"I got cut from the football team in Pee Wee when I was 7 or 8. That's when I got motivated. I've played sports ever since then."
After five weeks of the Open, there is a new name near the top of the Mid Atlantic Leaderboard.
In second place, behind Games regular Ben Smith, sits 33-year-old Chad Michael of Boone, N.C. Michael’s Open scores included three top-five finishes within the region.
Although Michael is new to CrossFit competition, he has been competing his whole life.
“I got cut from the football team in Pee Wee when I was 7 or 8,” he recalls. “That's when I got motivated. I've played sports ever since then.”
As a linebacker for the Appalachian State University football team, he was part of the team that won a conference championship, and was an all conference decathlete for the track team.
When Michael first heard about CrossFit, he was doing triathlons.
“A good friend of mine told me about CrossFit while we were in the gym doing curls and abs,” he remembers. “I started CrossFit in February 2012, and stopped doing triathlons immediately and started focusing solely on CrossFit.”
There weren't any affiliates nearby, so Michael began CrossFit the old fashioned way.
“I would YouTube a lot of the movements. I learned a lot about CrossFit from the Internet.”
Despite being a new CrossFitter, Michael participated in the 2012 Open. He finished in 588th place, regionally. His performance in last year’s Open sparked his motivation for this year.
“I started immediately,” he says. “I’ve worked every day since then to this Open. My main goal was to make it to Regionals. That’s what I focused on for a year.”
Michael has primarily done his own programming, basically training every day.
“People do three on, one off. On my one off, I run 10 miles, sprint 400s or do yoga.”
For his on days, Michael has trained on alternating three-month cycles. One cycle, he would focus on strength, keeping met-cons to no more than seven minutes. The next cycle, he would do a 20-minutes AMRAP, focused on gymnastics and mobility. In addition to classic CrossFit programming, he also draws on some of the training styles he used in football.
Michael has spent time with experienced CrossFitters and coaches over the course of the year. He has visited Mikko Salo in Finland, spent time with Graham Holmberg in Ohio, and made the two-hour drive to CrossFit Charlotte to train with coach Andy Hendel almost every weekend.
“I love how (Hendel) coaches,” he says. “It takes me back to my football days. Watching and learning from the great athletes there (CrossFit Charlotte) motivated me and helped me to improve on my weaknesses.”
Michael also believes changes in his nutrition have impacted his training. He started by simply eating more whole foods, but has worked his way to a strict paleo/Zone diet.
"In college, we are thrown in front of a buffet and they told us to eat," Michael says. "With a diet, I can't believe what I can do."
With his training and diet, at 6-foot-3, Michael is down to 203 pounds. Psychologically, it has been hard for him to get used to this weight. His peak weight as a linebacker was 260. Although he feared feeling weak at his lighter weight, he says his strength numbers have increased.
Michael planned his training cycles so he’d hit the Open in a more skill-based bodyweight phase.
“I studied and figured out how to do my training,” he says. “I tried to set my body up for the Open.”
Michael didn't expect a second-place finish.
“This Open has kinda been a shock to me,” he admits. “The workouts that they have put out have all been in my wheelhouse. Part of it is luck. You are going to be better at some things more than others. I’ve just been good at everything they have thrown out at me.”
Michael is moving full speed ahead, preparing for Regionals. In February, he opened his own affiliate, CrossFit ACF, and now has a place to train with others.
In preparation for the Mid Atlantic Regional, he moved his training to a strength-based cycle to prepare for the heavier weights he’ll likely see at the next stage of competition. He acknowledges Regionals is going to be a different stimulus.
“My focus in Regionals is to attack every workout as hard as I can, but find the time to recover,” Michael says. “Still hit it hard, but know where my body will red line. I feel like it’s harder to recover when you red line.”
Michael's goal is to go to the Games.
“(Going to the Games) would mean everything because I've literally structured my life for the last 365 days around this."