In February 2008 it was my privilege to serve as a member of the CrossFit HQ team that traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to work with members of the Warrior Transition Battalion from Brooke Army Medical Center. We learned important lessons about the human and technical aspects of working with athletes with catastrophic injures.
Here are a few of the most important:
Be quick to listen and slow to advise—It will take time to establish trust and a rapport with each athlete. It’s highly likely that each individual has seen multiple doctors, specialists, nurses and occupational therapists. They will be skeptical of additional “help.” A trainer will have to earn a warrior’s respect. Don’t push athletes who aren’t ready or willing to gain or re-establish real-world work capacity.
Be creative, resourceful, and flexible with programming efforts—No one-size-fits-all workout formula exists. Each injury is unique in scope, scale and magnitude. Some athletes will have multiple injuries. In group settings, it’s highly probable that a prescribed workout will have one or more modifications for each participant.
Focus on what each athlete can do—Be aware of limitations but don’t belabor them. Encourage each athlete personally to transcend the physical elements. Exploit opportunities for growth. In the words of army Lieut. Brian Ipock, “There’s always something you can do.”
As a community, CrossFit emphasizes that the physical needs of athletes differ only in degree, not kind. Universal scalability of basic workouts and modified movements are acceptable parts of an athlete’s journey. Working with combat-wounded populations is no different, although additional time, care and attention must be devoted to those with catastrophic injuries.