Lauren Fisher never just blends in.
On Nov. 16 in Tempe, she spent nearly 12 hours on the IronMan Arizona course, watching her older brother Andrew complete his second IronMan triathlon in personal-record time. But even in a sea of ridiculously fit triathletes, Fisher, trademark ponytail flopping, muscular quads on display under Reebok short-shorts, stood out. All day long, spectators and athletes alike sidled up to Fisher to ask the same question: You have nice legs, what do you do?
If only they knew.
Fisher is the up-and-coming darling of CrossFit. She's a 20-year-old powerhouse with a megawatt smile and strength that is not at all relative to her 5-foot-5, 135-pound frame. Last August, as the youngest competitor in the 2014 CrossFit Games in Carson, California, she finished ninth overall. She has 23,000 Twitter followers, another 13,000 on Facebook and, in addition to her more niche sponsors (Rogue Fitness, Progenex and PurePharma), she has a Nike shoe deal, which is indicative of her crossover appeal.
Through CrossFit, Fisher made an entrée into the world of Olympic weightlifting, and has represented Team USA at junior meets worldwide. This weekend, from December 5-8, she will again don the red, white and blue at the World University Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Fisher has her sights set on her biggest numbers yet -- a 114kg (251-pound) clean-and-jerk and an 86kg (189-pound) snatch.
The clean-and-jerk is Fisher's bread-and-butter lift, the one she makes look easy. For the standard gym-goer, though, the movement may be foreign. It is executed in two steps; in stage one, the clean, the athlete lifts a barbell from the floor to her shoulders. In stage two, the jerk, the athlete moves the bar from her shoulders to overhead. Despite the complexity of the exercise, it has become a familiar one to CrossFitters wordwide; to the Average Joe in that arena, a bodyweight clean-and-jerk is considered a huge accomplishment. Fisher is closing in on double that.
She began doing CrossFit when she was a 14-year-old high school freshman basketball player at St. Mary's in Stockton, California, where her team won two state championships and a national title. As an 18-year-old senior, Fisher qualified for the CrossFit Northern California Regionals and finished 12th overall, a remarkable outcome for an athlete so young. She was inspired by the CrossFit community and the strength of its women, and decided to forgo basketball at San Diego State University, where she is currently a junior, to focus on her CrossFit. Since moving south she has been training at CrossFit Invictus -- twice a day, early in the morning and again in the evening -- around a full class schedule.
"My roommate is in a sorority," Fisher says. "She doesn't understand how all I do is eat, sleep and train. But when she saw me on ESPN during the CrossFit Games she said, 'I finally understand your commitment.'"
Fisher is still motivated by the performances of CrossFit's elite women. At this year's Southern California Regional, Fisher knew she would have to contend with 27-year-old Lindsey Valenzuela, 36-year-old Valerie Voboril and 34-year-old Rebecca Voigt, who finished second, third and 11th overall at the 2013 CrossFit Games. Only the top three Regionals finishers move on, so Fisher was feeling the pressure. "I have the opportunity to train with those girls and I see up close how good they are," she says. "Competing against them pushes you to a whole other level."
Due mostly to her proficiency at gymnastic movements like pull-ups and strict handstand push-ups, Fisher edged out Valenzuela and finished third, securing her spot at the Games. In Carson, her strength was also on display: She finished sixth in the overhead squat (lifting 238 pounds) and speed clean ladder (225 pounds), events that were won by women who weigh nearly 20 and 30 pounds more than her.
That wasn't Fisher's first trip to the Games. In the summer of 2013, as a 19-year-old, she competed in them as a member of Team Invictus, which finished seventh overall. That same year, her older brother Garret finished fifth overall in the men's individual competition. (A third brother, Ryan, is a minor league baseball player in the Miami Marlins system).
Invictus coach CJ Martin, who trains Fisher, saw her strength immediately when she began training at his gym. But even more important to Martin is Fisher's mental toughness.
"I saw Lauren compete at 2012 NorCal Regionals," Martin recalls. "There was a workout with a row, pistols and very heavy hang cleans. She had three reps remaining and about 10 seconds left to do them. She sprinted to her barbell, did her cleans and crossed the line right before the cap. That told me this girl is going to fight and compete hard."
In the fall of 2012, Fisher and some Invictus friends participated in a small, local lifting competition in San Diego. Her numbers were good enough to qualify her for junior nationals, where she took second place in her first official meet, and earned an invite to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
In February of this year, Fisher won three gold medals in the 63kg class and was named best female lifter at the USA Weightlifting Junior Nationals. In July, she finished 10th at the Junior World Weightlifting Championships in Kazan, Russia, with a 75kg (165-pound) snatch and 110kg (242-pound) clean-and-jerk.
"Lauren has incredible focus and determination and her work ethic is rare for someone her age," USA Weightlifting coach Zygmunt Smalcerz says. "I expect to see her continue to improve in her lifts and compete on the International stage representing Team USA."
That, indeed, is a goal of Fisher's. She hopes to qualify to for the senior national team when the Weightlifting World Championships take place in Houston next fall; it will be the first time the event has been on American soil since 1984, when it took place in Los Angeles before the Summer Olympics. But before Houston, Fisher has another goal: to crack the top five at the 2015 CrossFit Games.
To that end, Fisher has also been participating in CrossFit and other fitness competitions all over the world. In late August, she took second place in New Zealand's Wellington Cup. In October, she took second in the Granite Games in Minnesota, where she completed a personal-best 260-pound jerk. And in November, she won the Monster Games in Brazil. Along with CrossFit all-stars Dan Bailey, Josh Bridges and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Fisher was also part of Team Rogue Fitness Red, which took second place overall in the recent CrossFit Team Series.
"I'm still very focused on my CrossFit, but this is the time of the year for lifting meets," Fisher says. "My Olympic lifting makes me a better CrossFitter, and my CrossFit makes me a better lifter."
In Thailand this weekend, Fisher is hoping to be the best.