Home Depot is a friend to adaptive athletes who rely upon wheelchairs

homedepot_chair

If you’re a wheelchair user like me, no doubt you’ve gone through the experience of having something on your chair break. Maybe it’s not something catastrophic, but the fact is, if you rely upon a piece of technology and/or machinery to get through life, at some point, something is going to break. And whether it be something major (like the frame, wheel, or seat cushion) or something minor (the dozens of screws and rivets that hold everything together) you’re going to have to figure out how to get things fixed in a hurry.

The optimal solution of course is that you can do it yourself, but that means that you’ve got a dedicated workshop with tools, spare parts, and a healthy dose of know-how to get the repair done. For most of us however, if something breaks,   we’re not going to have the full faculty of resources necessary to get things rolling again. Most of the time that means we are left with finding the closest medical arts center to do the repairs. These places are sparse, and not to mention the fact that for any major repair, they will require you to leave your chair with them for days or weeks at a time and can cost hundreds of dollars in fees.

Enter: Home Depot.

Home Depot is many things to many people, but one of the things it has always been to me is a place where a lot of men and women go to work because they enjoy helping people figure out their home repair problems. This comes in handy when your mode of lifestyle is a piece of equipment that relies on the very things that Home Depot provides – metals, screws, rivets, and binding elements. In any metropolitan area, it is a given that the number of wheelchair repair sites are going to be outnumbered by Home Depot stores.  Therefore, it is important to be acclimated with the Orange and White banner and aisles upon aisles of wheelchair bandaids.

But here is where it gets interesting, and most importantly, critical for adaptive athletes.

Did you know that Home Depot has a policy (maybe written, maybe not) that they will voluntarily do basic wheelchair repair and replacement parts, free of charge? Yes, it is true. I learned this several years ago when I needed to replace some screws in my chair frame. I approached their ‘pro desk‘ simply looking to locate the proper screws and nuts necessary to replace something that had broken.Their response was as unexpected as it was serendipitous – not only would they find me the pieces that I needed, but they would install them for me and provide those pieces for me completely free of charge.

The funny and encouraging thing about this policy is two-fold: 1) most Home Depot workers aren’t even aware of this policy; and 2) as soon as I inform them, they will absolutely jump at the chance to help you.

At first, I was a little uneasy at making the request when something broke. After all, what for-profit business offers parts and labor free of charge? But after 2 or 3 additional visits to my local Home Depot, with each and every time the store and workers providing exactly what I needed, I realized one important thing. The parts themselves are often minuscule, as they frequently will be a couple of dollars’ worth of screws and nuts. However, the real value is in the professionals there who are willing to stop whatever it is they are doing and begin trying to solve whatever it is that you need help with. And this is what is true and important for people to realize – every single Home Depot person on the floor is eager and dare I say excited to jump at the opportunity to help a wheelchair user who needs basic repair.

Why is this?

Today, I needed some repairs on my wheelchair’s armrest and backing. I came in with my two little kids and was mostly just hoping for them to have the time to stick a new screw in a few places and send me along. Instead, two of the men in their pro shop leapt at the opportunity to help me and spent nearly an hour to do it. My new friends Joe and Chris, who can be seen in the photo above, were ready and eager to do whatever it took to make my wheelchair workable again. Whenever I insisted that a solution was ‘good enough,’ they immediately said, ‘No, we can do it better.” And then took additional parts and additional time to make it so. Through the course of it all, I realized that: a) Home Depot employees love to help people; and b) they love to solve problems. And each and every time I’ve gone in to seek minor repairs, these facts have been a consistently reinforced reality.

I’ve asked Home Depot employees to help me with issues from as simple as a broken washer all the way up to figuring out why my front caster shimmies (a recurring mystery on the level of the Lost City of Atlantis) and each and every time two or three people have eagerly answered the call to help me out, just like Joe and Chris did on today’s occasion.

Suffice to say, Home Depot gets the big ‘Thumbs Up!’ from Parawod, and if you’re a wheelchair user and are in need of a quick tweak to your chair, head over to the orange and white and rest assured that they will help you to the best of their ability.

 

WheelWOD competitor Jedidiah Snelson shows how new mobilization tech helps adaptive athletes decrease soft tissue tension

 

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One of the major issues that adaptive athletes face is in how to mobilize the soft tissue that tends to get gunked up through hours/days/weeks/years of non-use. I myself have longstanding issues with limited range of motion in my shoulders and elbows, and my scapular region is no slab of gelatin either.

Just like most cross-functional athletes, I spend the first third of each workout trying to mobilize these regions with various arrays of lacrosse balls, foam rollers, and barbells (but never the chance to try whatever this thing is). It’s about as uncomfortable for me as it is for everyone else, but with the added challenge of trying to get your body in the right position to maximize effect.

With this in mind, it was much to my surprise that across my LinkedIn feed today that I not only saw a piece of technology to address this very issue, but the article featured my new friend, monster adaptive athlete, and recently 2nd place finisher in the WheelWOD championships, Jedidiah Snelson, who demonstrates a piece of tech called the T-Dot Mobility System.

Adaptive athletes don’t have to be limited in their mobility work – Brett Burton

“The T-Dot is a great tool that allows for optimization of my mobility program. It allows me to do more detailed work with greater independence. The size of the system allows me to carry it with ease from home to gym and from competition to competition. It also allows me to do a greater amount of mobility and tight muscle release from my wheel chair and on my own. Consistency to mobility is the key, and with the universal use of the T-Dot, it allows me to be more consistent with my mobility.” -Jedidiah Snelson

Great job Jed, and I’m eager to try out this piece of equipment myself in the near future.

(Follow Jed on Instagram)

 

An Unexpected Journey: To Wasaga and Back Again

wheelwod

I suppose I could segment my life into three basic categories when it comes to fitness. There is the first third, which went from around age 14 to age 25, the age where there is the possibility of becoming something great in the athletic arena. I believed that with the right mix of opportunity and training, anything was possible, and those possibilities culminated in traveling north and south to play in competitive basketball tournaments in two countries.

The second part of my life is most notable because it was bereft of athleticism. When work, marriage, children, and law school all come together at once, some things have to take a back seat. The grind of a high pressure job, high pressure academia, little sleep, and a horrible diet can and will do things to a man. By the time school was done, my overall health had deteriorated significantly.

The third chapter of life is one of recovery and refocus. Three years ago, my personal hero and friend Cam Sinclair welcomed me into his CrossFit Nassau gym in Princeton, NJ. He offered no promises, only that he’d check me out and see if there was anything we could do together to improve my mobility, range of motion, and general quality of life. Slowly but surely, my fitness and athleticism returned, never to the point where it was during my competitive days, but to the point where I was becoming confident again in my strength and overall appearance.

