Finding His Purpose: “I Never Would Have Done This CrossFit Shit Otherwise,” Says Military Veteran, Below-the-Knee Amputee
For four years, Jose Sanchez stared at an unopened package that had arrived for him in the mail in 2011, never bothering to open it.
He was mad at the world, withdrawn and angry after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2011 when he was serving in the US military in the Marines, leading to an amputated left leg below the knee, and a “mangled” right leg, he explained.
- “Fuck everyone, fuck the world, fuck the Marines. That’s how I felt. I started pushing people away…I was living in a world of fuckin rage and hate,” said Sanchez, who was in second place in the men’s lower body extremity division of the CrossFit Open before injuring his shoulder during 21.3 on a bar muscle-up and failing to complete the competition. He has an MRI next week to figure out exactly what he did.
Notable: Not only did Sanchez compete in the adaptive division, he also competed in the Rx division and put up some impressive performances, including completing 75 burpee box jumps in 21.2 on a prosthetic leg in a time of 18:45.
What happened next: From 2011 to 2015, Sanchez lived in a world of hurt and pain and turned to drugs and alcohol to “numb the pain,” he said. He especially hated the American flag. Eventually, it cost him his marriage.
- “I was pissed off and angry and blamed my wife, blamed everyone,” said Sanchez, now 37, who was “in and out of surgeries” and relegated to a wheelchair. “I couldn’t stand or walk for more than two seconds,” he said.
- Then one day in 2015 he decided to open the package that had arrived in the mail four years before. Inside was an American flag, adorned with kind, supportive words from other military veterans he had served with overseas.
- Sanchez was overcome with emotion. “I opened it and saw it and I felt like I let them down again. A slap in my face and a wake up call,” he said. “Then I was like, ’ Dude, I gotta do something for these guys.’ I chose at that moment to do something for them.”
- First, though, he had to start taking care of himself. He began training and ran his first marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon — in 2015, carrying the American flag his buddies had given him. It took him five hours.
- “I was the last mother fucker to finish, and I was like, ‘Never again.’ But then for some fuckin reason I was like, ‘I have to do the Boston Marathon,’” he said. Not only did Sanchez do the Boston marathon in 2016 an hour faster than his first marathon, he has gone on to complete a total of six marathons.
- In 2016, he also discovered CrossFit. At first, Sanchez was apprehensive. “For months, I did my own shit in the back away from the group…I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my leg, ashamed of how I looked. I was working out in sweatpants and it was fuckin hot. But eventually, I was trying to figure out these movements and I had no choice but to put on shorts,” he said.
Today: Sanchez, who has 46,000 followers on Instagram, has been sharing his story online for the last few years, which he said has helped him and others connect and heal.
- “I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m going to share my story to help people come out of that darkness. If I can share my story and it helps one person, then it’s worth it,” he said.
- He has also been helping others in recent years through Rise Above Hardship, a non-profit and gym in San Antonio, TX that offers fitness to veterans and policemen transitioning into the military. They also partake in community events and raise money for charities, such as Toys for Tots.
- More than anything, though, Rise Above Hardship is focused on “using fitness as a medium to open the mind, body and spirit. “It’s not even all that much about fitness. It’s about instilling that human spirit and that mindset to keep fighting,” said Sanchez, who also counsels other military veterans “in my own way.”
The big picture: Life is never going to be easy, but “you gotta find a purpose and keep fighting,” Sanchez said.
- “Just keep pushing, keep moving, challenging yourself. Make shit happen. Show up, wake up. Don’t quit. Just be ready. Be war ready…‘But I’m missing a leg. Well what about your fuckin life?’ Step out and do some shit in the world,” he said.
- He added: “And if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for other people. The reason I’m here right now today is because what I do helps other people and that helps fill my heart. I never would have done this CrossFit shit otherwise.”
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