By Sherrie Shover
It’s easy to watch The CrossFit Games and get caught up in the athletes who joyfully cross the finish line or are smiling up on the final podium. But for every one spot in Carson there’s a handful more at home, watching the Games unfold and knowing that the countless months of training and sacrifice just wasn’t enough.
Chase Smith came as close as anyone possibly could to qualifying for last year’s CrossFit Games. At the East Regional he tied Alex Vigneault for the fifth and final qualifying spot, but lost the tiebreaker: Vigneault had a higher single-event finish by one slot (third).
Smith, who competed on a Regional team with CrossFit Free in 2013 and ’14, is no stranger to adversity. The 27-year-old, forced to sit out in 2015 with an injury, sat down with Athlete Daily to talk about changing his mindset and how to keep fighting against all odds for a dream.
Athlete Daily: What happened right before the 2015 East Regional, which supposed to be your individual debut?
Smith: “I tore my pec a week before regionals. It was a tough bullet to bite. I’ve never been one to step away from competition, whether I’m injured or not. There was a time during my senior year that I got a concussion during football and had to go through a number of tests. We made it to the championship. So, I’m just thinking how I’m never going to play ball in high school again and I’m never going to have this experience again so there’s no way I’m giving it up. I ended up lying on my test just to make sure I passed so I played the game with a minor concussion.
[Regarding regionals] in my eyes, ‘OK, I’m injured but I’m not going to stop. I’d rather push through it and whatever happens, happens’.
Athlete Daily: So you were you going to compete with a torn pec?
Smith: “I was going to, but Brandon [Peterson, his coach] sat me down and was like, ‘Listen, this is long term. This is one competition right now. You have next year and years after that so don’t set yourself up for failure in the future.’ And that was honestly a big growing point for me as an athlete. Overall maturing. I always had the mindset of ‘Go, go go’ and if you don’t you look weak. And I don’t ever want to look weak. And I guess, looking at that mindset now, yes, it’s completely immature and the wrong way to look at things. I realized it was time to grow up and look towards the future. And competing wasn’t the right choice to make.”
Athlete Daily: How did last year’s Regional training go?
Smith: “ was completely tough. Before our season even started, Brandon and I chatted and he said ‘Ok, you missed regionals [last year], it is what it is, but now you have an entire year to train. Can you mentally do that?’ And I was game for it.
So we started training and about two months after [the 2015] Regionals, when I was finally feeling better from the pec tear, we did the heavy DT workout from the Games and about halfway through, while doing shoulder to overhead, I heard a crack in my shoulder. I knew something was wrong so I went to the doctor and was in the worst pain of my life. I ended up breaking my first rib, the rib directly under the collarbone. That was a huge setback, mentally. Honestly, it just felt like everything was a chain reaction. It felt like one thing after the next. I just couldn’t get out of my own way.”
After I finally got the rib healed, I still had some nagging pain but was just trying to play it safe. I was starting to get after it training-wise, working on things I needed to work on but I was nervous going into the Open. I was probably 90% going into the Open, feeling good. No hesitations, no restrictions. It was the first Open I was attacking workouts one and done. That was the plan to stay healthy and just make it to Regionals. I made it to Regionals [in 2015] but I couldn’t compete so I wanted to minimize the chance of that happening again.”
Athlete Daily: How did the Open go?
Chase: “Well, after week three, I partially tore my bicep. I wanted to cut my wrists when it happened. I missed a snatch during training but without any issues. I didn’t try to fight for anything, nothing felt weird. When I set up to go again, I did my pull but it wasn’t until I caught the bar when I tore my bicep. As soon as I locked my arm out, I felt it go. I literally felt a space in my arm and I’m like ‘That’s it, I’m done. I just lost my season again.’ I put all this time in, put all this extra work in, worked through my injuries but stayed smart, what am I doing wrong? Luckily I was able to get through the rest of the workouts and still qualify for Regionals.”
Athlete Daily: What was it like sitting in Games contention pretty much the entire weekend [at Regionals]?
Smith: “It was surreal for me. I didn’t think I would ever be in that position. I mean, I thought there was a chance but I don’t think I ever really believed it.”
Athlete Daily: And when you missed the Games by such a close margin?
Smith: “At the time, I wasn’t angry. I was just kind of, it’s simple enough, I was upset. I was completely emotional about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t make the Games, I guess. Making the Games is huge but in my eyes, to do it just for myself doesn’t fulfill me. I was doing it for everyone else. So I felt, if anything, like I let Brandon down. I want to make him proud and do the best I can for him because not only do I represent him but he’s one of the closest people to me. He’s my best friend.”
Athlete Daily: How tough is it mentally to train all year and fall short? How do you motivate yourself again?
Smith: “You can be as tough as you want and you can have a tough outer shell to put on a show but no matter who you are, when something like that happens, it just hurts. It’s emotionally draining. It wasn’t really too tough to get right back into it [training] when I got home, it was just tough to grasp and understand why things happened the way they did.
I never thought ‘Why do I do this?’ or that it was a waste of a year. It was more like ‘Why did this happen?’ Or ‘What did I do wrong?’ I didn’t understand it. It was just ‘Why? Do I even belong here? Was this just a fluke? Does this mean I wasn’t meant to go? Am I not supposed to be at this level?’
But after everything settled, I was happy with everything I did. To look back, not only at the weekend but at everything I’ve gone through and then be able to accomplish what I was able to, I think that if you can actually sit back and recognize that—look at the entire year, every step you took and everything you went through and look at the end result of what’s possible—that should be motivation by itself.
After all my injuries, I also think it’s important to always focus on the things you can do. Even if you go into training and you just don’t feel great, your joints are hurting you or your body just feels tired or beat up, there’s always stuff you can do to be better for the next day. Honestly, I think I’ve proven that. Going back to 2015 when I had to withdraw and matured as an athlete, I figured out how to play it smart. Doing everything that I did after my injuries—accessory-wise, adding things in, listening to my body—I came back and didn’t even skip a beat. I think people are too busy looking at the big things and not what holds those big things up.”
“You can be as tough as you want and you can have a tough outer shell to put on a show but no matter who you are, when something like that happens, it just hurts. It’s emotionally draining. It wasn’t really too tough to get right back into it [training] when I got home, it was just tough to grasp and understand why things happened the way they did.”
Athlete Daily: How do you feel about your training for this year, 2017? Are you trying to qualify for the Games again?
Smith: “I think I need to believe in myself more. That’s the biggest thing. I think I don’t hold myself up there [with the other elite athletes] just yet and I think that could be a weakness. I’ve never been one to say that I’m better than them. That’s what I need to work on this year. That mental aspect of just believing in myself. I do have a lot of confidence in some things. If I have a number in my head for some of my lifts, I’m going to try do whatever I need to do to hit them. Even in a workout, if I want a certain amount of rounds, I’m going to make sure I get those rounds. This whole year is going to be focused on that type of confidence.”
Sherrie Shover is a contributing writer who trains at Yankee CrossFit in Farmington, CT.
All images by Capracotta Photo.