It is through this path that I have traveled in my broken body and busted up wheelchair to the doorsteps of WheelWOD and the opportunity to qualify for the first ever WheelWOD championship, held at Wasaga Beach as part of the UG Beach WOD series. I competed in their version of the Open and in their qualifier, and somehow, some way, providentially I made the final cut. I earned the right to appear in the first everWheelWOD championship.

The competition ran from July 8-10th in Canada, and this is my accounting for a historic event that is going to help transform wheelchair athletics and competition. To break it all down, I will resort to one of my favorite sayings, which gives me a writing framework:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt

We endeavor to be the masters of all three together – the events, the people, and lastly, the ideas that underpin everything.

I. The People

Each of these athletes shined in their own ways, all of them memorable, all of them meaningful to this historic event.

Angel – He earned 3rd place overall for the men. What stands out most to me is how Angel balances so well the desire to be competitive with his passion for others to be competitive with him. For Angel, to go hard is pure joy, and to have others go hard with him is the pinnacle.

Arika – Fierce competitors can come in small packages, and what Arika showed throughout the weekend was a steadfast approach to remaining consistently competitive in all events. If you asked me to say which event was her weakness, I could not have answered. This consistency put her on the stand, finishing 3rd overall.

Bryan – What I’ll remember most about the soft-spoken winner of the men’s event is twofold – he had no weaknesses and also understood his strengths perfectly. He also brought half the state of Tennessee with him to cheer him on. What an amazing crew to be around, because they didn’t just cheer him, but they cheered all of us.

Cindy – Simply the best complete athlete out of all of us (men or women), and the least surprising beginning-to-end leader of the competition. She is also one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the world, and that always gets extra points from me.

Diego – Language can be a barrier, but that barrier is overcome through competition and hard work. He traveled the farthest out of all of us (Brazil) and his consistency across all events was laudable. On top of that, his sweet fiancee saved me during the out-of-nowhere thunderstorm during the first night of competition. I had no ride available, so they crammed me into their sedan and brought me to safety.

Jed – What impressed me most about Jed is how he was able to round out his weaknesses during competition, even as the competition was going on. Box climbs? Sand crawl? Swimming? What was a weakness for him Friday morning turned into a strength by Saturday night. On top of that, it was a privilege to meet his wife Danielle and see the strength that resides in their marriage.

Joe – When he started loading the plates onto his bench press, I just about died. And then I realized he was just warming up. The fluidity he has in his olympic movements is something that I will always endeavor to emulate.

Mia – She is the pull-up queen. I also had the privilege of video recording a number of her workouts, so I got to see up close how she combines a great motor with stunning strength to go along with keen insights toward life.

Tera – Tera stands out to me because she was the first friendly face I encountered, and if I had to wager, I think she could tell I was nervous when I arrived. It speaks so well of her as a competitor and a person to continuously offer me encouragement throughout the weekend, especially when it was needed most during the first day.

Vanessa – Vanessa is the counterpart to Angel, always smiling, always encouraging everyone, but also seeking to win every event we held, and she finished 2nd overall in the female division. During our final group dinner together, she addressed us all as a family, a powerful sentiment and I hope we have a ‘family reunion’ soon.

Stouty – Chris “Stouty” Stoutenberg is the man responsible for everything. The owner of CrossFit Indestri and founder of WheelWOD, he is a heavily decorated international athlete who decided that winning a plethora of medals and accolades wasn’t enough. He needed to change the world. And that’s what we began to do in Wasaga Beach.

II. The Events

DAY 1

I can’t discuss day 1 of the competition without first providing the context of my adventures to the great north. I hail from Virginia, USA, approximately 540 miles and a 10 hour car ride away. My family and I decided to rent a big vehicle and drive up, and we were a packed SUV. So packed, in fact, that after I picked up the massive SUV from the rental agency I realized that there would be no way for me to bring my sport wheelchair (and in fact we barely had enough room for my regular chair).

Heading into the competition, I knew that not having my sport chair would be a challenge, but not too great, because I figured I could borrow someone’s sport chair for the necessary events. What I didn’t fully account for was what the trip would do to me physically and mentally. I drove the whole way (by choice), finishing up the final 3.5 hours on Friday morning, arriving but a few hours before the competition began. I felt OK upon arrival, but as soon as we started moving around, fatigue and hunger hit me hard. I tried to force some protein into my system, but it wasn’t working. My energy level went through the floor, and I discovered later that I was running a fever. In an event where you have to be ready both physically and mentally, I was coming into the event from a bad place.

Workout 1: 1-rep max bench press

If ever there was a strength workout that I might not embarrass myself in to kick things off, it would be this one. My Olympic-style lifting is crap, but I know at the very least I can lie on my back and push a weight skyward one time every minute or so. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to contend with the big boys in the group who would be chasing the 300lb barrier, but I knew that on a good day I could hit at least 200lbs, so I set my personal goal at 205lbs. The only challenge was the bench itself. Which turned out to be a bigger challenge than I hoped.

At my home gym, I simply stacked up mats until they were high enough to get a full range of motion from chest to full lock-out position all while giving me maximum surface area and stability for my back and hips. This option was not available; we only had standard benches and weight racks. The problem I have with the bench press is that when I lie down on a narrow bench, my hip flexors, psoas, and lower back begin screaming in agony due to the over-extension that the bench requires in order to balance. I tried putting boxes under my feet, but to no avail. It was going to hurt.

My only option was to lay down and ask one of the volunteers to essentially hold my hips and legs in place while I did the work. In theory it should have worked, but oh my did it hurt when the pressure was placed on my legs. Unfortunately, the additional pain and the general lack of balance did me in. I knew I was in trouble when I started to strain at a weight that the other guys had warmed up on. My 205 PR goal quickly became a distant memory, and I finished at a very, very disappointing 30lbs under my goal at 175lbs (a weight I can usually get at least 5 reps at). To add insult to actual injury (because at this point my lower back and hips were searing in pain), my failure to get to my normal 80% of max weight put me in last place.

Workout 2: 8 minute AMRAP

  • 5 floor-to-box transfers (20″)
  • 15 strict pull-ups
  • 25′ sled drag

This workout originally started out outdoors with a hill sprint instead of a sled drag. Under normal circumstances I would have been great with that, but as I mentioned above, I had no sport chair. I asked Angel if I could borrow his sport chair for the heat, and Angel happily obliged, so I thought I was set. And then the weather got nasty.

Out of nowhere, a massive thunder and lightning storm hit the beach, wiping out many of the vendor booths and scattering the athletes everywhere. With the rain, wind, and sand blowing everywhere, we could barely see. I had sent my family back to the hotel 30 minutes prior because they were all worn out, but it left me vulnerable to the elements and only through the kindness of Diego and his fiancee Suzi was I able to join the reconvened WheelWOD crew at CrossFit Indestri. Once safe and dry, they resumed the WOD with a slight tweak – instead of the hill sprint, it would be a sled drag. No worries! I thought. I do sled drags all the time.

