"I don’t know what it is that makes me able to do this. People say I’m a genetic freak to be able to do this and that’s what it must be …”
When Mikki Nuccio walked into CrossFit Maven in Rochester Hills, Mich., in July, athletes called the 5-foot-3, soft-spoken girl, “Mouse.” When she deadlifted 225 lb. in her fourth on-ramp class, they called her “Mighty Mouse.”
Now, six months later, they call her “Dragon.”
Nuccio has a 405-lb. deadlift, a 280.5-lb back squat and a 2:58 Fran — she set her time on her first attempt.
Nuccio’s coach, Bradley Berlin, says she’s on her way to being the Fittest on Earth.
Since July, the 23-year-old has gone from banded pull-ups to the podium, leading CrossFit Maven to third- and first-place finishes in local team competitions. In December, she won the Women’s Central East Finest, hosted by Stay Strong CrossFit in Troy, Mich., placing first in all six workouts.
Nuccio made an impression on Berlin from the beginning.
“She caught my attention right away,” he says. “In the last foundations class we do deadlifts. I usually put 95 lb. on for a girl. But then she did 135; then 185; then 225, no problem.”
With 2010 CrossFit Games champion Graham Holmberg for a training partner, Berlin is used to getting shown up — but not by newbies.
“Mikki probably beat me by 10 minutes,” he says of their head-to-head with the workout, Manion. “I’ve gotten beat plenty of times training with the studs, but in my own gym, I don’t ever get beat. She frickin’ smoked me.”
Nuccio has always been athletic, playing basketball in high school and soccer in college at Valparaiso University. But CrossFit was her first introduction to gymnastics and Olympic lifting.
“In college, we had lifting for soccer, but we didn’t max out the way we do in CrossFit,” she says. “We did cleans, but they weren’t heavy at all, just like 70 lb. We did some squats in college, but everything else was completely new to me.”
Her first workout was a one-mile run, 75 pull-ups, 150 push-ups, 300 air squats and another one-mile run. Bored with cardio and routine lifting sessions, the variance of CrossFit was attractive to Nuccio.
“After that, I knew that CrossFit was what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to be able to do prescribed workouts and truly push my abilities to see what I can do.”
She earned a victory at the Central East Women’s Finest after clearing a 195-lb. clean ladder, and performing her second go at Fran just minutes after completing Annie for the first time.
“I was behind by 30 seconds when I saw the girl in front of me drop her bar on the thrusters in the 15s,” Nuccio says. “We got to the bar at the same time for the pull-ups and I thought, ‘Maybe I could win this. This is crazy.’
“During the WOD I didn’t think about the pain,” she adds. “It didn’t hit me until the last pull-up. Then it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is CrossFit.’”
In her first week at CrossFit Maven, Nuccio and Berlin watched the CrossFit Games together and Berlin said she had the potential to compete with the athletes they watched on ESPN.
“I started believing that I could be a good athlete in CrossFit,” she says.
Since she started CrossFitting, Nuccio has followed Berlin’s competitive athlete programming, training two hours per day, Monday through Friday. On Saturday she focuses on mobility and yoga, and Sunday is for soccer.
“She’s only been doing CrossFit for six months, but she’s averaging 25 workouts a week,” Berlin says.
In a typical training session, Nuccio completes up to four met-cons. For example, she’ll do a 15-minute AMRAP of 10 rounds of Cindy, 10 clean and jerks and 10 muscle-ups, or a 10-minute AMRAP of a 250-meter run and 10 wall balls. Between workouts, she works on strength, Olympic lifting and auxiliary skill drills.
To prepare for the Open, she’s focusing on her main weakness: putting weight overhead.
“My elbows don’t really lock out straight,” she says. “(Berlin) has this complex I’m supposed to do every day with a training bar: power snatch, overhead squat, snatch balance, full snatch.”
But Berlin defines Nuccio’s weaknesses as only relative to her uncommon strength.
“There’s nothing she can’t do,” Berlin says. “I could design a workout that she wouldn’t do well on, but I don’t think a workout could be designed that she’d bomb out on.”
He speculates that Nuccio’s years of high school and collegiate athletics set the foundation for success in CrossFit, along with “a unique ability to rapidly master skill, acquire strength and stay composed that is so much higher than average. It's nearly annoying.”
But Nuccio isn’t taking any credit.
“I don’t know what it is that makes me able to do this,” Nuccio says. “People say I’m a genetic freak to be able to do this and that’s what it must be …”
Nuccio remains humble and doesn’t know whether she’ll go individual or team, should she advance to Regionals.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to be alone, competing on such a big stage,” she says. “I just like competing, and I just want to see how the Open goes and if I can measure up to the people who do so well at this sport. It’d be humbling to be able to say I could compete against them.”
Berlin isn’t pressuring her either way, but he’s confident she can hold her own among the big dogs.
“God gave Mikki something special,” he says. “Next year … she will go to the Games unless God himself comes down and stops her.”