Interview w/ Amanda Sullivan

As part of the 60 Day Challenge, I decided to interview the coaches at CrossFit Kingfield. They each play a key role in providing the help and support I need to achieve my goals, not only during this process but throughout the year.  I wanted to get to know them better, learn  some of their best practices when it comes to training and nutrition, and see what makes them tick. In my conversation with Coach Amanda Sullivan, we talked about her experience at the American Open and she mentions a lot how she wants to beat her husband Danny in workouts.

Amanda competing at the USAW American Open (photo c/o Sean O'Brien)
Amanda competing at the USAW American Open (photo c/o Sean O’Brien)

MMG: Amanda, thanks for your time. I have a lot of questions and lot to cover but always like to start chronologically to provide people with some background and context. So were you an athletic kid?

SULLIVAN: Yes, my parents always signed me up for different athletic activities. Pretty much anything I ever had interest in they would find a way to get me signed up for it. I was in gymnastics, swim lessons, tap dance, running, soccer, softball, basketball, ice skating, biking. I think I came out of the womb running.

MMG: With your interests so broad and varied, how did you get into CrossFit?

SULLIVAN: Well, at first I was kind of against CrossFit. I liked all of the movements involved, but I thought it was unsafe to do them with such intensity. I was judging before I really even knew what it was about.

Of course it was my now husband, Danny Yeager, that convinced me to give it a try. Some of my first workouts were Fran and the 7 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) burpees to a 6 inch target. (7:30 and 83 reps). What I found was that it wasn’t CrossFit that was dangerous but letting your ego take over your best judgment. I always preach form and movement standards over speed. What I love about CrossFit is that it pushes you to be well rounded. Learn to do many things pretty well. I also love the competition side, striving to be your best, and working out with friends!

MMG: Lifting is clearly a big component of CrossFit and a key focus of most classes. How did you start getting into Olympic lifting and competing?

SULLIVAN: My first exposure to weightlifting was in college at the University of Minnesota. I was actually not allowed to snatch because I kept hurting my back. Now it’s one of my favorite exercises! I started competing because Chris, Danny and I knew my lifting numbers were really close to qualifying for the American Open and I thought what the heck let’s try it. Oh yeah and it’s fun too.

Amanda and Lydia Novotny at the Granite Games in 2014.
Amanda and Lydia Novotny at the Granite Games in 2014.

MMG: I’m glad you mentioned the USAW American Open in Reno as that leads to my next question. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

SULLIVAN: I was super nervous for the American Open. It was my second weightlifting meet ever and I was feeling a little beat up from travel and training. Making a weightlifting total (which is having at least one good snatch lift and one good clean and jerk) was definitely a high. It’s hard to say that there were any lows, it was such an amazing experience. But I will say that I had hopes of lifting much more weight than I did. I ended up with a total of 156kg (70kg snatch and 86kg clean and jerk).

MMG: How did you prepare mentally that weekend to step onto the platform?

SULLIVAN: I had a lot of me time. Some of it was spent on visualizing my lifts and thinking positive thoughts. I watched Chris (Yang) compete but after that I needed to be alone because I was getting nervous just watching everyone else compete.

MMG: For some, Olympic lifting can be the bane of their existence. Clearly that is not the case for you. What is it about Olympic lifting that you enjoy?

SULLIVAN: I love that it is so technical. I have always been an athlete, and for those that know me I love winning (especially when I beat Danny)! Weightlifting for me has always come naturally. The technical aspects of it challenge me to stay focused. There comes a point in which lifters cannot excel without perfecting their craft and working on the little things. Danny always tells me that when I lift it is just me and the weights. I like the simplicity of that. Pick heavy shit up. Put heavy shit down. Repeat. Hopefully with heavier shit.

MMG: So what’s next for you in terms of your lifting?

SULLIVAN: I’ve recently injured my tush, so my main focus right now is to get that healed and back on track.

Amanda talking with Chris before hitting the platform (photo c/o Sean O'Brien)
Amanda talking with Chris before hitting the platform (photo c/o Sean O’Brien)

MMG: As an athlete who continually trains and competes, who do you look towards for coaching and mentorship?

SULLIVAN: Coach Chris is my weightlifting sensei! He programs for me and keeps pushing me to be a better weightlifter. I’m also working with Zach Greenwald of Strength Ratio to help me with fixing all of the holes in my CrossFit game. He is also integral to helping me get past my injury along with Dr. Ross and Danny.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in terms of your athletic career?

SULLIVAN: The best piece of advice I have received has to do with trusting the process while you are training. Progress is not built in one week. PR’s [personal records] don’t come because of one day. I have learned that we only evolve and progress as an athlete if we are able to stack consecutive, consistent training days each week. I have learned to be okay with the days that don’t go my way. It is all part of the process.

MMG: Speaking of training, I’m sure many people like myself would be curious to know what your week looks like. Would you mind sharing?

SULLIVAN: Right now I’m working out about 5 days a week. Usually I take Thursday and Sunday off. I work on Olympic lifting 3 times per week and my Strength ratio 3 times per week. I also often get sucked in to class workouts when I’m feeling good.

MMG: Much of the gym’s 60 Day challenge is centered around diet and nutrition. Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

SULLIVAN: Nutrition is extremely important for performance and recovery. I work with Emily Field to learn balance in my eating as well as how to fuel for training and competitions. She is amazing and helped me make weight for the open. Now that my goals have shifted she is helping me to balance my nutrition for growing babies!

Amanda and her husband Danny
Amanda and her husband Danny

MMG: Ha, you are making transitioning from one question into the next really easy for me. Let’s talk about your husband, Danny, for a moment. You both have a very unique situation in that you not only workout together, but you also work together. What role has your relationship played in your own personal success?

SULLIVAN: Danny is always my rock. He’s the one who keeps my mind right, whether I’m nervous for a big comp or I’m bumming after a poor workout or sustained injuries. That being said, sometimes no matter how well it is intended I cannot handle being coached by him. It’s something that anyone with a significant other would understand.

MMG: What has been one of the personal highlights during your time so far coaching at CrossFit Kingfield?

SULLIVAN: This year we started having a “Friday Night Lights” Open workout party. It’s been really fun to see the community come together and cheer each other on and just be pure badasses! I loved seeing Mary and Hannah get chest to bar pull-ups for the first time and Louis battling through 16.2 like a boss. It’s a special time where everyone brings their best and has a blast doing it!

MMG: There has been a lot of conversation centered around all of us at the gym defining strong for ourselves. What’s your definition?

SULLIVAN: I don’t think I can give you one definition of strong. I think that people who are motivated to better themselves and change create their own definition of strong. On one hand I would say strong for me is measurable by what I put on the bar. But the other side of me would say being strong is staying true to who I am and make sure that I lead by example. And also beat Danny if need be.

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MMG: Given all our discussing of Olympic lifting this might be easy to guess, but what is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

SULLIVAN: I think snatching is one of my favorite movements. It can be super frustrating and technical, but when you do it just right it’s like butter! So smooth and easy, I love that feeling.

MMG: Finally, my James Lipton / Inside the Actors Studio type moment is that I always ask in my interviews the same final question – what is your goat?

SULLIVAN: Currently I would have to say my engine. For the better part of this last year I have been focusing on weightlifting only. It has been extremely rewarding, but it hasn’t done me any favors in terms of improving my 5k time!

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