Hi everybody and welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On today’s episode, I talk with the man who finished 15th at the CrossFit Games last year and won the first ever Mayhem Classic, Chandler Smith. First, over the last month I’ve interviewed some truly amazing guests, Stacie Tovar, Tanya Wagner, Adrian Bozman, Chris Hinshaw, Rory Mckernan, Julie Foucher and more. If you’ve missed out on this stuff, check out our archives for the best stories from the fitness community, and to avoid FOMO, please subscribe to Two-Brain Radio. I’ve got a great guest coming every single week. Chandler Smith is an up-and-coming CrossFit competitor, a West Point graduate and is currently a captain in the United States Army. He made his CrossFit Games debut last year and qualified for the 2020 Games thanks to his performance in the Open. We talk about why he wanted to become a soldier and his time at West Point, his competitive debut at the Atlantic Regional in 2016 and what it meant to him to make the Games three years earlier than he had planned. Thanks for listening everyone. Chandler, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. How are you doing my friend?
I’m doing phenomenal, I’m honored to be on the Two-Brain podcast because I think this implies that I have a full working and functional brain. So you’re operating at 1.5 and you’ve decided to bring me on as like a parade of the hats that you bring in to match wits with you or whatever. But I’m just glad to be here, so thanks for having me.
I really appreciate it. I think you know, you are definitely the brains of the duo going on right here. A lot of people might not know that your father played in the National Football League. So as a kid, what was it like growing up with a professional football player as a dad?
Well first off I thought you were going to go the CTE route and mention that my dad probably has half of a working brain at this point and I was going to laugh really hard, but instead I had to make the joke on my own. It was definitely a big shadow to live under, you know, for professional sports at that level, like within the big four are pretty all-consuming and offers you a lot of amenities that maybe skewer your perception of what normal work relations are like or like time expectations or a lot of things. I always felt that pressure between me and the other coaches’ kids too, that we like also needed to play in the NFL. So when I started topping out on height in ninth grade at a meaty 5’5, I was a pretty worried, I had my first crisis of confidence there cause I was like, I don’t think I’m gonna be big enough to make it to the NFL. So I got to find out another plan. Cause I think that was probably my main job plan as it is with the most kids. But that dream was allowed to exist in my head for a little bit longer than it was with most people, because my dad did it, so it couldn’t be that hard. Right?
What kind of things did you do as a kid that just seemed normal to you, that were probably like inconceivable to other kids your age?
So when you say it, the first thing I think of is I got to ball boy for the Denver Broncos training camp. Pretty much every year as I was starting to get older. And I remember one year, Jerry Rice came and was going to play. He ended up deciding not to play that year, but I was like his personal ball boy. So Jerry Rice and I had a secret handshake. I’m making jokes with, you know, like Jake Plummer and all these guys that all my friends at school are watching these dudes and they got their jerseys and everything and I’m like, Oh yeah, let’s Jake, like, he always does this. Like he likes to make these jokes. Jake Plummer, talking jokes. Sorry Jake. I know you’re probably living a nice, peaceful, retired life. Doesn’t even know who I am, I’m sure, at this point.
But he would do this dinosaur thing right where he’d take a towel and he’d put the towel between his legs, butt naked. Then he’d walk around like scaring people. And I thought that was hilarious cause I like, you know, I’m ball boy at and they’re like they’re, you know, doing locker room things. I just like happened to walk in and I remember seeing that. So I say rubbing elbows with professional athletes. But I think it also put a pretty distorted view of what was normal in regards to the physical realm. So my dad being a strength coach, I saw regularly squat over, you know, 500 pounds for reps, I see these guys who are some of the most explosive people on planet Earth running three cone drills. And it’s not, I’m not trying to compare myself to Roger Bannister, but I know when he set the four-minute mile, right, like a bunch of people after him were able to do it because they realized that it was possible.
So I think my view of what was possible athletically was not limited by being around, it was enhanced because I was around some of the best athletes on Earth from a very early age. So always had very high expectations. Like when I graduated high school, I needed to be this strong and this strong, I wasn’t comparing myself to the high schoolers, I was just comparing myself to the NFL athletes that I’d been seeing work out for so long.
What sports did you end up playing growing up?
I played football growing up. That was my main one. Through high school I ran track because my dad wanted me to be fast. Unfortunately I only got the slow twitch muscles, which ended up being a blessing later. But it wasn’t good for football. It’s good for CrossFit, but not so good football. And then in high school, I tried out for the basketball team and cause I played some like D team basketball in middle school.
