It’s hard to forget the first time I worked out with Dave Barnes. There were squats in our workout, and there were staples in Dave’s thigh. Dave is a police officer at Ball State and had been injured while chasing a fleeing suspect on foot.
When I asked Dave if he’d chat with me about his CrossFit journey, he texted me that he would and that “just a fair warning, I’m not that interesting.”
Regardless of how uninteresting Dave thinks he is, I knew that I at least had the near-death, police chase story to work with. It’s a good story. But it’s not the story of his injury and recovery that I found the most powerful, but the story of “why” a guy who had a fist-sized hole in his leg was so driven to get back to working out within three weeks of his injury.
A Little Change with your Burpees
“Looking at it from the outside and seeing all these people pick these weights over their head . . . . it’s kind of intimidating at first.”
“You look at the workouts online and I’m like burpees and box jumps . . . together?! That looks like a lot of work.’ I didn’t do olympic lifting before. So it was intimidating at first. Just walking in the door and seeing new faces. The coaches showed me around. I tried a free class. And from day one I was hooked.”
“Just the way everyone opens up to you and you feel welcome. Ninety-nine percent of the people know your name. And the amount of encouragement you get, not only from the coaches but from the other members. Sometimes I don’t think I’d be able to lift something without everyone cheering you on. I remember when I PRed my deadlift and there was a group of 5 to 10 people standing around me. I would’ve never got it if it weren’t for all those people encouraging me to do my best.”
I don’t know about you, but I find it comforting that Dave, who was as strong as a forklift from day one, that Dave, who can back squat 485 pounds and deadlift 535 pounds (that’s like my CrossFit total!), was intimidated. Because I sure as heck was intimidated at first, too.
Many of us in CrossFit often talk about all the ways that CrossFit has changed us physically (I discovered a new ab this morning!) and mentally (see Joe Ciuffo on eating frogs). Change. Change is a theme that comes up in every single CrossFit journey story. Change is what we think of with the New Year. We welcome it. But when Dave started CrossFit he was living through a season of devastating change.
“[M]y divorce was taking its toll on me because I couldn’t see my daughter every day. She was two at the time and not seeing her was tearing me up. I’m like, ‘I need something for me. Something that’s mine. Something that I can own. That I can belong to.’”
“If it weren’t for [my daughter] and the Arsenal, I’d be lost. There would be no reason to get out of bed. Between my daughter and going to the gym and the support system I have there… if it weren’t for them, I’d just pull the covers over my head and be done with it.”
This is why Dave was back to CrossFit within three weeks.
It Takes a Community
Before The Arsenal, Dave wasn’t that plugged into the Muncie community.
Dave is from Centerville, Michigan, a small town in the western part of the state, where he worked his way up in a commercial construction company to lead carpenter. He liked working with his hands, but he had always thought of joining the military. After September 11th, he enlisted in the Marines as a reserve. A short time later, he won an all-expenses paid trip to Fallujah, Iraq.
“I was in Iraq for 8 months, running patrols, doing raids, ambushes, the whole gambit of infantry related things you do. Anything you see in the movies . . . we did a version of that. There were some good memories and some pretty bad ones. You see some things over there you can’t unsee. You’re fighting to keep you and your buddies alive. Basically at that point that’s what it’s about.”
“There aren’t any front lines anymore, but I was on the front lines.”
“In Iraq we weren’t allowed going outside of the wire without a squad. We got mortared every Friday . . . We had shower and port-a-pot trailers outside, and you had to wear your flack jacket, kevlar, have your rifle, just to go take a leak.”
“It definitely makes you appreciate what you’ve got and the freedoms we have.”
“[W]hen your friends are getting killed around you, and you have to continue the fight, you either learn to get over it quick and push on or you crumble and you aren’t going to make it. It’s been a struggle for me since then expressing emotion. When I first got back, I’d have nightmares. To this day I can still see some of the things I saw over there.”
Dave returned from Iraq to his small town, a tight-knit community where he knew everyone and everyone knew him. So it was a big deal to leave that community and move somewhere new.
Dave moved to Muncie with his former wife who was pursuing a degree at Ball State.
“I don’t like holding anyone back from chasing their dreams, so I moved to Muncie.”
“When we moved down here [in 2009] I didn’t know anyone. When I split with my wife, I basically had two or three good friends from work. I really didn’t venture out or put myself out there. I was just content supporting my family. But when I didn’t have my family here for me daily, it was tough for me.”
Going to the Arsenal is helping Dave fill an unfillable void.
“It is such a huge stress reliever. It doesn’t matter what happened throughout the day, I can go in there and nothing else matters than getting through the workout. Especially on the hard days, I don’t care about anything other than what I’m doing in that workout. Everything else just fades away. I need that. If I didn’t have that, I would go crazy.”
You know, we can’t help each other physically lift weight. But those who cheered on Dave to reach his PR, who introduced themselves to him when he was new, who smiled at him, helped him shoulder a much heavier burden.
It takes proper form, practice, and strength to perform an Olympic lift; it takes a community to lift a man.
Dave and I talked for 90 minutes, covering Iraq, divorce, CrossFit, kids, and leg holes. Trying to capture everything and not have it be 3,000 words long is a task I’m apparently not capable of meeting. So I’ve made the editorial decision to publish the “leg hole” story at a later date. (See Dave, that’s how interesting you are. The one thing I thought would be interesting didn’t even make the cut).
To tease the leg hole story, I’ll leave you with this very special quote from Dave:
“Hey guys, don’t cut too high . . . I’m not wearing any underwear.”