July 17, 2013
Kris Clever: Shouldering it All
By Julia Papworth

"Kris showed real guts and determination to fight through and still finish in fourth at one of the strongest Regionals," Sam Briggs says.


Kris Clever is nothing but consistent. In the last four years, she has not only qualified for the CrossFit Games, she has finished no lower than fourth place in the world, even winning the title of Fittest on Earth in 2010. Clever exudes confidence, rarely showing emotion as she plows through workout after workout.

Until this year at the SoCal Regional.

It started out small, imperceptible to most. A tweak in her shoulder during the overhead squats in Event 2 was seen through a slight grimace in Clever’s face on the first day of competition.

“I sprained my AC joint on the overhead squat complex,” Clever said in an interview at the SoCal Regional.

“I was bringing the bar from the front to behind my neck and I got it there, but it slid down my back. I held onto it and then I did my overhead squats. I got my three at 185 lbs., and then went to do my burpee muscle-ups and I knew something was wrong as soon as I went down for the first burpee.”

Clever walked off the competition floor tenderly touching her right shoulder. Those in the stands assumed she would shake it off and return to being the stoic athlete that means business. Not until the end of Event 6 on the last day of competition did we see something we have never seen before on Clever’s face – intense pain.

Clearly struggling to lunge with her axle bar, Clever was cheered on by her longtime training partner Rebecca Voigt, and when she stepped on the mat in third place she collapsed into her friend’s arms, her body shaking and her face mangled in pain. Voigt held her and stroked her head, giving words of encouragement and Clever kept shaking her head and holding her shoulder.

The injury clearly affected Clever.

“I’ve done everything slower than I can do it. Everything,” she said before the final event. “Even the deadlift/box jumps I was slow, holding my shoulder, protecting it. It has all been slower than I have wanted it to be. It’s gonna be the same thing on this workout. And there we go.”

Clever’s ability to deal with her injury mid-competition, accept it and move on, resonated with her fellow athletes.

Bill Grundler, 12th-place finisher in the Men’s Individual competition at the SoCal Regional and second-place finisher worldwide in the Masters 40-44 Division, respects Clever’s fight and drive.

“What Kris has always said from the beginning is that she competes to do the best she can,” he says. “She doesn't put pressure on herself to win, but rather to do her best. I think this is by far one of the most important things that any competitor in any sport needs to truly grasp … if you compete for the joy of competing and to compete to do your absolute best, then you can't be unhappy with your performance.”

As Clever’s struggle was apparent to the spectators filling the arena at the SoCal Regional, it equally impacted her fellow competitors.

Jamie Hagiya, who finished behind Clever at the SoCal Regional in fifth place, was both sympathetic and inspired by Clever’s drive to continue.

“It was really tough to watch, and in any sport you never want to see someone get hurt, especially the Kobes and LeBrons,” Hagiya says. “But seeing her in that much pain and still be able to fight through and finish like she did — she is unreal! I can't wait to watch her at the Games.”

After Event 4 at the SoCal Regional, Valerie Voboril, was equally inspired.

“Kris Clever was in the lane next to me,” Voboril recalls, “and she said if my shoulder wasn’t hurting my money would be on me to finish it, but since my shoulder is hurting my money is on you, Val. So you gotta finish it.”

And so she did. Voboril won the event.

Along with Clever’s strength comes a softer side that few rarely see. Maddy Curley has had the pleasure.

“Kris is inspiring to me because she's so small and yet she hangs in lifting with every other girl,” Curley says.

“My most vivid memory of Kris was last year at Regionals when we had to do the chipper with 225-lb. deadlifts. She doesn't usually talk much except for a quick hello here and there. I didn't have a formal coach that year, so I was in the warm-up area struggling with the weight, and Kris took time out of her own warming up to come over and give me some tips. I don't even know if she would remember, but I thought it was really amazing that she did that. I ended up finishing the deadlifts and muscle-ups with ease.”

Europe’s Sam Briggs, who finished fourth in the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, also appreciates that side of Clever.

“When I met Kris, the first thing I thought is she's a cool cucumber! No stressing, no big entourage, just her doing her thing,” Briggs says. “Even though we live on separate continents, I kept in touch, and Kris takes great pleasure in beating any of my (personal bests). Kris showed real guts and determination to fight through and still finish in fourth at one of the strongest Regionals.”

Late on Sunday, May 19, Clever received an invitation to compete at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games. In a short time, the CrossFit community and competitors will see if Clever once again digs deep and manages to push through for a podium finish.