Chad Mackay is a name synonymous with Australian CrossFit, a six time regional competitor, four Games appearances and a member of the Froning defeating 2013 Invitational Team.
Known for his focus on the competition floor, his enormous calves and his dedication to movement quality and nutrition Chad had a big 2015. After failing to qualify for the Games in 2014 Chad spent the offseason attacking his weaknesses. The hard work paid off rewarding him with his best finish in the Open and a strong third place finish at Regionals which earnt him his 4th ticket to the Games.
On Friday night, under the lights of the tennis stadium, Mackay was poised for his best-ever finish. Sitting in 3rd overall, a spot on the podium was well within his reach when injury struck. A broken first rib saw him withdraw from the competition leaving many wondering would this be the last time we see Chad Mackay competing at the Games.
Notably missing from the 2016 Open Leaderboard, Hundy sat down with the man himself to talk about what might have been at the 2015 Games and to find out the question on everyone's’ mind - have we seen the last of ‘The Big Australian.’
2015 was obviously a big year for you, did you have any expectations going into the Games?
In the lead up to the games I was probably the most relaxed I have ever been. I got to California about four weeks before the Games and spent those weeks getting over jetlag and acclimatizing to the weather, but I felt super relaxed.
Coming into the games do you ever set yourself a goal, like I want to finish top ten or be in the top heat all weekend?
No, I never have those kinds of expectations. I just want to give my absolute best on every workout, as long as you do your absolute best, whatever the result may be, you have to be happy with it knowing that you left it all on the floor. That’s all I can control and as long as that happens, I’m happy.
How do you approach the workouts at the Games, just go hard?
I am smart about it, I look at the events and normally have Pat and Ads with me (Patrick Fitzsimons and Adam Pirri) and we will talk through the workouts. I normally know what my best events are so I make sure that I capitalize on those and get the most points possible. Whenever there is an event that’s not in my wheelhouse I just stick to my game plan no matter what everyone else is doing. I know what events I’m good at and I go in with a little bit of arrogance or confidence about it, just knowing I’ll perform really well.
One of the most controversial events of the 2015 games was Murph, and for those of us who watched last year it seemed like there was this massive sprint at the start while you casually jogged out behind everyone. What was your game plan?
I did Murph the day I landed in America with a weight vest and it took me close to an hour, I remember thinking, “far out this is going to be a hard workout.” After that in the weeks leading up to the games AB (Alethea Boon) and I did about four or five different variations of it. This helped us know how to pace, how to break things up and when to push. So on the day, when the guys sprinted out of the gate I stuck to my game plan. I knew I would be the last one to finish the run, but I also knew I’d catch a lot of them.
I broke the pull ups up into sets of five, I didn’t get any no reps and didn’t tear my hands. I moved on to the push ups. They had a really strict standard on the push ups, which they were clear about from the start, so I knew to be careful with this and make sure to keep my knees off the ground. The standard made them hard, and I did get a few no reps, but I’m pretty sure I got less than most of the other guys.
Moving to the squats I felt pretty good, I just tried to keep up a decent pace. I remember I kept accidentally spitting on my judge, because it was so hot and I didn’t want to have to turn my head and spit, so I was trying to kind of spit to the side. I was apologising and he just kept counting my reps, I don’t even know if he noticed!
I finished the squats and it was time for the last mile. I couldn’t feel my legs but I saw some guys jogging slowly ahead of me so I thought lets go. I would power walk up the hill, run on the flat bit, and I was passing a few guys. Then Dan Bailey ran up next to me and I though ok just stick right behind Bailey, we ran together for about 400m and I got a stitch and he took off. When I got back to the stadium I saw Nathan Bramblet about a quarter of the field ahead of me, so I turned it on, beat him by about a meter and I ended up coming in 18th after having come in 45th from the first run, I was very proud of my performance in Murph.
Following Murph you had the Speed Snatch Ladder and Heavy DT that night let’s talks about those events.
Yeah, the Snatch Ladder was sweet, I got no repped on the first snatch of the second round-
Why did you get no repped? How did it make you feel?
