Chris Schmulbach, Reinvigorated by the New CrossFit Open Adaptive Divisions

February 11, 2021 by
Photo credit: Chris Schmulbach
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On Christmas morning 2014, Chris Schulmach woke up with a tingling sensation in his lower right lip. 

  • “At the time I thought it may have been a cold or an infected tooth. A year went by and things were only getting worse. The numbness began to travel up the right side of my body,” he said. 
  • “I started losing my hearing, was fatigued all the time, and almost always had severe migraines. Finally my wife and I decided I should go to a specialist and find out what was going on.”

Some backstory: Chris Schmulbach spent 12 years as a professional Motocross and Supercross Racer. He opened his first Crossfit Affiliate in 2012 and had intentions of qualifying for the top 200 in his Masters division.

  • “Within 30 minutes of leaving the imaging center I received a phone call that I will forever remember.” Schmulbach recalls. “I had acoustic neuroma, a rare benign tumor that develops slowly in the ear canal near the brainstem. Mine was one of the largest they had ever seen.”
  • In February of 2016, Chris had a five centimeter tumor removed from the right side of his brain. 
  • “The hardest part for me at the time was not knowing what the outcome would be for me post surgery. I had lost 27 pounds of muscle in just seven days. I lost hearing in my right ear and eventually lost 90% of my vision in my right eye due to an infection that caused a corneal ulcer to burst. But, I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t willing to give up on it!”
Photo credit: Chris Schmulbach

The road back: “Fourteen days post surgery I was back in the gym doing Crossover Symmetry. It wasn’t much, but it was something. That began the road back to both competing, and then opening my second gym, FitBodies,” Scmulbach said. 

  • “Lifting a five pound dumbbell felt like a max deadlift early on, but I knew if I kept pushing every day I could get back. I still struggle a bit mentally because things I once used to do easily have become much more difficult: jumping on a box, handstand push ups, even burpees are much more challenging for me now.” 
  • “My balance and coordination has been affected tremendously and I still have days where I’m tempted to quit because it’s not worth the pain and suffering. However, when I’m having those days I am quickly reminded by my wife that we don’t quit what we started, no matter how hard it gets.” 

One big thing: The introduction of the adaptive divisions in the CrossFit Open is a bit of a light at the end of a dark tunnel for Chris, as well as many others; but it brings questions and uncertainty for him too. 

  • “When I first heard [about the possibility of competing in an adaptive division] for this year’s Open I was torn on what to do. I was excited, but was also unsure if that’s where I would fit in.” 
  • “Personally, I still felt I could compete in the regular divisions as I did last year. But after speaking with my wife and coach, Mike Tromello, we decided I definitely belong in an adaptive division.” 
Photo credit: Chris Schmulbach

The path is still unclear: “Being blind in one eye I believe I would fit in with the vision athletes, but I also have balance and coordination issues which qualifies me for the Neuromuscular Division too.” 

  • “If I’m reading the qualification correctly I think I qualify for both, but I’m still looking for some clarification from HQ. Either way, I’m just excited to be able to compete with athletes that share the same similarities as me.”

The big picture: Schmulbach recognizes the introduction of these divisions to the 2021 Games season are much larger than him. 

  • “This is a chance for all adaptive athletes to showcase their skills against athletes of the same caliber by creating a more even playing field. We no longer have to compare ourselves to ‘normal’ athletes. Overall this is a huge step taken by CrossFit HQ and is a great addition to the Open and hopefully also the Games.”

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