He’s not a kid anymore.
You probably know Dallin Pepper as the Fittest Teen on Earth. Not just once. An unprecedented three times. Now, he’s headed to the CrossFit Games – as an adult in the open division. And he says he’s coming for that title, too.
Dallin Pepper made a name for himself by becoming a three-time winner of the CrossFit Games Teens Division – ranking #1 in the world from 2017-2019. He earned the title the “Fittest Teen on Earth” in 2017 in the 14-15 age division and 2018-19 in the 16-17 age division. But that's just the beginning of his story.
Today, Pepper is 20 years old, married, and a full-time athlete who recently moved from Utah to Florida to live near his coach. In May, Pepper placed second in the Midatlantic CrossFit Challenge, one of four North American semifinals events. The top five men and women at the semifinals qualify for the CrossFit Games. This was Pepper’s first time qualifying as an adult.
“All of the American men’s fields are stacked. There are so many athletes who have been to the Games or right on the edge of qualifying,” he says. “It’s a really fun competition, but probably the most stressful, because the rest of your season is riding on the line.”
The 2022 CrossFit Games are in Madison, Wisconsin, Aug. 3-7. Pepper’s goal this year, as a rookie, is to take the top 10. He says it’s a lofty goal, but he believes it’s completely achievable. Next year: He’s going for a podium finish. His long-term goal: Just like his teen legacy, Pepper wants nothing less than to be #1 in the world.
“I’m here to win,” he says. “Not just participate.”
THE RISE TO CROSSFIT FAME
Pepper has been an athlete all his life. He played baseball, football, and basketball while growing up. When he was a high schooler, his parents got into CrossFit. Soon, they transformed their garage into a home gym and invited Pepper to workout with them. They thought it’d benefit his team sports. He thought the idea of working out “for fun” sounded dumb.
Then, in 2015, the CrossFit Games opened a teen division.
As soon as Pepper learned there was a competition involved, he changed his mind. He started training the next day. Six months later, at age 14, he joined a CrossFit gym and got a coach. The next year, he competed. He ranked 115th. Far from the podium. But instead of discouraging him, he used it as fuel.
“In my head, I just thought, ‘You’re 115th. You have so much work to do.’ I didn’t even consider quitting,” he says. “I knew if I stuck with it, I could for sure make it.”
And he did. One year later, Pepper rose from #115 to the best of the best. The Fittest Teen on Earth. A title he held strong until he aged out of it.
TRAINING FOR THE CROSSFIT GAMES
At age 18, Pepper graduated into the open division. In 2021, he didn’t qualify. He missed the top five by a couple points. Sixth place. He couldn’t have that.
“I felt like I was 14 all over again. Everyone is extremely good at everything, and it’s so fast,” he says. “I took it as another challenge: ‘All right. Let’s start chipping away. We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time.’”
He had to get serious. Burn it all down and go for it. So, he moved from Utah to live in Florida to train full-time with his coach, while doing a little school and online coaching on the side. It worked.
Now that he qualified for the Games, training is the #1 priority, he says. He trains six to eight hours a day (typically about 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and again 4-7p.m.). When he’s not training, he’s eating, sleeping, and recovering. Yet ironically, he says what has changed since he was a teenager and what has propelled him forward as an adult is keeping CrossFit in perspective.
“CrossFit is something I do. It’s not who I am. At the end of the day, we’re just working out,” he says. “I understand the importance of other things in my life. And that has actually helped me take CrossFit more seriously.”
Looking back, he agrees with his parents: CrossFit is great for teenagers and will make you a better athlete in other sports, he says. He encourages other young athletes to stay patient and enjoy the process. And above all, learn how to move well.
“That will set you apart from other teenagers. When people rush and don’t learn how to properly perform movements, that sets you up for injury. Half the battle is going into competition as healthy as possible, because we put our bodies through a lot,” he says. “You recover so quickly as a teenager that you sometimes just go for it and don’t realize what you’re doing.”
Train for the long haul, and you’ll get farther, he says.
Another big key to his success: focusing on the little wins. To Pepper, CrossFit is as much a mental game as a physical one.
“Unlike football, where you can overpower someone physically, with CrossFit, you have to overpower them mentally, sometimes by beating them physically,” he says. “It’s more of a mental game. I enjoy that a lot.”