July 9, 2013
Fierce and Dedicated: Jennifer Smith
By Josh Bunch

"Team is a lot of fun, but it's tough to trust everyone to perform. It's tough to know you're giving your all when someone else may not be."


Friends and coaches knew she had what it took to qualify for the Games.

Jennifer Smith, however, wasn’t convinced until she stood at the top of the podium at the 2013 Central East Regional.

“It was almost like the Open all over again,” she says.

A couple months before the Regional, she was surprised to see her name lock into first place on the Central East Leaderboard. After five Open Workouts, she was ahead of all the women in the region, including a formidable group of veteran Games competitors.  

Although she had proof she could beat Lindsey Smith, Lisa Shiu, Heather Welsh and Michelle Kinney in CrossFit competition, she still wasn’t sure how she would do at the Regional.

“But even after the Open, I still didn’t know how to gauge myself with the Games girls,” she says.

For the last three years, Smith has competed alongside CrossFit Maximus. After the Open, Smith was uncertain about leaving her team for the individual competition. She’s a two-time CrossFit Games competitor, but a brand new individual competitor.

Smith decided to make the jump into the individual competition because she wanted to see how she could do on her own.

“Team is a lot of fun, but it’s tough to trust everyone to perform,” she says. “It’s tough to know you’re giving your all when someone else may not be.”

Individual competition is “easier mentally” for Smith.

“You know what you're capable of doing and if you screw up it’s your own fault,” she explains.

When it’s competition time, Smith puts her faith in her training and her ability to give her all.

On June 6, her family traveled from Eastern Kentucky to see her compete in CrossFit for the first time. While some competitors would be anxious to make their family proud, Smith was confident.

“I really wasn’t nervous, my mom was nervous for me,” she says. “This is what I've been training for all year, and I’m glad they got to see it.”

Her only nervous twinge came moments before Jackie began. Standing alone on the competition floor, she felt the absence of her Maximus teammates. To get over her nerves, she thought about the event and not the competitors flanking her.

“I wasn’t thinking about anyone else,” she says. “I wasn’t letting my nerves get the best of me. Smooth row, fast thrusters, hang on with (the) pull-ups.”

Her coach, Doug Chapman, had instructed her to do exactly as you have trained. And it paid off. Although Smith won only one of seven events, she never dipped below sixth place (Event 1: fourth, Event 2: fourth, Event 3: third, Event 4: first, Event 5: sixth, Event 6: fifth, Event 7: third). Like Rich Froning she won the Regional through consistency.

Smith has two great traits for a CrossFit competitor.

“She is fierce and dedicated,” Chapman says.

They met after the first qualifying stage of the 2010 CrossFit Games season, Sectionals. Chapman watched her compete.

“I thought she had unrealized potential,” he says. “She needed to get stronger and refine her lifts. Build a bigger motor. All the shit people hire me to fix.”

Over the last year, Chapman has worked on tapping into her potential by programming a tremendous volume of training, including daily barbell complexes and high-rep gymnastics movements.

She tied Lindy Wall for first place in the 100s (Event 4) and remembers the cheers as her favorite of the weekend.

“I took my shirt off during the 100s,” she says.

A huge crowd of CrossFit Maximus fans in light blue T-shirts whooped and yelled in appreciation and encouragement.

“I had to stop myself from laughing. I had to say, ‘You’re doing pistols. Stop laughing.’”

Regional cheers are fleeting, however. Even for first-place finishers.

After a first day’s finish that was better than Smith had hoped, and a 100s performance better than practiced, she began to slip come Event 5, the deadlift/box jump couplet.

“That’s where I fell back a little,” she says.

Jumping onto the finish mat at 3:56.8, she came in behind five other competitors.

“She should have won that one,” Chapman says. “She miscounted her box jump reps in the round of 15 and got called back to finish. It was the difference in the workout. It was a valuable lesson going into the Games. Focus on the task at hand.”

The sixth-place finish would be her worst performance of the weekend, and it showed on her face. For the first time, she didn’t smile as she walked off the competition floor.

Before the Regional, she had finished the couplet 40 seconds faster. Adding six points to her total, Smith’s hold on first place overall weakened. Michelle Kinney won the event in 3:21.3 and climbed to second overall with 21 points. Smith now had just a three-point gap and two events to go.

“You have a few minutes to be happy or upset, then it’s on to the next event,” she says. “But I didn’t panic. I had a little wiggle room.”

Almost stoically, however, she moved onto Sunday. She took fifth in Event 6, and ended with a third-place finish in the final event.

At the end of the weekend, she still had her hold on first overall and a three-point gap over second-ranked Kinney. Wall closed out third.

“To win, you have to have the events line up and you have to perform your best,” she reflects.

When it comes to the Games, “there’s nothing I want to avoid, I’m excited for everything. Overall, I don’t have any glaring weaknesses and that will take me a long way."