In the beginning, it was more recreational. I came in a couple of times a week. As I got better at it, I saw, 'Oh, I could do this as a sport.' —Jessie Bradley
OREM — Jessie Bradley is the type of person who just never quits.
She never quits a workout, she never quits competing, and she never quits challenging herself in new and unexpected ways.
Which is why, last October when the 17-year-old Timpview junior discovered an Olympic weightlifting competition, she jumped at it.
Nine months later, she still hasn't looked back.
Bradley grew up doing CrossFit in the gym part-owned by her dad Tom, who opened the space with friends when they needed an indoor venue to continue their workouts in the winter months. Jessie joined in on the activities at age 13 and, less than a year later, earned her certification to begin teaching the CrossFit classes.
She continued to move up the instructor ladder, earning certification after certification to teach newcomers, kids and Olympic weightlifting sessions. As she was evolving in CrossFit, CrossFit was evolving into a competitive sport, and soon, Bradley wanted to be a part of that too.
"In the beginning, it was more recreational. I came in a couple of times a week," she said. "As I got better at it, I saw, 'Oh, I could do this as a sport.'"
So she competed, and she excelled.
At just 14, she qualified for the CrossFit Utah Valley regional team. A year later, she was invited to the CrossFit Games teen competition and took first place. Last year, she was part of the Utah Valley team that took fifth place in the regional competition.
Following that event, there was a lull in the action, but Bradley is not a person who handles lulls well. Instead, she and her teammates began looking for a new challenge.
"After regionals there was a pretty big gap in our training," she said. "Our training had been high volume so we wanted to switch to something that was also high volume."
The team found a CrossFit program that leaned heavily on Olympic weightlifting, the side of the sport Bradley had always preferred.
"I always loved the heavier lifting side of competitions," she said. "My lungs are not very strong for a CrossFit-er, so I definitely loved it when they came out with a heavier workout. That was something I could excel in."
While focusing on the new program, Jessie's teammates discovered a Utah state weightlifting competition, an event in which they thought she could be a contender.
"Some of the guys were looking up state records," she said. "They said, 'Jessie, you could go to this weightlifting meet and you'd do pretty well.'"
Once again, she found immediate success — and things began to happen fast.
She competed in a national meet in Dallas in December 2013, where she was introduced to the director of USA Weightlifting, who invited her to a development camp at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, she found a coach, 2000 Olympian Cara Heads Slaughter, who helped her prepare for the junior nationals, where she won a silver medal with lifts of 80 kilograms in snatch and 100 kilograms in clean-and-jerk for a 180-kilogram total, all of which are new Utah state records.
"And all throughout that, I really had no idea what I was doing," said Jessie, an articulate and enthusiastic teen. "It started, 'Let's go to this weightlifting thing' and all of the sudden we're traveling all the time for it. I had to learn really fast."
The more she learned about the world of Olympic Weightlifting, the more she wanted to be a part of it. She had earned a spot on the Youth Pan Am team but had her sights set on competing in the junior world competition in Russia at the end of June.
After struggling through a couple of qualifying meets, Bradley faced her last opportunity to book the trip to Russia at the Youth Pan Am competition in Peru in May. She went 6-for-6 and achieved competition personal records in both lifts — 88 kilograms in snatch and 104 kilograms in clean-and-jerk — as well as in her total.
"To go 6-for-6 in a big meet, especially on an international stage, is really uncommon," said Bradley's dad Tom. "And then to hit PRs on top of that, she did really, really well."
That performance qualified Jessie for the junior world meet, a goal she had been working toward directly for the last six months and indirectly her entire life. Regardless of the task at hand, Jessie has always been fully committed, a lifelong practice that has allowed her to embrace this latest turn.
"Every morning she gets up and she makes this list, her daily list, and it's usually pretty long," said Tom. "She puts a little box by every one and she checks them off every day. Every day it's a fresh list. She's very intentional."
That discipline reaches far beyond the ways she tests herself physically. Through her urging, the family, which includes Bradley's mom Renee and 15-year-old brother Josh, has become a foster family and spends time volunteering. A few years ago, the family made a trip to Rwanda and spent their time working in orphanages.
On top of her service and her CrossFit coaching, Jessie is a 4.0 student who, with just two courses left, has put herself in a position to graduate early and move to the Olympic Training Center rather than return to Timpview for her senior year.
"She genuinely is the most well-rounded person I've seen. She excels at anything she puts her sights to," said Ande Uriguen, the general manager of CrossFit Utah Valley. "We have to remind ourselves she's still a kid, she's 17. She's so wise beyond her years."
Uriguen added that it is Bradley's ability to be so dedicated to so much, her no-quit attitude, and the energy she puts into her work that has allowed her to find so much success so quickly.
"She keeps those commitments," Uriguen said. "She's committed to her nutrition, she's committed to the weights, she's committed to her sleep, she's committed to her schoolwork. She's very committed to her family and her church. Jessie is a very dependable, good, good person, and the reason she excels is she does put in the effort."
Watching her grow — both into sports and into a strong young woman — her dad could not be any more pleased.
"I'm certainly very proud of her, for what she does here but mostly for who she is," he said. "This (weightlifting) is almost a sideline in a parent's book as far as who you want your kids to grow up to be."
Now, with Russia just a few weeks away, the possibilities of new and exciting goals keep formulating right in front of her — most notably the chance at competing in the Olympics, a notion that has gone from pipe dream to goal in just the last two months.
"It's kind of a scary thing for me to say, 'I want to go to the Olympics' because ... it's been six months since I knew weightlifting was a sport," she said. "Things have moved really quickly. It's a little scary for me to say I'm about to revolve the rest of my life around something I've only been doing for five months, but I love it. So I am just going to pursue it as long as I love it, and I don't see myself not loving it anytime soon."
Her sights are now firmly set on Tokyo 2020 and, if the past is a reliable predictor of the future, there is no doubt Bradley will not quit until she reaches that peak, too.
All about CrossFit
CrossFit Inc., founded in 2000, professes an exercise philosophy dedicated to overall fitness rather than excellence in one particular skill. Workouts change daily and involve interval training, Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics — among other workouts — to achieve maximum overall fitness. CrossFit is offered recreationally at gyms, such as CrossFit Utah Valley, in which classes are taught. It has also become a competitive activity in which individuals and teams compete worldwide.
CrossFit competitions progress from a general open, where individuals worldwide perform provided workouts and submit scores to competition officials. Athletes and teams with the top scores advance to regionals events, which take place at specific locations around the world. The "South West Regional" is held in Salt Lake City. The top performers at regionals advance to the CrossFit Games in California.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.