Stouty offered me one of his sport chairs, and I was good to go, or so I thought. The only slight difference would be that Stouty is a lot taller and heavier than me, ergo his chair was configured much differently than mine, and also that the sled drag would be harnessed on my shoulders instead of the chair axle as I had been accustomed. But since the weight wasn’t particularly heavy (a modest 25lbs), I thought little of it. Here we go!

I flew through the first two movements in the AMRAP with little trouble, and then hopped into Stouty’s chair for the first time. I lashed on the harness, fired the chair forward, and was immediately hit with something I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t moving. No matter how hard I pushed the wheels forward, the drag that the sled was causing, combined with its high angle of incidence relative to the floor, was causing all the weight to shift to the back axle, and I could not overcome the drag. My wheels were literally spinning in place.

For a moment, everything stopped. I looked around, watching a flurry of motion around me. Guys were flying up and down the floor with their weights, but I was stuck in neutral. Why wasn’t I moving? My eyes scanned the room for some help, when finally one of the judges said that I had to shift my weight forward and bring the harness lower, and only then would I be able to move it forward.

Slowly but surely, the strategy worked, but it wasn’t easy. Since I don’t have any abdominal control at all, trying to drive my torso forward against weight that was pulling it backward was almost too much to bear. I could only manage 6-12 inches at a time, pure agony in a race against the clock. By the time I got back to the right to resume the other two motions, my energy was completely depleted, my psyche damaged. My second go-round went marginally better, but without momentum and confidence, my final score, last again, marked the disappointing end to a disappointing day.

DAY 2

Workout 3: The Triathlon (for time)

  • 500m ski erg
  • 15 cal arms-only assault bike
  • 500m row

As mentioned above, I had completely burned my body out, couldn’t eat, and was a running a fever. It took an evening of forcing down food and a long, restless night of sleep, but the fever finally broke and I got some measure of recovery. And a good thing too, because the ‘triathlon’ was up next.

How does 7-8 minutes of misery sound to you?

There was absolutely nothing enjoyable about this WOD. It started with 2.5 minutes of grueling imbalance on the ski erg, 2 minutes of a short punching-style of motion on the assault bike (imagine throwing 100 body blows against a heavy bag without a break), and concluded with 3.5 minutes on the one thing I thought I knew how to do well, the rowing machine. In the end, I finished the WOD at 8 minutes flat. I wasn’t fast, I knew that going in, but to my and my coaches’ credit, I wasn’t slow, either. WOD 3 marked my first experience where I didn’t finish dead last, and I hang onto that like a badge of honor.

Intermission

It was during the break between WODs that I knew I had to get help. My lower back wasn’t recovering, and with all the torquing motion that WOD 3 required, it was causing all sorts of muscle spasms throughout my body. I retreated to the physical therapy tent and, on the PT’s diagnosis sheet, circled everything. When we finally targeted the lower back, I wanted to pass out. To which she replied in her lovely Canadian accent:

It hurts, eh?

Workout 4

Double Grace (for time)

  • 60 reps clean + press

Let’s get this out of the way early – I’ve only just begun my journey in Olympic-style lifting, which is not only difficult for most athletes to excel in, but doubly so for someone without any hip drive or abdominal control. Because of this, my WODs have always been built around doing only 5-8 of these clean-type movements at a time. I had never really attempted Grace, so why not kick things off with a double Grace?

As I headed into the pit, the visual I was met with was my fellow competitors practicing their clean + press reps, bouncing them touch-and-go style like they were playing on a drum line. Nice psych-out, fellas!

Again, my goal was to not finish last, and to do that, I wanted to maintain a pace of 5 reps followed by 15 seconds of rest. When the race began, for the first time I had to go to my dark place (tm – Dashing Brad Bunde) because my competitors were flying through it seemingly without pausing to rest. I had to leave that behind and stay within my own abilities. One third of the way in I was staying strong, but by the time I hit rep 30, or in normal parlance half-way, my form was breaking down. I had to recover my form, because if I lost it, I would lose the race as well.

I slowed my pace slightly, but continued to go through my fundamental progressions, from the finger tips, to the hands, to the wrists, to the shoulders, through the pull, and then overhead. As long as the form stayed true, I stayed on pace. I could hear one athlete was chasing me down, and I had to stay in front to achieve my goal. With 10 reps to go, I could barely see as sweat stung my eyes. With the finish line within reach, I muscled the final 10 clumsily but effectively until #60 was called by my judge. I had edged out my competitor barely by 15 seconds. My judge fist-bumped me and offered his approval.

It sucks, eh?

Workout 5: SURPRISE!

  • 30m sand sled drag (50lbs)
  • 60m swim
  • 30 meter sand sled drag (50lbs)
  • 5 muscle-ups
  • 15 minute time cap

This was the mystery workout that Stouty had planned for us, and the goal was to get us out of our chairs and into the water. To be sure I’m not exactly Michael Phelps (or even Michael Phelps’ towel guy) but I’m comfortable in the water. I have a basic swim stroke.  I can do this. Right up until that muscle-up. To that I said to Stouty, “So basically I’m going to work hard for 5-7 minutes so that I’ll have 8 minutes to try and get 1 muscle-up.”

In no particular order, my thoughts leading up to the start of this WOD were:

  • Don’t throw up
  • Don’t lose your swim trunks
  • Don’t drown
  • Lord, just give me 1 muscle-up in front of everyone

In the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For me, the punch in the mouth was the sand. This wasn’t ordinary soft and plentiful ocean beach front sand; this was sand packed down hard on the shores of Lake Huron. As I dragged myself backward, slowly pulling the sled, it felt like gravel was raking across the back of my legs, now mostly unprotected because of my swimsuit. Every drag caused my lower body’s muscles to involuntarily stiffen. When I finally reached the water, dying for some relief and buoyancy, I was hit with a reminder that the water temperature in Canada is not the same as it is down south. The frigid water bit into me face first, and I stared up at my judge, a silent howl on my lips. My judge could only offer:

It’s cold, eh?

To make matters worse, the water was too shallow to swim. I tried to submerge myself under the breaking waves and swim forward, but at best all I could do was half-crawl all the way out and back. The place where I thought I could gain some ground in fact slowed me.

I somehow made it back to the beginning of the beach where the rings were waiting for me. I was in the middle of the pack at that point, and I knew that I had a muscle-up in me, but for my body, it is always a day-to-day thing. If everything behaves, the movement is there. But if my hips, legs, knees, and feet don’t cooperate, I can spend 30 minutes on it and not get a single one. With a lead on a few other athletes, could I knock out 5 of them before the 15 minute time cap?

