Kevin Ogar: CrossFit is still my life

Marie Lyssa Dormeus

Kevin Ogar was paralyzed on Jan. 11 during a fitness competition -- but says in many ways, his life is the same as it was before the accident.

Kevin Ogar was steadily rising in the CrossFit ranks when a freak accident during a snatch lift severed his spinal cord. Though he remains paralyzed from the waist down, his contributions to CrossFit and his community haven’t diminished. Here’s what he had to say, nearly seven months after his accident.

At the very beginning of 2014, my life was easy: Wake up, coach CrossFit athletes, train myself, sleep. Then repeat.

Until Jan. 11, when everything changed. Though I’ve been lifting since I was 12 or 13 years old, on that day, when I bailed out of an Olympic lift, the barbell made contact with my lower back.

More than anything, what I remember is the pain. There was pain everywhere -- every inch of my body. I was more concerned with the pain than trying to move my legs, and at first I was worried about whether I was going to live or not.

Courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.

Kevin Ogar placed sixth at the 2012 CrossFit South West Regionals -- just three spots away from qualifying to the CrossFit Games.

So it wasn’t until sometime later, as I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive, that I realized something was really wrong -- and that I was paralyzed.

There are people who blame CrossFit for what happened to me, but I believe it’s exactly the opposite. CrossFit saved me. I think I would be dead if I wasn’t in the kind of shape I was that day.

They say the survival rate for my accident and surgeries is really low, and I had a doctor tell me that if my back wasn’t as strong -- if I didn’t have as much muscle -- that barbell would have killed me right then and there. Plus, my red blood cell count was higher than most people’s, which meant I could afford to lose more blood in surgery and still make it.

Now, almost seven months later, in some ways everything is different and in some ways nothing is. I still work out at my gym, CrossFit Unbroken. I coach three or four days a week, and train three or four days, doing a mix of rehab-type exercises and my own training. It’s a ton less than I used to do, but since I’m only able to work out the upper half of my body there’s only so much you can do before you’re overdoing it.

My main focus is just getting more stable, getting healthy and making everything easier to do. I had to relearn a lot of stuff -- sitting up, going to the bathroom, getting in and out of the car, getting in and out of bed. It’s stuff we all usually take for granted.

Just sitting up was so hard at first. It felt like I was sitting cross-legged on a giant yoga ball and trying to stay upright. Nowadays I do a lot of balance work and core and low back strengthening in order to be able to stabilize myself.

Courtesy Kevin Ogar

Kevin Ogar, with fellow CrossFitters (from left) Ray Hawkins, Matt Hathcock and Christian Lucero, has been shocked by the outpouring of support he's gotten within the CrossFit community.

In a weird way I’m a better CrossFit coach now than before though. I have to use a lot more verbal cues and tactile cues because I can’t show people how to do something the way I used to. But I haven’t had a single person question that I know what I’m talking about. In fact, the outpouring of support has been the most inspiring -- and surprising -- thing about my accident. I’d never have thought in a million years that someone would stop me at the DMV to ask how I’m doing or that so many people would donate to my medical trust.

And, most of all, it’s amazing to see other people in wheelchairs start pushing it and realizing what’s possible. One of my good friends who’s been in a wheelchair for 10 years just started CrossFitting last year. To this day I’ll tell anybody who asks to try CrossFit. It’s only going to make their lives better.

I’ve been working with a good friend of mine on a project we’ve called Revely, named after the trumpet wake-up call in the military. We’re helping to get kids with mood disorders and physically disabled vets into CrossFit gyms. We’re now in the process of applying for our 501(c)(3) status and I’m learning about the wonderful world of paperwork and bureaucracy!

Really, when I think about it, it’s funny how this accident has forced me to be an actual adult for the first time in my life. Instead of spending whole days in the gym, now I have to deal with medical bills. And since I’m spending less time training I spend more time working on other projects that can hopefully help others.

I love the CrossFit community, and I love everything about the CrossFit Games, even if I’ll just be in the audience this week. (I actually never made it to nationals, anyway, so I’m used to being a spectator.) It’s awesome watching the crowd react to the stuff those guys do, and to hang out with friends who I only get to see this one time a year.

CrossFit is still my life, wheelchair and all, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.