Wednesday, July 1, 2015


If you have passion for something, you’ll do anything for it. For me, it’s bobsledding and the para-sliding sports. I will go to any length to get it added to the Paralympics and I will keep pushing the envelope on what’s possible with bobsleigh and skeleton for the adaptive athlete.

I have been actively recruiting my competition for the upcoming sliding season, that’s how passionate I am about this sport. I want the best adaptive athletes out there to know that this sport exists and that they can and should get involved.

I know I’m taking my chances. I could easily be outperformed in a qualifying race and be out of the running, replaced by one the guys I recruited. But I want the adaptive sliding sports to thrive so much; I am willing to take that chance. But of course, it’s not ALL for the sport – it’s for me too.

Competitive anxiety is a sports psychology term where the mind or psyche works against the athlete. It manifests in multiple forms and cause reactions both physically and mentally. A positive response is the awareness of the fear of failure, stare it down and make it your bitch. A negative response causes you to shy away from competition altogether. I don’t just respond positively to competitive anxiety, I thrive on it.

In Igls, I only had one run from the top. That made me nervous. I didn’t know if I could have 2 good runs on race day. In St. Moritz, I was afraid that what I did in Igls was a fluke, that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. I faced both of those things head-on, did everything my coaches asked me to do and got the exact result I wanted.

So, recruiting a guy from Canada that could kick my ass sounds kind of crazy, but it really isn’t. I need legit athletes to show up next season,  guys that are going to make me anxious, make me step it up a notch. I want that anxiety in the back of my mind, gnawing at me: What happens if I don’t make the cut? I’ve just recruited the guy that’s replaced me.

That’s why I have the hashtag #somethingtoprove. It’s nothing I have to prove to anybody else, it’s to prove it to myself.

What I did last year was amazing, and it is weighing on me now. Can I do it again? Would I be happy with 2nd or 3rd place? No.

In Igls, I came in 2nd behind my good friend, Corey, and he totally deserved 1st, but I didn’t get the recognition for getting 2nd I thought I would get. I wasn’t jealous, it just added fuel to my fire. I want Corey to succeed, but I don’t want 2nd or 3rd again. I want 1st. Really fuckin’ bad.

Eric Thomas said, “If you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” That’s how bad I want it. That’s my passion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Life of a Traveler

Travel isn't always easy, but I love what I do!

It’s been 9 days since I was able to sit in front of a computer. 9 days. I still have a piece on St. Moritz to finish, a high school commencement speech I’m calling, “A Series of Fortunate Events”. It took me weeks to finish the last blog I wrote about how I don’t want anybody to call me an inspiration, and school is starting soon. I can’t seem to sit still! But, a big part of my life is out on the road now, and I have to roll with what comes my way.

It’s Spring now, so even if I weren’t traveling, there would be weddings, soccer games to go to for my son, swim meets for my daughter. But Crossfit and all of the nonprofit work I do has got me jumpin’. A couple of weeks ago, we went to Virginia Beach for a Crossfit seminar. In the last six weeks, I’ve been to San Jose, Philadelphia, Charlottesville, and Greenville, SC. In the next month, I’ll be in Virginia Beach, Israel (yeah, the country), California, and Texas. There will be lots of trips to New Jersey and New York for the Yellow Ribbon Fund.  Then there was the Frederick Celtic Festival, the Vet Sports Gala in DC was last weekend (I won athlete of the year! How’d that happen!)…

I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I love my life, I love what I’m doing. 

I need a nap. And a cup of coffee. At the same time, because I don’t have time to do one or the other.

Just to be clear, this is not a glamorous, lucrative life. There’s a big misconception that I get paid to do these seminars. I don’t. I am not rolling in it. It is actually pretty expensive for me to take all these trips and I’m not swimming in money. I was making a hell of a lot more money as a hardware engineer for a government contractor. I could take my wife to dinner and drop $300 without thinking about it. That’s not the life I live now. We work our asses off to provide for our families, but our driving force is to affect major change in the lives of others. The reward is so much more valuable to me than expensive dinners.

This is the life of a traveler. I didn’t know this was the life I was going to wind up with, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My wife would disagree, but she loves that I’m happy.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Don't Call Me an Inspiration

I hate it when people look at my leg and call me an inspiration.  

