March 16, 2012
Iron Woman: Susan Wallis
By Shelby Levy

They say age is just a number. For Susan Wallis, that might as well be 36, as in 36-time Ironman finisher. This 59-year-old found herself sitting in 1st place worldwide in the Women’s Masters 55-59 Division after knocking out 106 burpees for the CrossFit Games Open Workout 12.1. “It was a cool feeling to know that I beat everyone, but I really thought someone else would enter in a higher number,” Wallis says.

Wallis began her athletic career at the age of 30 when she started running. “I am pre-Title IX so there was no athletic sports for girls in high school,” she says. 

The retired high school math teacher quickly immersed herself in the local running community and soon became part of a relay team for local sprint triathlons. Eventually, Wallis began running marathons and decided she felt comfortable attempting all three of the triathlon disciplines on her own. “A friend told me that I was fit enough to do an Ironman. There happened to be a brand new one that fall in Central Florida, so I signed up,” she says. “There were so few women in the race that I was in the top 10 overall females and got a nice trophy. That hooked me on the Ironman."

“I did my first Ironman in 1991, a month before my 39th birthday. I have done at least one Ironman each year since then,” Wallis says.

Wallis’ daughter eventually turned her on to CrossFit as a way to improve her Ironman performance. “My daughter, Chrissy, had started CrossFit a few months before me, and it seemed like something that I would like to do,” she recalls. “I waited till after my two fall Ironmans in 2009 before starting. I could only afford to pay for a once-a-week package since I was paying for a pool membership to swim and paying for a monthly (triathlon) coaching service.”

"I know there are other ways to stay fit, but this is extreme, and I like being someone who does things many find amazing."

Chrissy Wallis Henry eventually opened her own box, CrossFit Duval in Jacksonville, Fla., and Wallis was able to do CrossFit more often. “She is one of the strongest people I know, mentally and physically,” Henry says. “She is always looking and asking where she can improve and is humble about any and all of her accomplishments already – the sign of a true athlete.”

Wallis also began implementing CrossFit Endurance methods into her triathlon training with the help of Coach Doug Katona. “As her coach, I will tell you that I have seen some pretty amazing progressions on body position and mechanics in a very short time. She is dedicated as an athlete and is very coachable. Her enthusiasm and desire to continue to evolve as an athlete is a driving force in her success,” says Katona, who compares that drive to another one of his athletes, Rebecca Voigt.

Wallis’ current weekly training schedule consists of four or five days of CrossFit, swimming once a week and biking two or three times a week. Due to knee issues, she has been taking a break from running and allows herself one day of rest per week. “Rest and recovery are so important,” she says. “That is where you gain strength, not in putting in more miles. I do have trouble holding back, though, as I want to stay active. But I have to listen to my coach.”

With her strong endurance background, Wallis admits weights may be an issue as the Open workouts incorporate varied movements; particularly heavy overhead squats, cleans and snatches. “I am worried about some of the weights, but know that they scale them down for the Masters,” she says. “I was able to do most of it last year, so hopefully everything will be a good weight for me this year. I will certainly try my best on all the WODs and am stronger than last year, but we shall see in the coming weeks.”

Wallis was able to complete 60 reps for Open Workout 12.2 and 241 reps on 12.3. With two workouts to go, she is ranked 22nd in her age division in the world. The top-20 qualify for the Games, so she's on the cusp of reaching the Home Depot Center.

Still, Wallis' focus is on Kona. “I will be approaching each upcoming workout with 110 percent, but will keep it cool during the week because my true goal is the Ironman World Championship in Kona,” she says, noting that by race day this fall, she will be competing in the 60- to 64-year-old age group.

“As a CrossFit Endurance athlete, I hope to be able to show everyone its benefits,” she says. “My motivation to train for Ironmans comes from my desire to be able to stay fit for as long as possible. I know there are other ways to stay fit, but this is extreme, and I like being someone who does things many find amazing.”