April Athlete of the Month: Matt Chmielecki
A new month and a new athlete to admire. The coaches here at SBK are fortunate to have so many of our members displaying qualities that we look for in an AOM. Training smart, open to coaching, helpful to others, and carrying themselves the right way. Matty fit the bill perfectly. His fact sheet was so similar to recent AOM Peter Mattis though that I was tempted to call him “Petey Light.” Known to many simply as “Chm” (pronounced like Chim, pretend there’s an extra i in his last name), I found out as you will below that he’s certainly a force of his own.
Fox: Hey Matty, tell us about when and how you first started CrossFit and came to be part of “The Best Foundations Ever.”
MC: CrossFit had been on my radar for a while. I’d wanted to try it but at the time all I’d read was that it was the perfect cult to join if you wanted to break your back, rip apart your shoulders and knees, and potentially die from rhabdo. One summer day in July 2012 though I happened to be driving down Degraw street and noticed a bunch of people hanging from the pull up bar, including a pregnant woman, smiling and talking. They seemed to be actually having a good time while exercising! This was in stark contrast to what I’d read. I came back and signed up for Foundations that day. I eventually got over my fear of every ache and pain being serious and have settled in to a happy training place. And obviously, yes, we were the best Foundations ever. All six of us joined and four of us still remain, though one moved away to Chicago.
Fox: Yeah I knew you guys were alright when you were going out for post-class beers by the fifth class. What about that sight at the pull up bar drew you in?
MC: I was looking for a social path to true fitness. I’d done the body part split thing, was a runner and triathlete, and had just done my first ultra marathon, the Rim to Rim to Rim. I spent countless hours training by myself and was getting a bit bored with it. Sure, some friends would meet me for a lap around Prospect Park but I was running six to eight laps. My training life mostly consisted of running hours upon hours by myself and consuming various gels and powders. I remember one time while on a long run in Connecticut by my parents house in the snow, this guy in a pickup truck stopped to ask me, “Didn’t I see you three hours ago running way back there? Are you ok?” I had endurance but I wasn’t really healthy. I wanted to become more athletic again and hanging out with people who spoke to each other and smiled while training sounded fantastic.
Fox: So here you are two years later still going strong, and only getting stronger. I’m always interested to hear what people have to say about why they stick with it. Tell me why you do.
MC: A large part of it is the social aspect. Even though it’s 6 am when I come and we’re all still trying to un-groggy ourselves while processing some caffeine, there’s small talk, there’s jokes, there’s smiles, we’re getting ready to give it our all. I also started to see results pretty quickly. I really enjoyed watching my body change as I put some muscle on and my body comp changed. I really like the blend of lifting and sprint/interval work at SBK. Of course in the beginning almost every day in the gym is a PR, but it was affirmative to be able to quantify progress and results. I also saw the carryover to my tri times. I was getting faster by getting stronger, all while training less. I still do a few races a year and I don’t have to train nearly as much as I used to for them. It wasn’t always easy though. Some of the positions were really tough, and I realized that I maybe wasn’t as fit as I thought. I’d long been used to being one of the fittest guys in any room I was in. Then I came here and the guys and gals seemed super human! I remember Foundations when on pull up day you asked me if I could do them. I said sure and started to do a few, and you told me “Higher. Nope, higher. Still no… how about we grab you a band.” It was a bit humbling to have to use a band but it made me want to get better. I’m happy with where I’m currently at. My progress has slowed but I’m in a place where I have a handle on most of the Rx’d movements so that now instead of learning them, I can focus on improving them. The Open was really helpful in pushing me to do some of those movements and weights. For my first year of training I don’t think I missed a lift at all, which was important I think. Now I’m comfortable pushing and testing a bit. On to the muscle up!
Fox: That’s awesome. Training efficiency is definitely what we’re after, and a slice of humble pie is good every now and then. I think a year without a miss is a great first training year and something people should aim for. Let’s hear about you outside of the gym.
MC: I’m from Colchester, CT, which is easily the prettiest part of CT. I went to Marymount Manhattan College where I met my wife and have been in NYC since, first on the Upper West Side and then Park Slope. I’m pretty consumed with work and family. I’m a retail commercial broker in Manhattan and work 12 hours most days. That’s why I’m a morning guy at the gym, it’s the only time I can get it in. I have some big clients like the Empire State Building and Shake Shack, as well as smaller ones. I’ve been doing this for nine years and really enjoy it. It’s cool to walk down the street and be able to see what your work has done. Once I’m done with work, it’s all family. My wife Cori and I have three kids—Tucker who’s six, and the twins Lacey and Lawson who are three. Three kids takes a lot of time-budgeting, especially as they get older and start activities. Tucker just had his first baseball game which was exciting, although I realized that I’ve been sorely lacking in teaching him the sport. He can hit and catch just fine but when he gets the ball he looks at the nearest adult and asks what to do with it. He had a hilarious one-liner about not wanting to wear a cup. He was disgusted with it and worried that everyone would think he had a gigantic penis! Cori and I keep a book of all the kids’ best one-liners like that. It’s fun to record that stuff and will be great to look back as the years go by. With how busy I am with work and family, the only hobby I really have time for is CrossFit. I used to do 10 or so races a year but Cori wisely advised me to pare that down so now I do two. Often the Fairfield Half Marathon is one because it’s the best half out there. The people in the town really get into it, hanging out in their yards and cheering. It starts on a beach and ends with a pizza party on the beach where people wade into the water with a slice and a lemonade. Good times.
Fox: I love the idea of keeping that book! Great family memories sometimes can’t be captured in photos. Last stock question. What should we look for in a future AOM?
MC: I thought about this since I knew you’d ask. I think there must be that type of person who when they walk in for a class the coaches say to themselves, “This is going to be a good class.” It could be that they lighten the vibe, or are great movers or bar mates, or whatever. They possess something intangible that contributes in a positive way to the experience. Also someone who’s passionate about working out and puts effort into even the simpler tasks. Who doesn’t sandbag the warm ups with sloppy movement and isn’t just going through the motions.
Fox: Thanks so much, Matty, for sitting down with me for the interview. You’ve been a great addition to the gym and possess many of the qualities that we look for in an Athlete of the Month, including the ones you mentioned. Now get that muscle up!
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