Again the height thing was kind of a big limiter. You know, people, a lot of folks told me, reminded them of Michael. Not Jordan, but there was another kid in my team named Michael and he was really bad. I tried out for the basketball team my freshman year at Rockhurst and it was readily apparent that I was not going to make the team. And so I, didn’t allow myself to be cut, but I cut myself away and then I asked about wrestling. That’s probably that’s probably the best decision I ever made as far as just putting myself in place to be surrounded by people who really knew what it was like to work hard, who were willing to invest a lot of time and energy into me as a person and as an athlete. And then just a sport that suited me for my physiology.
What was it about wrestling that stuck with you?
I think there’s a lot, you hear stories about a lot of, like really high-level athletes where it seems like they’re coasting by on talent or because of the nature of their physiology. Like I was never gonna play in the NBA cause I’m not six foot seven. So there’s probably some six-foot-seven guys out there who maybe don’t work crazy hard, but because of the fact that they’re six foot seven, they could jump through the roof, like there’s a team that’s going to be willing to sign them, right? But for wrestling, there’s so much technique to be learned. There’s a big requirement as far as being able to physically express that technique. Like how in shape you have to be in, how strong you have to be to apply some of these moves, that you have to be pretty holistic and well-rounded and you can work your way up in these areas.
So even though I started and I was never like a great technician, but I learned a bunch of moves and there’s a bunch of moves I could teach at a very high level now, when I go to my local jujitsu gym, I can help out these areas so I could learn the technical part. The conditioning, if you ran extra sprints or you woke up early and ran your conditioning would improve, if you lifted weights, you could get stronger and you were fighting within your weight class. So, it was a level field as far as what you were bringing to the table, like height and weight-wise. So, you were never really at a disadvantage if you decided to work hard enough in those three areas.
At what point did you start thinking about joining the Army?
When I was six, we had a book exchange at my school in Arizona and I asked for a book about war because I probably had read something about it that week or you know how six-year-olds are, whatever pops in their head. And I got a book on war that was horrific, graphic, like just not something meant for kids at all, but someone’s parents went really all in. It was a two-volume book. I wish I still had a copy of it. It just had “war” on the front and the first half was World War I and it had like orange pages and or like orange coloring on the top and bottom of the pages and the second half was World War II. Had deaths, people passed out in like the trenches, bodies rotting, all this stuff.
I was fascinated. I was like, this is super cool. And there was something in there about General Blackjack Pershing and how he was a ’88 grad of West Point. And that was the first time I remember thinking like, I want to do this. And after I finished reading the book, I was like, I want to be a soldier. Didn’t really know the specifics of it. Troy Calhoun had worked for the Broncos for a point in time and then became the Air Force head coach and he was like a family friend. So that kind of made me more interested. But then when I began wrestling my freshman year, our assistant head coach was a guy named Nate Damos and he had been a former West Point wrestling captain and he wrestled in the Army for a bit. And our team captain at the time, current US army captain Douglas McFarland was heading to West Point to play football.
And both of those guys beat me up in a way that somehow made me like them. And then I decided I wanted to do that. That’s a really confusing, I don’t know how I arrived from them. They pushed me, coach Damos made me run and condition more than anybody in my life had to that point and pretty close to since. And then Doug was way big. He was a heavyweight and he’d beat up on everybody. But somehow them being those dominant physical forces convinced me, maybe I thought if I went to West Point, it’d be cool, but that kinda set things in motion. And it was my junior year as I was getting closer to applying, it was on the cover of Forbes for being America’s best public university. And that kind of sealed the deal. So a lot of things had kind of been drawing me towards going to West Point.
And then obviously the subsequent pursuing a career in the Army. But things kind of lined up really nicely as far as mentors, being exposed to it at a early age and also like wanting to prove myself in some sort of way that I could be a successful person and West Point showing itself to be a place where successful people attended school.
What is it like going through that extremely extensive and grueling application process?
I owe my mom so much for helping me through that because it’s a lot for a 17-year-old kid to go through. You have to get a recommendation from your senator. There’s multiple letters of recommendation that you have to collect. And these are processes that, you know, as adults when you’re getting ready to apply for a job, you’re familiar with it now, but it was a first-time experience for me at that point. Gotta collect recommendations. You have to take a physical assessment, numerous essays, short answers, all this other jazz that goes into your account. And then also too, you have to build a profile outside of what it is that you’re doing specifically to show that you are someone who’s capable of being a leader at West Point. And then also in the Army once you are complete with your time there. So it was a lot and I don’t think I would have come anywhere close to getting it done without my mom saying, Hey, you should probably, you know, do this. You should probably help out here. This will look good on this. Cause I honestly never quite thought up to that point. So I didn’t know what was going to look good on that. And she really, when I told her that was something I wanted to do, she’s like OK, I’m gonna help you here. I took, well, she signed me up for ACT prep classes. I did very well on the test, but I did not go to those classes, I went to my buddy Sean’s house and played video games. But she put me in position to be very successful for it. And that’s the main reason why I got in, so thanks, Mom.