I was furious on the inside, but I kept it together. I hit the snatch, I think it was 205, thought I controlled in back up and then brought it down nicely but the judge said that I didn’t show control at the top, so I stayed composed hit it again. Obviously in that type of event you can’t afford that. The judge that no repped me was the same guy who no repped Lucas Parker and Camille later on. I think the got pulled off the floor for the rest of the event after that. But those things happen, not much you can do about it and I don’t really know how much of a difference it would have made.
So then it was heavy DT, and going into to this you were sitting in third place, with only a few points separating you from second and first.
I was excited for heavy DT, it’s definitely my jam. I was out back warming up and I watched a couple of guys in the heat before me go and they just looked like they were hurting. I decided I was going to drop every deadlift to try and save my grip and keep my heart rate low.
The workout started and I was between Matt Fraser and Ben Smith and they were going touch and go on their deadlifts. I stuck to my game plan of singles and after the first round I was only about 4 reps behind them. I started my second round, did all the deadlifts, all the hang power cleans, 5 of the shoulder to overheads, went for my last rep and when I caught it back in my front rack I heard and felt this loud crack. I dropped the bar, moved my arms around, trying to see if I had any limitations, moved my neck, I couldn’t really feel my left arm, I knew something was wrong but I gave myself some time and did the deadlifts. I took a rest and I figured well if I can moved my arms overhead let’s try a hang power clean. So I cleaned the bar and when it landed in my front rack I felt a grinding noise and a shooting pain in the back of my neck and I knew that it was all over.
I walked to the back of my lane, talked to the doctor and talked to Castro. I didn’t want to leave the floor right away, because I wanted to take a moment to soak it all in, I knew I would never be back on the floor again. And those last reps of DT were my last time ever competing at the Games, I just knew, in that moment, I was done.
We did the x-rays out the back, the doctor found the fracture in my first rib and said that I was out of the competition. I got a bit emotional from the confirmation of it all. My family and friends came in and I composed myself, I didn’t want to let them know that I was hurting inside. The truth was I had already decided it was my last year, that made it a little harder as well.
You were doing so well. How do you think you would have gone on the Peg Board?
It’s hard to say, but I liked the peg board.
Had you ever been on one before?
No, but those kinds of high skill, figure it out on the fly, strong grip movements are in my wheelhouse. I would have backed myself, I really think that I would have performed well on that. Plus also my recovery from Murph had been pretty good, I didn’t really feel much from it.
Interesting, most athletes have said Murph crushed them for days.
Yeah, well I think it’s because I got so few no reps, on both the pull ups and the push ups so I didn’t blow out my upper body too much. I really think my overall game plan would have paid off in the back end of the 3 days and I would have felt pretty confident going in. Plus I hopefully would have been in the top heat so I would have been able to see some of the other heats go before me.
Your best finish at the Games is 9th, where do you think you would have finished?
Ahh it’s hard to say, I would have liked to be in the top heat and I would like to believe that I would have been…but it’s hard to say.
So what’s the best part of competing at the Games, what do you love the most?
I think the Games is the place where I can really showcase what I can do. The events really bring out the best in my ability, the pressure of not making it isn’t there. And it just feels like home now, warming up for the events, with everyone there, just to be able to share the weekend highs and lows with everyone, feeling the support from around the world.
So you have already mentioned it a few times here and I know you have said it before, but you had previously decided that 2015 was your last year of competition. With everything that happened did you ever consider giving it another crack?
Well I was pretty unsure until about December, I was struggling with feelings of unfinished business, I felt like I could go back, but at the same time I was asking myself “Are you ready to sacrifice another year of your life for this again?”
But then again what if I went back, what if I could have the fairy tale ending? It was really mixed emotions. I spoke with friends, family and loved ones about it, and I event went to see a sports physiologist to try and get some clarity surrounding it. He helped me put a different light on things, and helped me ask myself the right questions. Like why do I compete? And what would I really gain from going back? I also really have to think about everything that happens behind the scene, the toll it takes on my family and friends, the toll it takes on my body and I just came to the conclusion I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of that again.