There’s a picture floating around the internet of me doing a squat with my prosthetic. It was one of my first Crossfit workouts, for a charity called 31 Heroes benefitting the families of 31 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. My squat sucked in all my love-handled, fat-assed glory. But that's when the word ‘inspiration’ started getting used.

Guess what folks - when I got blown up, I didn’t stand up, dust myself off, strap on a prosthetic and hit the gym.

I never struggled with the emotions of losing my limb, even in the 8 months of limb-salvage work I did. But I did have the same problems as other amputees when they first get a prosthetic – it took a while before I knew how to use it!

It was a solid four years before my new limb was just a part of my body, just like any other amputee. I am not someone you want to idolize - I can be an asshole.

I’m politically incorrect, especially about my leg. I crack jokes about it all the time. Hell, I use it to my advantage – I have a different leg depending on what exercise I’m doing. That doesn’t make me an inspiration – that means I’m working the system.

I really want everybody to stop seeing my leg as a reason to think of me as an inspiration. I’d love it if people would just stop noticing it altogether.

Inspiration is like temporary infatuation. It’s the honeymoon phase. Inspiration gets you in the front door of a gym or out on your first walk but it doesn't last. Motivation keeps you coming back. If an amputee sees what I do and is inspired to come into the gym, that makes me really happy. But then he or she has to get motivated to keep going. That's on them.

I have always wanted to help others. When it didn’t work out doing that in the Army, I found a new way to reach out. That’s all I care about. That 31 Workout? I’m not some glory hound, looking for attaboys or pats on the back. I just wanted to support those families.

So… be inspired by the things I’ve been able to accomplish despite my prosthetic if you want to, but then get over it and get motivated to go to the gym and get healthy. Be inspired by the work I do to benefit others, and then get over it and volunteer for a cause or charity that benefits others. 

I’ll just be over here, cheering you on. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It Takes a Village to Build an Athlete

In my last blog, I mentioned how accountability to my athletes motivates me to keep working out through the struggle. I find that a lot of my athletes are that way – they aren’t really self-motivated to exercise. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact that some of us need to have someone around, who will exercise with us or at the very least expect to see us, in order to stay motivated to work out.

When my wife had our daughter, she was really motivated to lose weight. She was a student and had time to dedicate to exercise. But now that she’s working full-time and has less time for exercise. She has struggled to fit exercise into her day.

There are LOTS of people like her. As self-motivated as I usually am, even I’m like her at times.  There are so many out there that need ‘the village’ to get them in shape. I think what motivates some people more when there are other people around to hold them accountable is FOMO: fear of missing out. Self-motivators don’t need a class. They’ll go to their garage gym and bust out a workout with no problem. But people who have fear of missing out will come to the gym 3-5 days a week just because they have a fear they’ll miss out on what’s going on there. With Crossfit there’s a social aspect.

You know how it is when you put a baby it in another room to go to sleep, but they’re right back up again because they want to be where everyone is? It’s the same thing with Crossfitters: they suffer from FOMO. I think FOMO is a massive motivator for people, because it motivates them to do something they might not otherwise want to do. Take running for example: Crossfitters tend to hate running. They’ll celebrate adding a weight to a rep, but they won’t show up on the nights when there’s a run scheduled. They don’t care if they shave minutes off their 5k. But people who are motivated by FOMO are going to show up, no matter what we’re doing for the workout. They just don’t want to miss anything.

Crossfit has a huge social aspect. Athletes create bonds with the other athletes who workout the same nights they do. By the way, anytime I refer to an athlete, I’m talking about the people who show up to my classes for Crossfit. They are accountants, teachers, nannies, general office workers, systems engineers, finance, real estate agents.  When they walk into my gym, they are my athletes. I just want to clear that up.  But when you come here, you find friends, other athletes that are working hard too, right along side you. And they’re going to notice when you don’t show up. 

FOMO and a good team of other athletes are great ways to stay motivated, as long as you don’t take it to the extreme and get addicted to exercise – the person who HAS to be exercising all the time to feel good. You HAVE to have the ability to slow down. It’s totally okay to need something other than your own health to motivate you to keep showing up. As long as you keep showing up, your health will benefit anyway. And hell, you might even make a few friends.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Road to 95kilos

Here’s some self honesty:  I work in a friggin’ gym and I don’t workout every day. I got so into lifting for bobsledding that my Crossfit conditioning program slacked off. Now, I’m in between seasons for bobsled and I have to stay motivated. I want to lose about 17 lbs. in order to qualify for being a driver next season.