How does your life change when you step on that campus? Day one and you are now a cadet?
I don’t think it’s something that you feel at at that point in time. But looking back on it, it’s a very daunting thing to be moving into because you come into the military, everyone has all these accolades. You’ve read and you watch the news and you see all these people who have come through this institution or a part of the military or the Army in general and they’ve done such great things, but they all started at that same point. So it’s, you have infinity in front of you, infinite options to go. Like maybe I wanted to be like a cyber guy and maybe I want to be a Green Beret, whatever it was all those options were laid ahead of you. It was just a matter of working hard enough to put yourself in position there. So it’s—given how big the Army is and that you could really do anything cause it’s a meritocracy at some level or it’s closer to it than most organizations.
I didn’t realize how much opportunity was there, but I definitely realize it now. And you felt the weight of it but you didn’t understand, it was like I don’t know why this is so important, but it is because X percentage of generals are coming from West Point. They’re not just building good cadets, they’re building good platoon leaders or good company commanders who are expected to make the right decision in very difficult times. Like you know, potentially you’re going to be trading in lives for lives at some point or you’re going to be deciding if this guy gets to stay in the Army or if this gal is going to get promoted at a certain time. Like your decision-making abilities are going to affect, the second and third-order effects are going to affect hundreds, potentially thousands, potentially millions of people.
So, it all starts with can you make it through cadet basic training and then are you going to be a good enough cadet to put yourself in position to succeed at the next point and at the next point and at the next point.
The academic part of that is difficult enough. You mix wrestling into that as well. How did you manage to balance both of those and stay successful?
Oh well that implies that I was successful, so that’s where you’re wrong. I definitely did a little too much wrestling and too many burpees, probably should’ve done more school, especially if I decided to get out at some point and like wanted to apply for grad school. GPA was good enough. You’re always being ranked against your class members at West Point and you have, there’s the academic—they’ve changed a little bit. My brother’s a junior there now and there’s some differences now. When I was there, there was you have your academic ranking, you have your physical ranking, you have your military rank and those are all weighted differently. Academic being the heaviest, military I think next and physical performance. But you’re ranked one, two, I think 992 you get a number every semester and it tells you where you’re at in relation to everybody else and how well your ranking is like determining what branch you get to go to. So if I wanted to be an aviator or a finance officer, both of those kind of go out early. So if you have a high class rank, you can get those. And if you don’t, I’m not going to say anything bad about any other branches, but people know what branches go out last. Actually wait, this is not a military—it’s like field artillery, armor, the branch I went.
I was not lowly ranked, but those got out late. And then also they determine where you get to go for your first assignment. So if you worked really hard at school, then you can go to Italy or if you didn’t then you’re probably going to the also equally lovely Fort Polk, Louisiana. So it weighed on you pretty heavily and I like tried to balance it all, but I definitely, especially I walked onto the wrestling team but by my sophomore year, I think most of my identity as a cadet was rooted in wrestling team. So my grades did not really—I did well. I did better than my brother. That’s important. He’s going to graduate with a worse GPA than I did and he didn’t have the excuse of wrestling. So most importantly I beat my brother or am on track to beat him and I did well enough to pick the place, I picked Colorado, ended up going to Kansas, but got my branch that I wanted and then got my post that I wanted and stuff. Did well enough at balancing it.
How did that whole experience change you as a person?
It really just taught me how much I was capable of while also—it’s a double thing. It taught me how much I was incapable of and also how much I was capable of. Incapable in that I was surrounded by people who were so much smarter than me, other cadets or professors who were just so squared away militarily or so proficient at their jobs that they set standards that even then like even knowing that I could work really hard, I had the capacity work really hard, I knew I could never, I wasn’t going to be as smart as some of these people and I wasn’t going to be as tactically proficient as some of these other folks. They live and breathe it and they just got an understanding for it, had an understanding for it that I didn’t. But also I learned that I could function on not a ton of sleep.
