When 15-year-old Dallin Pepper drops the bar with weights on the end to the floor, the room seems to shake for a moment as the weight plates clatter together.
Dallin’s eyes never leave the blank space ahead of him inside Spanish Fork CrossFit that he’s fixed his gaze on.
The sweat drips off his face, and he reaches down for another repetition.
It’s that focus, combined with his motivation, hard work and strength, that helped Dallin at the CrossFit Games early this month where he won the title of Fittest Teen on Earth.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: hard work always pays off no matter what,” Dallin said.
Dallin, who started doing CrossFit in preparation for the games in January 2016, said he’s found both a community and passion in training.
“I like to see how far I can push myself and what my capabilities are everyday,” he said. “CrossFit allows you to do that. You can always find weaknesses and say, ‘That’s a weakness, I need to hammer that until I’m good at it.’ That’s fun for me.”
The CrossFit Games, which took place early in August, tested competitors in 10 events which are made of a variety of movements. Participants don’t know what they will have to do until the competition starts.
In order to prepare, Dallin said he trained extensively — three or four hours everyday in the summer and three when he’s in school, where he has maintained a 4.0 GPA.
“You have to focus on training a lot, eating enough and eating right. You have to sleep enough so you can recover. You have to do mobility and stretch so you don’t get injured. And you have to train your mind a lot so you don’t get injured because it takes a lot on your mind.”
Dallin said he enjoys lifting heavy weights but also the gymnastic movements, like handstand walks, handstand push-ups and muscle up.
“I’m not the one who is supposed to be good at that (gymnastic movements) because I’m heavy, but because I’ve worked so hard on it, it’s cool to see pay off,” he said.
Dallin saw his work pay off at the CrossFit Games as well. He won several of the 10 events, but even when he did poorly on one, he maintained a level head, he said.
“I needed to do bad because the next day we had three events and I won two of them,” Dallin said.
“Some kids would take that fail and would continue to drop,” Jana Pepper, Dallin’s mother, added. “He took that and refocused all his thinking and took it as, ‘Well, I need to step it up.’”
Jana said she wasn’t nervous to see how her son did during the competition because she had seen the work he had put into preparing. CrossFit is something that the whole family does and they workout together.
“I didn’t care if he won,” Jana said. “I just hoped he would just be happy with the way he did. I just hoped he would do what I knew he could do.”
She said her son is someone that doesn’t require pushing or reminding to workout or eat healthy. He’s focused and driven in everything he sets his mind to.
“He has a drive that you don’t find in a lot of teenagers,” Jana said. “He’s super self-motivated. I don’t tell him he has to do his workouts or I don’t tell him he has to make sure he’s getting the work done.”
Ryan Bagley, Dallin’s coach and the owner of Spanish Fork CrossFit, said he’s seen that motivation time and time again as Dallin has pursued his goals.
He was there from the start when Dallin came to the gym one day and said he wanted to go to the CrossFit Games.
“Every kid that knows what CrossFit is. They see those athletes on TV and say they want to do that, but they’re not really understanding what it takes,” Bagley said.
In those early days of preparation, Bagley said he gave Dallin many mundane exercises, the basics of many movements. Dallin stuck with it where other people wouldn’t.
“As a 15 year old, he’s smart, and I don’t have to coach him very much,” he said. “I give general direction, but he’s smart enough to know how many reps to do before stopping, when to rest, and I let him bounce things off me.”
Bagley said he expected Dallin to do well at the competition because of the work he had done to train.
“I’m going to say I wasn’t surprised — not to sound arrogant — but I felt like he was really well prepared, and I felt like if he could mentally hold on keep it together, then his training we had done was going to prepare him and he was going to be fine,” Bagley said.
Dallin said the next thing for him, beyond his sophomore year at Spanish Fork High School, is another competition in Miami and then next year’s CrossFit Games. If he returns next year, he will be competing in a different age group and be on the younger side of the division.
“It would be big to make it back,” he said.
Despite his big win and the time that has passed since then, Dallin said the news still hasn’t sunk it yet.
“It (winning) didn’t feel real (at the time),” he said. “I didn’t show much emotion because it didn’t feel real to me. It had to sink it and it still hasn’t completely sunk in because I’m just Dallin.”