The only way I was able to stay around the 100kg max in Igls and St. Moritz was by eating nothing but salad, drinking beef broth and taking laxatives. NOT HEALTHY. So, I promised myself to do it right during the off season. Except that the season doesn’t start until September. I have 6 months to lose 17 lbs, which is plenty of time. Too much time. Without the pressure of a competition to drive me, how am I going to do it right? I have to find the motivation.

As a coach, I see athletes struggle, and I try to figure out why. Is the workout too hard? Do they not like doing it? Maybe it’s actually too easy, and you need to be pushed harder. I have to know how to read my athletes, to pick up on what’s going on with them. Sometimes simply acknowledging that they’re struggling jars them out of it and then it’s back to teaching them to suck it up.

There are times when I’m wrecked through the workout, sore as hell. But that’s not an excuse. I’m still going to do it. Sure, I get stuck. That’s when I take a step back and figure out where I am with a workout. I might be fine with a 300lb back squat one day and struggle with 250 another day. What happened? Did my diet change? Am I eating too little, too much? Am I injured, are things tight? I figure it out, adjust and keep moving forward because I’m motivated.

I’m motivated by accountability. I am making the time to do Crossfit classes with my athletes, because if I do that, I’m accountable to them. I want them to see that their coach is there, kicking ass through this workout, but that I struggle too and we’ll motivate each other. I want people to understand that it isn’t easy – it IS a struggle.

You hear Crossfit athletes working on things, but you rarely hear about the struggles. You’ll hear, ‘I hit this awesome PR today’, but they don’t talk about the 10 times they missed the lift. It has to be about more than the scale changing and seeing the physical benefits because you won’t always get those instant results.

What happens if I don’t see the scale change? I’m going to be eating leaves and drinking broth and shitting my brains out to stay at 100kg. That’s not really a good option.

It’s not that you can’t take time off – you DO need to give your muscles a chance to recover, but you can’t let standard soreness stop you.

For adaptive athletes, their motivation is inclusion. Too easy. Once they’re included in the classes we treat them just like other athletes, doing everything everyone else does, adapting only where necessary. Once they see the inclusion, they’re like holy shit! This is how it’s supposed to be.  

Greg Glassman, the creator of Crossfit has a pretty simple mantra for how to be a better trainer: Care care care. Just care! Show your athletes that you care. Whether I’m holding a 4 month old baby so a mom can get in her workout, or taking the time to talk to someone, to help them through an obstacle, I’m not just going through the motions for a paycheck. It’s the same as an athlete. You have to care, it will keep you motivated when you struggle and you’re upset and you think people are judging you or you’re upset because you want to do better.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Washington to Syracuse to Miami then home...... Making the Extraordinary Ordinary

Making the Extraordinary Ordinary

No sooner had I touched down at Dulles airport from my epic trip to Igls and St. Moritz (I promise I’ll post about St. Moritz! It was an incredible trip that deserves the time to get the post just right), I was off to Ft. Drum in Upstate New York – the place where my life changed forever. I haven’t been back since about a year after my accident, so it was ironic, and my honor, to return with the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Veterans Taking Up Fitness (TUF) Team for a motivational discussion with Ft. Drum’s Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).

WTU used to be called Med Hold Units, for people who are getting out of the military due to injuries, mental health issues or disease. For fairly obvious reasons they changed the name. The Ft. Drum WTU asked the Yellow Ribbon Fund (@yrftuf) if me and my TUF Team partner, Brendan Ferreira (@b.ferreira167), a former Army soldier injured in combat, to come up and speak to about 300 service men and women. The goal was to motivate soldiers who are separating from military service and hopefully inspire them to use fitness and group exercise as a means of rehabilitation and integration, instead of alcohol, drugs, and other unhealthy crutches. It’s also a great opportunity for us to get the word out about what we do, and we got a great response.

