FORT MEADE, Md. — After placing fifth at the Rogue Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, an armor officer and member of the Army Warrior Fitness Team has stamped his ticket to the CrossFit Games starting Thursday in Madison, Wisconsin.
During the four-day competition, Capt. Chandler Smith said he looks forward to sharing his Army story at one of the largest fitness contests in the world.
“My goals at the CrossFit Games are reflective of my Army career goals as a whole,” Smith said. “My efforts there could potentially [bring in] a Soldier that will help educate my [future] son or daughter when they decide to join the Army.
“I want to do something at the games that [helps] the Army, and the world, become a better place,” he added. “If someone sees my positivity and chooses to reflect that in their daily life — that is a win.”
Smith was born in Gainesville, Florida. His father, Cedric, was a former NFL fullback and currently works as a strength and conditioning coach in the league. As an aspiring young athlete, Smith had ample opportunity to interact with many players and coaches, which taught him to remain humble, he said.
During high school, Smith decided to get into wrestling. His coach, Nage Damas, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a three-year letter winner on its wrestling team. Through their interaction, Smith decided to enroll in the academy.
“I am the person who is big on discipline,” Smith said. “West Point presented the hardest road … and presented the biggest challenge in comparison to the other academies.”
At the time the Army was highly involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith believed the Army provided the best opportunity for applied leadership.
“Those were conflicts I saw myself in. As an aspiring leader, you want to place yourself at points of friction,” he said.
As both a cadet and wrestler, Smith worked hard to exceed West Point’s academic, physical and military performance standards, he said. He strived to be a positive example for all of his teammates and peers.
“I have been given some gifts in the physical realm,” Smith said. “It is something that the Army has helped me foster by putting me around similarly-minded [people].
“I’m big on putting a focused effort toward whatever it is that I am in charge of doing,” he added. “Anything less than my best would be to sacrifice my gift — that’s how I see it.”
A NEW PATH
Smith’s respect for CrossFit started long before his time at West Point, he said.
“I wanted to do all the cool guy stuff that you see on TV. [CrossFit] helped me out with wrestling during high school and college,” he said.
After Smith graduated in 2015, CrossFit presented the most natural transition to help “stoke that competitive fire,” he added. In between his duties as a new lieutenant, Smith would spend hours in the gym. He was determined to make the CrossFit Games by 2020.
However, Smith’s fitness career almost derailed in February 2016. During an Army exercise, Smith sustained an injury, which broke his left ring finger in two places and sliced off the tip.
The injury happened a day before the CrossFit Open, the first qualifying stage for the CrossFit Games. The year prior, Smith placed 174th overall out of 273,000 total participants, according to CrossFit officials.
Smith took some time to recover and had to learn to operate with his new hand. He took a step back and started to reevaluate his ability to compete.
I didn’t realize that grip strength is a weakness of mine until I had something that affected my ability to grip. I began to specialize in the type of fitness my musculature can naturally support,” he said. “It ended up being a case of traumatic growth as this setback led to greater results.”
Through it all, Smith continued to move up in the ranks. He placed 128th overall in 2018 in the CrossFit standings. Coming into this year’s CrossFit Games, he is ranked 40th overall, according to program officials.
“I’ve gotten a chance to work out with [Smith],” said Master Sgt. Glenn Grabs, the first sergeant of the Army Recruiting Command’s outreach and recruiting company. “He speeds up as the workout gets longer, which makes him such a great competitor. Even though he’s maybe suffering inside, he’s just so positive and never backs down.”
As an overall athlete, Smith is relentless and the true embodiment of the warrior spirit, Grabs added.
“Captain Chandler Smith is not only a great Soldier, but he is a great person,” he said. “When I see him interact with people at competitions or in public, he goes the extra step to connect with people. That’s just who he is as a person and what makes him so remarkable.”
As a Soldier, Smith looks forward to more milestones he hopes to accomplish in his career. He was recently selected to lead an infantry platoon as an armor officer, which ended up being one of his crowning achievements thus far, he said.
“That’s not something that happens too often. We went over to Bulgaria for nine months as part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve,” he said. “Knowing that my command trusted me enough to take on a role that I wasn’t necessarily trained for — it empowered me a lot.”
For the most part, Smith has not experienced a lot of difficulties while balancing his fitness goals and Army career, he said. However, anything that falls outside those two priorities is sometimes pushed aside.
“I think I am overly focused on doing my nine to five at work. I also take my fitness hobby very seriously. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else,” he said. “I haven’t done too much vacationing or maybe spent as much time with my family as I would have liked to.”
These sacrifices were necessary to keep him relevant in the Army and fitness community, he said.
“[Making the CrossFit Games] is a goal that I’ve had in mind since 2012, and I’ve been in the Army the whole time,” he said. “So figuring out a way to do this all while balancing my Army requirements was going to be a challenge, but I wouldn’t have it in any other way.
“I’m super happy that it has paid off with a trip to the games this year.”