I positioned myself as best I could, tried to relax and remembered my great gymnastics Coach Tracey’s words for movement – stay tight, stay loose. Tight and loose. Tight and loose. And pull.

Failure.

Pull.

Failure.

Pull.

Failure.

It wasn’t happening. My legs were stiff from the pain of being scraped across the sand and the icy water. My shoulders were burnt from the drag. And most importantly, everyone had caught up and now had surpassed me. The emotion of the moment was overtaking me. I was soon in the position that every athlete dreads; I was the last one on the course. And that’s when the question starts to seep into your mind like black ink in crystal clear water:

Why am I doing this? I’m not going to make it. I’ve failed. I’m going to quit.

III. The Ideas

It would be so cool if I could write next, “And then I found something deep within myself that enabled me to surge ahead like LeBron James crossed with a great white shark holding a rocket launcher driving to the rim,” but I can’t. That isn’t me, and that isn’t reality for a lot of people. However, that is also what distinguishes the CF community from other competitions, because it is at this moment when the announcers, the judges, and the hundreds of athletes watching you fail repeatedly understand that it is their time to join in. Your moment has become their moment. Your failure, their failure. And your success, their success.

But let us take a step back for a moment. To my question of hopelessness, actually. Why am I doing this? I knew for a fact that amongst all the competitors that would be there, I was going to be near the bottom. It wasn’t even a question; the numbers during the Open and Qualifier didn’t lie. Why did do it to begin with, knowing that in the end I’d be finishing last? Why put myself through the grueling workouts when I had virtually no shot at all?

To answer this question, I just think about baseball. And competitive balance. Let me allow veteran broadcaster Bob Costas to explain.

You don’t have a game without two major league teams. The New York Yankees make $58 million a year in local broadcasting revenues, but the money comes because they’re playing games against other major league teams. Yankee intrasquad games are not broadcast, and wouldn’t be watched in such numbers if they were.

What the heck does that even mean, and how does it have anything to do with CrossFit, and WheelWOD in particular?

Costas’ point is that unless you have competitors, you don’t have a game. If you don’t have a game, you don’t have interest. If you don’t have interest, you don’t have people showing up and spending their money to find out who wins. Without the money coming in, over the long haul, you may end up not having anything at all. Exhibitions and demonstrations are great, and clips of wheelie athletes dot the Internet and social media to positive effect. But unless there is something at stake, people aren’t going to watch, at least for very long. However, when you have a competition where the top 3 spots of Double Grace are all separated by a mere 20 seconds? Or you’re watching an underdog try to chase down one of the best female athletes in the world? Yes, people are going to pay attention. In this cynical, over-scripted, media-saturated existence we live in, we long for and crave the opportunity to not know what is actually going to happen next. That’s what makes competition so great. The only way that happens is if winning actually means something.

This may sound a little weird, but I believe it to be true – the highest complement one athlete can give to another is to try and beat them thoroughly and completely. That only a best effort is enough, and something less than best cedes victory to another. But in order for that to happen, both guys have to show up. Both have to be willing to compete, to put themselves in a place where failure is possible. And if it so happens, as it did with our muscle-ups, that the winners got through them and I couldn’t, maybe it says something about me as an athlete, but maybe it also says something about them too, about how good they are, about how hard they worked to put themselves in a position to win.

A few days after I returned from Canada, I came across this clip of Annie Thorisdotter, winner of the 2011 and 2012 CrossFit Games. This was her first successful muscle-up in the Games. Her fight through the movement reminded me an awful lot of my many failed attempts; there is nothing graceful or powerful in the struggle; it is simply a continued fight to get your body to comply with what your brain wants more than anything – to get itself over the rings.

I think this is why the WheelWOD competition is so important, and similarly, why it was so important for me to make the trip despite my low probability of winning anything. The groundwork has to be laid down. Winning has to mean something. It has to involve two or more athletes paying the highest tribute to the other by working as hard as they can to beat each other. I couldn’t win, but my presence there and the effort I put in could help lift other people up.

You must do the things you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

I finished last at the 2016 WheelWOD championship. I can’t wait to compete again.

Finally

Here is where I make a fatal attempt to try and thank everyone who helped get me to this point, because as I argued above, it is important for me to be there, and it is important for more athletes after me to be at events in the future. Cam Sinclair, you took a chance on me and trained me first, because as you put it, “well, I have some free time on my hands.” Justin Doran, you continued Cam’s work and brought me into the fold. Conan Bruce, when we arrived ‘gym homeless’ in VA you made us a part of your own and helped make my family and me feel whole again, and for that I can never thank you enough. Doug Naquin, Brad Bunde, Tracey Kloes, and so many other coaches in Ashburn, you each dedicated yourselves to helping me figure out how to adapt better. To Janice McLean, who has offered me a place to train at CrossFit Loudoun. Finally, to Seth Wolfe, who took it upon himself to train me specifically for this, my biggest competition, I couldn’t have represented myself well without you. And to everyone who helped fund our trip, offered support and encouragement, and simply walked with us during this journey, my deepest thanks to you as well.

And of course to my Beloved, who wanted me to be in these games more than anything.

It’s good, eh?

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ParaWOD is heading to Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada for 2016 WheelWOD Championship

More to come, including progress updates, but for now what is important is that we’re heading to Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada to compete in the first ever WheelWOD championships from July 8 – July 10th. In order to fully embrace the experience, not only am I training hard with my coaches at Impavidus Gym in Ashburn, VA, but my goal is also to be able to take my beloved wife and 3 children along with me so that they can share in this historic experience. Since traveling with a family of 5 is not cheap, I’ve set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for our trip.

Thank you for all your support!

WheelWOD qualifier #1: We’re gonna do #2

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The WheelWOD qualifier is underway, and I, along with 15 other adaptive athletes, will be competing in 3 designed workout challenges this week to decide who gets to attend the championship round. I have to humbly admit that, even though I only need to finish in the middle of the pack to advance, my chances are low given that I still struggle with some of the basic movements. That said, after my attempt at WOD #2 went, shall we say, unevenly, my coach Conan reminded me that what matters is being in the gym is just doing the work, which makes me wonder if he were recalling this famous quote from the Bull Moose:

the_man_in_the_arena

After polling my fellow Impavidus Gym athletes, I decided to attempt WOD #2 first, which if you recall is:

a) 10 minutes to find hanging clean 1 rep max

rest 2 minutes

b) 7 min AMRAP

  • 10 Clean & Jerk from floor @ 65lbs
  • 10 Wall Balls 14lbs @ 8 feet

The rationale they offered, and I agree with it, is to get the hardest one out of the way first and then build some momentum and finish strong. Clearly this workout features two things that I don’t do well – a) Olympic lifting movements, and b) throwing medicine balls high in the air. In fact, My 16.4 workout was drastically curtailed because I couldn’t meet the wall ball standard at all.

