Ben Cuentas: A Revolving Door of Physical Therapists Fails, CrossFit Coach Succeeds

February 24, 2021 by
Courtesy of Ben Cuentas
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In March 2018, Ben Cuentas went for a drive in a mountainous area in Fort Huachuca, AZ to hide things for a surprise St Patrick’s Day picnic he had planned for his wife and daughter. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital with his wife holding his hand.

  • “I don’t know what happened, but I somehow drove off a cliff, flipped my truck a few times and (flew) through the passenger side window,” said Cuentas, now 37. “I was bleeding out from my leg. If it weren’t for a border patrol agent who happened to be riding his bike and saw me, I would have died. I was in a very inauspicious place.”
Courtesy of Ben Cuentas

The details: Cuentas, who started CrossFit in 2008, was airlifted to Tucson and spent the next five days in the hospital. His injuries included a broken tibia, a lacerated liver and kidney, various torn ligaments in his knees, some broken ribs, a punctured left lung, and lacerations to the face.

  • Cuentas, a 12-year US Army veteran, was then sent to Monterey, CA for rehab, where he spent 10 months working with different physical therapists the military provided, and receiving various treatments, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in his wrists, knees, elbows and shoulders. 
  • Despite all the treatment, Cuentas wasn’t getting any better. “He basically had this weird patched together program, because they just didn’t have the people on post to address all his medical needs,” explained his wife Erin Cuentas.
  • After 10 months in California, “the Army basically said, ‘You’re too beat up, so we’re going to send you to another place,’” said Cuentas. This place was the JBLM Warrior Transition Battalion in Lewis-McChord, WA, where he started working with a host of new physical therapists. 
  • Another 10 months went by and Cuentas was still in tremendous pain. Even going up stairs was painful, and I “basically couldn’t use my shoulders,” he said. So he retired from the military in March 2020 and began rehabbing and working out on his own. “But I didn’t know what to do. I took some things my physical therapists told me to do before, but I didn’t know what I was doing and I had gained some weight,” he said. 

Enter Iron Forged Athletics: In July 2020, Cuentas moved to Fayetteville, NC and joined Iron Forged Athletics, the gym that introduced him to CrossFit 12 years before. Coach Jordan Finlayson took Cuentas under his wing.

  • Having a consistent coach in his corner quickly made a world of difference, both physically and emotionally. “He has been one constant, consistent person, who keeps up with my recovery, who watches me, who asks me what’s going on, who has really been a part of my recovery. It was completely different,” Cuentas said. 
  • Through personal training and following an individualized training program three or four days a week, Cuentas has made “more progress in the last seven months than in the two years before that,” he said, adding that Finlayson has also had him journaling and tracking things like his nutrition and water consumption. 
  • Today, Cuentas can squat and bench press again, and last week, “out of nowhere, I slammed out a 185 pound power clean and jerk,” said Cuentas, who is even considering signing up for the CrossFit Games Open next month. 

One big thing: A big part of his success comes down to the mindset shift Finlayson has helped him make, Cuentas said. 

  • “Jordan has taught me to celebrate victories today instead of comparing myself to my old self,” he said.
  • He added: I am retired and I used to say that I’m just a house husband now, but Jordan has challenged me to rethink that…I’m taking care of my wife and daughter in different ways than I could before.”

The bottom line: While physical therapy has its place, Cuentas is more convinced than ever that fitness and fitness coaches have an equally important role to play when it comes to rehabilitation. 

  • Not only has it helped him “produce results that physical therapy couldn’t,” he finally no longer feels like he’s “just a number,” like he did working with a revolving door of physical therapists who knew nothing about him.
  • He added: “Jordan cares about me in ways I haven’t cared about myself in many, many years. To have that accountability, it changes everything. It really does.”

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