As a five-time CrossFit Games Champion, Mat Fraser has become synonymous with such lofty titles as “Fittest Man on Earth.” It takes a lot to not only win a CrossFit Games event and even more to dominate the sport for as long as Fraser did and to have witnessed his training routine at the peak of his fitness would have been to see a man committed to not only pushing his competition, but defying his own expectations and the ideas he had about himself.
With his unwavering dedication to fitness and training and the kind of lifestyle that revolved around his sport, Fraser has unsurprisingly come to be seen as the GOAT of the CrossFit Games. His legacy is one that will be hard to surpass, cementing his status as one of the greatest to have ever come into the sport. But where those who are great often come to be seen as a snapshot image of success, undermining the years spent toiling away in dark gyms to simply get to such a point, audiences often forget that Fraser, too, had his work cut out for him. And as endurance coach Chris Hinshaw recalls, there was even a moment where Fraser’s participation int he 2017 event could have ended in his death.
In a conversation with powerlifter Mark Bell on his Power Project podcast, Hinshaw recalled how Fraser “almost drowned one year in the Games,” potentially changing the history of the sport. As Hinshaw described, “[He] enters the water first, and one of the things that people don’t understand, when you are running and you get into the water, you recover significantly faster by being prone. And so I told him, hit the water and be gassed, make sure you’re out in front. And he did it, he’s a soldier. So he hits the water…remember it’s 500 metres, you have to swim basically diagonal to the shore, round a buoy…and swim across the original starting point, parallel to the shore, hit a second buoy, and then come back to the boat ramp and be done.”
“He passes the first buoys, and in first place, he starts getting passed as it’s going down the long straightaway by faster swimmers. So as a response, you know what he does? He drops in behind them and drafts, because it’s 20 plus per cent easier being number two. Which means that you can go 20 per cent faster or if you’re the same speed, just save 20 per cent of your energy. That’s what he’s learned. And so one of the things he had to do was accelerate his kick because the person was more than 20 per cent faster.”
But as Hinshaw explained, Fraser didn’t have the aerobic capacity required for such a kick and his legs ended up consuming all of the oxygen. “Next thing you know, Brent Fikowski, one of the podium finishers that year, grabs him and pulls him, because he was bobbin in the water. He was going to drown,” said Hinshaw.
Thankfully, Fraser managed to narrowly avoid disaster and complete the rest of the swim. “Here he is, he almost dies in an event, yet he finishes fifth,” Hinshaw recalled. Still, the lesson from such a day is an important one.
“If you run and you get tired, you could stop. But if you swim and you get tired, you die. I didn’t know that, coming from a swimming background, I thought anybody could just float. But that’s not the case. So we had to teach him how to swim slow.”