“I was going to be a backup dancer for MC Hammer. I actually really saw myself as more of a dancer—a fly girl, hip hopper. I loved Michael Jackson and MC,” Kepler said.
Fast-forward to late July 2016 in Carson, California, at the StubHub Center, where Kepler was lifting barbells to hip hop beats over the surround sound stereo—demonstrating a different kind of pop, lock, and drop—at the tenth annual CrossFit Games.
Kepler is no stranger to competition in the sport of fitness. This year marked her fifth time competing at the Games (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016), but her first time competing as a Master’s Athlete in the arena ages (alongside only the top 20 athletes in the world in her age division).
“I never set out to compete in the ‘sport of fitness,’” Kepler said, reflecting back on her CrossFit journey. “I really got into it because it was fun and for the business side of things,” she said.
Kepler originally stumbled into CrossFit in 2004 when her brother, and gym co-owner, Jeremy Thiel, sent her a YouTube video that had gone viral called “Nasty Girls”—one of the classic CrossFit workouts.
“I was four months pregnant with my first daughter at the time, but after watching it, Jeremy said, ‘Okay, let’s do this. Let’s go get certified.’ So, I went along for the ride. We both went out to Colorado, then came back to start something here in Austin,” Kepler said.
Within no time, the duo set up shop, founding a CrossFit bootcamp—the budding of their greater vision for their community: CrossFit Central, a gym dedicated to “building community” that they opened in 2005.
“Bootcamps really didn’t even exist at the time. I was training at a local gym called Buzzbees, and CrossFit was a good transition to move into some group training, too. It was fun and a good way to get out of the traditional gym,” Kepler said.
After all, Kepler was raised an athlete, not just an exerciser in the gym.
“I grew up on a farm in Lubbock, so by the age of nine, I was already working, hoeing weeds in the garden, picking turnips, helping keep the books. My father was very athletic, and I had four other brothers and sisters—and we were all competitive with each other, so CrossFit just came very natural later on—picking up heavy things, keep moving, don’t quit,” Kepler said.
So what does it take to train like a CrossFit athlete?
Kepler said she spent two to three hours in the gym most days in the weeks leading up to the Games.
“I may come in the morning and do some strength work or just get blood flowing with a row, then come in later in the afternoon for a 90-minute AMRAP to build volume, and keep moving through a WOD my coach programmed for me. I’ve also been doing a lot of dips, pulling, and lifting—always trying to build strength and stamina. Days vary between more intense days and more aerobic-based training days,” she said.
And, of course, plenty of training and working also means plenty of eating.
“Recovery and fuel are just as important as my training. Most days, I get up, drink a protein shake, take all my supplements, eat real food a couple hours later, wait two to three hours, take any pre-workout supplements, train, drink a protein shake, wait 90 minutes, eat real food again (protein, carbs, veggies, some fat). Then eat some dinner—protein, veggies. Lately I’ve been into Brussels sprouts, and also upping the carbs I consume—more white rice for sure, along with real food sources like sweet potatoes,” Kepler said.
All of this, coupled with her ‘regular’ schedule—up by 5 a.m. most days to head to the gym, coach the morning group classes, and run the CrossFit Central Burnet gym location before heading home around 4 or 5 p.m. to spend time with her family (and number one fans)—two kids, Savannah and Stone, and husband, Kris.
Although Kepler is a natural athlete, she said her strongest asset is the power of her mind.
“When I put intention into most anything, and declare it is really where the mark is made. This year, I stated I was going to go back to the Games as an individual for the first time in several years, and I did,” Kepler said.
Kepler said, beyond CrossFit, the power of her mindset trickles into everything else she does, from motherhood to community leadership.
Kepler continues to march to the beat of a message she founded in the early years of CrossFit Central:
“Have a goal. Be consistent. Show up. Keep your eyes on the reward. Create what it is you want for yourself, and go for it. Only you can do it, (and it’s within you).”