The Real Deal: Mat Fraser

July 1, 2014

Keka Schermerhorn

“I can’t really argue with anyone who says I don’t have the experience. ... I have never been to the Games. Over the last year, I have competed as much as possible to try and get as much experience as possible.”

“The real deal.”

That’s how announcers described Mat Fraser after his decisive win at the 2014 North East Regional.

Other references included “legit,” “dominating” and maybe most notably, “Froning-esque,” in reference to three-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning.

“I’ve only been doing this for a year-and-a-half,” Fraser said. “I competed at regionals last year, but I didn’t really have any idea what regionals was.”  

After a fifth-place finish at the 2013 North East Regional, Fraser came back in 2014 with one goal in mind: win. Despite a pectoral strain Fraser suffered while testing out the 50s chipper event when he said he was “going at the dips too aggressively,” he proved the hype surrounding him was real.

The former Olympic hopeful was steady as a rock throughout the weekend. Acutely aware of the other competitors on the field, Fraser often moved only as fast as he had to in order to hold on to No. 1.

Fraser finished in the top four on all events except Event 5—the legless rope climb and sprint—where he tied for sixth. Three event wins guaranteed him the top spot on the podium. With a mere 18 points, his performance at the regional was the third best worldwide, only behind Central East’s Scott Panchik and Froning.

Fraser prepared for the regional by “working my weaknesses, every day,” a motto he is holding on to while he prepares for the Games.

“I still do (Champlain Valley CrossFit’s) training or a modified version of it sometimes,” Fraser said. “But for the most part, just for preparing for the Games, I have changed my training a bit just to get more prepared for the longer workouts that are usually seen at the Games.”

Jade Jenny, head trainer and co-owner of the affiliate in Williston, Vermont, said there is no regimented structure to Fraser’s training and programming.

“He goes a lot by feel,” Jenny said, “what he thinks he needs to work on. His weightlifting is obviously good, and his CrossFit gymnastics are also good, so the focus for him has been endurance and volume.”

While his Olympic weightlifting proficiency comes from years of specific training—Fraser has been lifting since he was 12 years old—his aptitude for gymnastics and general athleticism may well be attributed to genetics.

Both Fraser’s mother and father were Canadian Olympic figure skaters. As a couple, they are credited with being the first pair to do a one-handed overhead lift, and a move yet to be attempted by any other pair: a gravity-defying, no-hands death spiral.

“I always had tremendous pressure to excel, but not an ounce of it was from my parents,” Fraser said. “I put it all on myself. They were always there to support my decisions and cheer me on, but they never forced athletics on me.”

Since starting CrossFit, Fraser has participated in a few competitions, but there is no substitute for competing in Carson, California.

“I can’t really argue with anyone who says I don’t have the experience,” Fraser said. “Because they are right. I have never been to the Games. Over the last year, I have competed as much as possible to try and get as much experience as possible.”

Jenny, who competed at the Games with the Champlain Valley CrossFit team in 2012, and coached two-time North East Regional winner Dani Horan in 2013, agreed the Games are a singular experience.

“The biggest thing—and this goes for most if not all athletes—is probably the volume and the grind of the week,” Jenny said. “The Games are, say, double the volume of regionals, and it’s drawn out more. There is just more going on, so we just need to make sure that he stays focused and that his body holds up to the volume.”

While Fraser conquered the outdoor venue at the North East Regional, where floor thermometers recorded temperatures as high as 120 degrees, he still has concerns about the climate in California.

“To be honest, I think the hardest thing for me will be the heat in California,” Fraser said. “It’s one of the few things we can’t simulate in Vermont.”

As for whether he planned to keep his approach of only moving as fast as he needed to at the Games, Fraser considered it a moot point.

“Froning moves just as fast as he needs to,” Fraser said. “I would like to, but I doubt that will be an issue. I’m guessing that I will not be in the lead in any workouts, because I’m sure there will always be someone that excels at that particular workout. I just hope to stay consistent through the week.

As for his goals, Fraser has no expectations, except to perform to the best of his abilities.

“If I leave the Games feeling that I left everything on the competition floor, I will be satisfied,” Fraser said. “I will be competing against the best in the world; men who I haven’t had the opportunity to go head-to-head with yet. I’m not sure what to expect, but just like every other person on that floor, I’m going to do everything in my power to try and finish on top.”

Fraser, who just graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in engineering, is just enjoying his moment.

“For now,” he said, “I would like to see where this CrossFit adventure takes me and have as much fun with it as possible. After that, who knows? Hopefully find a job as an engineer somewhere and settle down.”