How CrossFit Prepares Elite Teen Athletes for College

April 21, 2020 by
Credit: USA Marine Corps
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Not every elite CrossFit teen athlete you see at the top of the Open leaderboard is going to be the next Rich Froning. However, as National College Decision Day rolls around again in the United States and rising college freshmen announce where they’ll be starting their adult lives, many CrossFit Games teen athletes seem to have impressed the college admissions staff around the country.

Everyone who’s done “Murph” can vouch for the tenacious spirit CrossFit instills. For these elite teens that gave up a “regular” high school experience and sold their souls for a trip to Madison, this holds true. Two-time Games athlete and current Marine Corps Officer Candidate Shelby Neal has seen this anecdote turn to reality.

  • “I didn’t feel like myself at (Officer Candidate School),” Neal admitted. She went straight to OCS training after graduating high school, jumping in the deep end without any knowledge of what she was getting herself into. Neal says CrossFit has helped her mentality in her training for the Marines.
  • I had to remind myself that all that matters, right now, at this moment for me is completing this 6 weeks. I don’t have to be the best. I came wildly unprepared.”

Current high school senior and two-time Games athlete Rylie Krahn developed the same mental fortitude as Neal during her competitive years but fell out of love with CrossFit halfway through her third Open.

  • If I could give other teens any advice at all it would be to maintain balance in their lives. I feel like I lost some of that balance during my years of training, and realized that having balance makes you a better athlete and a better person overall,” Krahn explained.

However, Krahn’s departure from her CrossFit home of Snake River CrossFit made way for her new favorite sport: track and field. Krahn joined her high school’s track team midway through the season, where she found rapid success and quickly amassed the attention of college scouts. Less than a year later, with only six meets under her belt, Krahn secured a place on Northwest Nazarene University’s track and field team.

  • The way that CrossFit develops diverse athletes with mental toughness and strong work ethics was widely recognized by these college coaches,” Krahn explained.
Credit: Anne Krahn

Not only are college recruiters picking up on the grit that CrossFit instills in it’s youngest athletes and how it benefits them, but also how the physical foundations it provides can build great competitors in specialized sports.

Thomas Gallant, 2015 Games athlete, can attest to this strong base that CrossFit has given him in his baseball career. Though Gallant had played baseball practically since he could walk, he found himself needing some extra strength when the sport became a more serious endeavor in high school.

  • “CrossFit gave me a great base for all the fundamental movements that I do competitively in baseball,” Gallant explained. Now, as a rising junior at Mount Union University in Alliance, Ohio, Gallant has a .333 batting average and a 1.80 ERA. For those non-baseball people, he’s pretty good.
  • “If a person were to ask me how I achieved my goals as a college athlete, it would be CrossFit and weightlifting.”

Even if the benefits of CrossFit plainly presented themselves to each of these three athletes, the rigor of being at the top of their age categories took a toll on them.

  • “Competitive CrossFit is a grind and a half,” Gallant jokes. He competed in the inaugural CrossFit Games teen division in 2015, where he placed eighth. He also competed in Olympic weightlifting and was the 2015 USA Weightlifting Champion in the 14-15 62kg weight class. Gallant came to terms with the fact that his competitive fitness years were going to have to end, so he turned his energy back to baseball.
  • “CrossFit and baseball can coexist, but not competitive CrossFit and baseball,” he said.

Neal revealed that she often struggled with keeping a positive outlook during her years competing at the Games.

  • “Sometimes I would have a toxic mindset and other times not. I’d go through phases,” Neal explained. The North Carolina State University student still likes to compete in local competitions, especially if it can help pay the bills.  “After 4 years I have finally found what works for me and how to sustain it: working out with people, making up fun crazy workouts, and just enjoying the process.”
Photo credit: @usmarinecorps

While not every teen that competes at the Games will go on to be the next Haley Adams, there is no doubt that the moxie, iron will, and strength that CrossFit cultivates is helping them in whatever path they plan to pursue.

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