Finding the Fire

By Hilary Achauer

In The CrossFit Life

December 22, 2011

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After a disastrous injury playing Division 1 softball, Panita Thanatharn lost her passion for competition—until she found CrossFit. Hilary Achauer reports.

Panita Thanatharn had her eye on home plate. It was Feb. 9, 2003, and Thanatharn, a sophomore at California State University Long Beach (CSULB), was having a great season. In the first seven games of the campaign, the outfielder was hitting .526.

Thanatharn’s team was playing Loyola Marymount. She was on second base, and Thanatharn knew if she made it home she could tie the game. Her teammate hit the ball into center field, and Thanatharn sped off around third base. Just as she slid into home, the catcher from the opposing team stepped in her way and Thanatharn slammed into her.

The impact was so brutal that a spectator later told Thanatharn she had heard the sound of breaking bones. Thanatharn severely fractured her tibia and fibula. Part of the broken bone stuck out of her left leg.

Now she’s competing in CrossFit.

What about you? Have you overcome any injuries? What keeps you coming back to CrossFit? Post your stories to comments.



16 Comments on “Finding the Fire ”


wrote …

I just had ACL reconstructive surgery yesterday. The road will be long and rough but this story gives me hope even to a newcomer like me! I will be back!


wrote …

I only have 1 working ankle, the other is completely fused so that there is only 2 degrees of movement in it. This was from an injury whilst playing top level rugby. The injury has left me unable to run again and certainly not able to compete in the sports I once excelled at.

I completed my level 1 cert just over 1 year ago and have been crossfiting for 18 months, I have to adapt many of the workouts and don't do anything revolving running and have plates under my ankles for when I am squatting but I have sub 3.30 Fran time and am probably stronger and fitter than I have ever been, regularly beasting full able athletes. Of course I am frustrated and my mind feels trapped by my body as i want to nothing but compete on the big stage but I live for that day that Crossfit announces the para-Crossfit games and then who knows.

For now I consider myself lucky that I can do more than most of the planet with less than they have and that's down to Crossfit giving me something to believe in again


wrote …

Since you asked for injury stories and CrossFit miracles: Senior season, Varsity lacrosse, Oneonta State College, upstate NY. We were playing Albany State, next to last game of season, early May. Going toward the net, took an impressive blind-side hit by a good sized Albany defenseman. My left foot was firmly planted (remember cleats?), and my left knee sort of exploded. Diagnosis: grade four tear MCL; grade four tear ACL; bucket-handle tear meniscus. Otherwise known as the "Unhappy Triad". Afterward the surgeons said it looked more like a car accident injury, as my knee had to give way in three different directions, almost simultaneously.
This was 1982, just before the general advent of arthroscopic surgery. They cut me wide open, leaving one 8 inch and 2 six inch scars. Kicker: in-hospital, post-surgical staph infection. The nastiest variety.
Fast forward 25 years. It is 2007; I'm 47 years old. My left knee barely works; extremely limited ROM, severe and acute traumatic degenerative joint disease (arthritis); I wear a knee-brace to walk anything more than a 100 yards. All this despite 25 years of globo gym uber-dedication (read: leg extensions and hamstring curls and calf-raises and all the other stuff that was supposed to work). Trust me, I went hard at the gym five to six days a week, for all of those 25 years, focusing on that knee.
I stumble upon CrossFit. It is complete and utter love at first sight. I immerse myself in air squats and back-squats, Deadlifts and the Oly's, Pose-Running and The Zone, WOD's and Boz; Pistols and Parallettes. In short, everything CrossFit.
It's now five years after discovering CF, and I'm 51. My knee-brace has been stored for four years. My range of motion is such that no CF judge would disqualify my Thruster, my squat, my Pistol (well, maybe my Pistol wouldn't pass muster...) In other words, my ROM is better than it's been since I had knee-surgery over 30 years ago. I forget, in the main, that I even have arthritis.
I run, I box-jump, I row, I snatch, I clean. The CrossFit protocol has had the most amazing effect on a knee that was given up on, a knee that several orthopedists were begging me to replace.
I can't possibly thank CrossFit enough. But I'm sure gonna try.


