Ep 98 – Fittest Teen to Thriving Post Liver Transplant: Sydney Sullivan

Ep 98 – Fittest Teen to Thriving Post Liver Transplant: Sydney Sullivan

It just got really bad.  I honestly don’t really remember that much, but looking back, it’s like ‘man I was sick’… and I can’t say it [competing at the 2016 CrossFit Games] was the healthiest thing to do, but it… CrossFit is what got me through this disease and this transplant, and I couldn’t live without it.  So, I just did what I could, of course lighter weights because I weighed 115 pounds.  So, lighter weight, I did what I could, and it was definitely hard.   There was a lot of crying, a lot of emotions just because I was so used to lifting these weights and going this fast but I couldn’t do that anymore.  So that’s when I realized somethings wrong.  It’s progressing fast.  And it’s a slow disease, but in that last year, it was fast. – Sydney Sullivan

At the 2015 CrossFit Games, Sydney Sullivan dominated the competition, winning 1st place in 5 out of 6 events in the Girls 14-15 Division, and was crowned the Fittest Teen on Earth.  She was also struggling with a serious chronic disease: Type 2 juvenile autoimmune hepatitis.

Diagnosed at age 12, Sydney managed her condition through a combination of healthy diet, CrossFit, and medical care.  However, as the  2016 CrossFit Games drew closer, Sydney began losing weight and feeling fatigued as the symptoms of her illness worsened.  That year, she would finish a highly respectable 6th place, but Sydney could feel her health declining.

Caught in a catch-22 situation, her health markers were still far “too healthy” to be considered for a traditional deceased-donor liver transplant.  At the suggestion of her doctor, her family began the process of finding a donor and a facility for a live-donor transplant.  Ultimately, her brother, Tommy, was able to give 60% of his liver to Sydney, and together the two embarked on a slow path to recovery.  Today, they work together at his affiliate, Koda Crossfit Tulsa where Sydney is a coach.

I caught up with Sydney at the 2018 CrossFit Games to hear how she managed a chronic illness while being among the world’s fittest and the lessons she learned through her experience that she hopes to share with others.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Sydney’s childhood before her Type 2 juvenile autoimmune hepatitis diagnosis
  • How she got into CrossFit
  • The diagnostic process and how Sydney learned she was sick
  • How Sydney changed her lifestyle following her diagnosis
  • Her the difference between her 2015 and 2016 CrossFit Games experiences
  • Sydney’s realization that she was getting sicker and in need of a transplant
  • The decision to use a live donor, and the process to find a medical team to support that
  • The surgical process for the liver transplant
  • Sydney’s recovery process
  • Her future competitive aspirations
  • Sydney’s current medication regimen and how that impacts her training
  • The precautions she takes in her day-to-day life to protect her health
  • The lessons Sydney has learned through her experience and the knowledge she hopes to impart to others
  • Her current approach to nutrition
  • Three things Sydney does on a regular basis that have the biggest positive impact on her health
  • One thing she struggles to implement that could have a big impact on her health
  • What a healthy life looks like to Sydney

You can follow Sydney on Instagram.


Related episodes:

Ep 46 – Living and training with Type 1 Diabetes with Brendan Snyder

Ep 53 – Amelia Boone on achievement and growing through obstacles

Ep 55 – Lindy Barber on Overcoming a Life-Changing Injury and Finding Her Flow on Team CrossFit Mayhem

Ep 64 – Haley Adams: A CrossFit Games Teen with Talent

Ep 79 – Sam Briggs on Going Back to Basics and Training for Longevity

If you like this episode, please subscribe to Pursuing Health on iTunes and give it a rating. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #PursuingHealth. I look forward to bringing you future episodes with inspiring individuals and ideas about health every other Tuesday.

This episode is brought to you by Thrive Market. By cutting out the middle man, Thrive Market delivers your favorite healthy food and lifestyle products to your doorstep at 25-50% lower cost than you would spend in the grocery store. Visit http://www.thrivemarket.com/ph to receive an exclusive offer from Thrive Market for being a listener of Pursuing Health: 25% off your first order + a free 30 day trial!

This episode is also brought to you by Butcher Box. Butcher Box delivers 100% grass-fed and finished beef, free-range organic chicken, and heritage-breed pork directly to your doorstep, on your schedule. You can order curated or custom boxes of meat, and they always come with recipe ideas for you to explore. Visit butcherbox.com/Julie to receive an exclusive offer for being a listener of Pursuing Health: $20 off your order + a free order of bacon!

Disclaimer: This podcast is meant to share the experiences of various individuals. It does not provide medical advice, and it is not a substitute for advice from your physician or health care professional.


This post was originally published on October 30, 2018.

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