Most lawyers suffer through at least a few years in Biglaw before deciding to find greener pastures, expensive education be damned. It is the rare few who abandon their legal careers before they even start.

While wannabe lawyers across the country are hunkered down this week in the torture session rite of passage that is the bar exam, one recent law grad is opting for a different kind of beat down. Gretchen Kittelberger, a 2011 graduate of UVA Law School, is foregoing the July bar exam in order to compete in the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games and vie for the title of Fittest Woman on Earth.

After placing second at the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional during her final semester of law school, Gretchen is headed to Carson, California, to compete against freakishly-in-shape people from around the world.

The CrossFit Finals, held July 29-31, are grueling enough that they make sitting for the bar exam almost seem like fun…

CrossFit competitors train on a wide range of insane difficult strength and fitness skills, not knowing which challenges they will ultimately face during the three-day final competition:

At the center of the arena, the Games competitors will have to prove that they are not only fit but capable of handling the unknown. No one knows what the events will be. Every year the events are different. The best movements to test for fitness are a combination of gymnastics, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, jumping rope, climbing ropes, lengthy runs, and a vast amount of pure grunt work such as getting sandbags over a wall. But athletes never know what is required.

So, kind of like the bar exam, only it beats the crap out of you physically rather than mentally. These workouts make the hour I just spent at the gym seem like a play date at Gymboree.

Kittelberger, a competitive gymnast during her undergrad years at the University of Maryland, started doing CrossFit because law school apparently didn’t keep her busy enough:

Asked how she came so far so fast, while balancing coaching at CrossFit Charlottesville with going to law school, she says “You hear a lot of horror stories about managing your time at law school, but I was pretty used to it from four years of college gymnastics at University of Maryland. We’d practice 3-4 hours every day, so when I got to law school and didn’t have practice, I didn’t know what to do with all this time!”

Gretchen Kittelberger

As Kittelberger explains in one of her videos, her path to Biglaw disillusionment is one we’ve heard time and time again: undergraduate degree in psychology, not wanting to pursue a Ph.D. but not sure what else to do, told that law school would open all kinds of doors, etc. I’ve repeated that exact story more times than I can count. But instead of getting blindly sucked into the job the way most of us did, she decided to defer taking the Virginia bar exam until February. And while her confidence that a law career will always be there when she’s ready for it might be misplaced, she’ll certainly have a better explanation for the résumé gap than the rest of her unemployed classmates.

It’s undeniable that Gretchen’s stats and record are impressive. To get to the finals, Kittelberger had to place in the top 60 at the Open level to reach the Regionals, where she had to then place in the top three to reach the Finals. Next week she will vie against an exclusive field of nearly 50 of the fittest women in the world.

The prize for winning? Not only the impressive title of “Fittest on Earth,” but also a cool $250,000.

A quarter of a million dollars could easily pay off any law school debts Kittelberger might have. And with 1 in 47 odds, she has a better shot at winning the money than most graduating law students have at getting a job that will allow them to bank that much after a couple years of legal grunt work. So maybe her decision isn’t so crazy after all.

If you’re anywhere near Carson, California next weekend, the CrossFit Finals are “the best 50 bucks you can spend in sports,” according to ESPN Magazine. There are plenty of creature comforts on hand to keep the less fit busy while watching the healthy people do all the work:

Double Doubles and Beer

A Beer Garden will be right across the street from In-N-Out Burger, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, and the main entrance to the stadium. If you can’t get enough beer, check out the Michelob Ultra truck, complete with shade, TV’s, and bar stools.

Because anything that has a built-in backup plan in case “you can’t get enough beer” can’t be a bad thing. Have kids with you? No problem. The event organizers (people after my own heart) encourage you to “bring your brats.”

If you’re still not convinced that this 5’1” powerhouse has a shot at the title, I’ll leave you with one last video of Gretchen doing some easy 174-pound overhead squats.

We wish Gretchen the best of luck as she kicks butt in California.


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