Fitness phenom

Duncan MacLean • Mar 19, 2019 at 1:10 AM

Crossfit athletes don’t compete for trophies; they don’t lift for medals or run for ribbons — they compete for the title of fittest on Earth.

What a preposterous mountain to climb. How could an international community of athletes possibly determine such a subjective distinction?

With reps. Thousands and thousands of reps. Repeated exercises of high intensity, functional movement, strung together to create routines, combined to make workouts and sequenced to form qualifiers. From there, more reps to determine more qualifiers, finally culminating in the biggest, baddest workout session on the planet — the Reebok Crossfit Games.

The Games feature the toughest workouts around, testing athletes functional fitness with everything from lifting to running, throwing, swimming or even handstand walking.

One local athlete is continuing her quest to become the fittest on Earth, using momentum gained from a 13th-place finish in the female teen division of the Games last summer.

Sophia Grimmer, 17, is making the most of her final crack at the teenage division (16-17), in hopes of qualifying for the Games once again and making a run at the top.

Grimmer finished 14th, seventh and first overall in the three qualifying routines so far, placing her solidly inside the top 200 which advance to the next round of qualifying. From there, a one-weekend, five workout qualifier makes the final call, with the top 10 finishers qualifying for the 2019 Crossfit Games.

With one good workout standing between Grimmer and advancing, her goal of becoming the fittest on Earth remains on track, but her Crossfit career didn’t begin with competition in mind.

Before she transferred to the Grand Haven Cyber School in order to allocate more hours a day to training, before competition pulled her to distant corners of the country and before well-concealed workouts forced ceaseless, expansive fitness training, Grimmer tagged along with her mom to a summer workout at a small gym to blow off some steam and start prepping her fitness for the impending volleyball, basketball and softball seasons.

“My mom started Crossfit a year before I did,” Grimmer said. “In the summertime, I realized I needed to get better at my sports, so I went with her. That was when I realized I was better than I thought I was. Just comparing myself to other girls my age, I could just lift more and run faster and stuff like that.”

The realization, paired with an instant connection to the sport, triggered massive change in Grimmer’s life. A 180-degree turn changed her from a three-sport athlete at Muskegon High School to a one-sport, workoutaholic attending Grand Haven Cyber School.

“I was always decent at my other sports, but not in love with any of them,” she said. “I started doing Crossfit and fell in love with it.”

First loves are often complicated. Grimmer’s began interfering with her school work as long hours in the gym didn’t mesh well with a traditional school schedule.

“For a while, I was going to high school at Muskegon, getting there at 6 a.m. and not getting home until after a workout after school. It got to be too much. We looked into homeschooling, but my mom said, ‘No way’, and we found out that Grand Haven does cyber school.

“I’m at the gym five or six hours a day. I usually get here at 9 a.m., leave at noon to eat and do homework, and then come back from 3-5 p.m. On top of that, I’m doing stuff at home for recovery. There is always stuff to do outside of the gym to help me inside.”

The schedule reconciliation worked wonders in the gym and the classroom. With the option to proceed through the standard Michigan high school curriculum at her own pace, Grimmer, ever competitive, decided faster was better.

“I only have to do school for like two hours a day, so I can do it between my training sessions,” she said. “I’m actually graduating a year early because I don’t have to take electives. I can focus on more classes that I need at once.”

In the gym, a free schedule paired with renewed focus and proper coaching by Muskegon Crossfit’s Russell Mock helped Grimmer reach new heights on the leaderboard.

After a series of online qualification workouts, Grimmer made the field for a competition in Miami last January. The South Florida sun must have been energizing, as she took home a title in her first full-blown rodeo.

“I had to qualify online and went not thinking I could win at all," she said. "I went down and won. It was shocking. It was the biggest competition I had been in.”

The surprise victory motivated a serious run through the “Open” season, which serves as the qualifying period for the Games.

The Open stretches this year from Feb. 21 through March 25. Over the course of that time, a number of workouts are released by the Games’ qualification committee. Hopefuls complete the workouts and submit their results. The top 200 advance to another online qualifier in May, where they run through five workouts in one weekend. The top 10 from there must submit video proof of their results and are invited to compete in the games.

Grimmer kicked things off with a bang in 2018, finishing second overall in the first workout and fourth in the second before placing 90th in the third, 21st in the fourth and 28th in the fifth. She would round out the month with another fourth place in the final workout, securing a spot at the Games with a stellar May qualifier over 2,274 total entrants.

“It didn’t really sink in until I was there,” she said of qualifying. “To say, ‘Woah, I am really at the Crossfit Games,’ was really cool. It is cool to say I am able to compete against people from Iceland and all over the world.”

Her 13th-place finish was stellar but telling for the first-time qualifier.

“I realized that I have to get stronger,” she said. “The first goal is to make the games. The main goal is to win. I want to be the fittest on Earth in my age group. There are girls there that are super strong, I’m just not there yet.”

Her first run through the Games motivated further change to her training regimen.

“I used to do the class programming,” she said. “Recently, I started doing my own programming. For the most part, I train by myself. My mom or sister will sometimes come in and do a workout with me while Russell Mock coaches.

“I’ve always been motivated, but (Mock) has been there to push me and was the one who initially told me I could be good at this. He is a big part of why I’ve been successful.”

Grimmer kicked off this year’s Open much like the last —with a dominant performance, finishing atop the standings in the first week’s workout. She followed it up with a seventh-place finish in the second and 14th-place finish in the third. Barring catastrophe in the fourth workout, it is on to the next qualifier in May. Even against her high expectations, it was a fun result which put her now years of training into perspective.

“I didn’t even know Crossfit was a competitive sport when I started,” she said. “When I won one of the workouts, I did the most reps on that workout of anyone in the world, and the world is big!

“It makes me way more confident seeing those numbers. It makes me feel like what I am doing is working.

“It occurred to me the other day when I was hurting pretty bad from a session, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I think I have always needed a goal. I want to be the fittest on Earth. That is my goal right now. When I’m done competing for that, I’ll probably run a marathon or something.”

With that boundless competitive spirit, it seems the sky is the limit for Grimmer and it is just a matter of time before she can rightfully claim her spot as fittest on planet Earth.

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