And then I went and ate about 3,000 calories worth of Sonic. Don’t judge – even athletes have their Achilles heel. #gainz #macros

From Syracuse, I flew to Miami for a coaching seminar with Crossroads Adaptive Athletic Alliance (@crossroadsaaa), founded by David “Chef” Wallach (@crossfitrubicon) and Sara Olsen (@saraolsen008) (I’m also the VP). Along with Sara, Angel (@cfredefined), Krystal (@krystalcantu), and Natalie we led a seminar at Crossfit Seige in Miramar, FL, designed to help Crossfit coaches, personal trainers and gym employees to learn how to approach, assess and plan training for adaptive athletes. CrossFit is all about being adaptable to the athlete and to us, that means EVERY athlete, regardless of what limbs they’re missing or if they’re in a wheelchair.

We want coaches and trainers to feel comfortable with adaptive athletes, not overwhelmed by them. We want them to be able to look at every single athlete as an individual with specific needs. The point is we don’t have to rewrite the book to train adaptive athletes. We might need to adapt the way an exercise is done to accommodate the body, but there are a million ways to work the same muscles and the point is you CAN in CrossFit. There are inventive ways to adapt to a person’s needs, regardless of whether it’s a woman with two legs and bad knees who needs to step back into her lunges to get the maximum stretch or the guy in the wheelchair who weights 2 halves of a jump rope with baseballs and swings it just like someone with legs would. The only difference is one athlete has full use of her arms and legs and the other doesn’t. CrossFit and our job as coaches and trainers, is to learn to adapt the workout for the individual’s needs.

This is our mission: to make the extraordinary ordinary. We’re not extraordinary; we’re just like every other athlete. My mission is to get people to see past the prosthetic, to see the athlete… that just happens to have a detachable leg.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Race One of the Para Bobsled World Cup: Igls, Austria

It’s taken me a while to process everything from the past few weeks, and now I know two very
important things…. First, I still have so much more to learn and so much more growth. I’m just a newborn in this sport and I have to continue to work hard, to learn, and to get my legs (pun intended) under me. Second, I love bobsledding and am very eager to grow the sport.

When I left for Europe, I had never driven a bobsled myself.  I’d only ever been a brakeman for a brilliant driver. British badass Corie Mapp and I roomed together in Igls, Austria. From the first night, without even going to the track yet, we started talking through the turns. He explained driving to me. In a “one driver to another” way, friend to friend.
Corie Mapp (GB) and me joking before the race.

 First up was orientation, where we learned that the races would be seated. I could turn off the push-the-sled-like-you-stole-it part of me and concentrate on learning to drive. (We didn’t have enough drivers for both ambulatory and seated. That’s the next step in the evolution of the sport.) That evening, we had a track walk. Coach Sarah, whom I’d met in Canada, talked us through the points of steering, pressure spots in the turns, and what we should be doing to get the smoothest and fastest run possible on our way down the ice. Beyond the beauty of the track with the snow and the mountains, the opportunity to have so much experience there to guide us was overwhelming.

There were athletes representing several countries in these inaugural races: the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Latvia, Spain, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, and Denmark.

Day one of training runs. I was nervous. Igls is one of the easiest tracks but that doesn’t mean you can take it for granted. I was in the sled, at the Damen (women’s/training) start about 2/3 up the track, shaking like a leaf as they brought me to the edge for my first run as a driver. The monobobs (single man bobsleds) are gorgeous little machines. They look like Skittles. As they let go of my sled, I just stuck to what the coaches told me: less is more. The feeling of my first run was nothing short of exhilarating and I was grinning ear to ear! Now came the cerebral part of the sport. Clean up my runs, listen to my coaches and work towards moving up to the top of the track.

In order to qualify for the race, we had to make a successful run from the top of the track. No crash. Be safe. From the top to the bottom…. After two days of training, I was told I was headed to the top the next day after a final run from the Damen start. I was working hard to clean up my lines on my runs and gaining confidence. There was still a part of the track, the labyrinth, that was giving me problems. I knew why I was having issues, I just needed to fix the issues.

Back at the Damen start, I headed out for what I thought would be my final run before the top. Everything was fine exiting turn ten and heading for the labyrinth, then it happened. I didn’t let the sled settle into the turn and tried to steer off too quickly. The back of the sled rose again, and over I went in turn twelve. The crash wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was humbling. As the sled stopped and the track crew flipped me back over, all I could say was “Send me back up! I’m fine, send me back up!!” I spoke to my coaches, confirmed what I did wrong, then went back to the Damen start for two more runs. No top run for me that day. I was officially nervous that I’d blown my chance.

