Revival of the Fittest

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Kristan Clever completes a squat snatch in the first women’s singles event of the 2010 CrossFit Games at the Home Depot Center in Carson on July 16. (JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA

Rafu Sports Editor

After three grueling days of subjecting her body to an onslaught of physical exertion, Kristan Clever claimed victory at the 2010 CrossFit Games that took place at the Home Depot Center in Carson July 16-18. For her efforts, she was awarded a $25,000 check, and literally through blood, sweat and tears, earned the distinguished title of “world’s fittest woman.”

“I can’t even wrap my head around that yet,” the 27-year-old Yonsei told the Rafu Shimpo. “I’m not sure I understand what that means anymore. Now that it’s me, I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Not knowing has been a constant theme during the decade-long journey that has brought Kristan to this point in her life.

Kristan, whose friends call “Kris,” is not your average Japanese American woman. She’s got a tight, zero fade, talks like a sailor, has an easy laugh, bright smile and biceps the size of pineapples.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Kristan started playing JAO hoops at the SFV Japanese American Community Center in the fourth grade. Having always been athletically blessed, she quickly excelled over the next few years. However, being 5’2 kept her hoop dreams grounded and left her pondering what to do post-high school.

Without a firm grasp on what she wanted, she joined a gym because her friend did and got heavy into the gym culture doing the “Muscle and Fitness Magazine” thing for the next seven years. She also flirted with junior college, which according to her “wasn’t productive.”

Eventually, she started playing hoops again for fun with her friends in the Southern California Women’s Athletic Union. It was there that she got bit by the running bug because her teammates were into marathons.

“My friends were doing it,” Kristan explained, “and I thought, hey, I don’t like running, but if they can do it, I can too.”

Over the next two years, she participated in two L.A. Marathons. Never one to do anything just to do it, Kristan attacked the marathons with the intent of winning. But sometimes determination can be misplaced. With marathons, zeal without proper training can lead to bodily damage. Following her second 26.3-mile dash through LA, her feet on up through her knees were in terrible shape.

“I was hurt. My ankles hurt. My knees hurt. My feet. I was only 24, and I knew that I shouldn’t be in that much pain,” she said. “So, I started looking for something else.”

She googled “What is fitness?” and an article popped up appropriately titled, “What is fitness?” She read the entire piece, vibed with every word and realized that it was all stuff she already knew. That article detailed the methodology of CrossFit.

Now, there’s marathons, and there’s decathlons. And then there’s CrossFit.

Before the Gazelle and Bowflex, before ThighMaster, athletes trained by running, jumping, climbing and carrying objects. CrossFit takes exercise back to the basics.

Founded by former gymnast Greg Glassman, the first CrossFit affiliated gym opened in Santa Cruz in 1995. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning fitness methodology that promotes broad and general overall physical fitness using a myriad of exercises more commonly found in the activities of weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics.

A typical CrossFit workout: a hundred pull-ups, a hundred push-ups, a hundred sit-ups, and a hundred squats.

“I thought that was nuts. Nobody does that. Who would do that? Why?” Kristan said. “But, I’m just crazy enough that I wanted to try it. I did and it kicked my ass more than anything has ever before. And I thought it was awesome. And I got into it. And here we are.”

For the past three years, Kristan has been a member of Valley CrossFit that fielded three of its members at this year’s CrossFit Games—Kristan won, Rebecca Voigt took seventh, and Randy Mulkey finished 13th in the men’s masters division. Located in Van Nuys, the gym is owned by Mike Latch who has participated in a couple of CrossFit Games himself.

“Kristan is pretty much our shining star,” Latch said. “But we have a lot of strong, fit women that train at our gym. We kind of have a running joke that if you’re a guy training at Valley Crossfit just go ahead and get used to the fact that women are going to beat you in the workouts. Kristan takes that to the next level. She’s an amazing athlete.”

Amazing indeed.

After finishing fourth overall last year, Kristan literally blew away the competition at the this year’s Games, finishing first in five of the nine events and second in three others, only faltering in the sandbag move where she finished 20th.

Her final total of 31 was 12 points better than second place Annie Thorisdottir and 20 points better than third place finisher Valerie MacKenzie Voboril.

And these are the top CrossFitters from around the globe who had to go through several rounds of qualifying to make it to Carson. The best of the best.

The amazing thing about the Games is that the athletes have no idea what the event will be until moments before the start of each competition. The events mixed muscle-ups with squat snatches, distance runs with pull-ups and kettlebell swings, and weightlifting and jump-roping. One event had the competitors carrying bags full of hundreds of pounds of sand up and down stairs.

“It’s not so much about strength, or speed, or even endurance in general,” Kristan said. “It’s, do you have the heart to keep pushing?”

From start to finish, she did.

Today, Kristan and CrossFit share many similarities. Both are relatively new. Both are on the rise. Both have futures that are wide open.

While Kristan currently works as a massage therapist, it is her hope that CrossFit will take off in a manner similar to the X-Games—where athletes will be able to make a living doing it.

In an article posted earlier this week, Forbes.com detailed how CrossFit is an action sport investment opportunity that is quickly on the rise. The numbers certainly back that up.

Latch, who believes that within the next few years the CrossFit Games will be broadcast on ESPN, opened the 27th CrossFit gym five years ago. Currently, there are over 1,700 CrossFit gyms worldwide.

While the entire Valley Crossfit gym was “walking on clouds this week” according to Latch, Monday, it was back to business as usual. Well, not completely.

One difference for Kristan? Instead of “Kris,” she’s being addressed as the “world’s fittest woman.”

From uncertainty to the pinnacle of fitness, Kristan’s rise has been atypical.

Naturally, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If this is where the last 10 years has taken me, this is good,” she said. “I’m finally finding what I’m passionate about right now. And I’m very hopeful.”

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