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Soldiers vie in survival of the fittest at 2019 CrossFit Games

By Devon L. Suits Army News Service

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The sound of cheering carried across the Alliant Energy Center as the top athletes from over 100 countries took the field Thursday during the 2019 CrossFit Games opening ceremony.

Amongst a sea of U.S. competitors, Lt. Col. Anthony Kurz and Capt. Chandler Smith took it all in as they looked around the crowded North Field. Kurz proudly displayed his Army Special Forces flag as a nod to the Special Forces community. Those cheering included members of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and Warrior Fitness team who were there to support their teammates and engage with the fitness community.

It took Smith and Kurz years to get to this moment, as they stood ready for the "world's premier" CrossFit competition. At this level, victory would not come easy, considering each workout would test the limits of their athletic ability and resolve.

CAPT. CHANDLER SMITH

Just hours after the opening ceremony, Smith was back on the field for his workout in the men's individual bracket. He was ranked 40th overall at the start of the games.

There was a lot at stake during the first cut of the competition. Out of the 143 men participating, only 75 would make it to the next round. The first workout was also designed to be a true test of strength and endurance.

Each competitor would need to complete a 400-meter run, three legless rope climbs, and seven 185-pound squat snatches, in under 20 minutes. The field of competitors would then be ranked based on their overall time. For some athletes, the first workout was more than they could handle.

Smith came out strong and maintained his overall pace. In the end, he took second place -- 35 seconds behind the leader, Matthew Fraser.

"I knew my competitors were going to come out fast," Smith said. "I wanted to stay within that top three. By the third set, I wanted to pick up on my squat snatches. This was a good start for the rest of the weekend."

Moving into the second cut of the competition, Smith looked loose and determined to continue on his previous success.

Competitors had 10 minutes to complete an 800-meter row, 66 kettlebell jerks, and a 132-foot handstand walk. Like the first round, athletes would be ranked and scored on their overall time.

Smith was not far behind the leader after the first exercise. Sitting in a good position, he moved into the 16-kilogram kettlebell jerks and quickly fell behind after a series of "no-repetition" calls by the judge.

Smith placed 48th overall in the workout and only 50 athletes would move on to compete on day two.

Through it all, he wasn't overly focused on his position, he said. For the first time in a long time, Smith said he was having fun, and he planned to approach each workout with the same high level of intensity.

"The experience has been phenomenal because I have been around a lot of folks that stayed positive," he said. "I have learned so much about what it takes for me to perform at my peak. This will hopefully help me in the future in regards to maximizing [my] performance potential."

On day two of the competition, Smith competed in three events.

The day started with a 6,000-meter ruck with increasing increments of weight. Competitors then moved to the "sprint couplet" event, where they had to complete a 172-foot sled push, 18 bar muscle-ups, and a second sled push back to the finish line. Smith placed fourth in the ruck and 32nd in the sprint couplet.

The last event of the day took place in the arena, where athletes had 20 minutes to complete as many reps as possible. Each rep included five handstand pushups, 10 pistol squats, and 15 pull-ups. Smith placed 13th in the final workout of the day, landing him a spot in the top 20.

"I would give my performance a nine out of 10," he said. "I met my goal of making it to the last day and maintained the right competitive attitude throughout the competition."

Moving on to day three, Smith had one last workout to try to break into the top 10. During the sprint event, competitors had to complete an out-and-back race across North Field. Upon their return, athletes had to cut through several tight turns before crossing the finish line.

Smith gave his all, but at the end of the workout, he tied for 13th place. Officially cut from the competition, he held his head high as he walked off the field ranked 15th overall.

"I controlled everything I could, and gave my absolute maximum effort on all events," he said. "I feel like I made significant growth this year. I will try to replicate my training and couple it with my improved mental onset to achieve a better result here at the CrossFit Games next year."

Overall, Smith is honored to represent himself as both a Soldier and an athlete, he said. He feels lucky to represent the force at large, knowing there are so many talented Soldiers in the fitness field throughout the Army.

"The biggest lesson I can pass on: keep a positive perspective," he said. "The nature of the Army means our schedules are unpredictable and constant [athletic] training can be hard to come by."

