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. Audio Interview (MP3 download) . Absolutely worth a listen. Ben starts about 4:00 in. Here’s the raw video from San Diego via Matthew Wegner.