I could simultaneously study hard, maintain one or two personal relationships, really not that many, but I guess the team counts. So like do a few things that were way harder than what I expected to do, especially during wrestling season when I was cutting weight and then still attending classes, fighting to stay awake, running on very little sleep, working out for four to six hours a day between the weight cut sessions and lifting weights and then wrestling practice, and then still studying, like I was capable of—if you would’ve told me that I was doing all that stuff, if you would ask me to do that stuff now, I don’t think I could, but in the right situation, I was capable of it. So even though I don’t, I wouldn’t love to operate at that level of stress, I know that I can’t do it.
So then I think the design of this is so when you are under situations of extreme pressure, like you have to make a snap decision or you’re under a time crunch in a combat situation or something more serious than turning in a paper like you have a West Point, you’re used to that amount of stress and you’re able to react appropriately and not have it overwhelm you.
How did you find CrossFit?
So it was in preparation for West Point, I think it was my junior of high school wrestling. Or had just finished, took sixth of the state of Missouri cause I’m big, big trash and was never good enough to win a state championship even my senior year. And I was like looking for ways to train for West Point. I was getting ready to go to a what they call the summer leadership experiences for rising seniors.
You go to West Point, they show you all the cool parts. They don’t tell you about the homework, but you’re like, Oh cool, I’m going to shoot guns and run around all the time. Not the case. But anyways, I was getting ready to do that and I was looking for training and somehow on the Google machine I came across CrossFit and Spencer Hendel at like Santionals 2010 ripping off massive, like 170-pound snatches or whatever was big at the time. And I was like, this is cool. Like I want to do this. So I got more into it. I like did some, a few WODs, mixed it in with my normal programming of doing a lot of crunches and hoping that girls in the pool would look at me. And my junior year or my senior year of wrestling, I started like actually mixing it in cause I was very intent on winning a state title, which again that was big fat failure and did not get that done.
But after that was complete, I had found that I liked how I was training. I thought it was in pretty good shape. So I went to the local 24-hour fitness after like, this is February, 2011. So I’ve been dabbling for a while and there was a guy at the gym named Ronnie Oswald and he was getting ready to open up one of the earliest gyms in Kansas City, CrossFit Sky’s limit. And he was like, hey, shouldn’t be telling you this cause I don’t want to get fired. But you look like you’re trying to do CrossFit, only you’re terrible, looks like like if I was blind and I was trying to describe how CrossFit works to someone who was also blind—I was like I get it, I’m bad, got it. But he was like, if you helped me build this gym, I’ll let you come for free.
And I was like, I don’t really care about anything but you said free. So I’m very interested. So I helped him build Sky’s and set up the horse mats and put the bars up and all that jazz. And I did that until I left for West Point in June. So from like March to June I was throwing down over there and at that point I was already kind of hooked cause I was in pretty good shape going in. I felt that that was my advantage, so I just stayed up with it after that.
When did you decide that, you know what, I can actually be a pretty good competitor at this?
So it’s actually this moves along very good chronologically, after cadet basic training, I came back and we did a 31 heroes WOD. It was kind of framed as a competition and we went, we did pretty well and I’d always been in like decent shape in high school, but I was competing against adults and I was like oh, I’m decently competitive. And some of these guys were Sectionals levels, athletes. I think I might’ve said Sanctional but whatever. The OGs know I meant Sectionals. Some of these guys were like Sectionals level competitors, Regional level folks. And I was like, Oh wow, I can kind of hang. And then that December I did a competition with the Army CrossFit team and Dan Teminski was there, a couple other Northeast Regional guys that were, you know, real legit were there and I made it to the final eight and I didn’t know how to do like a kettlebell swing cause I got cut, but whatever. At that point I was like, huh.
I’m like definitely competitive. And then I watched the Games in the summer of 2012 and that’s where I came up with this Games 2022 thing. I was like, if I give myself a decade, the Army, you can kind of look at your career timeline and assume like when you’re going to be in positions of like a little more free time, positions without free time. And I said, I think by 2022 I’ll be done with command and all this jazz. Like that gives me enough time, 10 years gives me enough time to train and get myself ready to make the Games by then. So that’s my goal. And I wrote down and I did a really bad Photoshop. That’s still the background of my phone. It says Games 2022 cause it was 2012, but I just copied the 2, pasted over the over the one like a genius.
One of the, one of the greatest accomplishments I have had to this day, to be honest to making that Photoshop. And I said I was going to do it. So kinda started orienting all my free time around it. And when I say all my free time, I mean like all of my free time cause I have a very obsessive personality and a lot of repressed sadness about not making it to the NFL. So I thought this is my chance to be a professional athlete. I’m getting a second shot because Lord knows I was not gonna make it for wrestling.
Four years later after you do that, you’re at Regionals. What were your expectations going into that competition?