Soldiers that learn to work past those scheduling conflicts will have a better respect for their journey, Smith said. In the end, there is always an approach a Soldier can take to be successful -- they just have to find it.

"Leaders in the Army don't see problems, they see solutions," he added.

LT. COL. ANTHONY KURZ

The men's master competition started on day two of the CrossFit Games. Kurz, a Special Forces officer assigned to the Asymmetric Warfare Group at Fort Meade, Maryland, was competing in the 40- to 44-year-old age bracket.

Kurz got into CrossFit shortly after graduating from the Special Forces qualification course. While assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he received his level-one CrossFit certification and delved deeper into the sport.

Whenever he deployed as an Operational Detachment Alpha, or ODA commander, Kurz and his teammates would often engage in CrossFit-type workouts to keep them fit for the fight, he said.

"In an ODA, everybody is always competitive. We would do our [CrossFit] workout of the day and post them on the board. That healthy rivalry makes you better," he said.

"We have some phenomenal athletes in the Special Forces community, but they train for something different," Kurz said. "It was good to represent them [at the CrossFit Games]."

Coming into the Games, Kurz was ranked 4th overall and 1st in the online qualifier. On the floor, he appeared healthy and determined, but behind the scenes, he was quietly recovering from a minor shoulder injury, he said.

During his first timed workout, Kurz completed a 500-meter row and 30 bar-facing burpees. He placed fifth out of 10 athletes in his bracket. Hours later, he was back on the floor for his second event. He maintained an excellent position to move up the ranks.

During the second workout, athletes needed to complete five rounds of exercises. Each set included three rope climbs, 15 front squats, and 60 jump rope "double-unders."

The combination of upper body exercises exacerbated his pre-existing injury, Kurz said. In frustration, he let out a loud yell during the event as he finished in last place.

"I was only pulling with one arm," he said. "At this level of competition, if something goes wrong, there is nowhere to hide. It is frustrating, but it was also a great learning experience. Everybody wants to be on top of the podium."

The final event for the day was a 6,000-meter ruck run with increasing increments of weight after each lap. Kurz placed 5th in the workout.

On day three of the games, Kurz had to complete two workouts. The first event was the sandbag triplet. Athletes started with a 90-foot handstand walk, then moved to the air bike to burn 35 calories. They then had to carry a 200-pound sandbag for 90 feet to the finish line. Kurz placed 7th in the event.

The second event of the day, known as the "down and back chipper," was the most taxing workout thus far. Kurz had to complete an 800-meter run, 30 handstand pushups, 30 dumbbell thrusters, 30 box jump-overs, and 30 power cleans. Competitors had to then go back through the same exercises, finishing the event with the run.

Kurz pushed hard the entire event, all while trying to avoid injuring his shoulder further. On the last 10 reps of the handstand push-up, his strength gave out. Angered that he couldn't finish the event, Kurz stayed on the field while the judges were setting up for the next heat.

"I never quit on a workout, and I wasn't going to start today," he said. "You have got to take the small victories. I was once told: 'Persistence is a graded event.' It is something that has always stuck in my head."

Kurz laid it all on the line on the final day, submitting two of his best workouts of the competition. During the two-repetition overhead squad workout, Kurz lifted 280 pounds and placed second in the event. Moreover, he took first place in the final workout, known as the "Bicouplet 1."

Kurz placed 9th overall.

"I'm glad I was able to fight back on the last day and go out with an event win. Looking back, 9th isn't what I expected, but I'm proud of my performance," he said. "I think I turned in the best performance possible given the limits of my body."

"We always say that in combat you can have the best plan, but the enemy always gets a vote on how things go. This is no different. I had solid plans going into the WODs, made the right adjustments on the fly, and pushed through the adversity. I capped it all off with an event win -- I'll take it."

In the end, Kurz was proud to represent the Army and the Special Forces community, he said.

"As I look back at my old [Special Forces] team and I feel like many of them could have done the same thing if given the opportunity and the time to train," he said. "I feel very lucky. My life led me in a certain way, and I was able to take all this time to get to this level.

"I'm super stoked that people are still excited, given how the weekend has gone for me," he added. "It has been frustrating and humbling. Even though I had setbacks, I [did] the best I could."