wrote …

john that is awesome!!! CrossFit is known to repair bad knees so you definitely took the right path! my knees are a little messed up from running track and cross country in high school...nothing anywhere close to your knee just some discomfort when bent over and what not! they used to be a lot worse but ever since i started squatting and deadlifting they have begin to repair themselves. its a great feeling and absolutely love what CrossFit is doing!


wrote …

since you asked...
I have, in fact, overcome a knee injury as well. Osteochondritis dissecans in my L knee resulting in a 2x3x.5cm piece of bone breaking away from my femur, inside my knee. Severe locking was the result with only ~20deg range of normal motion. I was directed to avoid pivoting and intense exercise, but ended up avoiding almost all sport activity due to the setback. 3 surgeries and 10 years post injury, i decided that i need to get back in shape. Weight gained due to lack of activity wasn't helping my knee, so i set out to train for a sprint triathlon, and stop the bad direction i was headed. I did tri's for a couple years, and then i found Firefit. Looking for training ideas for firefit is what brought me to crossfit, and i haven't looked back. I love firefit, and it is my main focus, but crossfit is what keeps me training day after day. I still have "clicks" but i am in arguably the best shape of my life, and wouldn't trade it! Crossfit allows me to still run triathlons, compete nationally at Firefit, pick up and run a 5k or 10k race, and pretty much any other physical task that i need or want to do.
Thanks Crossfit, and thanks to everyone for the great community!


wrote …

Injuries plagued me for several years. My history as an athlete is of hard charging adrenaline. Ski racing at the collegiate level as well as several top finishes in freestyle mogul competitions. In 1991 I was in a motorcycle accident with a passenger on the back. A car struck us head on. The impact (combined with the weight of the passenger behind me) pushed my groin through the 6 gallon metal gas tank.

The result was not fun. I ripped every muscle from the belly button to my knees, and separated all the joints of the pelvis from 1 to 2.5 centimeters. Several discs ruptured and several other less serious injuries, including knees damage separation of the collar bone and lots of bruising.

This along with a couple of other incidents including hitting a deer coming down a Colorado mountain pass on my bicycle had left me with chronic pain in my hips and especially the lower back.

A friend introduced me to Crossfit in his garage and after several months the pain disappeared. For one reason or another life got in the way of training and the pain came back. Needless to say I am a fan and have set up a great home gym in the warehouse of our paint store. My wife kids and I work out together and employees and friends are always welcome. Thank you so much for helping me change from a has been to a hard charger again. The mountain awaits. I will be charging through the snow with my girls having a ball.


wrote …

I joined CrossFit in January 2010 and tore my ACL and meniscus in February 2010. I thought that I would have to quit and come back after my surgery, but I spoke to our coach and he said I could modify my WODs to stay in shape.

I had my surgery in April of 2010 and it was not a very smooth rehab. I eventually had another surgery in September of 2010. All during this time, I attended the daily WODs and I was basically on my own.

CrossFit kept me in shape throughout the rehab process. While most people complain of gaining weight after a surgery, I had actually lost 20 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. Also, by continuing the WODs, it kept me mentally and physically strong.

In my first 5K race post-surgery, I had a 5 minute PR by only doing the WODs as a training. Thanks to CrossFit, I am now stronger than I have ever been.


wrote …

I started Crossfitting this past May, and in July (on my birthday no less) I was in a slight boating accident. I was wakesurfing behind a ski boat, when on about the 10th run of the day, I fell and on the way down the rope wrapped around my ankle. Luckily it was close to the handle, and pulled hard enough to pop off without dragging me very far. I ended up spending my birthday in the ER, and two weeks on crutches, followed by 8 weeks of physical therapy. While it wasn't life-threatening, there was a point right after it happened that I wasn't positive I was going to be able to walk again. Yet all I could think about was the triathlon and CrossFit 5K I was going to miss...weird how this sport does that to you...
I guess it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I continued to CrossFit, focusing on upper body which was always my weak point. I've never done so many pull-ups in my life.
But I began walking, then running, and have had a few PR's since. I got my Level 1 cert in September, and now all I have is a scar from the rope burn as a reminder.
So awesome to hear about others overcoming their struggles.
Get stronger every day. :)


wrote …

My daughter, Rebekah, is a catcher for her college softball team (Mount Olive, NC). She was injured the third game of the season her sophomore year while executing a diving tag at home plate. She tagged the runner out, but broke two bones in her right hand pretty badly and was out for the season. She recovered quickly, but missed most of the season. That summer, she joined a local CrossFit gym and worked aggressively to improve her physical conditioning. She returned to school her junior year much stronger than she was during the previous two years.


