At 51, Kristi Lunny is Competing in her Fourth CrossFit Games

August 25, 2018Marty Skovlund Jr.
Coffee or Die Photo

Six power snatches at 115 pounds, followed by four muscle-ups, and a 100-meter sprint. Do this for as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes. Do this immediately after a strength session that started at 70 percent of your one-rep max for a power clean into push jerk, adding five to 10 pounds per rep every minute, on the minute. Do this, and then “cool down” with a 90-minute bikram yoga session in temperatures in excess of 100 degrees.

If you’re Kristi Lunny, you’ll do all of this the day before leaving for one of the hardest fitness competitions on earth — and you’ll do it at the age of 51.

Lunny in the process of executing a power snatch while training at CrossFit Portsmouth. Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine.

It’s an impressive feat for anyone, regardless of age, but maybe less surprising when you find out she’s been working hard her entire life — both in and out of the gym. Lunny grew up in the Midwest, claiming a small town in Iowa as home, raised by a former US Army paratrooper. College wasn’t an option for her, so after graduating high school at the age of 17 she enlisted in the US Air Force as a radio maintenance technician in 1984. Her first duty station? The Azores.

“I guess it’s a big vacation destination now,” Lunny laughed. “It was just a desolate rock in the middle of the ocean when I was there.”

After her enlistment in the Air Force, she traded in one blue uniform for another: the US Postal Service. On top of walking six hours a day with a load of mail on her shoulders, she was also a runner and mother of two sons. Any one of those activities would tire out a normal person, nevermind all three, but Lunny has never been one to shy away from hard work.

The strenuous lifestyle ultimately resulted in a chronic hamstring injury, though, which forced her to get creative in order to maintain her fitness while also rehabilitating her injury. That’s when she discovered bikram yoga.

Lunny moving between exercises while training at CrossFit Portsmouth.  Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine.

“It was life-changing for me,” she said, and she soon pursued an instructor certificate in the practice, which required an intensive six-week course — no small feat in itself.

Ultimately, that hamstring injury might be responsible for Lunny’s diverse talents. A fellow yoga instructor introduced her to CrossFit and a local group that was meeting in a park to workout (and would eventually become a well-established gym that produces some of the top CrossFit athletes in the world).

“We would do wall balls against the tennis court fence, box jumps on the park benches … I drank the Kool-Aid from day one,” Lunny said.

By age 47, she was en route to compete in her first CrossFit Games. The Games feature athletes who’ve competed against hundreds of thousands of other athletes to earn a spot in the annual competition; they are unique because the workout events are never the same year to year and aren’t announced very far in advance — making it impossible to train for them. The Games always include combinations of gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, and calisthenics, as well as open water swims and obstacle courses (depending on the year and location). The competition, now in its 12th year, has both individual and team divisions, as well as a masters division, which is where Lunny competes. Unfortunately, her first two appearances at the CrossFit Games were plagued by injury.

Lunny completing chest-to-bar pull ups while training at CrossFit Portsmouth. Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine.

“I wasn’t feeling my best,” she reflected. “I wasn’t performing at my peak.”

After 27 years as a mail carrier, she retired from the postal service because the job wore on her mentally.

“I had to get out … it was changing who I was,” Lunny said.

The lifestyle change was effective. Last year, at the age of 51, she competed in her third CrossFit Games after taking a year off, and for the first time she won an event. 

“My strength is my ability to put my head down and do work and go,” Lunny said. “If it’s not technical, and it’s just putting in the work and going to that dark spot … I can do that, and I can do it pretty well.”  

Indeed, the event featured running with a weighted vest, air squats, and box jumps — a grueling triplet but not as technical as other events in the competition. It wasn’t an easy win though, as she was neck and neck with another athlete all the way to the end, but after a not-so-fortunate no-rep, Lunny took the lead. “I could barely walk; I was so sore, I had to hobble to the finish.”

Lunny loads her bar while training at CrossFit Portsmouth. Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine.

Shortly after that appearance at the Games, she and her husband moved from Vermont to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to be closer to their two sons in Boston. She joined the local gym, CrossFit Portsmouth, and quickly took on a coaching position in addition to instructing yoga. It’s there that she’s been embraced by a community of athletes and fellow coaches who are her biggest cheerleaders.

The combination of yoga and CrossFit is essentially her secret sauce to continuing to compete at a high level at a later age, year after year.

“I can come in here (CrossFit Portsmouth) and beat myself up, and then go do yoga in the hot room and after 90 minutes walk out feeling great,” Lunny said. “I rarely get sore after a workout anymore.”

Lunny chalks her hands to prevent tearing her skin while training at CrossFit Portsmouth. Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine.

The combination continues to work, as she earned her fourth trip to the Games this year — and she’s already placed first in an event, and current sits at 12th overall in her division.

“What’s cool is that I’m getting stronger,” she said. “I’m still PR’ing (setting a new personal record) — not as often, but it still happens. I love this stuff.”

If there’s one thing that emanates from Lunny in the gym, it’s that she loves the sport, the community, and showing up to do hard work every day. You’d be hard-pressed to find her without a beaming smile — whether she’s in the middle of an intense workout or not — and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Marty Skovlund Jr.
Marty Skovlund Jr.

Marty Skovlund Jr. was the executive editor of Coffee or Die. As a journalist, Marty has covered the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, embedded with American special operation forces in Afghanistan, and broken stories about the first females to make it through infantry training and Ranger selection. He has also published two books, appeared as a co-host on History Channel’s JFK Declassified, and produced multiple award-winning independent films.

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