This post has been a long time coming. It’s not easy to write. I’m not sure anyone wants to read it. But here you go—I’m going to tell you a story.
A few years back, I received an email inquiry. I WISH that I still had a copy of it, but unfortunately it’s been lost in the sands of time (and email upgrades). To paraphrase, though, it went something like this:
"Hey! This is Ben, I’m in North Dakota right now but I’m moving to Phoenix. It’s all cold here and sh*t, so I can’t wait to get out to the heat. I’m a Marine, and lost my leg in Iraq, but I just started doing CrossFit and want to keep up with it when I move. So I wanted to say what’s up, and come in when I get out there. Later!"
The original was much better, but that was the general flavor. So, I sent back a “We’d be happy to have you come by, let me know when you get out here and we’ll get you set up” kind of reply and pretty much forgot about it.
[So this is where I take a personal detour. I don’t typically offer up too much of my personal life—to anyone, in any situation, let alone on this blog. I hope you’ll indulge me.] At that point in time, I was pretty much in the worst shape of my life. After a lifetime of athletics, constantly striving to get to the next competitive level, trying to outwork and outwill my opponents—I had retired from competition (I thought). I was still coming to terms with that a few years later, not having something to work towards. Lots of stress, general business ineptitude in a bad economy, family conflict, lack of goals, etc. were all coming together to create a mindset where I ate like crap, drank too much, and randomly wandered through my (irregular) workouts. Not a pretty picture.
So a few weeks after the email, this skinny kid with a prosthetic comes walking up to our door. I’d mostly forgotten about his email, but it was pretty obvious that this was Ben.
That was the beginning.
When we started talking, it came out that Ben had only been CrossFitting for a few months before moving down. Initially, I was a little worried about how he would hold up to the workouts, and what we’d have to scale or modify—basically if he could actually do this stuff, or whether we’d be attempting to build him from the ground up.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Ben tore into everything with (sometimes reckless) abandon. There wasn’t a workout he wouldn’t tackle head on, not a movement that he wouldn’t attempt. Sometimes we’d have to put our heads together and play around with his positioning a little bit, but generally we just treated him like everyone else and watched him work. Out of respect (or uncertainty with how he would react?), I never really asked Ben about the circumstances of his injury. If it impacted an exercise or movement, we’d deal with the physical aspect, but otherwise we didn’t talk about it.
And Ben just kept attacking the workouts.
The atmosphere around the gym started to change a little bit. It was a little harder to quit during a workout. It became difficult to not workout because you were “tired” or “sore”. Everyone was a little more positive, more motivated—including me. At first, it was just that I felt like such a wuss letting this guy outwork me. After a while, I just wanted to kind of be a part of it, ride the wave of his enthusiasm. I think it made everyone work harder.
A couple of months later, the CrossFit Games qualifying started. This was only 2 years ago, but the Games were not the behemoth that they have become. So the process was basically Sectionals, then Regionals, then the Finals. We were sending a group to San Diego to compete in Sectionals, and Ben announced that he was going to do it. Keep in mind, this is with maybe 6 months of CrossFit, coming off of extensive rehabilitation. I was a little concerned, mostly because of Ben’s relative inexperience—there were things we hadn’t worked on enough, things he hadn’t mastered yet. But, as always, Ben was committed 100% and he was going to compete.
I won’t rehash everything that went down, but a couple of facts tell a lot of the story: Ben finished 80th out of 103 competitors. More importantly, he finished every workout, when several of the competitors did not. This included learning how to do double-unders during one of the workouts.
It’s hard to explain what that performance meant, and continues to mean. Ben did an amazing video interview*, which literally brings tears to my eyes every time I see it (and sometimes just trying to describe it). The CrossFit community at large got to meet and be inspired by this guy who had been driving us. And those of us here got to know Ben on a deeper level, and understand his motivation a little better, and be motivated to try a little harder as well.
[*On the CrossFit Journal site—this short preview is free, but you’ll need to be a subscriber to see the whole thing. It’s absolutely worth watching—I’ll be happy to play it for you if you’re interested.]
I learned for the first time about the IED that had caused his injuries. About his friends who had been killed, and the choices that Ben had made to be able to move forward. And how amazing it was that this guy had come through all that he had with the attitude and the will and the drive that he has.
That was 2 years ago.
Since that time, Ben has moved to Boston (and back), travelled to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with the Wounded Warrior Project, been to the ESPYs, completed the Tough Mudder, earned a few different training certifications, and come on board as a regular staff member of CFSW. He still inspires me to try harder, and push further, and to keep going when I really don’t want to. I absolutely credit him with reigniting my own training, and I am thankful for that inspiration.
I’ve never told Ben any of this, or brought it up publicly. Partially this is just an overdue ‘Thank You’—I’ve been meaning to put something like this together for a long time.
Why now? Yesterday was the 6th Anniversary of Ben’s injury, the death of Marine Lance Cpl Adam Vanalstine, and the injuries that would prove to be fatal for Marine Cpl Adam Zanutto.