That night the coaches told me I’d rebounded nicely and that they thought I was ready to go to the top and that I was headed up to the start the next day. Relieved, I retired to my room and Corie and I walked through the track again.

As I headed to the top the next day, I had the same jitters. Nerves are generally a good thing. I tried to climb into the sled and I couldn’t get in. Flustered, I looked into the foot well and saw foot pegs. Foot pegs are installed for shorter drivers.  Since we share sleds and my sled-mate was shorter, they were still in the sled. I’m not short, and so this posed a problem. Growing more flustered, I slid the seat back and jumped in. Another drop start and I was on my way. Here’s the problem…. when you’re flustered, making a run from the top for the first time may not be the best idea. This proved true in turn five as I rolled the sled over and proceeded to make the rest of my run down the track on my side.

Sliding on your side in a bobsled gives you a little time for reflection. I saw the ice sliding by. I thought about what I’d done wrong in the turn. I thought about those stupid foot pegs. Most of all, I thought I may have just blown my chance again.

I flushed those thoughts out of my head as they rolled me back over. “Yes, I’m fine.” As one of the mechanics showed up, I asked (in less of an asking and more of a frustrated four letter demand that I later apologized for) for the foot pegs to be removed as I took off to walk to the finish line. I waited at the finish, watching my fellow athletes make their training runs from the top and wondering when I’d get to go back up.

Little did I know, my coaches were all screaming for me to get to the top for a run so I could qualify. My sled was waiting for me at the start. So I hopped on the next truck and headed up with very little time to get a qualifying run in before the race the next day. At the top, I was nervous, but calm. Focused. I knew I had to do it or I was going home. Visor down on the helmet, drop start, and I was off again. As I drove through turn five, I screamed a hearty “fuck-yeah!” and rolled through the rest of the track to the finish. It was the slowest time of the day, but it was a completed run. As I hit the finish dock, I ran to Kristaps (the Latvian coach and coordinator from the FIBT) and the others to make sure I was indeed racing the next day. I was…..

I walked over to an area away from the other athletes, dropped to a squat and cried. I’m not usually an emotional guy, but I was full of emotions and they had to come out. Brian, another athlete and friend from Canada, came over to congratulate me on the run and it was all I could do to keep calm. That meant a lot to me to have someone I feel is a real driver come and give me praise for just getting it done.

Race day. I’d had clean lines all week but I also had two crashes and a single solid run from the top. My coaches believed in me and while I was nervous, I was calm. Calmer than I’d been all week. I had a good sled draw the previous night (we drew numbers to determine both the sled number and start position for the first heat) and was ready to race. To the top I went. The Para Skeleton athletes had already completed their first heat of the day. I climbed in, helmet on, and off I went. “Just be clean, fast and remember that less is more.” As I crossed the finish and came to the finish dock I was amazed to see I was in third place with the third fastest time so far. I waited for the athletes to complete their run for the first heat. When Corie finished he was in 7th place and was not happy. Nor was I. I left him alone for a moment.  Then we chatted and I told him he was too good for that run to be his first of the day and to go and fix it. In the second heat, he drove the runners off that sled. As I sat at the top, coaches kept grinning at me and asking me where that came from. I felt confident and knew I belonged there.

Into the sled I climbed, helmet on, and off for my second run I went. I just tried to replicate my first run with a minor clean-up at the last turn. As I crossed the finish line and on to the finish dock, I saw that I was sitting in third place. There were two disqualifications for two drivers being over the 100kg max driver weight. One of those was the current first place driver. Suddenly the realization sank in that I was sitting in second place with Corie (Great Britain) in first place and Lonnie (Canada) in third place.

The top six Para Bobsled and Para Skeleton athletes from
Igls, Austria.
In total shock, I gave Corie a hug and congratulated him. Then I sat and thought. Holy shit….. I just took second place in the first ever Para Bobsled (Seated) World Cup race, sandwiched between my friend Corie and my friend (and first driver I slid from the top in Calgary with) Lonnie.