TJ's Gym Weekly News 01/31/2019
Message from TJ: the Spirit of NorCal Masters
"I Just Enjoy Trying"
At the end of the NorCal Master weekend, after a brutal final event, the high-fives during the podium announcements, and the teary goodbye hugs, in some bizarre and twisted way, I sort of enjoy the 16 hours of work that happens after everyone goes home. Don't get me wrong, it's freaking brutal. I miss an entire night in my bed, and my Sunday of NorCal Masters tie-up rolls right into my usual Monday afternoon of work.
My crew and I need to break down all of the equipment and gather the gear to return it to our three gyms, all before the 5am classes start. While doing this during hours when most people are sleeping is crazy hard, it also gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I just experienced being on the floor of NorCal Masters all weekend. Here is a sampling of the moments that stick with me:
*Seeing Kristina V. (a competitor) grading papers in the hallway in between workouts.
*Trying not to step on Silvana's cheater glasses, which she places by the rig during every workout (just in case), before demolishing workouts that would be far too much for 99% of people half her age in the general population.
*Watching athletes who've been doing this since my younger daughter was in preschool, now congratulating her on a job well done for her work for kids with cancer.
*Telepathically inserting myself into Augie's internal dialogue every time he's on the competition floor.
*Getting misty every time I say good bye to James R., because he's the sweetest damn man I know.
The one that really got me this year, though, came from a big barrel of a man named William Hansen. As he walked out onto the floor before doing his final workout of the weekend ("Fran" with a dumbbell), he hollered to me, "Today’s my ten year anniversary of being blown up!"
What? What did he just say? I couldn't stop thinking about it. I also never got the chance to track him down to get the story; he left before the finals and wasn't around when we announced that he was our Spirit of the NorCal Masters winner of 2019 (honorable mention went to Todd MicKinnon, but we never give the award to athletes who also win the competition, and Todd always wins). I needed to know more.
"Big Sarge" holds a special place in our hearts, as anyone who volunteers at NCM does. In 2016 and 2017, William volunteered as a judge. He then threw his hat into the competitor pool in 2018 and came back for more this year, despite announcing that he is a strong man and our competition requires other aspects of fitness (he'd say favors, we'd say requires). A powerlifter by nature, William competes at our event because he just loves the community.
William Hansen was born in the midwest and grew up playing all the sports. He decided to join the Marine Corps after high school and eventually went off to Iraq and Somalia. He returned in 1996, when he started the process of becoming a coach, teacher, and family man. He had married, had four daughters, and had moved on to the next phase of his life.
After 9/11, William's internal drive to protect those he loved compelled him to sign up for the California National Guard. A few years later, he was called up and left for the Middle East. William very much enjoyed his time as a soldier. The camaraderie and the regimented schedule worked for him.
On a mission in 2009, the vehicle next to William's exploded on a highway. This caused his driver to jerk the vehicle into a barrier at 55 mph. The impact caused severe damage to William, but as he put it "Everyone was always hurt with something." At the med tent, he was given him fistfuls of pain pills. He went on to complete 22 more missions after that accident.
When he returned home to be released from his tour, he completed the required medical examination. It was astounding: Big Sarge had broken cervical and thoracic vertebrae, torn lumbar extensor muscles, and worst of all, had endured a brain bleed. He was admitted to the VA, where the treatment was much of the same: more pain pills.
He struggled for many months in a zombie-like existence, fighting the physical and psychological effects of war. His daughters knew to keep their distance, as their formerly fun-loving father was now brooding and distant. Eventually, his kids intervened, asking: "What is wrong with you?"
Something clicked inside of William, and he knew he needed to make a change. CrossFit Roseville was the answer. At this point, Big Sarge had ballooned to 370 pounds, but that didn't stop him or owner Jesse Phillips of CF Roseville from engaging in the mission of getting him back in shape. Not only was he getting back in shape, but he was inspired to help others. He got his CrossFit Level One certification and contacted The Wounded Warriors Project, so that he could give back to veterans who were in worse shape physically and psychologically than he was at that point.
Two days after NorCal Masters, I called William to get his full story. He told me that he tells his vets to "remember who you are and what you've been through" and sometimes vets "need someone to get in their face telling them to do something." I think these phrases are what Big Sarge uses on himself, as well.
As I shook my head in disbelief listening to his story, he added one more bit of devastating news that had happened in his life. His wife died of cancer in 2016. He is the father of four daughters and has one granddaughter. He wants to be the best influence he can be for the people he loves.
He joked with me that he trained every single element that he thought would be tested at NorCal Masters this year, and none of them showed up. He knows that he will most likely never land on the podium, but we are his "People," so he’ll be back for more. His “People” are athletes, competitors, and just plain old folks who aren't willing to be average.
When I asked what he was up to currently, Big Sarge mentioned that he has a Wounded Warriors Project that he's trying to get off the ground, but it doesn't have the funding it needs. I told him we would help. He asked for nothing. I had to drag the information out of him. We’re hoping you might want to contribute something to support his mission to help wounded veterans through exercise and community. CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION.
William Hansen was an easy decision for our Spirit of NorCal Masters award, and that was even before we knew his full story. I am completely inspired by him, and I hope you are as well.
Like Big Sarge said to me "I just enjoy trying."
Please take some time to watch this video on this amazing man and the Wounded Warriors project. I promise you will be happy you did.
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