Cogen Nelson lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. The 29-year-old served in two deployments with the U.S. Marine Corps and endured experiences that have stayed with him in retirement.
“You have this feeling of guilt. You have this feeling of, ‘Can I live with some of the decisions I’ve made?’ Just that burden of the stuff you saw, the stuff you’ve been through,” Nelson explains. “You can’t sleep. You’re having horrible nightmares. You don’t do anything. You don’t want to do anything.”
Aside from the mental scars, Nelson was left with physical ailments as well. When a vehicle he was in struck an IED, Nelson endured fractured vertebrae and a broken wrist. Today, he is left with two cysts on his brain, issues with balance and coordination, and short- and long-term memory loss.
When Nelson found CrossFit, the bond was instant, he says. Eventually, he and his wife, Sara, opened House of CrossFit—a natural progression, Sara says.
“Cogen doesn’t need to work,” Sara says. “He could stay at home and take his medicine and do nothing. But it was like that wasn’t good enough for him, and he wanted more. Him CrossFitting and wanting to be better, it was just a natural progression, in my opinion, of him saying, ‘I want to be a better athlete, and now I want to coach and make others better athletes.’”
Admitting he’s always had an urge to serve, Cogen says owning his affiliate gives him purpose and drive.
“It’s given me a coping mechanism,” he says, “a way to help.”
He added: “For me, it’s worked better than any medication that the doctors have put me on. I can say, without a doubt, CrossFit saved my life.”
Video by Jordan Gravatt.
Additional reading: “From Iraq to Kilimanjaro” by Emily Beers, published Sept. 14, 2011.