Ava Zalman, the Youngest National Champion
Haley Adams earned the CrossFit Teen phenom headlines in 2019, but Suriname’s Ava Zalman is trying to stake her own claims to these accolades too. Hailing from the small South American nation of Suriname, Zalman is just 18 years old but has already won her second trip to Madison as an individual CrossFit Games athlete.
Zalman’s path to Madison has been unique compared to most 17-year-old qualifiers. She competes with the adults in the individual division and has grabbed Suriname’s National Champion title in both 2019 and 2020 with relative ease. She punched her ticket with four Open workout first-place national finishes each year.
- “What I learned (in the 2019 Open) is to not underestimate myself and never doubt that you can compete with the big dogs,” Zalman stated.
Once Zalman arrived in Madison, though, she was in for a reality check. Elite Games athletes like Katrin Davidsdottir and Brooke Wells were different than the caliber of athletes in Suriname.
- “The competition level in Suriname isn’t nearly as fierce as other countries, and it’s hard to rise to the level of athletes of the US and Europe,” she said.
- “When she competes alongside mature females it sometimes brings insecurities up,” Zalman’s coach and Head Coach of Rock CrossFit Paramaribo, Randy Badal said. “I’m not only working with her on her technical and physical skills but also guiding her mentally and emotionally when needed.”
Badal has known Zalman since she was a little girl and has seen her try every sport in the book. Nothing stuck, though, at least not until CrossFit.
- “I started CrossFit as a hobby as I was trying new sports, but now my training is one of the most important things in my life,” Zalman explained.
According to Badal, the 18-year-old does a strength session and two to three extra workouts a day leading up to the Games. On her training schedule, Badal said, “the focus is still on improving her overall strength while maintaining flexibility and metabolic conditioning.”
As Zalman continues her training for the Games, she has started an Instagram account focused on her journey to Madison, aptly named @avasroadtothegames. In the vlog-style posts, she diaries her training sessions, including PRs and new gymnastics movements, as well as press coverage she receives from local news outlets. Though she is gaining a following, Zalman doesn’t consider social media a big part of her identity as an athlete. Badal still thinks her involvement in the community has changed her for the better.
- “She used to be very quiet,” Badal said. “Nowadays she’s still a bit shy, but definitely more open towards other members of the community.”
At the 2019 CrossFit Games, Zalman placed 99th out of 129 competitors, at just 17-years-old. In the first event, she completed two legless rope climbs and a 400-meter run.
- “I learned a big lesson the hard way. You can’t just avoid your weaknesses. They’re never fun to train, but you can’t just avoid them and hope they don’t show up,” Zalman admitted.
While she may not have performed her best in Madison, both Zalman and her coach consider it a success. After all, she bested four other South American athletes. And, Ava’s clearly getting fitter too. In the 2019 Open, where she placed 10,926 worldwide, she got zero strict handstand pushups on 19.3 and didn’t get to the third round of cleans in 19.2. After six months of an intensified training program, she made a massive improvement, placing 4,570 in the 2020 Open, with her best showing in the deadlift/handstand walk workout, 20.2, taking 90th place out of 121 National Champions.
- “Ava still has a long way to go. Which means she has much room to grow into an even better athlete. With her determined attitude and discipline I believe she can reach the absolute top as an athlete,” Badal said.