wrote …

I can relate to this article a lot. Having ended my college career in football due to concussions and I lost my competitiveness as well. I was on scholarship at a Division 2 school and played linbacker. You could imagine the two-a-day drills we had to do. Take on a lineman, then the fullback, then make the tackle, in essence 3 v 1.These drills were my favorite because it put you to the test to see if a minor defeat against one offensive player would stop you from eventually making the tackle.

The last play I had on a college field was kickoff. Being the wedge buster puts at a higher risk than most to get your bell rung, but like all things, I liked the challenge. I ran through the wedge better than I have before and saw the ball carrier stumble in front of me so I dove after him. I woke up on the field about 15 minutes later and the told me his knee to the side of my head is what got me. Concussion 8 was putting me too close to double digits so I hung my cleats up for the last time.

Jump ahead about 5 years. Every WOD is like the 3v1 drills and kickoff. Many obstacles with the ultimate goal of finishing as best as you possibly can. I always tell people wanting to try Crossfit that the battle isn't between you and the person beside you, its always with yourself. Having Crossfit allows me to ask myself the moto I had in my locker , everyday. "Just enough or everything?"


Jay Grob wrote …

In July of this year I opened my CrossFit Box. After attending the Coaches Prep Course, I felt pain and a lack of range of motion in my right shoulder. The diagnosis was severe osteoarthritis that had destroyed my shoulder joint. 3 orthopeadic surgeons said I could never return to full duty as a police officer with my shoulder in the condition it was in. Two of the surgeons refused to do the only surgery possible to give me the chance to be a cop again. They said that at my age, 38, I was too young to have total shoulder replacement surgery.
The third surgeon, one of the top shoulder docs on the east coast, agreed to do the surgery; but said there are no garuntees I'll heal enough to finish my career. Going with the only option available, on October 17, I took a chance and had by shoulder completely rebuilt with titanium. I'm still recovering and just started working out again. We'll see if I can beat the odds a get my body back.


wrote …

I started at Crossfit AI in Calgary in May 2010 after 2 years of chronic back pain and sciatica from an MVA. After a year of hard training I had totally changed my life: New body, new lifestyle, new friends, etc. I was in love. But my back was still very unstable and my shoulders had become impinged. XRays revealed osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease in my spine. I reduced my WoDs, modified all of them (that is the beauty of Crossfit) and started "rebuilding" my foundation with lots of corrective work. After 6 months of hard work I had a fall training for a duathlon and unfortunately developed problems with my low back and Si joint which took me out of most lower body movements and has affected my mobility.

I've had to take a break from WoDs to work on this new challenge. Frustrating, yes but Crossfit has given me the mental strength to work through it. The community at my box has rallied around me to help me heal. Training plans, nutrition plans, and sometimes a good kick in the ass when I'm throwing a pity party for one. That community keeps the fire in my belly.

I believe that Crossfit helps us to create a better mind-body connection. If you have weak spots or areas of disfunction, they will be revealed quickly. Rather than a negative, this is a positive thing. Because working on the weaknesses only makes you a better athlete and human being. As I say to many people, I'd rather be working on recovering from this setback now, at the age of 29, than when I am 75.

