At 6’1” and 225lbs, it’s hard to miss the big Australian Chad Mackay. Mackay is an easily identifiable figure on the competition floor. But it’s not just his big frame that draws attention. At a seasoned 33 years, Mackay has been a bedrock of the CrossFit community for quite some time—and his resume backs it up. He’s been a competitor at the Games three times (2010,2012, 2013) and was a member of Team World, which won the CrossFit Invitational in 2013. Last year Mackay beefed up his coaching portfolio, coaching two Masters athletes at the Games as well Team Australia at the CrossFit Invitational, where they finished 4th.  Oh, and he’s also the head coach and co-owner of CrossFit Active, which has three different locations in the Syndey area in Australia. Needless to say, Mackay is a busy man. But behind his hectic schedule lies a down-to-earth chap that simply loves what he does—regardless of whether he’s surfing, competing or coaching a class at his gym. His passion for the sport is reflected in how he treats his body. Mackay is a master of mobility, as one can tell from the creative stretches he regularly posts to his Instagram account (@mackay_chad). And when it comes to his diet, Mackay is as resolute as they come: he has just one—ONE—cheat meal a year which comes at the end of the season. With such dedication to his craft, it’s no surprise that Mackay is getting ready for one last drive to the CrossFit Games.

“Look, I’m going to give it one more really good crack, and whatever happens, happens,” says Mackay. “Even if I don’t make it to Regionals it doesn’t matter, because I know I still just trying to improve as an athlete. My main focus has always been to improve my skills, increase my strength and increase my fitness—regardless of trying to make it to the CrossFit Games. But with that being said, to compete on the big stage is an unbelievable experience. There’s nothing like being able to walk out to a stadium floor with your friends and family in attendance and do what you love.”

One could argue that Mackay’s love of fitness is a generic trait. His father, Ian, represented Australia in rugby league, and his mother, Karen, was a high school fly champion (“It’s like doing a long jump over sticks that are placed on the ground,” Mackay explains.). As a young lad growing up in the Central Coast (in between Sydney and Newcastle), Mackay kept active by playing a variety of sports, including baseball and tennis, before finding a passion for surfing at 14 (Mackay still surfs regularly). He discovered weightlifting when he was 18 years old and finishing up high school, which led him to pursue a career in the fitness industry as a personal trainer. Mackay later went on to earn a Bachelor’s in Physical Education, but during his final year of University Mackay made the realization that being a P.E. teacher was not for him. “I did my practicum in my last year and didn’t enjoy it at all, and I ended up not teaching a single day at a school. I preferred to be with people that were athletes and adults and would listen to what I have to say. It’s hard to get kids to listen to what you have to say when they’re going through high school.”

Fortunately, Mackay didn’t have to wait too long to start the next chapter of his life. In 2008, the same year that he graduated University, Mackay’s boss at the gym where he worked as a personal trainer introduced him to his first CrossFit workout. “Luke [Starr], who was my boss at the time but is now my business partner and co-owner of CrossFit Active, told me to do a 10-minute AMRAP [as many rounds as possible] of Cindy [5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 air squats],” says Mackay. “I think I got about three rounds—I was doing strict pull-ups, partial range of motion on the air squats—but even so I thought to myself “man, this stuff is really cool.”” Mackay was hooked. A year later, he signed up to compete for his first competition—the 2009 Australian Regionals. After finishing 11th in the competition, Starr (who finished 10th in the same competition) had another proposal for Mackay—open a CrossFit affiliate. Mackay eagerly accepted the idea, and in 2010 CrossFit Active Waverton opened its doors to the public.

For Mackay, the 2009 Regionals had provided him with a taste of CrossFit competition, and he wanted more. After a year of more “serious” training, he competed once more at the 2010 Australian Regionals, this time finishing in 2nd and qualifying for his first CrossFit Games, where he finished 12th overall. After a groin injury had derailed his bid to make a return trip to Carson the following year, Mackay competed at the 2012 and 2013 Games, where he finished 9th and 11th respectively. In 2013, Mackay got the call to compete on the victorious Team World at the CrossFit Invitational in Berlin, a memory that he says “will stay with him forever.” “It was cool to beat the U.S. too,” Mackay adds.

