Congratulations Nick, you are our Athlete of the Month!
We first met Nick a little less than 6 months ago when he and his girlfriend, Ashley, walked through our doors for the first time. As we got to know Nick and what he’s been through over the past 10 years, we’ve grown to love this guy and can’t believe all he’s accomplished. His stories are jaw dropping and his journey from the military, to NoCoast, alongside his recovery is utterly inspiring! We are proud and honored to have you at NoCoast, Nick!
What was life like before NoCoast?
I served on active duty as an airborne combat medic in the 82D airborne. Over a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan from 2007-2008, I participated in more than 700 combat patrols, earning an Army Achievement Medal for helping lead the rescue of 42 Afghan local nationals from a flooding river, and a Bronze Star for saving the life of a French soldier, while under fire, who had been shot in the head.
Toward the end of my deployment, a rocket-propelled grenade struck my Humvee, and I suffered a traumatic brain injury. Returning home in 2008, I experienced a number of issues during recovery, including the inability to spell my own name, having to walk with a cane, and barely being able to speak. I also required multiple surgeries on my face.
Despite my injuries, I never quit. While recovering, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and fought tirelessly for my community of veterans with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the first and largest nonprofit for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, in New York City. My efforts didn’t go unnoticed and resulted in President Barack Obama telling my’ story by name in speeches across the nation. My story and my efforts in the veteran’s space ultimately led to the bipartisan passage of the VOW Act.
After my time in New York, I started a healthcare company in Western Massachusetts as well as started guiding veterans with disabilities up some of the largest mountains in the world with one of my best friends, Erik Weihenmayer, the first and only blind man to summit Mt Everest. Working with Erik is ultimately what led me to Colorado to manage veteran programming for his nonprofit, No Barriers. While at No Barriers, I also started my own organization, Mission Memorial Day. We would solicit name submissions and stories from those who lost loved ones in any conflict, and we would carry those names to the tops of mountains such as Denali.
How did you get into CrossFit and how has it helped your injuries?
Despite all the amazing things I had been doing, I hadn’t taken time to work on myself or to manage my brain injury. I ultimately quit working last year after my brain injury symptoms caught back up with me. My double vision came back, debilitating headaches, and so forth. I kind of hit rock bottom. I gained 50lbs. I kind of lost hope in everything. I didn’t really leave my house for a few months at a time. At one point my vitamin D level was like a 4.
I knew I needed to make a change, so I decided to reach out to some CrossFit gyms in the area since I had just moved to Lafayette. Sam was the first one to get back to me, and reading Mary’s bio on the site, coupled with Dan’s resume, I knew it would be a good fit.
CrossFit has most importantly given me the confidence to overcome my injuries. It has helped remind me that who I am inside is stronger than anything in my way. It has given me an environment that welcomes me in one of the most inviting ways possible. I have more energy. My balance has improved. My headaches have decreased.
I am going back to school in the Fall at CU Boulder and I wouldn’t be in the position to do this if it wasn’t for CrossFit and all the strides it has helped me make.
How long have you been CrossFitting?
I was exposed to CrossFit in the military, and I had dabbled in it a few years ago. I never really immersed myself in it though. Sometimes vets like myself can be resistant to things that could help them. I thought I knew how to work out. I thought I could do it all alone. I thought I knew what I was doing. Turns out, I didn’t really know anything.
Every day at CrossFit is a learning experience, and it’s essentially a community of lifelong teachers and learners. I feel like everyone in class has perspective and pointers in class that help me every step of the way. I look forward to many more years of CrossFit.
I grew up extremely active. By the time I got to high school, I was playing two sports a season. In the Fall, I would play football and run cross-country. In the Winter, I would wrestle and run indoor track. In the Spring, I would run outdoor track and play soccer. I won some district championships and I was on some amazing teams. I absolutely loved competing and carried that spirit into the Army.
I continued to run and wrestle in the military, but when I was injured, it turned my world upside down. I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again without a cane, but I was determined. I have been fortunate enough to mostly recover from my injuries, and I try to compete any chance I get.
