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Mal O’Brien

Mallory O’Brien was just three years old when the first CrossFit Games was held, and she was fresh out of fifth grade when Tia Toomey debuted in the event. By the summer of 2022, however, Mal was standing side by side with Toomey in Madison, having become the youngest athlete ever to podium at the Games. In many respects, O’Brien is the leading example of a new generation of CrossFit athletes; those who literally grew up with the sport rather than adopting it later in life.

At just 10 years of age, O’Brien was introduced to her first CrossFit gym by her mother Nicole, and within two years, the always athletically-inclined Mal had found her new calling. From her homebase in Des Moines, Iowa, O’Brien started training with the goal of one day competing in the CrossFit Games. Thanks to her background in gymnastics, volleyball, track, and dance, she had the natural ability and a competitive spirit. And by adding more strength and power into her skillset, she quickly made her dream a reality, qualifying for the Girls 14-15 Division at the Games in 2018.

Over the next two years, a difficult battle with lyme disease threatened to derail her training, but once Mal found the treatment she needed, there was no stopping her ascent. In 2021, rather than competing against her fellow teens at the Games, she qualified for the women’s individual competition at just 17, announcing her arrival with a memorable win in the Wall Walk & Thrusters event, in which she bested the champ Toomey by 34 seconds.

O’Brien was named Rookie of the Year at the ‘21 Games, and it proved to be no fluke, as her runner-up finish a year later only cemented the 18 year-old as one of the premier competitors in the sport, with the potential to spend the next decade or so standing on the podium. Better still, Mal has become an inspiration not just to other girls in her age group, but to the youngsters just starting out. There is no better example of how much one can accomplish in a short time if they set their mind to it.