Athlete’s effort with just one good leg an inspiration

  • By Bruce Overstreet
  • Friday, April 18, 2014 8:46am
  • Life

What a way to end the five-week CrossFit Open worldwide competition!

The guy who stole the show in the grand finale at CrossFit Marysville was D.J. Neyens, a former catcher who played in the minor leagues for the Milwaukee Brewers. He completed this workout that required 84 squats/push presses with 95 pounds on only one good leg.

Only a couple of weeks after microscopic surgery to remove scar tissue that had been causing him extreme discomfort in his knee, Neyens, 30, had the look of absolute determination. His wife, Lindsey, counted every painstaking one-legged squat which was followed by a push press of the 95 pounds over his head. Perhaps serving as a little inspiration was their 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, sitting on Lindsey’s lap during all of this. Little did Olivia realize what a legend her dad was becoming as he doggedly fought through this work-out.

These movements that D.J. was performing with extreme difficulty are called ‘Thrusters’ in the CrossFit world. And they are the bane of many CrossFitters.

They were not, however, going to stop D.J. from completing this last of five demanding weekly work-outs, even if he did have only one leg to use. How many times had he simply had to suck it up back when he played catcher for the UW Huskies or the farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers? How many times had he crouched down behind home plate over the years when his knees absolutely throbbed?

Athletics doesn’t just build character; it also reveals it.

And character was in abundance as D.J. Neyens made his way through this unforgiving work-out.

For a little reality check, take a second and try bending down into a squat on one leg. If you’re like me, you can’t even do one. And that’s with no weight.

But that’s what D.J. did. 84 times. With 95 pounds on the bar bells.

Maybe it was only me getting swept up in the moment, but it seemed as if Neyens got stronger the closer he got to completing the work-out. In fact, while the “thrusters” were seemingly impossible to do on one leg, the 84 burpees he also had to do were like small speed bumps in D.J.’s pursuit of CrossFit Marysville lore.

And as he got closer to being done, the electricity in the air only increased.

A crowd of 20-plus began cheering on this effort that would have made the former Los Angeles Dodger hero Kirk Gibson proud. Tears of awe and inspiration welled up in viewers’ eyes as they watched Neyens’ will his way through this effort.

Every Dodger fan remembers the feeling.

As Jack Buck, the announcer for the Dodgers exclaimed on that day back in 1988 when Gibson, against all odds, hit that one out of the park in the World Series, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

I felt the same way on this last day of the CrossFit Open.

For the 27-plus painful minutes that it took for D.J. to finish his battle with gravity and reveal his true grit, he was CFM’s version of what occurred in that 1988 World Series. There was no way Neyens was going to be denied, even if he had to do it on one good leg. Heck, you could use the twisted rationale that it was one more good leg than Gibson had when he muscled that walk-off home run against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1.

All that was missing from D.J.’s inspiring effort was the celebratory fist-pump Gibson gave as he rounded the bases. If anyone deserved to be able to fist-pump, it was Neyens. A year ago, he finished 456th out of over 73,000 males worldwide in the CrsssFit Open. A year ago, D.J. Neyens was on top of the physical world.

Not this year.

But, this year, Neyens is top of the charts in the inspirational realm.

All of this makes my final performance in my inaugural attempt in the CrossFit Open absolutely insignificant. For the record, over the course of five weeks of work-outs, I finished 1,444th out of 2,319 competitors worldwide in my 50-54 age category. I was able to salvage a little dignity by finishing this last work-out in 1,162nd place. It was, by far and away, my best showing. And it gave me some motivation.

But I’m like the bat boy who fetched Gibson’s bat after that memorable moment back in 1988. I observed something that leaves a lasting impression in one’s memory. And I was simply a minor player in the whole scene that day.

But, here is where D.J. has given me a jolt of inspiration that I can’t deny. If he can complete the CrossFit Open on one good leg, under such difficult circumstances, and against all odds, then even at the age of 53, I can do better than I did this year.

To that end, I’m committing to one full year of focusing on improving my placing. Yes, I will be a year older; but I know I can be a year stronger.

Everywhere I turn in the CFM gym, I find inspiration. The stories are numerous. The examples legendary.

I have so much to observe and learn.

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