In 2014, Mackay failed to qualify for the Games, but he had a busy year nonetheless. Though he did not compete at Carson, Mackay could still be seen at the Stub Hub Center with the two Masters athletes he was coaching—Lynne Fitzharris (who finished 6th in the 45-49 Masters Division) and Lynne Knapman (who finished 5th in the 50-54 Masters Division). And in November last year, Mackay was back at the CrossFit Invitational—but this time as the coach of Team Australia. “Mate, it {the Invitational] was an absolutely incredible experience. The team did a great job. With the caliber of athletes that we had, they didn’t need much coaching. All they needed was someone on the sidelines helping them to focus on one specific thing in the workout and to make sure they’re always thinking about their teammates and the country they’re representing.” But how did Mackay handle the transition from athlete to coach? “When I was on the sideline I was itching to put my lifting shoes on. But I think I was more nervous as a coach than I have been as an athlete. When you’re an athlete you have control over what you’re doing—I know exactly what I need to do when I go out to compete. But this time around everything was out of my hands, but I knew the guys were going to go out there and do their best. So that was a challenge for me as a coach, but it was also a privilege and an honor to share the floor with those athletes.”

Given Mackay’s omission from the Games and busy year of coaching last year, some may wonder if post-2015 Mackay will focus on competing on a team or coaching other athletes that make it to the Games. “I think I’m going to have to take that on a year-by-year basis. I’m just going to focus on this season and then make a call on whether I decide to go team. The coaching side of things has always been something I’m really passionate about. It doesn’t matter if it’s coaching the masters athletes, coaching the guys on the competition squad or coaching the athletes that are on our on-ramp program—coaching has always been a priority and a big passion of mine.”

While there’s no doubt that Mackay will always have a big presence in the sport of CrossFit—in every sense of the word—look out for him to make an inspired drive to the Games in 2015.

Q&A with Chad Mackay

The Open is almost upon us—do you have any guesses as to what the workouts will look like in 2015?
CM: I think that this year they’re going to make it a little more dynamic than just having one workout. I think there is going to be multiple events per week. It might be similar to the Team Series they put out last year. So there could be a workout that consists of finding your 5-rep max front squat, and then 10 minutes later you’ve got to hit a certain conditioning piece—maybe max chest-to-bar pull-ups in 2 minutes, followed by 1 minute of rest then into something else. So multiple events in the same week—which would be awesome to see.

How’s the status of the sport of CrossFit in Australia right now?
CM: I remember when we opened the box back in 2010—I think we were the seventh or eight affiliate in Sydney—and now there are close to 70 affiliates in Sydney alone. So the demand is there. People here want to be fit and healthy and they want to live that lifestyle, and I think that reflects the Australian way of life of being outside, working out and training and doing CrossFit. So it has grown massively since we first started. The depth of the athletes we have now is so impressive—it’s getting harder and harder to make it to Regionals. And now that there are only 30 spots to get there, 50 good athletes are going to miss out. And with the new Regional format, we’ve got five spots available for athletes to qualify for the Games, which gives us a little more breathing room. I think you’re going to see those five athletes (for both the men and the women) make a big dent in the Games this year.

With all of your responsibilities, you must be a very busy man. What’s a typical day like for Chad Mackay?
CM: Every day is slightly different, but typically I’ll sleep in till about 7 [a.m.], have breakfast and get to the gym around 9.30. Then I’ll train for a couple of hours till lunch time, and that may involve doing some lifts to start with, a strength component and then one or two conditioning pieces. I’ll then have a quick bite to eat, rest for about 45 minutes, and hit another conditioning piece that might last for about 20-30 minutes. I’ll chill out for a couple of hours, do some admin work for the business, coach a client or two in the afternoon, and then coach a few classes in the evening. I’ll finish up classes at about 7.30 p.m., and if I feel like I need to—or feel that I can—I’ll probably do some more strength or accessory work, followed by a shorter, less intense conditioning piece. And I’m home around 8.30-9 o’clock.

Does your diet compensate for that sort of heavy volume work?
CM: I’m pretty much zone, with paleo portion control. I try to stay away from dairy—I cut dairy out six weeks ago and I’ve leaned out a little bit and my gymnastic skill has gotten much better. I eat about 130-150 grams of protein every meal, and I might have one or two protein shakes a day depending on how much work I’m doing. But it’s mainly meat and veggies, a little bit of fruit and some nuts. I only have one cheat meal at the end of the season—and that will be a couple of tubs of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Maybe a couple of hamburgers and some chips [fries] as well. But typically I’ll only have one blowout a year, and that’s it.

Do you have any advice for someone that’s looking to open up an affiliate?
CM: Try to surround yourself with a good team. So whether that’s a team of other coaches, physios, chiropractors or massage therapists, have a team of people that you’ll want to work with in the future. Be passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re doing it to try and make a few dollars, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. You need to be passionate and committed to helping people, because at the end of the day the people that come through your door need to know that you care about their health and their fitness. And buy good quality equipment from the start that will stand the test of time.

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

William Imbo
William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel.

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