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Just Redefine It: Kevin Ogar, My Broken Neck & CrossFit

July 29, 2014
With Kevin Ogar, and a look on my face that just screams, "I hate the way my foot tastes."

With Kevin Ogar, and a look on my face that just screams, “I hate the way my foot tastes.”

I ran into Kevin Ogar at The CrossFit Games. I was looking for him, he was on my short list of people I’d really like to meet. Actually, I’m not even vaguely impressed by celebrity, so he was the only person on my list. Because I feel a kinship with him, on behalf of all of us who are walking around broken, and utterly undefeated.

For those who don’t know, Kevin is a legend in the CrossFit world. He was a top-level competitor, competing in both sanctioned and un-sanctioned events. He was a rugby player, and all around great guy. Something went wrong in a competition last year, a snatch went bad, and when all was said and done, Kevin was, and is, in a wheel-chair now. Still climbing ropes. Still working out. Still kicking ass. In a wheel chair.

As I stood next to Kevin and his wheel chair, I said the dumbest thing possible to say. “I admire you so much. I have a broken neck, I was told I might never walk again.” This could, and should, go in any text-book of what not to say. His response was sweet, but ya, I heard the stupidity of my own statement when he said, “I’m glad you can walk.” But with his gracious smile, I like to think that he understood what I was saying. That you just go on. You just keep on doing it. You just do it.

You just have to redefine “it.”

And he’s helping people see that in a way that is tangible. And inspirational. I’m sure he didn’t want this, and in many ways it sucks to be forced into a “poster boy” situation that you didn’t choose or design. But as far as I can tell, he’s using his situation to inspire others and redefine “fitness.” Ultimately, that will serve the world so well, and I hope that we will all find a way to show our gratitude for his strength and generosity of spirit.

CrossFit has a deserved reputation for creating the fittest people on earth. We don’t specialize. A runner can out run most of us. Someone who specialized in lifting can out lift most of us. We wouldn’t stand a chance on a soccer field or a gymnastics floor against the best. But if you created a competition with ALL of those things, threw in a CrossFitter and a bunch of specialists who are the best at what they do, The CrossFitter would take the overall title, without winning a single event.  (That’s pretty much what The CrossFit Games is, actually.)

CrossFit prepares us for all the challenges in life.

Even breaking your spinal cord. Or your neck.

When I broke my neck, I was an avid runner, cyclist, skier, swimmer, and rock-climber. I can do none of those things now. The dens (the sticky-uppy-nubby bit) snapped off my C2. I am lucky to be alive. This is the injury that kills people when they break their neck, the bone fragment usually severing the spinal cord and / or brain stem, then and there. Instant death. It’s called a hangman’s fracture. For obvious, and ominous, reasons.

For less obvious reasons. I didn’t die. Equally surprising, I’m not quadriplegic. All I am is in constant pain. (The kind of pain that I’m pretty sure would leave many people on the couch crying about the worst headache of their life. All day. Every day.) And ya know what? I’ll take it. The bone fragment is still there, ensconced safely in scar tissue, but perilously close to my brain stem. And I’m doing just fine.

I don’t let myself get jostled. My doctors all assure me that I am in no more danger than the average person. So, on I go. I do what I can do. 

I go into the gym, and I modify every single WOD that is on the board.

I don’t run. I don’t do double unders. I don’t broad jump. I don’t do wall-balls because I can’t hold my neck in the position it takes to look at the ball and the wall. (I am not sad that I can’t do Wall Balls. Perk!)  I don’t drop from the bar when I’m doing pull-ups. The list of things I don’t do is long. Even the Olympic Lifts, though I enjoy them and am getting good at them, I don’t do often or heavy, because the slamming of the feet when you catch the weight is like a little whiplash on my already jacked-up neck.

But I CrossFit. Really fucking well.

I just redfine “it.”

I am not special in that way. Every athlete that walks into our gym is dealing with something.  A sore knee, so they’re stepping-up on the box, not jumping. Bursitis in the shoulder, so they’re doing kettlebell swings rather than Push Press. Whatever, we just redefine it. All. Day. Long.

CrossFit likes to be seen as the maker of mythically strong men and women. And it is. But to me, it is the sport for misfits and broken people. It is the home of those of us who can’t do the other things, for whatever reason.

When I look at the people at Rocket CrossFit, the gym that my husband and I own in Seattle, the firebreathers are the minority. Don’t get me wrong, we have them, and they’re incredible to watch, but they’re the minority. Most of us are what society would call old, or overweight, or broken, or clumsy, or just so socially awkward we could never play a team sport anyway, or……  Most of the people I know in CrossFit bring some sort of baggage with them. Some reason that they have been told, over and over and over again, that they are not an athlete. They can’t be.

That being fit is for those other people.