Wow. This will sound like some really defeatist and not tough guy stuff, but I was just going to have a good time cause the whole plan that year I was training out of CrossFit 215 which had been my gym and kind of second home my entire time at West Point because getting back to Kansas is pretty hard. So I spent pretty much all my weekends out there and we were trying to send a team to Regionals and I was driving down and doing all the workouts with them. I’d graduated from West Point, but I was back coaching wrestling first semester and I was just taking a bunch of time out and I thought we were going to be able to make it as a team. And after somewhere, halfway through 16.1, I realized that we were not going to make it as a team.
And I just so happened to qualify, I thought I’d lucked out cause it was two workouts that year and I didn’t know a whole lot of CrossFit. I moved terribly. I still move terribly, but I also moved terribly then and I thought I just kinda lucked out into it. So I was like, we’ll just go there and have a good time. I finished ninth in our region and it was this first year of the super regional, if you put them all together, I was expected to take like 15th or something. So that’d be cool. Like that’d be nice to go in there and take 15th. So we’ll show up and see what happens.
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I didn’t think this, because I was in a very, very good position as far as like coaching and then having access to a competitive gym and I thought, not I thought. Platoon leader time, I was heading into platoon leader time, I was going to be moving to Fort Riley shortly thereafter and I was going to lose my training partner, Luke Conan. I had a nice spot of requisite, like a lot of things were I thought had been set up nicely for me to make it there that time. So, I was like, Oh, maybe I’ll make it again in a couple of years, but probably won’t be able to make it for the next few years and Games 2022 was still the goal. So I didn’t think anything had really changed and I just thought I’d had a good year, but I still held the competitors who would be me to such a level to where I thought I couldn’t really achieve what they achieved.
You had a freak accident I think in 2017. What exactly happened to your hand?
I always like to tell the children that it was a freak nail-biting accident. If you’re a kid and you’re listening, don’t bite your nails, but if you’re not a kid, we were coming back in from a field exercise, at this time, I’m a tank platoon leader, out of 118 infantry for Fort Riley, and we’re coming back from field exercise and part of the exercise is gotta clean off the tanks and one of the guys just kind of rushing through cleaning off the tanks. And so he knocks off the side skirt of the tank, which is the wheels, big heavy Johns, like probably half a ton. And all our recovery assets, things that would normally help you move such a heavy piece of metal protection, are still out in the field. So the idea starts somewhere.
I don’t want to be throwing names around, but idea starts somewhere, pick it up and load it onto the Humvee. And I just got out there to get yelled at because if the guys mess up, then if I’m in charge, I have also messed up. And then, so we’re, I’m helping the guys move this thing and there was a few of us taking up the piece that I’m on. And then we pick it up and it like hinges like a book closing and we’re like, okay, we’re not gonna be able to pick it up if the hinge is like a book closing. Cause then this big heavy piece, that would be the part of the book that’s coming over the top. It’s like hanging in the air. So I say, Hey, we gotta flip it over, which is also stupid. Flipping this over was not going to work either, but we gotta flip it over to make the hinge work with us.
And so while I’m explaining this to some of the other guys in the unit and they all step back to take some time to listen. Cause I mean, anytime you get to hear me speak, it’s magical and they’re just appreciating the moment, you know, beautiful winter day out in the middle of Kansas. And so I go to help bring it back down so we can flip. And as I’m bringing it down, we had five guys bring it up, but only two guys brought it down. I am one of the two guys and the other guy’s like, man, this is a lot heavier with two people. He’s right. And he says, but Lieutenant Smith, he deadlifts a ton. I saw the video, he’s really strong so he can probably just deadlifted on his own so I’m just going to let go and let him have it.
So he gets out of Dodge, but he doesn’t tell me that he’s getting out of Dodge. So it becomes a Chandler problem. And so it comes down. My deadlifts skills fail me and I’m like, Aw man. This finger, ouch. I’ll never forget looking at my glove. And it was like a black glove, a glove I had from school. I looked at the glove and like, because it had taken the piece of glove with my finger, the gloves like is missing some, you know, you shake your hand and you’re like, man, it’s really stings. I look at it and I’m like, there’s no part of that glove, which is such a ridiculous thing because my finger is where—I look at it and I already know, but I like, well let’s just take it off to check.
And so I like pull it off and it’s hard to pull off because it’s all intertwined with my bone at that point and all that jazz. I pull it off and fun fact for anybody who’s ever wondered what it would look like if you lost a digit, blood does not shoot out a la like movies. It like pours out like you’re pouring a glass of water. So like blood starts falling out of my hand and then the story’s R rated from there, but it wasn’t a good time.