The hardest part about getting injured and returning to the gym, was suffering from “used to” syndrome. I would continuously, and sometimes still do, fall back to I used to be able to do this. I could do around 30 strict pullups at a time as a paratrooper in the military. It was required to have strict pullups even to attend airborne school. But after being injured in 2007, I couldn’t do my first strict pullups again until two months ago after the nutrition challenge. And still its only 3 at a time. I am slowly learning to appreciate that progress and not judge myself against who I was preinjury.
What is your favorite WOD/CrossFit movement?
I love anything with running or deadlifts. The running reminds me of all the fun I had as a kid competing. I’m no longer fast, but I see the value in it. And deadlifts just make you look like a badass.
What is your least favorite WOD/CrossFit movement?
I absolutely hate double unders. I am so uncoordinated I feel like it’s just me constantly hitting myself with a rope. Double unders are dead to me.
What is your most memorable CrossFit moment?
My most memorable CrossFit moment, didn’t happen in the gym. And it’s not really just one moment. Mary Finck heard about my brain injury and kind of took me under her wing. She has helped me tap into the local community as it pertains to brain injury, and has given me tons of work to do as it relates to healing up. Because of her, I am beginning my first 40 hyperbaric treatments for my brain injury August 21. I am immensely grateful that Dan, Sam, and the crew don’t just run a gym, but they foster an amazing community where I can not only get sweaty and smelly, but I can also get support and guidance for items such as my traumatic brain injury.
How does nutrition play a role in your fitness and recovery?
I used to be the guy that made fun of people on diets. I would occasionally eat fast food three or four times a day. When I hit rock bottom last year and gained over 50lbs, I knew I needed a change so I signed up for CrossFit.
On a whim, I decided to sign up for the most recent nutrition challenge. I had tried one previously and quit two weeks in. This time, I didn’t give up. It was more than worth it. I was around 240 or so when first I started at NoCoast in March. I am now under 200lbs. It’s such a good feeling.
After the nutrition challenge, I decided to stick with the diet. I essentially eat only paleo foods in zone proportions. I now have the energy to conquer the day. My headaches have significantly lessened. I am overall a better person. While I used to guide mountains, and have climbed all around the world, I just started doing those things again after over a year off because of how good I feel on this current diet. Plus, my gains in the gym have substantially increased. I can’t see myself ever changing this diet. I cannot emphasize it enough, try the nutrition challenge and give it your all.
How has CrossFit improved your overall wellness?
CrossFit has made me an overall better person. It has helped with my brain injury. It has helped give me a sense of community again. It has helped my diet. It has helped, in some way, every facet of my life. It truly is a lifestyle and a community. If it wasn’t for CrossFit, I would probably still be isolated alone at home in the dark, suffering from severe headaches and weight gain. The other week, I had a severe headache, instead of sitting at home alone, I went to the gym and sat with Dan and watched the WOD. It was a good feeling.
How has CrossFit changed you and your family?
I do CrossFit with my girlfriend, Ashley. We both lead busy lifestyles, so CrossFit is the one thing we do together. It has definitely made our relationship stronger. We get to work out together, but it has also given me the wellness to be the person I used to be in the relationship. It also has allowed me to do things with her I had never done with her such as climb James Peak or to rock climb in Boulder Canyon. We also did the nutrition challenge together and have maintained it since, although I have maintained it more!!! She thinks her body needs corn (it doesn’t!).
Lastly, it helps my dog, Whiskey, as well. I have been able to take her up mountains and get her out now that I am not couch bound. I am sure she’s supportive as well.
Advice to new people:
Just take the jump and don’t quit. It’s going to hurt at first. It’s an investment of cost and time. There are going to be days where you are sore, or out of breath and want to quit. Just keep going. It only gets easier and better. It has completely changed my life, and if you let it, it will change yours as well.
And if you’re intimidated, don’t be. There are people from all walks of life, all age groups, all body types, and so forth. The unique thing about NoCoast is it’s not a one size fits all program. You work off your ability to become the best you. You become the focus at NoCoast.