At the 2016 CrossFit Games, Kari Pearce finished first in “Murph,” a race to complete a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and another one-mile run. If that sounds difficult, consider this: competitors were also wearing weighted body armor for the workout.
Most people wouldn’t even consider taking on that combination under normal circumstances. Pearce practiced it so frequently that she finished in 36:42. It begs the question: what kind of person does that?
According to CrossFit Games host Rory McKernan, athletes who make it to the Games maintain a singular focus on training. “CrossFit Athletes on a day in and day out basis are taking their intensity to levels most people have never and will never experience,” McKernan says. “Most of them love it. Most of them enjoy the process of doing it. At least the best ones do.”
As the Fittest American Woman, Kari Pearce has already proven that she’s one of the best.
The people who train with Pearce know that she’s a machine at the gym, and she never shies away from a challenge. Mike Varrato, Pearce’s main coach, has spent his career training professional and collegiate athletes, and he says Kari will do whatever it takes to improve in the sport. “I know that sounds cliché and people say it all the time, but I have been around a lot of pro athletes; she has more of the mentality of a football player who plays defense and will run through anyone else to get to the ball carrier. She keeps putting in work, and I know the heartbreak I will see in her face when I tell her to take an entire day off.”
Deanna Gibaldi, who started as Pearce’s training partner in 2014, says that Pearce is hyper- focused. “Kari doesn't like to mess around when it comes to the program or workout at hand. I'm a big talker and I like to procrastinate—especially when it involves a hard task in our future. She will always keep us on track, on to the next movement.”
Even when presented with an admittedly absurd new workout, Pearce will take on the task at hand without question. Varrato recalls that he once joked that he wanted Pearce to climb a pegboard without using her legs. “Someone walked into the gym, said hello to me, and I turn around and—sure enough—she is doing those pegboards legless.”
Professional athletes, as a whole, are known to work hard, but Pearce also stands out because she’s genuinely likeable. “To say working with Kari is a pleasure would be a massive understatement,” says her manager, Shu de Jong. “To me, she has redefined the meaning of humble. Managing her and doing whatever I can do to help align her with some of the best potential partnerships has been absolutely heaven sent.”
Pearce’s sponsors agree. Danny Lehr, CEO of Caffeine and Kilos, says Pearce first landed on his company’s radar during last year’s CrossFit Games. “We had seen her name pop up during some other events, but her performance on the biggest stage was a real statement. Then, after spending some time with her personally, we knew she was the real deal.”
Beyond looking for talent, Caffeine and Kilos has strict rules in choosing the athletes its sponsors. Above all, they have to be good people. “If we don't want to hang out with them, [or] wouldn't introduce them to our parents, then we won't pursue anything despite their athletic prowess,” Lehr adds. “Kari is a fantastic individual, who is also at the top of her game athletically.”
TRX President Paul Zadoff says Pearce’s character was an important part of her TRX partnership as well. While Pearce had been using the TRX Suspension Trainer™ for years as an athlete, it was the combination of her winning attitude and CrossFit success that impressed the brand. “For us, Kari represents authenticity, which is a core value for TRX. From coaching young athletes to her attitude about life and sport, Kari is as real as they come.”
Pearce is strong and friendly, but she also thrives under pressure—a critical trait for competing on a global stage. In 2015, Pearce stunned the CrossFit world when—less than a year after starting the sport—she finished 21st at the CrossFit Games. In 2016, she finished fifth, and was the top-ranked American woman. Pearce is a natural in competition.
According to her father, Randy Pearce, she’s always been that way. Randy says that Kari has been a top competitor in each of her sports—gymnastics, diving, and now CrossFit—because she simply can’t give less than her all. “Whatever she has done or whatever she takes on will be at 100 percent, otherwise she will not do it. She wants to be the best she can be.”
In her gymnastics days, Randy says Kari won the National Championship in vaulting for her level with a complex vault she had never performed in competition: a yurchenko double full. There’s even a beam move—a back pike flip to swing down—named the Pearce because she was the first person to execute it in competition. That’s surprising, according to her father, because beam was Kari’s weakest event. “All we ever did was just hope she would stay on. If she stayed on the beam, that would always give her a good chance to win the all-around.” But instead of playing it safe, Kari kept blazing new trails.
The key to Kari’s success, both then and now, comes back to focus. Randy Pearce says Kari has been focused on delivering and excelling at the task at hand—whether it was gymnastics, school, diving, or anything else—since she was 10 years old. “She would set her sights on something like becoming the best vaulter in gymnastics and then focus on all things needed to become the best vaulter.” Now, with the CrossFit podium in her sites, Kari is more focused than ever on winning the title of World’s Fittest Woman.
Whether or not she makes it to the podium this year, Pearce’s team knows that she’ll give it her all trying, and she’ll be the nicest person on the field while she’s doing it.