Welcome to the first in our new series: Beast Gear Stories, where we catch up with inspiring characters from the world of sport, health and fitness and learn about their journey and what it means to Be More Beast. We'll be posting more inspiring stories hereregularly.
Jason Smith is the fittest man in Africa. He’s been the number 1 male CrossFit athlete for the last three years running, and this year he finished 3rd in the ‘rest of the world’ regional competition to qualify for the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. Whether or not you train at a CrossFit gym yourself - there is no denying the spectacle of the CrossFit games and the associated qualifying tournaments. Watching the top CrossFit athletes is simply awe-inspiring.
We caught up with Jason to find out more about his background, his journey to the games and the growth of CrossFit in Africa.
Jason, how did you find CrossFit, and what sort of training were you doing before you started?
Before CrossFit I went to a conventional gym, and like so many guys I focussed on bodybuilding style training. Then my brother introduced me to CrossFit and I was hooked!
Were you always into sports?
Yeah I played soccer in primary school, and then in high school I played rugby. Later I spent 10 years racing motocross and I did a lot of gym training to give me the strength to do that - so that really lent itself to CrossFit later when that came along.
How has CrossFit changed your life?
I would say that CrossFit has changed my lifestyle, more than my life. I’m still Jason and I’ve always been active - but CrossFit has made me focus and take training and nutrition more seriously. CrossFit has taken me to another level.
What's your favorite CrossFit movement?
Definitely weightlifting movements. I think all the years in the gym gave me that foundational strength, so I enjoy those movements most.
You are the Fittest Man in Africa, and have been for the last three years. Do you feel pressure to continue to perform and represent Africa on the big stage?
No, not really - I’ve been Africa’s main representative at the regionals for the last 3 years now which is a huge accomplishment itself. There’s no point in feeling pressure - someone fitter or stronger will always come along. And age is a factor too - I’m getting older now! :(
How has the CrossFit scene changed in Africa, particularly South Africa, in the last few years?
CrossFit has grown a lot! Unfortunately we were a bit behind the rest of the world in getting affiliated. But things are better now - we have quite a few competitions running throughout the year which helps the newer athletes become familiar with the sport. Soon we’ll have a much stronger pool of athletes and we’ll be stronger on the world stage.
You’ve qualified for the games, and your performance at the regionals was inspiring. Tell us a little bit about your journey to the 2017 games. The highs, the lows. Any favourite moments which you enjoy reflecting on?
Let's start with the low...my lowest experience was in 2014 regionals. During Workout 4 I failed on the rope climbs. It was so frustrating because up until then I had been leading on points! That should have been my year, I should have qualified for the games but the failed rope climb pushed me so far back that I didn’t make it.
The high was definitely this year's Regionals. Qualifying for the games was an incredible feeling - all the hard work and training over the years finally paid off!
Who or what inspires you to go to the gym and work as hard as you do?
I enjoy competing and I enjoy the challenges CrossFit brings - whether that’s in competitions against other athletes or in the gym against yourself. You never know what’s going to be thrown at you. Every workout is different and it's amazing how well you can react when you are faced with unexpected challenges.
CrossFit can be humbling, inspiring and touching. Remember Froning vs Holmberg on the rope climb in 2010? Or when Mikko Salo had to pull out of the games twice! What is the most intense experience you’ve had emotionally as a Crossfitter
Definitely the 2014 Regionals. The idea of failing at the rope climbs didn’t even enter my mind, so when it happened, I couldn't believe it - that was definitely a humbling experience! It reminds you that you can’t take anything for granted.
You’ve made it to the games, do you have a specific goal in mind in terms of the overall leaderboard?
I'm aiming for a top 10 finish.
As the biggest name in CrossFit in Africa, and the owner of a local gym - what has the reaction been like back home to you qualifying for the games?
The reaction has been fantastic. I feel like me qualifying for the Games has bought the South African CrossFit community together and as a community we’ll only continue to get bigger and stronger.
What advice would you give new CrossFitters, or those thinking of giving it a go, but feeling intimidated or unsure?
There is really nothing to be intimidated about, the main objective is to better yourself. If you have a competitive side, you gonna love it - competing against yourself each day in the gym. If not, you will still enjoy the community aspect of Crossfit.
Thanks Jason - you are an inspiration to all of us. Despite setbacks and disappointments, you stuck at it and achieved your goal. Thanks for taking the time to catch up, we’re going to be following your progress and cheering you on from the UK.
This is the first of many athlete profiles you’ll find here. To become a Beast, you need to learn from the best. So check back often for more Beast Gear Stories.
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