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For as long as she can remember, Cydney Gillon has been fast. “We had this school race called the Turkey Trot,” she recalls. “And I won it every single year until I broke my ankle one year—all the way from kindergarten through fifth grade.”
But that’s just kid stuff, right? Not exactly. Since those early days in the Atlanta suburb of Douglasville, GA, Gillon has made a habit of arriving ahead of schedule. She did her first bodybuilding show at 14, cracked the UPenn track team at 18, reached the final four of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng at 23, and in 2017 became the youngest-ever Figure Olympia champ at 25.
We’re sensing a trend here.
Just because her rise has been speedy, though, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been interesting. Take, for example, how she got into bodybuilding in the first place. When Gillon was 5, her parents were not exactly fit. Dad Skip was pushing 400 pounds, while Mom Tangelea was more than 200. “And you know how kids have no filter?” Gillon says.
“I was like, ‘Mom, y’all are fat!’” That wake-up call kicked off a spectacular turnaround that saw both her parents become competitive bodybuilders.
Then they flipped the script on their loud-mouthed daughter when the “junk food junkie” developed high cholesterol at 12. Mom corralled her diet, and Gillon started working out, discovered her genetics were figure-friendly…and never looked back.
Things got tricky in college—the high school track star had to give up the 300-meter hurdles event and focus on 100-meter hurdles “because it fits more of a figure body type”—but Gillon’s passion for competition only grew. Which is how, a week after her first Arnold, she found herself marooned on a Cambodian island. “The most surprising thing about Survivor is how real it is,” she confesses. “Man, when I’m sitting out there with all these bug bites, sunburned and starving, I’m like, ‘Where’s the hotel?’ I was in shock for a week.”
But in case you hadn’t noticed, Gillon—who had never camped and couldn’t even swim when taping started—adapts quickly. She lasted 37 days, becoming a fan favorite who still gets recognized in public.
And while she may not have been the “Sole Survivor,” she stands alone in figure. After top-10 Olympia finishes in 2014 and 2015, Gillon hired Damian Segovia of Pro Physiques in Arizona as her coach and really hit the gas, placing third in 2016 before winning in back-to-back years.
Oh, and would-be challengers take note: This speed queen has no plans to slow down. “I’ve never felt as if I wanted to stop or take breaks,” she says. “Each show just lights a new fire, so I’m always looking to get better. That keeps me motivated, in the moment, and ready for the next goal.”
Considering Gillon’s track record, we’re betting she’ll get there in a hurry.
* Gillon mixes in ab work three times a week but doesn’t specifically train arms, because hers are naturally “supermuscular” and keep their shape through her other workouts.