You are often regarded as somewhat of a hero in the Australian community, did that play on your mind at all? Did you feel any pressure of having to continue being THE Chad Mackay?
Not really, I never really feel that. I think the pressure comes more from myself internally, it’s more not wanting to let anyone down, my family, my friends, those that have come out to support me. But that was one of the biggest thing I realized, is those who love me really don’t care how I do, if I do well they are happy for me and if I do badly they feel my pain with me. But it doesn’t affect how they view me in anyway whatsoever.
Very well said... Now that your individual competition career is over would you ever consider competing outside of being an individual, like Masters? Or team?
I always knew I wasn’t interested in competing in masters, and the boys and I (the co-owners of Active) have always joked about putting together a super team, but it has never really happened and I doubt it would. So I guess to answer your question, I have thought about it but I probably wouldn’t do it.
I see the way the Masters train and I know myself, I would give it my all. So Masters would be just as much sacrifice. The guys for the Super team aren’t ready to put any end of their individual career, so yes it would be cool to go and win it on a team, but at the same time I want to help other athletes get to experience what I have gotten to experience.
So how what will you miss most then about being a competitive athlete and how will you fill that void?
I think I’ll miss that feeling of finishing a workout, walking out the back with the people you just competed against and have all the pressure of the event go straight away, and having a couple of laughs with everyone. I have been getting back into surfing, soft sand running down at Bondi and ocean swims. Basically all the things I couldn’t do when I was training in the gym all the time, so that’s been really good.
How do you feel at the moment with the Open being done and not preparing for Regionals?
I actually did all the open workouts on my own, but I didn’t register.
I just didn’t want to run the risk of being swept down the rabbit hole. With me I’m either all in or nothing at all, I just didn’t want to get swept up in the whole Open experience. This year has been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster for me so I thought I should just play it safe.
What won’t you miss about being a competitive athlete?
Ohh that’s really hard, give me a sec. I think the constant niggles. Having to manage constant tweaks and niggles and the worries that surround that. Everyone goes into the game with something that they are managing and worrying about.
So what’s next for you? What’s your main focus now?
My business, Active. The boys and I have come up with some different exciting ideas that we would like to do as a business and those ideas excite me. Formats where we are all working together and get to share knowledge instead of telling people what to do and shoving it down their throats.
What do you think Crossfit will look like in 10 years?
I think the top girls will be snatching 100kg and clean and jerking 130kg. While the top guys will be snatching 150kg, clean and jerking 180kg, Back squatting 272kg all while weighing like 93 kg! I think we will also see athletes having contracts or sponsorships with HQ, like if you make the Games you basically get paid to workout for a year and hopefully make it again.
Do you not think the sport might die down a bit?
I don’t think so, just because of the next generation. You look at the guys and girls at my gym, they are all 20-40 years old on average, they are all going to have kids and put them into gymnastics bring them to the gym, and then it will continue to grow from there.
How about HQ, do you think Castro could be doing anything different?
Not really. I think it’s all spot on and Castro really has his figure on the pulse. I know there was a lot of talk about the programing at the Games, but I think it was great, and the top tier athletes continued to shine no matter what was thrown at them, and yes it was hard, but it should be hard. I also think that the open is really well programed and really inclusive, so there really is nothing to change.
Looking back, what has been the highlight of your competitive career?
Winning Pendleton in 2012. It was my second time at the Games, I’ll never forget winning an event in such a unique location. Oh and also 2010 Regionals weekend, I was sick and had diarrhea all weekend, I thought I was going to shit my pants on the run of the last event. So yeah, winning Pendleton and not shitting myself on the run at the 2010 Regionals.
I see why those made the highlight reel! Finally, if you could write a message from yourself and give it to every new athlete who started crossfit, what would it say?
Move well, listen to your body and have fun.
Would it change if the athlete were three years in?
Nah, it would stay the same, move well, listen to your body and have fun.