PHYSICAL activity came naturally to Mat Fraser. His parents, Don and Candace, finished 14th at the 1976 Olympics as the Canadian pairs figure skating team, and they encouraged their younger son's athletic side. By the time he was 14, Mat had decided to make Olympic glory a family affair. So on the day he graduated from high school in 2008 he drove from his home in Colchester, Vt., to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., with hopes of making the 2012 U.S. weightlifting team.
A year and a half later, a month before the 2009 junior world championships in Romania, Fraser did a clean while training and heard a snap in his back. He was in pain but felt it was too late to withdraw, so he went to Romania, downed "a couple of bottles of ibuprofen" and groaned his way to 15th—in a field of 16.
Upon his return to the States an X-ray revealed two breaks in his L5 vertebra. His doctor recommended spinal fusion, but the procedure meant that Fraser's athletic future would be limited to light jogging. He searched for an alternative and came upon Robert Bray, a neurosurgeon experimenting with a procedure that involved rebreaking the spine and inserting a protein sponge to stimulate bone growth and aid healing. If Fraser could get himself to California, Bray would do the surgery for free—but the most he could offer was a 50/50 chance of recovery.
That was enough. Fraser had the operation on Christmas Eve 2009 and resumed training four months later. A year after the surgery he placed third at the 2010 American Open.
But something was missing: Fraser had lost his love for the sport. He went home to study engineering at Vermont, where he wandered into Champlain Valley CrossFit and tried a workout that generally involves interval training made up of exercises focusing on strength and cardiovascular output. That day he paced the group in kettlebell swings but was shocked to see a man in his 50s blow by during the 400-meter run that followed. He was hooked.
In 2013 he started training for real, working on everything from strength to agility to endurance. After finishing second at the CrossFit Games in 2014 and '15, the 5'7", 190-pound Fraser, 26, won in 2016 with one of the most dominating performances in the history of the sport. Along the way he rediscovered his passion. "With CrossFit it's different all the time," he says. "It's fun." He may never be an Olympian, but he's back.
Presented by edge
Mat Fraser's weightlifting past taught him three of CrossFit's foundational moves.
Toes pointed slightly out, lead with the butt, keep the back straight and let your knees follow your toes. Thighs parallel to the floor.
Start with back straight and shins touching the bar. Drive up through your heels until your hips are open and your chest points up.
Start with elbows in front of bar, head back. Push straight up, bringing head forward and fully extending arms.
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