Part A

With 10 minutes to play with, I wanted to get a few successful lifts in before I worked up to my 1 rep max. And here’s the truth – I’ve only been working on the clean movement for about 9 months, so up to this point I would struggle to get 65 lbs more than twice in a row. But with the coaching and support of Coaches Seth & Doug, I was able to hit my 1 rep max at 80 lbs. Barely.

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As I’ve often written, the clean movement is an incredibly difficult challenge because I don’t have any dip drive or hip extension, which is where you generate most of your power. If you can’t get a good vertical pull on the bar, it really just feels like a negative curl, which means that you’re using much smaller muscles, as compared to the chain of muscles involving the lats, deltoids, traps, and triceps.

I spent the last few minutes of the set attempting 85 lbs. I didn’t quite get there, but I’ve read that it’s good to document your failures as well as your successes, so here it is:

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I wish I could have gotten that 85 lbs, but at the end of the day, I bested my previous PR in the clean by 15 lbs. That’s not a bad day. But wait, there’s more!

Part B

For the 7 minute AMRAP, I was once again going to have to do 10 clean + jerk from the floor, which I first encountered in the Open, followed by the wall ball. I wanted to try and do both movements out of my every day chair and not my sport chair because the seating gives me a little more hip control, which helped me in Part A. Also, it gives me a little more of a height advantage on the wall balls, where I can use every inch I can get.

That said, I realized there is something to be said about not thinking things all the way through. And physics.

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Yep, didn’t see that one coming!

After completing the wall ball section, I moved through 4 more C&J until the 17 minute mark. I wanted to get through that movement at least twice, but didn’t quite make it.

What’s that, you say? I can’t add? Well, you’re right.

10 minutes for 1 rep max + 2 minutes of rest + 7 minute AMRAP = 19 total minutes.

After taking an extended rest period where I thought I was done but was not actually done, we got back on the barbell and finished out the C&J with enough time to get a few more wall ball attempts in.

Despite the mishaps, I was generally satisfied with the workout because of the challenge of the movements. And then, as we were winding down, Coach Doug said to me those dreaded words:

“You should maybe think about re-doing that one”

Which is funny because Doug is an elite CrossFit Masters athlete, one of the best in the world, and he has strong feelings about  re-doing an official workout. His main argument – don’t let your ego get the best of you! However, in this case, he might be right, given that I lost precious seconds with my C&J Fosbury Flop and then forgetting how to add to 19. Doug’s argument is compelling, and if I have enough time this week, I may give it another go. Unfortunately these workouts are not just about the workout, but the entire set-up and recruiting people to help out, and I still have 2 more qualifiers to go.

At the very least, I still increased my C&J PR by 15 lbs.

Many thanks to everyone who helped me out for WOD #2: Doug, Seth, Conan, and Monica were all instrumental in getting it done. On to the next one!

WheelWOD qualifiers: which workout first?

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The WheelWOD Open 2016 is finished and we’re now on to the championship qualifiers. And guess what, I qualified to compete in this next round! (Ignore the fact that, to qualify,  I only had to pay the entry fee). Similar to the CrossFit Masters qualifiers, the WheelWOD qualifier consists of 3 different workouts, all released at once, and we get one week to complete each of them.

According to the rules, the top 9 men will advance to the championship round, which will be held in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada.

Each of the three workouts will be challenging in different ways, and my first order of business is which order I should do them. Suggestions are most welcome!

Workout #1

Adapted Fran

  • 21-15-9
  • Time cap: 10 minutes
  • Seated Shoulder Press 75/35
  • Full Hang Pull up

Well hello, Fran!  This classic CrossFit WOD is in every competitor’s back pocket, and the movements are easily adaptable for a wheelchair athlete. In fact, I’ve done it several times over the years and am comfortable with both the pull-ups as well as the press. No problem, right?

Competition is a different animal. It is different because there is a higher scrutiny and a higher demand for difficult movements. Fran takes on a new visage for me because, while I can do a seated shoulder press at 75lbs, the standard requires me to be able to pick it up off the floor. Since I’ve always taken the weight off the rig, and my clean weight caps out around 65lbs, I’m more than a little concerned that I won’t even be able to get the weight into position to press it.

How will I get that weight up to my shoulders? Should I curl it? Oh my, I can already hear my coaches snickering…

Workout #2

a) 10 minutes to find hanging clean 1 rep max

rest 2 minutes

b) 7 min AMRAP

  • 10 Clean & Jerk from floor @ 65lbs
  • 10 Wall Balls 14lbs @ 8 feet

This workout combines two of my “room for lots of improvement” movements that I’ve learned during the Open. The pulling motion of the clean is and always will be problematic for me, but at the very least, I know I can get to about 65lbs in the 1 rep max. But then to have to do it 10 times per round for part b? Oh boy.

But that’s not even the most demoralizing part. During the Open in 16.4, my score was essentially capped because I couldn’t throw the 14lb wall ball high enough at 9 feet. WheelWOD gives me a little bit of a break in the qualifier, setting the target above 8 feet, but I am still unsure as to how consistently I can hit the lower target.

Workout #3

17 minute Chipper

  • 200 Battle Ropes
  • 100 1 arm alternating dumbbell snatch 25lbs
  • 50 Push ups
  • 25m Crawl
  • 5 Ring muscle-ups

And lastly, we’ve got a lovely chipper to work through. In workout 16.2, the battle ropes were my undoing in the ladder workout. With only makeshift climbing ropes tied together, I was completely gassed by the time the opening round concluded.

This time around, I did what any sensible CrossFitter would do when faced with such a recurring predicament – I bought my own battle rope. While I’m sure it will help me only in a marginal sense, I at least know that I should be able to get through the first section without too much harm done and get to the next five movements with plenty of time. The snatch will take some time, but 25lbs isn’t overwhelming, even at that volume.

The next two movements are basic body movements that I have practice in, but I have learned my lesson; nothing to be taken for granted. Get through these quickly, and I set myself up for the CrossFit dividing line – the ring muscle-up.

Can I do five of them within a few minutes? It really comes down to what day it is. Some days yes, other days, my body won’t cooperate. Perhaps this one will be on a good day.

But the first challenge is obvious – in what order do  I do the workouts???

CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive 16.5: feeling good, pay no attention to the red line

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The final workout of the 2016 CrossFit Open is over, and as many of you know, it was a grueling repeat of a past workout (14.5). Many of my fellow athletes at Impavidus Gym were around the first time the Open combined thrusters & burpees together, and much to our delight they smashed their previous performances. As for me however, it was my first exposure to such a workout, as well as the WheelWOD adaptation. To recall, the Rx edition of 16.5 is:

21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time

  • thrusters (95/65lbs)
  • bar-facing-burpees

The adaptation that WheelWOD came up with cuts no corners:

21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time

  • strict shoulder press (75/45lbs)
  • Push-up box-over (8 inch platform); to explain, a push-up, a hand walk over a platform, and then back into a push-up

After seeing this workout adaptation, I don’t want to say that I wasn’t too worried, but…I wasn’t too worried. I knew that for the first time in the 2016 Games I could do both movements reasonably well. I can press 75lbs without difficulty, as it is often programmed into our WOD’s at Impavidus. I am also relatively agile moving my body through space, even though I had never done this specific movement (but certainly ask me about the obstacle courses my old coaches at CrossFit Nassau used to create for me sometime!). It was simply going to be a matter of constant movement.

I always game plan the workout the Friday morning that it is announced, and spent a few minutes with Impavidus owner and head Coach Conan about how to do it well in preparation for my workout on Sunday, which coincidentally was Easter Sunday. His primary piece of advice?

You’re strong enough to do this workout, but it’s a lot of reps. You have to stay away from the REDLINE.

What pray tell is the redline? It is easiest understood in car engines. The redline refers to “the maximum engine speed at which an internal combustion engine or traction motor and its components are designed to operate without causing damage to the components themselves or other parts of the engine.”

In fitnesss-speak, it is your optimal output before your muscles start to fail. Essentially, Conan’s words of advice to me were to stay far, far away from that zone early on, even if you know you can do more reps, because if you don’t, your engine is going to break down, and once it is broken, you can’t fix it during the workout.

Right, got it, coach! Let’s do this.

Round 1: 21 reps of strict press, 21 reps of push-up over box.

21 reps up! 21 reps down! Unbroken! I’m going to finish this workout in like 8 minutes!

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Then my body hit the floor for the push-ups, and I felt something I wasn’t expecting. Instability in my shoulders. My shoulder and chest platform serve as the core that everything else is built upon. They were wobbling on me. In round 1.

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When I finished with the 21 floor reps and went back to the bar, I knew I had made a mistake.

I didn’t heed the redline. And more importantly, I had never taken the time in my workout preparations to even learn where my redline was. I was barely 4 minutes into the workout and all of my momentum, not to mention confidence, was gone. The 18 presses became a struggle, breaking them up first into thirds and then into doubles. The plate platform that I was supposed to be hopping across like a pommel horse was suddenly a life raft that I just wanted to hug and not let go.

The last, most discouraging element to what happens when you breach the redline is that the problems don’t really manifest themselves until the very end. My personal time after the 12 repetition round was a respectable 12 minutes – that is, I had completed 66 of the 84 total reps in 12 minutes. Nearly 80% of the workout was DONE! And yet, because I had driven my tachometer into the red so quickly, the final 18 reps were excruciatingly slow, especially the shoulder press. In fact, when I got to the final two rounds, I was overcome; I started repeatedly failing on my shoulder press reps, unable to even get singles. In the end, the rounds that should have been the quickest took the longest, with the final 3 reps taking over 2 minutes alone.

When all was said and done, I debriefed with my Coach, and the first thing he told me was, “You didn’t stay away from the redline, did you?” No, I didn’t.

But then he said, “As a coach, I would have told you to drop that weight in the 1st round. But since I was your judge in the event, I had to let you go without any coaching, and whatever happens, happens.”

I considered this statement and then realized that in the long run, my coach had done me a favor. Had he told me to drop the weight early on, I would have simply placed my workout in his hands, never really thinking about what it means to manage your energy when you’re in the grinder. But instead, he let me make the mistake, and I felt the repercussions…oh, how I felt them/still feeling them…and when I immediately realized what I had done, I knew I would never make that mistake again. I would learn to respect the redline.

If you think this was a sad moment for me though, you are mistaken.

Here is what I ultimately took away from my 16.5 workout on Easter Sunday.

“The minute you feel like you’re the only one going through it … you’re losing.” —Austin Malleolo

The CrossFit Open is many things, but one thing that is easy to forget is that they are designed to exist within community. To be sure some athletes, either by choice or situation, must go at it alone. But for the vast majority, the goal is to share in the experience and the suffering.

What this 16.5 workout communicated to me loud and clear was that my coach, the owner of the gym, was willing to come out on Easter Sunday and help me set up, video record, and judge my workout. And not just him – his entire family! They were all there to help and encourage and just be around each other. Powerful community.

The second message received is from my other coach and friend Jason Kitchens, who willingly did the Rx workout along side of me. He is able-bodied and had already done 16.5 for his own records, but was still willing to get in the chair (and out of the chair) and go through the movements along with me. He’s a phenomenal athlete, so it is no small thing for my own confidence to go through this 15-20 minute workout and see him struggling with the movements the same way I was. And in my final lesson, I could see Jason knew where his redline was, where I had not. He finished ahead of me in large part because he knew how to manage his energy better than I did.

In the end, despite my struggles, 16.5 was my best workout of the Open. I finished 6th the WheelWOD workout of 16.5, my highest score throughout the 5 weeks.

I’ll have more thoughts in a final Open post-mortem, but for now, today, I can rest knowing that I finished the WheelWOD CrossFit Open in the Rx division.

CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive: of failure and continuance

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Riding high on the momentum from my (slightly) more successful workout 16.3, I was excited to attack 16.4. I was still excited, even after I saw it announced, as it turned out to be a grueling 13 minute chipper that would put athletes’ arms and legs through the, well, the chipper. The Rx workout for 16.4 is:

13 minute time cap for:

  • 55 deadlifts
  • 55 wall-ball shots
  • 55-calorie row
  • 55 handstand push-ups

I looked at this workout and had two thoughts: 1) I can do all of those movements! and 2) No, wait. I can’t even do the first movement.

The reason why I thought this way is because, as a T5-T6 injury paraplegic, I have no muscle control below my pectoral region. How in the world can you do a deadlift if you don’t have either lower back or abdominal muscles? HOW?

I waited with trepidation until 6AM the next day when the wheelchair adaptive site WheelWOD would release their Rx standards, and here they are:

  • 55 deadlifts with 70lb kettlebells
  • 55 wall ball shots with 14lb ball and 9 foot target
  • 35 calorie row
  • 55 dumbbell shoulder presses with 35lb dumbbells

Well crap.

Not only have I never attempted a deadlift using kettlebells (I usually do rows while lying face down on a bench), but the standard required a collective weight of 140lbs. I could already envision it. I’d bend forward, grab these very heavy weights, and then not go anywhere with them. How was I supposed to sit upright? With no active muscles to do the work?

