It’s a brand new year, and I’m thrilled to have Australian CrossFit pro Kara Saunders as my first interview of 2022! Kara has been a fixture on the CrossFit scene for over a decade, notching up nine CrossFit Games appearances, including a second-place podium spot in 2017. In 2019, she welcomed her first child, daughter Scotti, into the world (check out Kara’s Instagram to see Scotti join her in their home gym), and less than six months later, she came 12th in the 2020 CrossFit Games Open.
Last year, after placing third in the 2021 worldwide open, Covid then got in the way – literally – as Kara contracted the virus in July whilst in transit from Australia to the 2021 CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. Still suffering from the after-effects (which included reduced lung capacity), she was forced to retire early.
I caught up with the inov-8 athlete over email to chat about her reflections on the past year, what her training looks like with a toddler in tow, and how she juggles being an athlete, parent and business owner.
#1. It’s the first month of 2022. Looking back, how do you feel 2021 went, and are you one for New Year’s resolutions?
2021 was definitely a year of just taking it as it comes and being prepared for anything. There was so much uncertainty that the only thing I could do was keep showing up for myself and my goals and leave the rest up to the universe. It didn’t play out quite as I would have predicted or liked, but I learnt sooooo much, maybe more than many years combined. I think new year’s resolutions are a good excuse to reassess and set new goals. Sure, it could and should be done every day, but if it helps motivate people to make some better choices, then I’m all for it. I personally set resolutions daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and as required. I’m forever evolving and improving.
#2. Your daughter, Scotti, is now a toddler and often joins you in the gym. How do you make the juggle work?
Scotti is totally my little training partner. She absolutely loves being involved, so we try and find a way that I can get my work done but also involve her because that’s so important too. I usually get up really early and get 3/4 of the work done before she wakes up, and then she comes and joins me for the final part of my first session. For the second session, she’s usually around, and my hubby Matt helps me out, or we just make it work. This age is definitely a lot easier than 12 months ago because we have such a good bond, and I communicate with her so much. We can practice patience and sharing, so it’s very beneficial for her. It’s a little harder to concentrate for me, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m kind of just doing two tricky but equally as important jobs at the same time.
#3. Has it been hard adjusting your mindset to move from structured training to ‘go with the flow’ since becoming a mum?
Yes and no. The one thing I had to realise is that it is forever changing. For a long time, there was no way I could train early in the morning, and now I am. It goes in stages, and I just have to make it work. This is one of the main reasons I put the effort into setting up my home gym – so I don’t have to worry about fitting in with anyone or another gym. We can just make it work.
#4. You’re an athlete, a mother, and an owner of two businesses. What does a day in your life look like at the moment?
I have worked REALLY hard to establish balance and commit to it. I’m not out to do things like anyone else. I’m all about doing what feels good for myself and my family. When I’m busy or working hard, I’m working hard, and when I’m relaxing, I’m relaxing. I have finally gotten to the point where I realise the power of staying still in order to get the most out of the movement.
We start the day early at about 5am, and we keep moving until lunchtime when Scotti has a sleep, and then we go again until bedtime at 7:30pm. In the nap gaps or the time between her going to bed and me going to bed, I stop and rest. I nap, sauna, or just chill. I never used to do that, and I cooked myself. I have an amazing team in the business, so I’m not needed to run around like crazy all the time. I’ll step in more full-time once I retire from competition, but for now, there’s a lot of exercise and mumming going on still. If I’m not training, then Scotti has swimming lessons, gymnastics, playground trips, beach trips, or we’re baking or doing random kid stuff.
#5. Please can you tell us a bit about your training and what a typical week involves?
I train Monday-Wednesday, rest on Thursday, train Fri and Sat, and rest on Sunday. Each day is two sessions except for Saturday, which is one big one. Each session could be anywhere from 1.5-3 hours. I focus on everything at the moment. I put a little more emphasis on some of my weaker movements, but for this season, I’m just focusing on being great at everything in any combination. Lots of barbells, lots of gymnastics, and lots of basic cardio.
#6. Which training sessions are you currently really enjoying?
I really enjoy a balanced session with a little bit of lifting to start and then a fun workout at the end of the session, or the other way around. My favourite sessions have diversity. I get bored easily and like to mix it up the whole time. Olympic lifts are my favourite, and I’m really enjoying some simple combination workouts of bikes or rowing and other CrossFit movements.
#7. You mentioned that you used Wim Hoff breathing and gratitude journaling when you contracted covid in transit to the Games last year. Are these practices you use regularly in day-to-day life?
I had always done them but not consistently. I needed them to get through this time, though. I needed the breathing techniques to heal from COVID and to also stay calm and composed in a time where I felt anything but, and the journaling was trying to shift my mindset from loss to abundance and appreciation. I was missing my daughter so much, and I didn’t cope with that. I had to constantly remind myself of how lucky I was to have the opportunity I did, and what it meant for her, to keep me from crumbling. I still do these things but in more of a meditative method in my sauna at the moment.
#8. Did you plan your 2022 training and business plans/goals at the end of last year, or are you waiting to see what the new year brings?
Yes, 100%. We had two big strategy days with a facilitator for my business to ensure we knew what the plan was and [that it] all aligned. I did a lot of reflecting in quarantine [last year] and realised what was truly important to me and set my intentions and goals based off that. For training and competing, I want to focus a little more on the journey than the end goal. I want to love every day and soak up the hard work rather than feeling like it’s a chore. I’ll still need to ride the wave as per usual because if you can’t do that, then you’ll lose the plot. I’ll still always set targets no matter what and keep chipping away at them.
#9. What items of kit do you swear by for your training and competitions?
1. Great shoes. I hate sore feet, and I hate it when I can’t feel my feet properly when I’m moving. I wear the Inov-8 F-Lite 260 V2 for everything.
2. Good grips for gymnastics movements. I would die without them.
3. Sweatbands for the grips, so they don’t hurt and also to obviously keep the sweat off my hands so I can move faster.
4. Weight belt, just in case. I wear a soft Velcro one.
5. Knee sleeves.
6. Towel (I hate sweaty hands, haha).
7. Huge water bottle.
8. Post-workout snacks – usually an ATP Science collagen shake with about 30g of protein and 2 fresh dates.
9. Ear buds for aerobic work is a must. It’s so boring otherwise. I use ESC sounds because I can get super crazy sweaty, and they’re good.
10. Obviously, ACTIV Eyewear sunnies (Kara’s own brand of sunglasses) if I’m working out outside.
11. A band for activation work.
12. Probably a million other comforts that I can’t think of, haha.
#10. Who are you sponsored by right now?
ESC sounds, Inov-8, ATP Science, Ultrahuman, Pain Away Australia and ROMWOD.