When happened, I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot going through your head, but as far as your CrossFit career was concerned, what were you thinking at that time?
I thought it was super over. Um, cause I assumed, you know, like that you needed all your hands and stuff for grip, which is a good assumption.
It was also the first full day of the 2017 Open. I’d done 17.1 that night. The night it got announced, chasing Brent, I think it was Brent and Pat and which is cool now cause I’m decent enough friends of both those guys. Wow. To think about. But I was like first full day Open and I was already planning my retest for Friday, my retest for Monday and all of this other jazz and I was like, man, it’s over, it’s all over. And I didn’t have really any experience to know anything else. I don’t think anybody had had a similar injury in the sport and yeah, I thought I was toast. So very bummed for the next couple of months cause I’d also broken a few bones to where I couldn’t really sustain any like contact. So I was just running a bunch and squatting, kinda like I’m doing now. And didn’t I think I was going to be able to do much.
When you were completely healed from that, how did that affect your training moving forward?
So I think I was probably healed up like July. That happened February 27, 2017. I was getting healed up in July. I went to training Think Tank to train with Noah and Travis for the first time. I don’t remember how I made that. Oh, I was friends with Noah. I’d gone out to see him the year before. And went down to train, I got smoked. I don’t know if I want to work out all weekend, but at least I was like starting to get back in shape. And I was like, there’s some things that I could do pretty well and maybe like if I work a bunch of grip and everything. And then it had happened that I was getting ready, my unit was getting ready to deploy to Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is the continuous US presence in Europe to deter Russian aggression.
Sorry, Krenakov. And we were headed to Bulgaria to do our mission out there. And so we weren’t going to have a bunch of equipment, especially for when we first got to Europe. We were in Poland for a little bit and I said, well, I’m going to get like some kettlebells and some other things and I’ll at least work on grip. And I was told from one of my classmates that there was a rower in Bulgaria. So I was like, I’ll work my grip, I’ll row a bunch. And then maybe when I come back I’ll patch up those weaknesses and we’ll get better. And I got out there and was stopped doing the Think Tank thing, because it was difficult to meet all the pieces with work. But I started doing Misfit and was getting feedback from all that OG Misfit crew, like Jordan Cook and Travis, all these guys.
And I was losing, but I was closing the gap a little bit each week and getting a little bit better. And I was like, huh, well maybe I’m gonna be all right. And I think confidence started to go up from there over the time I was in Europe, I actually missed Regionals in 2018, my scores were, I think it was like the third guy out worldwide. And it was the only reason I didn’t make it in was being out in Bulgaria. But that may be even hungrier and kinda made me realize that actually I was pretty close at least to being a Regional level athlete again. So that was where my expectation was at.
you come back in 2019 to the US and then you take 40th overall in the Open night. It wasn’t good enough to qualify for the Games, but that’s a hell of a result. What did that do for your confidence?
So that’s when it started. That definitely drove it up a lot. I had done Dubai as a team in 2018 with Travis, Andrea Nisler, and Taylor Williamson. We took second. So we were spot out of qualifying. And I did Wodapalooza with Jordan Cook, Kenzie Riley and Chyna Cho, we took third, but one of the teams already qualified so we were a spot out of qualifying and so I was already like pretty hungry. Also my life was in shambles. I didn’t have anything else going on besides fitness so that that makes for a good training environment too. And then I moved to Fort Benning where I was doing the maneuver captain’s career course. So I have a little bit more time than I’d had at Fort Riley and all these things like knowing that I have a little bit more resources, knowing that I was capable of being at least like Games level team athlete, that all kind of had begun to build my confidence.
So I attacked the Open a little bit differently than I had in years past. Like I wasn’t viewing myself as someone who was not good enough to be performing with these guys. I was like, I kind of think I belong, and having that flipped mindset allowed me to perform like someone who belonged. I think it really set the stage for I guess I only did one Sanctional, but for the Sanctional I ended up doing that year. I wouldn’t have thought I could hang at Rogue if I hadn’t already hung and traded workouts with some very, very good guys over the course of the 2019 Open.
Yeah. You mentioned the Rogue Invitational and that is a loaded field. What were your expectations when you showed up in Columbus?