That being said, make sure as a Crossfitter you have access to excellent manual sports therapy providers. When things get "touchy" don't ignore them. Be aware of the messages your body is sending you. Combine that with dialed in nutrition, plenty of sleep/recovery, corrective work and a great deal of patience ("how long will this take to fix?" should be deleted from your vocabulary right now!) and you are golden!


replied to comment from Andrew Troyer

Andrew, I had my ACL done in June of 2009 and I have been Crossfitting for 4 months now and my knee feels as good as ever. My strength and flexibility are even better than before my injury. Try not to get frustrated with the slow pace of physical therapy, I know I did. Good luck to you, you'll be back to Crossfit before you know it.


wrote …

Busted my femur in half wakeboarding. 13 Days in the hospital, titanium rod inserted, 3 screws, several surgeries, lots of physical therapy. Couldn't lift a 3 pound ankle weight off the table. Now I can squat 350lbs and no longer feel any associated pain in my knee, hip, or leg.

Thank you CrossFit!


wrote …

In January of 2009, I followed a dream I had and landed a spot on The Chicago Force playing semi-pro, full contact tackle football. One of 53 teams in the Womens Independent Football League, I managed to secure a starting position as a running back, at the age of 40. My "career" with The Force was off to a great start. I was averaging 8.8 yards a carry and scoring 2 td a game. I spent an enormous amount of time training for football; a lot of weight lifting, running, and plyometric drills in order to stay strong and competitive with my fellow teammates, many whom were in their mid 20's to early 30's and far bigger than my five foot two inch frame, weighing 120 lbs. In our home opener, I rushed for 251 yards, two tds, won Offensive Player of the Game and MVP for the IWFL. On May 2, 2009, I suffered a ruptured ACL,torn meniscus and a fractured femur in my right knee during a game that ended my football days and completely upended my fitness regimen. Surgery number 1 reconstructed my ACL and repaired a badly torn meniscus. I had months of physical therapy, got some strength back, however, the meniscus repair did not hold. In December of that year I had surgery number 2 that resulted in a partial menisectomy, leaving me with only 30% of the cartilage in my right knee. More P.T., slow recovery and my doctor telling me that football was not going to happen for me, I was forced to find another way to keep in shape. Running five to ten miles a day was not going to happen. Heavy squatting was also not going to happen. Sprinting and jumping drills were not going to happen. I tried to stay in shape with elliptical bikes, stairclimbers, walking on the treadmills. But that did not cut it for me. I missed the intensity and heart pounding bouts of physical exercise. Not to mention being a part of a team, with the common goal of achieving a level of success that was bound to be better than yesterday. More than a year and a half had gone by since my injury and surgeries. I had discovered some satisfaction with an exercise methodology called " cardio strength training". A friend of mine saw me in our globo gym executing one of my routines and approached me to invite me to a free class at the local crossfit gym that his friend had just opened. Free class - check...foundations - involved woding - check....totally hooked on Crossfit - you bet. Now, at 43 years of age, I'm in better shape than I was at 40. I can front squat, bench press, push press my body weight (128#) and then some, I can dead lift over 200 lbs and run my max effort mile at 8:12. There was a time I had myself convinced that I'd never be able to perform or compete quite like this again. Crossfit has totally changed my thinking and abilities. Yes, I have had to scale a few wods early on to prevent injury and work within my abilities, but now I execute all wods rx'd ( except those with muscle ups - still a work in progress, but close to nailing it). So much can be said about Crossfit that I can go on and on. For anyone recovering from an injury, my thoughts to you are many. Don't give up on yourself. Rehabing a serious injury can and often is a slow and frustrating process. Keep your head up and look forward. Finding Crossfit was the best thing that came out of my injury. The methodology Crossfit lives by makes perfect sense to me. In it, I found a way to get and stay in even better shape than I was before, a community of members with empowering words of wisdom and encouraging chants to get me through a tough WOD. The competition and atmosphere of a team sport, and so much more. So if you are anything like this woman writing this passage, go find a Crossfit affiliate and get involved! You won't regret it. 3...2...1....GO!


Body Helix wrote …

I have found that usually athletes need to get back into it straight away after a massive injury, and need to be planning on returning to the sport. That way they have the drive and motivation from needing to reach that goal.

I have seen with some athletes if after the injury the timing for making the season is off or something and they know they will be taking a year off then rehab is not taken nearly as serious and often results are lacklustre.

One of my clients ruptured his Meniscus but got back into rehab right away using some knee compression wear for support (available from and has returned stronger than ever because the drive was there from the start.

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