It’s easy to get caught up in the grind and to let everyday stresses get you down. It’s even easier to talk yourself into skipping that workout, or eating that oreo (or a sleeve of oreos), or just half-assing your way through life. The key is to find what motivates you, and hold onto that. It might be your family, or the shirt you just bought, or the girl of your dreams—or it might be a skinny white kid who kicks life in the ass with a prosthetic leg.
Thanks Ben. Happy Anniversary.
So, you may have noticed that the blog’s been pretty quiet for the last week or so. This isn’t because there’s nothing going on—in fact, quite the opposite!
On top of preparing for a (family) move next, the Urakawa household has been dealing with flu-like symptoms, field trips, and assorted activities. And things at the gym have been, if possible, even busier!
So, a quick rundown of CFSW-related news, to bring you up to speed:
-We bid farewell to Justin this week, who is leaving to teach in South Korea. Best of luck as you embark of this new adventure! And remember: they have Facebook in South Korea, too—keep us updated!
-The 2012 edition of the CrossFit Games Open qualification process is upon us. We have a couple of people that are competing this year, and their first workout was this week: 7 min of burpees! The requirements were to touch your chest on the ground at the bottom of the rep, and touch an object at least 6” above your standing reach on the jump. Tyler E. put up 95 reps, while Reuben just, well, was Reuben, and scored 110 reps. Great job to both of you guys!
(As an aside, don’t be surprised if all of the classes do some version of the Open workout each week…)
-Last night (Saturday 2/25), a group of us went down to watch CFSW athlete Jesse Barrett fight for the 170# title in the Coalition of Combat mixed martial arts event. The evening was a good time all the way around, and Jesse dominated his opponent to take the belt, winning via rear naked choke in the 2nd round. Congratulations Jesse! (And thanks for the shout out—which was my first)
-This week, we finished up our 6 week Strength cycle, and I know there were several PRs on different lifts. Congratulations to everyone! This next week is going to be a little bit of a recovery/transition week (so not a lot of real heavy lifting)—expect mobility, technical work, and conditioning, not necessarily in that order.
And that should about get you caught up on the news! Hoping to get back to more normal programming after the big move, but I can’t make any promises. And remember to check us out on Facebook also (facebook.com/crossfitsouthwest) —some things get posted there first.
For those interested in either learning about or getting way too in-depth with the Paleo idea, this looks like a pretty amazing opportunity. It’s called the Paleo Summit: 8 days of free online lectures and presentations (23 of them!), from a variety of researchers and paleo celebs. And if free. Starts Feb 26, runs through March 4. You can see the lineup and schedule at the link above, but trust me—it looks like good stuff.
It’s not all just ‘Rah Rah Paleo Diet’ talks, either. There appear to be a few dissenting voices, as well as some information about health and performance. I’ve signed up and I’m going to catch what I can of it, but wanted to let you guys know if you’re interested.
One of the guys that I train is going to be fighting (MMA) this coming Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center. Details can be seen here.
A few of us are planning to attend, but I know that I mentioned it to a few other people who expressed an interest. Fights start at 6 pm, we can carpool, meet up down there, whatever. Please contact me ASAP if you’d like to go, trying to get tickets purchased pretty quick here. You can leave a note in the comments, or my number is at the top of the website.
So, now that the Clean Living Challenge is finished, how about some closure? If you are inclined to do so, share your thoughts in the comments. The good, the bad, the ugly… What were your results? What have you learned? What would you do differently?
Thank you and Congratulations to everyone who participated!
So, after nearly pulling the plug due to lack of RSVPs, we’ve had enough late notices to go ahead and move forward with our picnic potluck outing!
We’re going to meet at Kiwanis Park around Noon (we’ll head over after the 1030 class). If you come in from the Baseline (North) side on Mill, you’ll get to a 4-way stop sign. If you turn right you’ll enter Kiwanis Park. Go straight, and there will be a parking lot on your right. Park here, walk up the hill and you’ll find a sandy play area and picnic tables, etc. That’s where we’ll be!
This map should provide directions from the gym, or try this link. Hope to see you there!
It’s been documented (and here) that injuries are more likely to occur in athletes undergoing significant life stresses, especially those with low social support and coping skills. This might be one contributing mechanism. High stress leads to increased inflammation, which interferes with recovery from ‘ordinary’ physical stresses, and over time paves the way for a more serious injury to occur?
Just goes to reinforce that it’s not just about the diet, but overall lifestyle. Chronic stress is bad, whether it’s lack of sleep, a rocky relationship, or over training.
Final Week of the Clean Living Challenge! Come celebrate with some food, fun, and games!
One more week to go! The Clean Living Challenge is coming to and end, but let’s go out in style.
Anyone (participating or not, CFSW member or not) up for a Paleo-style picnic at Kiwanis Park on Saturday? Kickball? Maybe some Hoover ball? General revelry? Everyone can show off their food skillz, and get to know some of the folks outside of the gym.
We’ll plan on meeting around noon.
Please RSVP in the comments so I can get a head count.