In 2008, Mat Fraser packed his bags and moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Olympic weightlifter trained there for two years before he broke his L5 vertebrae while preparing to compete in Romania at the Junior World Weightlifting Championship.
“It was just a combination of lifting too heavy, too often and without the right preparation,” Fraser said.
The injury required surgery and shattered his dreams of earning a spot on Team USA for the 2016 Olympics.
The surgery resulted in two plates and six screws being attached to his lower vertebrae. After the procedure, Fraser moved to the Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. He still trained, but his main focus was his education. On breaks, he returned home to Vermont.
“I looked up CrossFit gyms in the area to see if I could use their bumpers and do some Olympic lifts,” Fraser said. “That’s how I met Jade Jenny (owner and head trainer) at Champlain Valley CrossFit. They opened their doors to me and let me lift whenever I needed to.”
At first, Fraser was put off by the “chaos” in the CrossFit classes.
“The music was loud and I was the only person doing singles on the lifts, sitting down between sets and taking more than 30 seconds rest,” Fraser said. “I thought, ‘All these CrossFit people are crazy’ and I had no intentions of becoming a CrossFit (athlete.)”
Things changed when Fraser moved back to Vermont and started spending more time at the affiliate. Jenny, along with 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games competitor and coach Danielle Horan, recognized the potential Fraser had to be successful in CrossFit.
Eventually, Fraser recognized it, too.
“Before I knew it, I wasn’t focusing on the Olympic lifts anymore, but doing more and more (metabolic conditioning),” he said.
Competitive by nature, he entered his first competition, a one-day event at Champlain Valley CrossFit.
“It was a whole different world from a weightlifting meet, and I loved it,” Fraser said. “I placed first in the competition, bought myself a pair of Nanos with the prize money and started training to be a CrossFit (athlete), and not just a weightlifter that did CrossFit.”
Fraser’s ability to master new skills and learn quickly earned him a spot at the 2013 North East Regional a mere eight months after starting CrossFit.
“He is just one of those few people you meet in your life who are just incredibly gifted,” Jenny said. “I don’t think I’ve really seen him struggle to learn a single thing—triple-unders, handstand walks, muscle-ups.”
Standing at 5-foot-6 and weighing 180 lb., Fraser has a 300-lb. snatch and 355-lb. clean and jerk.
At the 2013 Regional, Fraser won Event 2, the overhead squat complex, by completing a double at 315 lb.
Three-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning of the Central East, and fellow North East competitor Spencer Hendel, were the only other athletes to hit 315 lb. Each man only overhead squatted the weight once.
“When it comes to competing, (Fraser) has that drive, almost like a wild animal,” Jenny said. “He’ll do everything in his power to not be beaten, and he’ll push himself to the absolute threshold.”
Fraser finished his first trip to the North East Regional in fifth place and started training for the 2014 season.
Although he does spend some time working on weaknesses, Fraser does not follow an individualized program.
“When he trains, he just does whatever the class is doing,” Jenny said. “Sometimes he adds in a couple of other things he wants to work on, but generally his workout consists of whatever is programmed that day at Champlain Valley.”
Despite his initial reluctance, Fraser said it’s safe to call him a competitive CrossFit athlete.
“My goal for this Games season,” Fraser said, “is to just make it to the Games.”