By Scott Gibson
Brains and brawn are certainly not mutually exclusive traits, as they often merge and result in both brilliant coaches and bright competitors. In the latter category is National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) intern Matt Swartz, who will battle in the CrossFit Games Central East Regional competition at the Columbus Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio, on June 7–9. The event will be broadcast on cable television channel ESPN.
An intern since January, Swartz has been using programming to test existing algorithms and optimize existing code. His work at NICS will conclude in August, when he'll enter the PhD applied and computational mathematics program at the University of South Carolina.
"My time here at NICS has opened my eyes to the power of HPC (high-performance computing)," Swartz says. "I would love to go to work for NASA, as I thoroughly enjoyed my internship with them as well."
Swartz has already gained on-the-job experience with various defense contractors during his young career and says he'd like to continue along that path, adding that in considering his education, he has his sights set on gaining as much knowledge as he can in the areas of HPC and applied mathematics.
"Essentially, I don't know what I want to do yet, but I will be happy as long as it allows me to do math and computer programming on cool projects — HPC or not," he says.
When he's not programming or studying, Swartz can often be found applying himself in another passion: fitness. An athlete throughout his childhood, he played soccer and also became a high-school wrestler, dedicating himself to the sport 10 months out of the year from the time he was a sophomore until he was sidelined by an injury as a senior.
"I was most intrigued by the level of intensity during a wrestling match and could not really find that level in the conventional approach to working out until a friend told me about CrossFit in my freshman year at Oklahoma State," Swartz says.
His interest in the high-intensity interval training at CrossFit led him to try different workout programs offered by the organization and then, in the spring of 2010, to begin participating in competitions, which might consist of activities such as rowing, thrusters (barbell squats), pull-ups, Olympic clean-and-snatch weightlifting, gymnastic movements on rings, rope climbs, one-legged squats, deadlifting, box jumps and handstand push-ups.
"It wasn't until this last winter that I started to place well in competitions, and my performance since coming to Knoxville (Tenn.) and training with the folks at CrossFit Ktown has sky-rocketed," he says.
With his skills having risen to a formidable height, he set a goal this year to qualify in the CrossFit Open as an individual competitor and be able to go on to the CrossFit Central East Regional competition. To make it, he needed to place in the top 48 — he came in at 106th place out of 3,400 male competitors.
"My scores were good enough to have the head coach at CrossFit Ktown consider me for their team, which did qualify for the regionals, and he ended up picking me as one of the starting three athletes," Swartz says.
The CrossFit Ktown team of which Swartz is a member is called "Jacked and Tanned" and is composed of four men and four women, with three starters of each gender and one alternate. (For persons who may not be up to date on today’s latest parlance: urbandictionary.com defines jacked as “well-muscled, iron-bound, pumped.”) Jacked and Tanned placed 13th in the CrossFit Open competition to go on to the Central East Regional competition; the top 30 teams were invited.
The Central East Regional Competition will consist of six events, with two taking place on each of the three days of the competition. A few hours of break time will be given between each event. Workout times range from 1 minute and 30 seconds to 30 minutes.
Matt Swartz practices one of the workouts he will do as a participant in the CrossFit Games Central East Regional competition at the Columbus Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio, on June 7–9, an event that will be broadcast on cable channel ESPN. This particular workout routine consists of a 1,000-meter row, 50 thrusters (45-lb barbell squats) and 30 pull-ups in rapid succession. Competitive times to complete the routine are approximately 7 minutes for women, and between 5 minutes, 30 seconds and 6 minutes for men. Swartz, who holds a degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University, is an intern for the Application Acceleration Center of Excellence at the National Institute for Computational Sciences. He will begin pursuing a PhD in applied and computational mathematics from the University of South Carolina in August.
"Mental fortitude is probably the most important aspect of this caliber of competition," Swartz says. "Everybody who makes it to the regional is exceptionally fit; there's no argument there. What makes the difference are the competitors who can suck it up and do what's required in each event."
Success will have its rewards. The top three teams and top three individuals from the regionals will earn the right to compete in the CrossFit Games, which will be held July 22–28 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., and involve teams from around the world. Individual winners can take home $250,000, and teams $30,000.
Jacked and Tanned placed fourth in the regional competition last year, missing the CrossFit Games by 10 seconds on the last workout, Swartz says.
While Swartz is right at home in the intellectual world of computation and mathematics, he'll leave the cognition involved in planning for the CrossFit Games Central East Regional competition to the very able intellects of the CrossFit Ktown coaching staff.
"The amount of strategy and planning put into the workouts written each week for the nine weeks leading up to the regional competition is way over my head," he says. "The time put into studying how the human body responds to weightlifting cycles and metabolic conditioning by the CrossFit Ktown coaches is probably unparalleled at a lot of other CrossFit gyms. The athletes on the team have also put in the time and work to meet the demands of the physicality involved, and we'll just perform to the best of our abilities when the time comes."