Cory Richards Survives an Avalanche and Falls into a Fitness Crevasse, CrossFit Helps Him Climb Out

March 26, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Cory Richards
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In 2011, Cory Richards felt his life unravel. 

The details: He had just reached the summit of Gasherbrum II, the 13th tallest mountain in the world, becoming the first American to climb an 8,000-meter peak in the dead of winter. On the way down, Richard’s life flashed before his eyes as an avalanche barreled towards him and his team. Digging himself out of the snow and living to tell the story of his near-death experience put his name on the map as an “adventurer to watch.” But behind closed doors, Richards suffered extreme PTSD and surrendered his training to a mind gripped by fear.

  • “It’s such a dichotomy being the poster child for adventure and expedition and yet be a horrible athlete,” he said. 
  • For the next three years, Richard’s career as a photographer and climber exploded, but he fought to keep a grasp on his personal life, much of which included his motivation to continue training. 
Photo Credit: Cory Richards

Expedition Everest: In 2016, an expedition to Mount Everest pulled him out of the fitness slump and forced him to train hard to build back the aerobic engine he had abandoned for so long. Richards slowly began to regain his fitness base for the following three years but it was slow and inadequate. He needed to figure a way to climb out of the fitness plateau. That is when he found CrossFit. 

  • “I understood that in that plateau there was information, and that information was pointing me towards what I had been neglecting in my fitness throughout my entire life,” he said

One big thing: Richards avoided joining a CrossFit box because he feared he would be the worst in the room. But he knew he needed to branch out from what he was most comfortable with, his engine. Once he joined, everything turned around.

  • “Like so many people who have dedicated their lives to a certain craft, I had a massive ego when it came to fitness,” he said. “To go into a space that was foreign, uncomfortable, that I was going to be bad at, was horrifying to me.
  • In 2019, Richards decided to take a leap of faith and joined the Base Camp Program at CrossFit Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado. In the last nine months, he has built strength he never realized he lacked. As a climber, core strength is essential, but he wasn’t able to achieve it through the training he was doing prior to CrossFit.
  • Richards also attributes an increase in mental toughness to the high intensity aspect of CrossFit workouts. A degree of pain and endurance is essential to the success of his mountain climbing expeditions. 
  • “It’s not just about running and continuing to pedal, sometimes it’s about sitting in horrific conditions when you are widely dehydrated,” he said. 
Photo Credit: Cory Richards

The bottom line: It’s not always about what an athlete is best at, but what an athlete is worst at. Richards based his entire career on aerobic training, unaware of how much potential was lost when he avoided a variation of movements. 

  • “There’s a lot of information in the fear of being bad at something,” he said. “All of that can be used for your own evolution if you’re simply courageous enough to engage with it.”

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