It is not lost on me, as I walk around the Games, that most of the people here look like Comic Book Superheroes. Taught, muscly, scantily clad and strutting more than walking. They can do it, whatever it is. (In an act of sweaty defiance, I proudly took of my shirt, exposing my soft, pale belly to the sun. But mostly just because it was too fucking hot to wear a shirt. It is not lost on me, however, that this is one place I would never feel judged. By in large, CrossFitters are people who will accept your body, and your right to do whatever you want with it, regardless of how it looks.)

Of course, there were the obligatory assholes with shirts that say things like, “Lift Heavy or Fuck Off,” “Eat The Weak,” “Snatch for Snatch.”

But honestly, they’re the minority. Unfortunately, they’re also loud. They are what people think of when they think of CrossFit. They are why people think CrossFit is for “other people.” (Well, the CrossFit tagline, “Forging Elite Fitness” doesn’t help anything either, but this is all a whole different article.)

For me, and many others, Kevin Ogar is what CrossFit is all about.

It’s about finding what you can do, and doing it. 

It’s about looking at a challenge, and finding your way of tackling it.

It’s about being surrounded by people who are doing the same thing, even if it is in a different way. Who support you in finding your strength, your method, your super power.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who CrossFit. Those who look like Superheroes are the minority. 

Those who act like Superheroes are the majority.

We just do it. Every challenge we’re faced with, we just find a way.

We are the sport of misfits and broken people. Who are stronger than you ever knew possible. 

For me, Kevin Ogar is my Superhero.

(Though, really, I am too. I found my super-powers as an “old” lady with a broken neck. And now there’s no way for me not to use them.)

___

*Kevin, if you’re ever in Seattle, need a gym to work out in, and want to give me a chance to extract my foot from my mouth, just let me know. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for rising to the occasion in  a way that allows others to learn from you.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2014 4:04 pm

    Good post. I have been out of Crossfit for about 6 months because I moved away from Washington and over to Korea and it’s taken me a while to a) settle in to life in Asia and b) find a box in my new Korean home. I found a box finally and am going to start back up again but was having fears about it because of previous injuries. But you’re right. Injuries make us who we are and just because I can’t do certain movements, doesn’t mean I can’t do any movement at all. 🙂 Thanks for the push.

  2. Mallory permalink
    July 30, 2014 4:36 pm

    I fractured my L2 nearly 4 years ago along with other lower back injuries and without CrossFit I would not have built the strength in my back and core to get me through the day. I also would not have lost the extra unnecessary weight that probably caused extra strain on my back. My injury brought me to CrossFit and it’s the best thing that has happened to me since I injured myself at 15. I love this article and I loved reading your story, Kevin’s, and everyone else’s too. When I first started I scaled weights/reps just like other new people until I built up the strength!! Now I just scale the muscle-ups! I can’t seem to get those darn things!! (: I of course have a lot of weaknesses like any WOD’s that are “cardio-based” or have any type of running, t2b, or pull-ups!! I believe that if I had never started CrossFit I would be living a life full of chronic low back pain. I loved your article and your story. Now I continue to be stronger and more fit everyday despite what some believe I can’t or shouldn’t do!!!! Everyone has a story, each as inspiring as the last!

  3. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    July 30, 2014 5:29 pm

    Mallory, that makes me so happy. THAT is my experience with CrossFit, and it is the experience of so many people I know. But that story is rarely told. I would NEVER ignore the real risks of bad trainers and athletes who don’t listen to their bodies (or trainers.) But they exist in every sport. CrossFit, unlike any sport that I know of, is infinitely scaleable to meet you where you’re at. I am inspired, on a daily basis……. I love this sport, and all the stories.

  4. Seth permalink
    July 30, 2014 5:58 pm

    And you’re now on my short list of people to meet. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Sonia permalink
    July 30, 2014 9:50 pm

    I was also looking for Kevin as I find him incredible but when I did see him, I was too shy and didn’t want to bother him. The third day I did manage to get myself together and talk to him. I’m glad I did. Words wouldn’t come out as I was so amazed and my english isn’t the best but he was simply amazing. He was by far the highlight of my weekend!

  6. Celeste permalink
    July 31, 2014 7:11 am

    I have rheumatoid arthritis in my wrists, feet and hands. I have osteoarthritis is both knees. I don’t run. My front squat/clean hand position ain’t pretty. I do wall balls with a 10-lb ball and avoid super high tosses. I step on the box. And most of all, I do Crossfit to be the fittest person my body will let me be. Anyone can scale any WOD to their abilities. Thanks for saying what I’m always thinking when people say “I can’t do Crossfit because _____.”

  7. Anne permalink
    August 9, 2014 11:57 am

    What a great article! I got hooked on Crossfit 3yrs ago at 52. Still improving, not injured, glad to do whatever I can do, and scale the rest. There is no shame in scaling!

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