I like was hoping I was going to be in the mix, but I didn’t really think, I didn’t think I was going to get the spot. Like I thought I was going to be close, but I’d had a couple of close calls before, like being the first guy out at Regionals. At some point like if you’re a little bit of a negative person, which I can tend to be when I’m not at my best, you expect that things happen. I said, well, we were a spot away at the last two ones. I was a few spots, I think I was like five spots out from qualifying from the Open. Didn’t make Regionals the year before, the few spots. I was like, I’m probably going to come close and then not do well. But, my training going into that was awesome, awesome. So I did have a lot of confidence in my own physical abilities. I just figured that like I didn’t give my abilities enough credit and I thought the situation was going to be enough to overcome the fact that I was hanging out with my buds every day. We were really getting after it and I had like good sleep and like life was supporting being good at fitness for the first time in a while.
How are you feeling then after that where it’s all said and done, you’re in fifth place and not only are you in fifth, but you now have the invite to go to the CrossFit Games three years ahead of your goal?
That made me smile super big just hearing that. It felt really, really good because it was a goal realized. But then after a goal is realized, you know, you only, you end up setting setting new ones. So didn’t really allow that to last too long. And it was a pretty quick turnaround cause I think it was mid May and the Games were in July. So just continued to try and orient my life around being ready to go and perform well at the Games. The Army fitness team was a concept I’d heard about when I was still at Fort Riley in 2018, like September. And I didn’t think it was going to come through because again, my mentality was just decently negative at that point in time. But it was starting to settle down and it looked like it was something that was actually going to happen.
So I was boiling up some confidence that not only was I going to be able to go and give a good effort at that point in time, but I was also going to be able to set conditions to perform better in the future, which gave me even more confidence, like really buy in, you know, like knowing that I wasn’t just going to do it this year and then some situation was going to occur next year that was going to keep me from training. I fully believed that I was going go, if I went all in on the Games, not only would it help me for the 2019 Games but it’ll also set the stage for me to make it in 2020. And then, you know, I’m still hoping to do some things in 2022. So that’s looking a little bit further ahead. But really just bought, went all in and think I got the result I earned at the Games and I was really grateful for it.
Yeah. You finished 15th at the Games. What stands out to you about the way you performed under that brand new structure?
Man, that structure is definitely something that stresses the athletes out. And even though I think I’ve been in situations that helped prepare me to deal with stress, I was still pretty high strung the whole weekend, but I didn’t let it affect my performance. I did a good job of clearing my head and dealing with the highs and lows of the weekend. I want to say it was you who said that I had a roller coaster of a weekend on one of the broadcasts, because I went from, I took second in the first workout and I took 48th in the next one, and then I took fourth in the ruck and then like 30-something on the sled. I was all over the place all weekend. And I didn’t let it really get to me. I stayed—my mentality was positive before the first workout, like immediately before, sure you have your jitters and everything.
But like before it was like, I’m gonna go and I’m going to give it my best and what I get is what I get. And then after the second workout, when I’d done poorly, I said, well, that didn’t go great, but I’m going to go after it tomorrow and I’m going to do what I do and see what happens. And things just continued to work. So I really do feel—the cuts, you know, were what they were. Some people feel like they got screwed or some people did better than they would have and that’s definitely the case. But I definitely feel like I got what I earned as well. Like the work that I’d put in and to be strong mentally and stay consistent over it gave me a consistent and a pretty good result that I think lined up with my level of fitness.
What do you think the biggest difference between Chandler Smith right now and Chandler Smith one year ago is?
A year ago? So this is right in the middle of the Open 2019. Well there’s the obvious confidence part where I know that given the right set of conditions I can compete with anybody in the world in this sport. So the confidence is the biggest and most obvious one, which I’ve talked about a decent amount, but I think I’m just a little bit mature and acknowledging that there’s some things that maybe I’m not as great at and I reach out a lot better for not only like physical health but you know like if I need a friend in a certain time, like I don’t think—maybe a detriment of coming from where I came from is that like you learn how capable you are and then you don’t rely on other people as much as you should.
But being a little bit further away from that, getting a little bit older, maybe not wiser, but like trying to be has helped me recognize my limitations and applying that to the sport has made me a better athlete and I think it’s like kind of trite to say that I’m a better person, but I definitely have enough lessons learned from last year to where my approach for this season, regardless of what the results are, is going to be better comprehensively, like holistically then last year’s. Maybe I’m not as much of an obsessive as I was about some things. But I still think t’s all working towards me performing better and it’s also helped me be somebody who’s giving back more and is better for other people be around, which is more important than being, if I take 12th verses or 17th, I’m hoping to still be top 20. That’s who gets paid. But like, you know, 12th vs 17th that’s great that it didn’t work, but I’m in a job where I’m able to make a difference, positively affect the lives of the guys I work with, cause I’m in a better space and also be a resource for people who reach out to me as well. And I think that’s more important than anything else and I wouldn’t have recognized that before.
