It was suppose to be the incident everyone was waiting for—when someone in the CrossFit community got seriously injured and proved once and for all that CrossFit is dangerous. If you’re not familiar with the incident, on January 11th, Kevin Ogar was paralyzed from the waist down during a failed attempt on the 3-rep touch-and-go max snatch event at the OC Throwdown. In the time since the incident questions have been raised about both the location of the weight plates during the lift and the programming at the event. Even those of us that have watched the video tend to have different opinions. Does it matter? Yes and no. To not learn from this incident would be a tragedy of its own. As Kevin says, “Everything that happens can be used for good”. To not focus on the positive would be a mistake as well. Kevin Ogar’s injury at the OC Throwdown has solidified the CrossFit community as just that, a community. Just moments after waking up from a surgery due to the injury sustained to his T10 and T11 vertebrae, Kevin Ogar awoke to thousands of messages of love and support and a six-figure sum raised by friends, family and the CrossFit community to help the uninsured athlete. Like the name of the charity campaign to raise funds for Kevin suggests (Ogar Strong), Kevin has begun his recovery in strong spirits, as Lauryn Lax reports.
Kevin Ogar is a fighter. He always has been. Since his days as a powerlifter in high school, becoming a rugby standout in college to an eventual CrossFit athlete and coach, Kevin has always maintained that perseverance. That fight. Today, Kevin needs that fight more than ever.
“I am a positive person. Always have been, always will be. Sure, for the past two months I’ve had my moments of shock—or where I say, ‘This sucks.’ But honestly, never one moment of ‘Why me?’ Daily, I have a choice to make what my attitude is going to be. I am a firm believer that everything that happens in life is for a reason, and can be used for good,” Kevin says.
Kevin hopes that reason is to impact others in a positive way. Particularly those facing adversity, coping with loss or recovering from an injury or disability. For as he knows all too well, trials are not ‘ifs’ in life-they are guarantees.
In the blink of an eye, everything can change.
Kevin must not have thought about anything sinister when he loaded his bar for his 3 rep max snatch attempt at the OC Throwdown last January. The Throwdown is a fitness competition in Southern California, and following a top 10 finish the previous year, Kevin was in a confident mood.
“I really felt like this was my year, my year to be unbeatable.”
He had snatched that weight hundreds of times in training and, if anything, he thought it was a ‘conservative starting weight.’
“I was pretty stoked going into that workout. Snatching is my thing. I actually wanted to start with 245 lbs., but my training buddy, Matt, told me most people hadn’t gone above 235 lbs. for a starting weight, so I thought I’d just work up a little more gradually,” the experienced powerlifter and CrossFitter says.
Recollecting the actual ‘accident’, Kevin says that while he does not remember much of the aftermath, he remembers the excruciating pain all too well.
“I stepped up to the bar, and it was my first attempt. I snatched the weight up, but it didn’t feel great, so I decided to bail—I remember feeling the bar just slightly skim the top of my back on the way down, then I fell backwards and felt myself crash on something on my back. All I could think about was how much it hurt. Everything in my body was on fire,” Kevin says.
The rest is a blur. As people gathered around him, Kevin was in a different world.
“I could hear people talking around me—trying to figure out what was going on, and I couldn’t get myself to calm down. I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, I knew something was wrong,” Kevin says.
Kevin’s training buddy and business partner, Matt, and Matt’s wife Shannon, rushed to his side to help their friend in need.
“Matt grabbed my hand and kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be fine,’ and Shannon—who has a background in healthcare—grabbed my other hand and made sure I stayed as still as possible until the paramedics arrived. She rode with me in the ambulance, and kept talking me through it—the bumps in the ambulance were so excruciating. I honestly have the greatest friends—I have told them time and time again, they saved my life that day,” Kevin says.
Once at the hospital at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, California, Kevin was put through a CAT Scan to determine the extent of spinal cord damage before undergoing two intense surgeries in the space of 48 hours.
“Honestly, I am not sure about the exact medical terminology. I know it was an injury of my T11-T12 vertebrae. When I had somewhat come to, the doctor came in and said, ‘Well I have your results’…before he could say another word, I told him, ‘I’m paralyzed aren’t I?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Then I asked, ‘From the waist down?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I told him, ‘I knew it!’ and then, that was the point when I lost it. I had my moment,” Kevin says.
