Mat Fraser: Almost drowned at the CrossFit games

Chris Hinshaw recalled the 2017 event that very nearly changed the history of the sport.

CrossFit athlete Mat Fraser earned the title of “Fittest Man on Earth” five times in a row before he retired from the sport earlier this year, but he very nearly left a very different legacy. Endurance coach Chris Hinshaw, who worked with Fraser back when he was competing as the GOAT of the CrossFit Games, recently told powerlifter Mark Bell about the time that a run-swim-run event in 2017 almost ended in Fraser’s death.

“Fraser almost drowned one year in the Games,” he said in a conversation on the podcast Mark Bell’s Power Project.

“[He] enters the water first,” Hinshaw recalled. “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 meters, you have to swim basically diagonal to the shore, round a buoy… and swim across the original starting spot, 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 the faster swimmers. So as a response, you know what he does? He drops in behind them and drafts, because it’s 20 plus percent easier being number two. Which means that you can go 20 percent faster, or if you’re the same speed, just save 20 percent 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 percent faster.”

What they later learned, Hinshaw explained, is that Fraser did not have the aerobic capacity required for that kick, and his legs ended up consuming all of that oxygen. “Next thing you know, Brent Fikowski, one of the podium finishers that year, grabs him and pulls him, because he was bobbing in the water. He was going to drown,” he said.

Disaster averted, however, Fraser was still able to complete the swim. “Here he is, he almost dies in an event, yet he finishes fifth.”

Hinshaw, meanwhile, learned a simple but important lesson that day: “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.”


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