You mentioned confidence. How did winning the Mayhem Classic help bolster that?
So again, it’s always, it’s temporary. I mentioned the concept of the double thing. It’s one I grapple with a lot where you like simultaneously believe two contradicting things at the same time, the old George Orwell 1984 thing where like now that I’ve won Mayhem, I know that I can win a Sanctional, but also you allow enough of the haters coming in and telling you that there wasn’t enough good people. You didn’t beat anybody, you allow enough of that in to where you still feel hungry. I won Mayhem hurt, I haven’t really gotten too far into the specifics of the injury, but I was hurt going into it and managed to make it through. And so I know what I’m capable of if I’m healthy and even if I didn’t get to fully express that I can have confidence from that. But also I have a better relationship with allowing what other people say affect me, but only in a way that fuels me. Not in a way that brings me down. So the confidence is increased, but at the same time it hasn’t grown enough to where I am past knowing that there’s people who think it’s not legitimate for one reason or another.
You were dealing with a hand injury at Mayhem? Okay. I just wanted to clarify that. Where is that right now as far as the healing process goes?
It’s getting closer. Should have the splint off in the next week, I’ve like started to rehab it pretty aggressively as far as like when the times when it’s out of the sprint. I’ve done nothing but swim, run and squat for the last month and change. And I had to drop out of Wodapalooza because of it, which is a super bummer cause that’s an awesome event where they give me a chance to, you know, maybe put some of the haters to rest, but I wasn’t able to train for it. I have West Coast coming up next month and I’ll be training through that. But I’m just hoping to go and be ready for, really for the Games but also for Rogue because of how, you know, special ed event is to me personally, like peaking for that and being trained up for that is kind of the first priority right now. But until then, staying in busy with some fun comps, doing like some team stuff with the Army Warrior Fitness team, doing some running and stuff with ol’ Hunter Mcintire and Heppner and just in general trying to be as ready as possible so that way when the time comes I’m able to fully express my capacity at that point in time. I’m not limited by peaking at the wrong time or any of that other jazz. Like I am as ready as possible for the show. Cause that’s what matters.
Final question. What are you the most proud of when you look back on what you’ve accomplished so far during your career?
I think I’ve—I hope this doesn’t sound corny. I have like been a good representative of a professional athlete for all the groups that I get to represent. So like, it’s February, it’s black history month. I’ve had a lot more people reach out and that’s—this space isn’t filled with a ton of people who look like I do. So that’s important to me. Being a soldier is very important to me. It’s the core of my identity for my entire adult life. Being a wrestler is important to me. And there’s other people who fit all these groups, but I also recognize that the intersection of some of these groups like only occurs within me. Like maybe there’s not another soldier out there who, so that means there’s not a soldier wrestler out there. And so I’m able to represent for a lot of groups.
I don’t think I’ve done anything to like negatively represent them. That’s the most important thing. All the lessons I learned from being around the pro athletes growing up, there was some things that they did well, some things that they didn’t do, but I came in with this goal sheet that I made in 2015 when I started to get pretty competitive. And the whole first part of it was all related to things that weren’t like more specific goals. There were stuff on the other side, like, I want to squat 600 pounds and have the one-minute Fran and all this other jazz because I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought it was like, all right, linear progression will continue to occur, but all of these other things I’ve been able to hold true to. And even though some of them were misguided as far as like what my priorities were, I’ve remained pretty true to myself and haven’t done anything to negatively represent the people who are nice enough to believe in me or who I’m blessed enough to get to represent. So that’s what I’m most proud of.
Chandler. Listen, man, it is always an absolute pleasure to speak with you. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. Best of luck moving forward and I hope the hand heals up quickly.
Thanks, Sean, I appreciate you having me. Thanks for letting me blabber on for an hour.
Big thanks to Chandler Smith for taking the time to speak with me. He is one of the genuinely nicest people you’ll ever meet and it is always a pleasure talking with him. Do you want to follow him on social media? He is on Instagram. You can find him at @blacksmifff, and that’s Smifff with three Fs. If you’re a business owner who craves actionable advice that can move you closer to wealth, you’ve got to pick up Chris Cooper’s book. “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” is available on Amazon now. Thanks for listening everybody. We’ll see you next time.
On Wednesdays, Sean Woodland tells the best stories in the CrossFit community on Two-Brain Radio With Sean Woodland.
Two-Brain Radio presents marketing tips and success stories every Monday, and Chris Cooper delivers the best of the business world every Thursday.
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