‘Age does not define you’: Laguna Beach’s Karen Pierce, 65, enters Sports Illustrated swimsuit contest

Karen Pierce walks Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach.
Karen Pierce walks Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach. Pierce is 65, but that hasn’t stopped her from entering this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit competition.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Karen Pierce woke up on Oct. 19, 2020, and went on Instagram.

The day was not unique, except it was the day after the Laguna Beach resident’s 65th birthday. Not that any of her friends knew that.

Pierce said she had always “flat-out lied” about her age, claiming that she was years younger. Nobody‘s hurt by a little fib, right?

While on social media that October day, Pierce saw that Sports Illustrated had started its annual Swimsuit Search competition.

“I was laying in bed,” Pierce said. “I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do for my birthday. I’m going to enter the Sports Illustrated swimsuit competition, and I’m going to have to tell the world that I’m 65.’

“It was really empowering. It was like I carried this burden for so many years, being ashamed of my age and hiding from it.”

Pierce, a single mother of two originally from England (her first name is pronounced “Caw-ren”), has lived in Orange County since 1985. Like most people, 2020 had been a tough year.

Her business selling high-end luxury items and women’s accessories wasn’t doing well.

“The only thing I was selling was slippers,” she said with a laugh. “I did a roaring trade in slippers.”

Her teenagers Alexandra, now 19, and Nico, 17, were forced home from school, and Alexandra missed out on many of her typical senior year activities at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School.

So Pierce became determined to compete in the swimsuit contest, partially inspired by Kathy Jacobs. At age 56, Jacobs was one of two winners in 2020.

Pierce went to the beach at Emerald Bay the next day and filmed a short video, posting it on her Facebook and Instagram pages to announce her intentions.

“I wanted to be accountable,” Pierce said. “I didn’t want to have this idea and talk myself out of it. People started asking me if I was serious, or if I was doing it as a joke.”

More than 10,000 women entered last year’s competition, so the odds are against her. But Pierce has worked hard at it, upping her workout plan with her trainer, Ryah Arthur, and joining a pilates class.

She modified her diet, giving up carbohydrates and alcohol, and even started surfing lessons with Arthur.

Sports Illustrated recently featured her 60-second entry video on its Instagram page, @si_swimsearch.

Though the rules are somewhat vague as the contest switched to online-only during the pandemic, Pierce said she believes the voting is winding down.

People can support her by liking the Sports Illustrated post and commenting. She also is documenting the journey on her personal Instagram page, @karenavpierce.

Karen Pierce, 65, submitted a 60 second video on social media to enter the Sports Illustrated swimsuit contest.
Karen Pierce, 65, submitted a 60 second video on social media to enter the Sports Illustrated swimsuit contest.
(Courtesy of Karen Pierce)

“She’s an absolutely inspirational and fabulous woman,” said Pierce’s friend Jennifer Arundale, a comedian and actor who lives in San Clemente.

“She’s incredibly disciplined and dedicated to anything that she does, which I find so impressive. We’re kind of polar opposites. She’s very organized and quite proper, and I’m a little bit more seat of my pants. We’re a really good balance for one another as friends.”

Pierce said the competition has pushed her out of her comfort zone and made her feel comfortable in her own skin. She was used to posting pictures of her dogs, her kids or the sunset on social media, not herself, and particularly not herself in a swimsuit. But her 65th year of life has been one of growth.

She said her new mantra is “Age does not define you.”

“In my life, I’ve been the type of person where the default answer is always no,” Pierce said. “This year has turned into my year of yes.”

Another friend, Darcy Bouzeos, recently moved from Chicago to Newport Beach. She called Pierce’s story “fun” and said she has been supportive each step of the way.

Karen Pierce tweaked her diet a bit after entering the Sports Illustrated swimsuit competition.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Karen has such a great spirit and zest for life, and I think this is reflective of that,” Bouzeos said.

Pierce, whose sister Cathie Lawler also lives in Laguna Beach, has now finally revealed that she’s older than Lawler, who celebrates her 60th birthday in February.

“I have to say I was quite pleased,” Lawler said with a chuckle. “She always tells everybody she’s my younger sister, so I was very happy that she was finally coming clean about her age.”

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