CrossFit Games

National Champion Profile: Jack Karo Jr., Papua New Guinea

January 15, 2020 by
Credit: Jack Karo Jr
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Jack Karo Jr. placed 89,395th in the Open. Now, he’s going to the CrossFit Games for the first time.

On the eve of the 2020 Open, Jack Karo Jr. had never done a ring muscle-up, a barbell thruster, a handstand push-up, or a double-under. He’d done a wall ball before, but never with a 20-pound ball, and his rowing experience was “primarily for warm-up.” Over the following five weeks, though, Karo learned the movements quickly enough that he was able to Rx every workout and beat the three other men competing from Papua New Guinea.

Finishing in 89,395th place, he became the lowest-ranked national champion invited to this year’s Games.

A few weeks before the Open, Karo attended his first CrossFit class at CrossFit Port Moresby.

  • Named after the country’s capital, it’s the only affiliate in the nation of nine million.
  • In 2019, it was founded by Kila Kilaverave, that year’s national champion from PNG.
  • About 20 square meters of space, it has no proper pull-up bars or squat racks.

A personal trainer and a former competitor in jiu jitsu (under 80 kilogram division), Karo had a foundation of fitness, but he had never combined strength, aerobic, and anaerobic training before, so when he started the Open, it was “a bit of a shock,” he said.

Credit: Jack Karo Jr

Every weekend of the Open, the 15 or so members of CF Port Moresby would follow the same routine.

  • On Fridays, Coach Kilaverave would brief them on that week’s workout, and they would practice the movements using the gym’s only barbell, which was loaded with metal plates and could never be dropped to the floor.
  • On Saturdays, they’d tackle the WOD one after the other, and despite the fact that they had just learned many of the exercises, Kilaverave still held them to the movement standard.

“Oh yeah, he was no-repping me a lot,” says Karo. “In my videos, you’ll see me swearing here and there, only because I was frustrated with myself. If I had slowed down the pace, maybe I could’ve done even one more rep.”

Credit: Jack Karo Jr

Only once did Karo redo a workout, 20.5, after Coach Kilaverave reviewed the video submission and realized that Karo hadn’t fully extended his hips before releasing the wall ball. “At first I was scared because I felt the pain on Saturday,” says Karo, “and I was just imagining what I was going to go through again. But when I was doing the workout, I had to completely drop that from my mind, and I think I completed the workout 30 seconds faster.”

At the end of the Open, which Karo describes as “probably the most intense five weekends of my life,” CF Port Moresby threw a BBQ and celebrated its new national champions.

Now, with the official announcement from HQ, the focus shifts to preparing for the Games.

  • Karo’s aiming for eight training sessions a week: five morning sessions at the basketball gym they use for cardio work and then three afternoon sessions at the box.
  • Coach Kilaverave is also looking to bring in a weightlifting coach to help with Karo’s pure strength.

As for the logistics of getting to the Games this August, the path is less clear-cut.

  • The flights alone will cost thousands of dollars, including at least three layovers, and span roughly two days.
  • When Karo arrives in Madison, he’ll be 16 hours behind Port Moresby and 47,832 places behind the next national champion above him.

Trying to help him find sponsors is Coach Kilaverave, who finished in 138th place in 2019 Games and was cut after the first event, but who still loved the experience. He told Karo, “Just to rub shoulders and see the caliber of people, you’re going to come back a very different person.”

Karo is similarly excited to go, and he says that interest in CrossFit has exploded on the island since last year. “We got a lot of inquiries from other gyms that do this kind of training but have nowhere to actually go compete and show their skills,” he says, “so that’s been a major kick for us.”

If this was the goal of inviting the national champions to the Games — to promote the sport in places it might not otherwise reach —- it’s hard to imagine a more effective method, especially considering the demographics of PNG.

  • The capital city has fewer people than Aurora, Colorado.
  • Access to the Internet is largely confined to cell phones, so it’s difficult to learn from training videos.
  • Only about 14% of residents live in cities, making it challenging to open affiliates.

Still, Karo is optimistic. Last year, Coach Kilaverave was living in Australia when he qualified, and CF Port Moresby had yet to open. Now, with Karo Games-bound and a functional, if spartan, affiliate in operation, it’s time to capitalize on the excitement. “During the Open, people wanted to join in, but they came a week or two or three late,” says Karo. “So, the message we’ve been spreading is, ‘You’ve got to start training for the Open now.’” He laughs. “Don’t be like me.”

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