But…you gotta try. So I tried. I bent over, grabbed those two 70lb weights and I…sat up. It wasn’t easy, it strained every point in what could only be called my bifurcated posterior chain, and I wanted to drop them almost immediately, but I sat up. And then I did it again. And again. Even now, at this very moment, I cannot tell you how I did it or what muscle groups I was activating that would enable me to do something that I did not think I had the muscle control to do. But I did it.

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(Yes, I nearly head-butted my beloved wife who was trying to keep me from toppling over)

So there it was. Wheelchair paraplegic guy, doing deadlifts. Nothing can stop me now!

That is, until I got to the very next movement and began to practice the 14lb wall balls at a 9 foot target.

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Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

See that white line over the whiteboard? That’s my target. That’s my target that I never came close to surpassing. And that was it. That was my workout. 16.4 was officially done, as the WheelWOD rules stipulate that once you fail at a movement 10 times, your workout ends.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hit that target with that 14 lb weighted medicine ball. In fact, I could barely reach 9 ft with a 10lb ball. Even now, as I look at the leaderboard, I have no idea how dozens of wheelchair-bound people can generate enough thrust without the use of their legs and hips to toss a 14lb ball that high.

10 attempts, 10 failures. And so my workout was over.

What did I do then? I kept going.

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35 calorie row. Have you ever sat down at a rowing machine and said to yourself, “I’m basically stuck here for the next 4 and a half minutes?” That’s what I was in for, that’s what I knew I was in for, and that’s what I did. The question is, why?

To be sure, I can always quip, “Well, I didn’t want to get dressed up for nothing.” But the truth is, going into this workout, I knew my score would be capped at 55. I knew I wouldn’t get a single wall ball shot. I knew that, from a competitive standpoint, there was no point in continuing.

Why keep going? One reason is that my coach, the genteel Brad Bunde (of whom it is rumored, if not yet confirmed, that he taught Fred Astaire how to dance, Bing Crosby how to sing, and Frank Sinatra how to snorkel), has repeatedly said that the Open is a snapshot of your physical fitness at that specific moment of your life. It might be the absolute best you have to offer, but more than likely it is going to capture your limits in strength, limits in movement, your lack of sleep, the 200 things that are troubling your mind 18 hours a day, and that slice of spam you ate right before you got to the gym. So treat it as such, and don’t be embarrassed by it.

The second reason is my recollection of some savory bits of war history.

“War is the father of us all, King of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

The idea is that war and conflict are the ultimate purifiers of human character. Conflict is the unapologetic assayer of the truth of humanity. It reveals all things – anger, love, frustration, patience, discord, peace, despair, hope. The inches that separate the weight on the ground and the weight in your hands will tell you quite a bit, not about your musculature, but of your understanding of your own personal nature. The fact of the matter is, you either pick it up, or you don’t. But the truth of the matter is, you see the heavy object insuperable forever, or you see it as a challenge to which you have not yet found the best solution.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam

This Latin phrase, which is attributed to the Carthagian military commander Hannibal (even though he didn’t speak Latin, but the Punic language of North Africa), translates to:

I shall either find a way or make one

This phrase was Hannibal’s historic response to his generals who told him that it was impossible to take elephants across the Swiss Alps.

Wait, what???

During the Second Punic War in 218BC, the brilliant Carthaginian general Hannibal led his army, and more importantly, his war elephants, across the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps and into Northern Italy to attack the Roman Republic. In what is now held as one of the great accomplishments of military force in the ancient world of warfare, Hannibal resolved to utilize his elephants and take the fight directly to the Romans by maneuvering his infantry across the mountain range.

While Hannibal’s ultimate efforts were mixed, his resolve and war cry will remain forever in antiquity (as well as at the University of Pennsylvania, Breaking Bad, and in tattoos across the world). And so it is with workouts such as this – you either find a way, or you make one. My personal resolve is this – sometimes, the way that you make will take a long time, maybe even a year until the 2017 WheelWOD CrossFit Open. But there is the door, so figure out a way to go through it.

Addendum: the man who defeated Hannibal, the great Roman General Scipio Africanus, had a pretty good line of his own:

I am aware of the frailty of man, I think about the power of fortune, and I know that all our actions are at the mercy of a thousand vicissitudes. Now I admit that it would have been arrogant and headstrong reaction on my part if you had come to sue for peace before I crossed to Africa, and I had rejected your petition when you were yourself voluntarily quitting Italy, and had your troops embarked on your ships. But, as it is, I have forced you back to Africa, and you are reluctant and resisting almost to the point of fighting, so that I feel no need to show you any consideration. Accordingly, if something is actually added to the terms on which it seems probable that a peace could be concluded — some sort of indemnity for the forceful appropriation of our ships, along with their cargoes, during truce and for the violation of our envoys — then I have something to take to my council. But if you consider even that to be excessive, prepare for war, for you have found peace intolerable.”

Post script:

My video cut out before I began my attempt at the 35lb dumbbell presses. I can attest that I started them at approximately the 12 minute mark. I can also claim that I did all 55 of them in the 60 second window. As far as you know.

CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive 16.3: best effort yet

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During the first two weeks of the 2016 CrossFit Open, I have been presented with challenging movements that I’ve never done before. I did them the best that I could, but knew that without any practice in them, my body was fighting a learning curve as well as the strength and skill involved in the movements. For 16.3, it was the first workout where I actually felt like my body had some familiarity with each of the adaptive movements prescribed by WheelWOD‘s adaptation. Because of this, I was able to dedicate most of my focus on the thing that is hardest for me while not worrying too much about the things that are easier.

If you recall, the Rx workout for 16.3 is:

7 minute AMRAP

  • 10 power snatch (75/55)
  • 3 bar muscle-ups

The WheelWOD adaptation is:

  • 10 power snatch (55/35)
  • 3 chest-to-bar pull-ups
  • 3 ring dips

I admit that when I first saw 16.3 revealed I was worried that WheelWOD, instead of assigning the bar muscle-up, which is only attainable by the most elite of wheelie athletes, would instead substitute the ring muscle-up, which while much more attainable, is still a bear.

Fortunately, the adaptation involved the breaking apart of the two muscle-up components – the pull and the push. The chest-to-bar wouldn’t be easy without the use of a kip, but at least it was reachable if I took my time.

The hardest part, similar to 16.2, would of course be the power snatch. In 16.2, I barely got into the power clean due to my struggles in the first few minutes of the workout. This time, I’d be starting things off with the snatch. But just like with the clean, the hardest part for me is to generate enough pull on the bar without the availability of abdominal muscles or hip drive. Furthermore, I had only started learning the snatch six months ago, and it was always at lighter weight (35lbs, 45lbs), and starting off of 30″ boxes. How would I do starting from the floor, and at a weight I had never really tried before?

No time like the present to start trying!

