutes before Trupp.

It wasn’t until the final event that Sullivan showed her humanity. After banking two more first-place finishes, “Amanda’s” ring muscle-ups proved that the teenager still has something to work on. Having only recently learned to string reps of muscle-ups together, Sydney required several more seconds than her competitors to lock out.

“I just wanted not to fail,” she said.

Though her fourth-place finish snuffed her winning streak, Sydney still came out on top, the fittest teen in her division and the only CrossFit athlete in history to win six events in a single Games weekend. And as Sydney stowed her medal in her suitcase for the trip back to Jenks, Oklahoma, her mind drifted to the next goal on her agenda:

“Make it back to the Games,” she said, laughing. “And win again.”