Is this Kari Pearce’s year?
This week, Pearce is in Madison, Wis. for her fourth consecutive CrossFit Games appearance. In the last 12 months, she’s rehabbed an Achilles injury, set new personal records in weightlifting, improved her efficiency, and tackled endurance events—her least favorite category—with renewed fervor. (“We've been adding those more and more to make sure that I am comfortable,” she said. “And they are feeling a lot better.”) But, despite all the preparation and experience, Pearce doesn’t know what she’s getting into. No competitor does.
Much like The Hunger Games, there’s a mastermind behind the CrossFit Games: a person responsible for programming the competition to ensure that it’s both challenging for athletes and exciting for viewers. In CrossFit, planning responsibilities fall on Games Director Dave Castro. Castro only begins sharing each year’s events in the final weeks before the Games. Days—and sometimes hours—before competition, athletes remain in the dark about the challenges.
In past years, Castro has created obstacle courses, fabricated new equipment and contraptions for the athletes, and sent competitors swimming in the Pacific Ocean and Wisconsin’s Lake Monona. As Pearce enters her fourth year of fighting through whatever Castro’s imagination can produce, she has enough experience as a CrossFit athlete to expect the unexpected, and to know that—for better or worse—a new modality can shake up the leaderboard.
Reflecting on her performance at the end of the 2017 Games, Pearce said, “I know I’m fitter this year. Each year, it’s a different set of events. You can’t say, ‘I finished tenth this year, I finished fifth last year, therefore I’m less fit this year.’ This year, I [set a personal record for] my power clean, I hit a higher snatch than I would have last year. Overall, I’m a better runner, I’m a better swimmer; I know I’m a better athlete.”
So far, Pearce knows the 2018 Games will start with a cycling race and include lots of upper-body work. The first day 30-rep muscle-up challenge will play well to her gymnastics background and her training with the TRX Duo Trainer. Pearce says she likes using the Duo Trainer for moves like dips and muscle-ups because the standard gymnastic ring structure “isn’t ideal for wrists.” With her Duo Trainer, she can safely complete high repetition exercises, like the Day 1 muscle-up challenge.
For the last seven years, competitors have faced swimming competitions, so it’s likely Pearce will be heading to the water at some point, too. “I used to dread swimming, but now I actually enjoy it,” she said. Pearce is also excited that rowing will be part of the competition this year. “I really love rowing. I think it's because it's [the modality] we've been doing the longest,” she said. “There’s something about being connected with the machine.”
But, come Wednesday, Pearce’s preferences don’t really matter.
Over the course of five days—including the “hardest day 1 in Games history,” Kari Pearce will battle her way through a field of the 40 fittest women on Earth to what will hopefully be her first podium finish at the CrossFit Games. It’s a goal she’s worked toward for the last four years. All the training, all the meal prep, all the long days come down to one week in Madison.
At the end of it all, Pearce may be beat, bruised, and sore, but she’ll be happy. “The main thing is I love it, I enjoy the way it makes me feel, and I enjoy taking on daily challenges and seeing what I can do.”