It’s 4 p.m. on a sweltering day in May. Despite the heat, Nathan Clifton has already done more than an hour of technique weightlifting, swum for 30 minutes and trained for an hour at CrossFit Nixa. The gym is his home base, where the beginning of August looms over each sprint, each pullup, each deadlift or whatever else his trainers cook up for him. After an online qualifier that got him into the CrossFit Games, Clifton sits third in the world and first place in the overall rank in Missouri. He'll compete at the annual games in the first few days of August.
He calls the competition the “Super Bowl of CrossFit,” and at age 17, Clifton has his sights set on earning a spot on the podium. It’s been his goal since he took up the sport at age 13 as a self-described “chubber.” This is his last year to compete at this level. Once he turns 18, the playing field expands in scope and skill, but he’s already made it through two qualifying rounds for that next level.
Clifton is not what you’d picture for a world-class athlete. He’s not a hulked-out beefcake; that’s not his goal. Instead, Clifton is lean with defined muscles. If you didn’t see him at the gym hoisting hundreds of pounds above his head, you might think he was any other high schooler. But look closer, and there’s no doubt that Clifton is a tightly wound ball of muscle. You don’t have to look like a Jose Canseco clone to be in great shape and run circles around everyone else.
To get to where he is within the CrossFit world, Clifton has devoted himself full-time, year-round to his pursuit. He even gave up football so he could focus on training. CrossFit has meant many things for Clifton—it’s a confidence boost, a natural passion and now, a potential avenue for glory. In the midst of training, we caught up with Clifton to chat about his CrossFit background, training and why you won’t hear him talk outwardly about his accomplishments.