As you can see, my motion from floor to overhead is slow. Each rep took approximately 10-15 seconds, which means that the entire 10 rep set took anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 full minutes. As I look across the leaderboard for the WheelWOD competition, it is easy to see that the men and women who can do this movement the best are the ones with the best scores.

For me, pulling up the bar, repositioning my hips, and then pulling the bar as far as I could to get my elbows under it was a strain on my upper body abilities. That said, prior to this workout I had never done reps at 55lbs before. So while I was slow on this movement, which probably cost me at least another round, the weight itself was a personal record (“PR”). And as the debonair and affable Coach Brad Bunde said afterward, “You just did 30 reps at your PR weight. That’s really good.”

After the snatch came the semi-difficult move, the chest-to-bar pull-up. The key with this movement for this workout is that the bar has to actually touch your chest anywhere from the collarbone down. While I know I can get up high enough with the pull-up, actually creating contact might cause problems. And in fact it did, as in the first set, I rose up high enough but failed to touch the bar. No rep.

However, CrossFit competition is, by and large, a workout regimen of range of motion and not pure technique. With that in mind, I quickly solved my problem:

Switching from a pull-up (mostly back muscles, but pulls you at an angle) to a chin-up (mostly biceps, which burn out much faster), I was easily able to pull the bar into my chest and move on.

Moving on to…the ring dip.

The ring dip is one of the easiest movements I can do, and here is a great opportunity to express my love for all things rings. My assertion is simple – if you have limited range of motion in your legs, there may not be a better workout tool for you than getting strong on the rings. It will train you more in your strength, stability, balance, and explosive power than any other tool available.

In the end, I’m still hovering around the same spot I’ve been across the WheelWOD leaderboard, but for the first time I am satisfied with my 2016 submission. I can’t wait for what’s next.

(As an aside, this has been a phenomenal week for the CrossFit Open at Impavidus Gym. The Rx programming which involved the bar muscle-up had a lot of athletes questioning their ability to get past a score of 10. And yet, every single day, I saw groups of coaches and athletes clustered around the rigs, working through the muscle-up progression. In the end, we had so many people defeat the bar muscle-up for the very first time, and is such a joy to watch. It is what makes our gym and so many other CrossFit gyms so special. And hats off to the Games’ programmer Dave Castro, who has endured his fair share of criticism in the past. He programmed a tough workout in 16.3, but whether intentionally or not, created an environment where many athletes saw victory over a difficult movement for the very first time.)

Many thanks to all of the people who helped me with this workout – Kim Evers, Ariana Tkachuk, Brad Bunde, Colleen Taylor, and Doug Naquin. 

ParaWOD 16.2: The struggle is real

T2B

Over the last few years, I have avidly watched the CrossFit Games with my wife. I think because you’re literally watching the best of the best during the final competition, it is easy to miss the level of ‘elite’ that is on constant display. It is only until you try it for yourself where you begin to see the chasm between your own abilities and those athletes who are vying to contend for the championship. For example, you watch a guy like Dan Bailey roll through 16.2 and it gives you a radically superficial belief in yourself that, “Hey, I think getting into round 5 is a realistic goal for me.”

And then you start the workout.

The CrossFit Open is perhaps the only thing I’ve encountered in life that is both empowering and humbling at the same time, and 16.2 was no different.

For your recollection, the official 16.2 workout is thus:

  1. 25 toes-to-bars
  2. 50 double-unders
  3. 15 squat cleans, 135 / 85 lb

Time cap: 4 minutes.

If you finish that round, you get another 4 minutes to do the same number of T2B and DU’s, then your squat clean weight goes up while the reps go down.

The Rx adaptation by WheelWOD is thus:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 12 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 55lbs (Male) /35lbs (Female)

If completed before 4 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 10 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 65lbs (Male) /40lbs (Female)

If completed before 8 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 8 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 75lbs (Male) /45lbs (Female)

And the weight keeps going up while the reps go down, all the way up to 20 minutes.

As I watched the WheelWOD demo, two things occurred to me.

  1. I’ve never done two of those movements (hanging chair raise, barbell cleans from floor);
  2. I can totally get into the 3rd round of this.

Why my confidence was so high, I have no idea. The hanging chair raise requires a group of muscles that I simply don’t have – abdominal and hip control. Furthermore, the barbell clean started at the weight I usually finish at – 55 lbs. Why I thought I could not only do 12 reps of that, but also include 2 more rounds afterward, well, chalk it up to the adrenaline and/or lack of sleep. Oddly enough, the one thing I didn’t worry about too much was the battle ropes.

Which brings us to the workout.

Let’s start with the positives. After practicing the movement one time, I discovered that I can actually do the hanging chair raise. Thanks to Impavidus Gym and their amazing gymnastics coach Tracey Kloes, over the past few weeks I’ve acquired much greater shoulder and torso movement, which allowed me to create a kipping motion that enabled me to do this movement.

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My ability to do this movement is a 100% victory for this workout. As a paraplegic with somewhere around a T5 or T6 injury, I shouldn’t be able to do this. Yet with the focus on gymnastic movement and shoulder mobility, this turned into the easiest movement for me during the workout. Things were looking up.

Until the battle ropes. Oh my.

Perhaps it was my own hubris, but I wasn’t worried about those. It may be only because I had actually done them before, so I knew what was expected. Well, I was wrong on both counts, because I hadn’t done them to the degree that this workout requires, nor did I really understand what to expect. The battle ropes were my undoing.
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Sometimes, you have to deal with your equipment limitations. Our gym has plenty of climbing ropes, but no actual ‘battle ropes.’ So I have no idea whether the gear I was using were appropriate for the movement or not. What I do know is, in order to meet the 20′ rope requirement, I had to tie two ropes together, and this made the movement incredibly difficult and fatiguing, as the knot in the rope added additional weight to the movement as well as affected the physics transfer of energy. The result was not only that too much time was taken, but I had little energy left for the clean movement.

As I mentioned, the starting weight of 55lbs is usually the weight I stop at during normal CrossFit classes. The reason why is that I have no muscle control over my lower back or any hip extension. The movement is purely a pull from my lap and the hope to get the barbell high enough to bring my elbows underneath.
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With the energy and time I had left, I only got 4 reps on this final round.

Afterward, my coaches talked to me a bit about the purpose of the Open – for the vast majority of us, its purpose is to test us. How can we handle a workout going in cold? With no preparation? For new and different movements? How can it test us in the areas where we aren’t prepared? Where will we surprise ourselves?

With that in mind, as frustrating as the latter two movements were for me in 16.2, the first one is a revelation. Not only that, but all three movements will change my workouts going forward. The toe-to-bar will become the chair raise, double-unders will become battle ropes, and the clean will always start from the floor.

Much thanks to Impavidus Gym and Coaches Doug Naquin, Jason Kitchens, and the dashing Brad Bunde for all of their help.

On to 16.3!