Kevin spent eleven days in hospital in Southern California, recovering from the initial aftermath of the debilitating injury he had suffered. On top of attempting to cope with the knowledge that his life would never be the same again, Kevin had the added worry of trying to figure out how he was going to cover the cost of his medical expenses—he is uninsured.
“My health insurance was actually one of my first thoughts. I am not insured, and all I could think about was what a burden I was going to be to the ones I loved the most in my life—my parents, my girlfriend. All this medical care was going to be expensive and it was very overwhelming to grasp,” Kevin says.
Overwhelming, that is, until he woke up from surgery a few days later to thousands of messages of love and support on his computer. His closest friends told him about a little movement called Ogar Strong. The CrossFit community, worldwide, was rallying together to raise money and support to help a fellow brother in need.
“I was completely blown away! Waking up to all that support—wow, it was really hard to wrap my head around. All this support…for me? I cannot tell you how much it has helped—not only physically for my recovery, but also mentally—to know people are out there, pulling for me,” Kevin says.
To this day, Kevin has no idea exactly how much Ogar Strong has raised. But what he does know is that he has had the opportunity to receive some of the best medical and rehabilitative care in the country, and he continues to pinch himself that the CrossFit family has made that possible. After his 11-day hospital stint in California, he transferred to Craig Rehabilitative Hospital in Denver, Colorado—just five minutes away from his box, CrossFit Unbroken, where he has trained and coached for about the past six years.
“It’s actually quite amazing how everything worked out the way it did. People from the gym come up every day to visit and see me. All the support has helped keep me going,” Kevin says.
Kevin is in ‘class’ 6-7 hours per day at the hospital, working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and lifestyle coaches to help him learn independent life skills he will need upon discharge (currently set for March 13th).
“I’ve seen so much progress from day one until now. I have had to relearn how to do everything independently—from a wheelchair. Showering, transferring from a floor to chair, or bed to chair, getting myself dressed, and….driving,” Kevin says.
Just earlier on the day of his interview, Kevin took a car for a spin with the guidance and support of a specialty-driving instructor.
“They make hand controls for cars. I use my right hand to steer, and my left hand for the controls to drive around. Once I’ve been passed by the instructor, all I have to do is go to the DMV to get my new license,” Kevin says.
Kevin has quickly become a model student for hard work and perseverance among his occupational and physical therapists.
“They’ve told me I’ve picked up on things pretty fast,” Kevin says.
Kevin attributes his ability to adapt and physically handle a completely new way of living to his fitness and CrossFit background.
“A lot of people have come out and said, ‘Oh no, CrossFit injured him.’ No, CrossFit did not injure me, nor did the CrossFit methodology. A barbell injured me. If anything, CrossFit has made me stronger to be able to recover and heal from this injury faster,” Kevin says.
When asked on whether or not he plans to return to the sport he loves, Kevin says, “Without a doubt.”
“I am in the middle of trying to figure out how to CrossFit-tize my wheelchair. It could be the first CrossFit wheelchair. That would be cool,” Kevin says.
Right now Kevin cannot wait to get back to coaching, as well as the process of learning how to adapt CrossFit movements and workouts to his new abilities.
“It is a pretty cool connection—Gustavo Marquez, who is a member at NorCal CrossFit (Jason Khalipa’s box), reached out to me as he actually has the same injury as me—paralyzed from the waist down, in a wheelchair. He told me, whenever I am ready, he would love to consult with me and help me however he can with scaling and adapting my workouts,” Kevin says.
Kevin is not stopping there though. Not only does he want to learn how to scale and adapt workouts for himself as well as continue coaching, but he also aspires to start a non-profit organization to help military veterans do the same.
“I am in the midst of working to get the project off the ground with a buddy of mine who was in the military, Ryan Henderson, to help people returning from overseas who may be going through the same thing I’m going through right now—injuries, disabilities. We also want to target those who may have incurred brain injuries or mood disorders during their time in service. The premise of the non-profit would be to have their first year of CrossFit completely paid for, as well as working with them to get the help they need on the medical and psychological side of things. CrossFit has impacted both mine and Ryan’s lives so much and we want others to be able to experience the same,” Kevin says.
The ironic thing about Kevin and Ryans’ non-profit organization?
Their idea was born about six months before Kevin incurred his injury.
“Like I said, I am a firm believer, everything that happens can be used for good—for a reason,” Kevin says.
Pictures courtesy of Kevin Ogar’s Instagram & CrossFit Unbroken’s Facebook page.