Make way for Eagle County’s latest elite athlete, CrossFit master Sandy Heelan |

Make way for Eagle County’s latest elite athlete, CrossFit master Sandy Heelan

Sandy Heelan relaxes after finishing her workout at High Altitude CrossFit in Gypsum. Heelan, 60, works out at the gym five days a week and this spring she qualified to compete in the womens 60-plus divsion of the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, scheduled July 21-26 in Carson, Calif. Gym owner/trainder Jason "Jake" Wheeler can be spotted lifting weights in the background.
Pam Boyd/ |

GYPSUM — Sandy Heelan is poised to be the latest world-class athlete to emerge from Eagle County.

But her narrative doesn’t sound anything like Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin. For one thing, she honestly could be their mother. But don’t let that fact fool you, because Heelan is one exceptional athlete and come mid-July, she will prove it when the Reebok CrossFit Games open in Carson, California.

Heelan will be completing in the 60-plus women’s classification in the masters division of the games, slated for July 21-26. She earned her spot by being one of the top 20 competitors in the world, an accomplishment that seems to have left her a bit bemused.

“I just do what I do,” she said. “I really come in here and do CrossFit to be fit for life.”

HIgh Altitude adventure

Support Local Journalism

Heelan has been an Eagle County resident for 30 years and she notes that she came of age in the pre-Title IX era when there simply weren’t as many opportunities for female athletes. However, as an adult she made friends with another woman who became a workout buddy. Eventually, her friend moved away from the valley and discovered a new regime called CrossFit. She kept urging Heelan to try a workout and nearly three years ago, Heelan made her way over to the High Altitude CrossFit facility in Gypsum

““I sent Jake (owner Jason Wheeler) an email saying I was a 58-year-old who hates to run. Is CrossFit something that’s going to kill me?” said Heelan. “He was very enthusiastic and encouraging.”

Thus began Heelan’s “constant, relentless, pursuit of excellence,” as the CrossFit mantra goes.

“What’s great about Sandy’s work, with her situation in life, is she didn’t do anything extraordinary,” said Wheeler. Instead, she simply committed herself to doing the work and pushing herself. “CrossFit is for everyone but don’t expect it to be a magic pill, because you have to put the work in,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler and Heelan noted that at least one of her fellow competitors at the CrossFit games is a woman who has four personal trainers and has basically made CrossFit her full-time effort.

“That’s just not me. I have a job and a real life,” said Heelan. She and her husband, Glenn, are parents to two grown children and Heelan works for Precept Ministries. In fact, she views her work in the gym as an extension of her faith. Heelan believes God has blessed her with good health and physical fitness and that her efforts are both thanksgiving and praise for those gifts.

Heelan also believes that she receives more than she gives when she goes to the gym.

“CrossFit challenges you to do more than you think you can do,” she said “It’s a lot easier to push yourself when you are in a gym where everyone else is pushing you to do your best.”

Likewise, Heelan is quick to offer a support to her fellow CrossFitters. She pointed out one woman, saying she is the best runner in the gym and complimented another on her double unders (jump rope) skill.

“Sandy is the strongest one in here,” offered a gym goer in response.

Headed to the Golden State

To qualify for the 2015 CrossFit Games, Heelan had to complete a five-week qualifier. She worked out at the High Altitude gym, completing a set series of exercises and submitting scores. Her performance was strong enough to qualify her for a five-day semifinal where she had to videotape her workouts. “In CrossFit competition, everything is against the clock,” she said.

At the conclusion of the April event, the list of top 20 qualifiers in all CrossFit categories were announced and Heelan was listed at No. 10 in the women’s 60-and-older division. She notes that the masters divisions don’t get as much attention as the under 40 competitors. “They are the ones who are on television on ESPN,” she said. Nonetheless, she knows she is in elite company.

“I have never been to the games, but I understand the atmosphere there is a lot of fun” she said.

Heelan will have an entourage, albeit a small one, when she takes on the competition in Carson next month. Her husband and sister are coming to the event, along with Wheeler and his girlfriend Heather Beckett.

“I wouldn’t miss it. I would hawk everything I have, except my children, to go,” said Wheeler.

Support Local Journalism