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Karen Pierce: Heart of a Champion

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Photo credits: Caleb Kerr Photography

Each month, Compete Every Day will interview inspirational athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders, & competitors. Each of these individuals will vary in their backgrounds & professions but share the same traits of competing for their life. This week's interview features former CrossFit Games competitor Karen Pierce, of CrossFit Jaakahru & LivingAmped.com

Last year, Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer & life was thrown into a whirlwind. Karen blogged about her experience with cancer, CrossFit training, and her focus on rebuilding her body in 2015.

Karen, first and foremost, what inspired you to want to share your story? And what made you want to share so much detail with the story?

I wanted to share my story in hopes that it would help someone else. Once I was diagnosed, I found myself doing late night Google searches to find someone, anyone, who had battled cervical cancer and also did CrossFit. Did they recover? How did they handle training? When did they fatigue? How was chemo? Any kind of information I could find. Most stories didn't have much detail so I was left wondering or searching more. I wanted to share my story in as much detail as possible so that if someone else was out there searching Google for help, they'd be able to see everything I went through and what to expect in a similar bout.

"When Karen told me about her diagnosis I was sad for her, knowing what she was going to have to endure over the months that would follow. But in the first instant I also had a very vivd and definite realization: Karen was going to be OK. Knowing KP - her personality and her way of handling hardship - I knew that this would just be a speed bump. Now that she is back to training, it almost feels like it never happened at all - like it was never a thing. She handled her treatment with such poise... she never once complained or showed any signs of fatigue or sadness. She (and we) all knew that she would prevail."  - Michael Winchester, CrossFit Jääkarhu

There was a lot of coverage about the late Stuart Scott's battle with cancer and his dedication to training / working out throughout the process. What made you want to get back into CrossFit and training during your treatments?

Everything is better when you are healthy and feeling better. I know it's weird to say it was important to be healthy when my body was sick fighting cancer, but when you are healthier, your approach to everything in life is better. My body was going through serious trauma with cancer so I know it was up to me to make it even stronger. Going into the fight with a healthy body, I knew my treatments would be bad, but not as bad as they could have been if I was unhealthy or in poor shape. My training prepared me for the fight of my life.

How did your clients & community members respond when you started training again, knowing you had cancer?

I actually kept my situation very secret until I released the blogs. My best friend and training partner, Jessica Estrada, knew about it, as well as my coach, Michael Winchester. I felt it was paramount they were aware in case anything every happened during training and I had to be taken to the hospital. Someone needed to know about the cancer. My clients and other teammates had no idea until I started releasing my story online. One of the more meaningful conversations I had with a client after it was out that I was fighting cancer came from one of my morning clients. Her friends had asked how in the world she was able to get up at 5am in the morning to work out. She must be "crazy." My client simply responded to them that if her coach could be battling cervical cancer and still make time to get up and coach and then train, then she could climb out of bed to get a morning workout in. That was encouraging to me that my story was helping inspire.

You've mentioned Everyday Warrior in a few of your posts. How did you get involved with the nonprofit?

My wonderful mother actually found the organization. It is a nonprofit focused on giving financial benefits to CrossFitters going through any form of cancer. I competed in one of their online competitions just to get through the workouts. It was the first time competing that I hadn't even looked at the scores - I simply was happy to train again.

You've had a busy year with this cancer battle and being part of a new CrossFit gym. Can you describe the transition?

Like any change, it has had rough transition moments but overall, I can't say enough great things about the community and team at CrossFit Jääkarhu. They've been so incredible helping. When you are going through numerous medical treatments and appointments, sometimes schedules change at the last minute. Maybe I can't go into surgery this day because my body wasn't prepared, or perhaps the timing was off. The coaches and friends picked up classes, and were working overtime to help out with my inconsistent schedule. I wouldn't have been able to stay close to the gym and them without their help. I'm so thankful for them.

You competed in the All Cities Open last month, and now we are less than six weeks from the CrossFit Open. What is your focus heading into next month?

All Cities Open was good. I finished 15th out of 75 athletes. Normally I would have been upset or down about that placement compared to my last few years competing, but coming from my life's battles the last year, I was happy with the finish. It was my first step back, and I felt good. Heading into this year's CrossFit Open, I'm not where I want to be, but getting there. My lungs are missing for the metcon. I just don't have the energy or lungs I used to, but they are getting better a little each day. Slowly, but better each day. I'm able to do more and more so working back toward that capacity level I once had. My goal - and hashtag - for last year and this year has been #REBUILD. I want to rebuild my body and life, getting stronger for anything headed my way.

What do you Compete for? I compete to be an ambassador for fitness. I believe fitness is my vehicle to take on anything that life throws my way. I want to show others that a fit life prepares you for anything. I have a lot to live for and I want to do that in good health.

I'm not done yet with this life.

Special thank you to Karen Pierce for participating in this week's Compete interview. You can learn more about Karen's fight with cancer and training here at her blog, Living Amped.

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