Raising the Bar

Jamie Shane
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Photographer: Sweat RX
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Wounded warriors meet CrossFit

CrossFit is known for being one of the most challenging athletic systems in the current fitness arena. Its high-intensity functional training asks participants to execute precise movements under extreme stress. The athlete is challenged to maintain their focus while performing difficult maneuvers. Practitioners are expected to dig deep within themselves to keep going when their body wants to quit. CrossFit athletes go hard, go fast, and rarely give up. Unlike ‘regular gym workouts,’ the CrossFit system uniquely provides a complete body-mind training that carries over into daily life.

CrossFit gyms often become like families, and the community is tightly knit. Competition is steep, but it is common to see athletes support their fellows when they are struggling. The community often rallies around their local comrades and is famous for reaching out to the men and women in service. In this community, it is equally important to be a participating member as it is to be an athlete. Hero WODs and special remembrance events ensure that we never forget those who sacrificed for us.

And several CrossFit boxes are taking it one step further by actively participating in the support and recovery of those warriors wounded in service. In conjunction with the Wounded Warrior Battalion, CrossFit Del Mar is breaking ground by proving this practice isn’t only for the extremely fit and able. It is an adaptable science that can be used as therapy to create profound physical, mental, and spiritual recovery.

“When we started CrossFit Del Mar we immediately looked for a way to help our returning warriors, who have given so much to our country, to participate in the CrossFit experience. I knew Balboa Naval hospital had a USMC Wounded Warrior detachment where marines in their final stage of government care—before being discharged—would be recovering. We wanted to provide them a safe place where they would feel comfortable in a fitness environment as they adapted to life as amputees, or PTSD, or head or emotional injuries,” says CFDM co-owner, Mark Marek.

Military personnel, especially marines, come from an intense fitness background. Even wounded, they are still marines. This is a mental attitude, not only a physical one. The goal of the Wounded Warrior Battalion is to provide wounded, ill, or injured marines an opportunity to focus on recovering and reintegration while honouring the warrior mentality. Active duty servicemen are reassigned so they can focus on getting well. Veterans are also eligible to participate.

The Wounded Warrior Battalion helps them get back into the swing of things through various types of physical therapy and fitness. CrossFit might at first seem like an unlikely match, but the mentality is perfect for the marine state of mind. It helps them realize they can still do many of the things they could do before. It may look different, and they may have to modify certain movements to honour their new bodies, but they can still be strong and fit. It opens their eyes to the possibilities of a life after service.

“We see everything under the sun,” says Maggie Hannon, Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program Manager (WARP) at Balboa Naval Hospital. “Single or double below-knee amputees, traumatic PTSD, brain injuries, nerve damage, mild paralysis, mental health disorders, gunshot injuries. We have an amazing staff of coaches who modify every WOD to each individual; CrossFit is very adaptable. It proves to these marines that they can still do so many things. When they are together here it creates camaraderie. When they go to CrossFit Del Mar, it also becomes a platform to advocate and educate.”

With the generosity of CrossFit headquarters, CFDM was able to sponsor warriors to get their CrossFit Level 1 certification. One of the warriors they helped certify is Brian Riley, a veteran with a below-knee amputation who first came to CFDM over a year ago. Once introverted and quiet, he is now a valuable asset to the program, helping other warriors recover.

Kim Bono, owner of CrossFit del Mar, teaches with Brian’s help. “Brian assists Kim each Wednesday with the classes, and his insight has been a tremendous help to our program,” Mark Marek says. “As he became more comfortable with us and the environment, it was great to watch his personality change into what it must have been as he joined the Marine Corps. His passion for the program prompted him to get a CrossFit Level 1 coaching certification.”

CFDM provides free classes to the Wounded Warrior Battalion every Wednesday at 1:00. This is a special class where the wounded warriors can learn, share, and build a community outside of WARP. It is a stepping stone to reintegrating into civilian life. To help further this, any of the warriors who come to CFDM on their own time receive a free membership to general classes. This helps them build civilian bonds, increases self-confidence, and proves to themselves that they are still warriors. It also inspires uninjured CrossFitters to keep striving for their own excellence.

Last fall Dr. Theresa Larson joined the team. She herself is a US marine veteran, physical therapist, and wounded warrior leading the revolution on how we offer physical recovery. Theresa assists teaching when she is available and has brought a wealth of knowledge to the effort. The program is growing and numbers are increasing as participants learn how beneficial the sport is.

CrossFitters like the owners of CFDM, Dr. Theresa Larson, Maggie Hannon, and Brian Riley are pushing the sport outside of its box. They are helping a fitness movement become functional fitness therapy. CrossFit has already changed countless lives among the fit and able. It has inspired elite athletes and housewives alike to challenge themselves and to join a growing community of involved practitioners. Now, its adaptable nature and inspirational potential are spreading to people who have a few more challenges. Of course, being who they are, these wounded warriors aren’t just rising to the challenge, they’re raising the bar.

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