Rick Martinez thought he had it all. But where was he headed? He couldn't have told you.
It took a sucker-punch revelation to change his life and send him on a mission to change minds and bring new promise to wounded warriors.
That transformation came in 2006 when he was activated by the U.S. Army to work as a trauma nurse at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It wasn't a bad gig, but he had been hoping to be deployed overseas in a war zone.
I was in my late 30s, a Hispanic man, Martinez explained. I felt like I could do anything. Then I see a kid the age of my daughter. He had been blown up. (He) lost a limb, an eye and part of an ear.
That's when Martinez started putting it all together: His life. His direction. His purpose.
Martinez said he felt he had been sent to Walter Reed by something greater than a military order. He said he knew there was a reason for the experience; there was something he should be doing.
I thought, 'Wow, Rick, you have nothing. This guy has given everything to his country,' he recalled. It was just an experience: 12 minutes that put my life on a whole different path.
So after 18 months at Walter Reed, he opened his first Fitness Porvida gym (or box, as an enthusiast might call it.) It's called Constitution CrossFit, a place where wounded warriors and other adaptive athletes feel included in workouts alongside regular athletes.
It's kind of a new tidal wave in fitness, Martinez said, with a mental edge.
Crossfitters are a very unique bunch. The biggest difference is that we (work out) in groups, he said. To find the best possible version of yourself, we are more successful when we are surrounded by people who share the same goals - to find the best possible version of yourself.
It starts with an evaluation and a four-day CrossFit 101, Martinez said. Beyond that is the 45-minute workout of the day, or WOD, five times a week.
Jobie Zapico, one of Fitness Porvida's coaches, is specially trained to work with adaptive athletes.
We like to think of it as 'functional fitness,' Zapico said. So we do things basically your body is meant to do, and that's based on the basic anatomy of a human being.
Zapico said they can scale and modify things based on a specific person's limitations, working around the challenges and avoiding compensatory injuries.
Like somebody who has one prosthetic, so there's going to be a lot of squatting basically on one leg. You're going to compensate by using other muscles just to help you move that load, he said. So the big thing is understanding how not to put them in a position to do that.
Zapico received some of his specialized training through Transition Possible. The non-profit is all about awareness, inclusion and education on adaptive athletics.
It's about bridging the gap of understanding between the regular everyday person and wounded warriors, Martinez explained. He said people need to realize that amputees want to be a part of a normal community, and Transition Possible helps them understand how that can be accomplished.
At Martinez's Fitness Porvida gyms -- and he has several in the San Antonio area: Alamo CrossFit, Constitution CrossFit, Alamo Heights CrossFit and Bluestar Fitness (for women only) -- about 10 to 20 members out of 250 to 300 are adaptive athletes.
One of them is Alex Leonard.
Ten days after graduating from a Montana high school, Leonard was in basic training. On his first tour, he found himself with the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq.
It was there that Leonard lost his right leg and severely injured his left. He was driving to an opening ceremony for a school that had been rebuilt and refurnished when an IED exploded only four feet from his door.
That was in 2003. He spent a year at Walter Reed and retired, but three years later had to have his other foot removed, then in 2008, his left leg. That's when he came to San Antonio to rehab for three months at the Center for the Intrepid, a facility with state-of-the-world technology used to treat soldiers recovering from amputations, burn injuries and limb salvage surgeries.
There's a learning curve with prosthetics, Leonard said. The more you practice, the more you're going to get good at it.
After those three months, Leonard just quit going to CFI. The distance from his home was a hurdle. But, he said he got into a funk while sitting around and doing nothing, so when a friend told him about the Fitness Porvida adaptive program, he was there.
Before each workout, Leonard said they figure out the movements that they'll be doing, and if there is one he can't do, they'll find an alternative that still gives him the same resistance.
Like jumping rope. Kind of tough, Leonard said. So instead, he might do some volleyball passes against the wall, for instance.
Though Leonard completes his WOD wearing his prostheses, he has a friend who is missing both of his legs and prefers to work out without them, finding different exercises to do, or manipulating the exercises.
Pushing each other
There is absolutely no slacking off -- for anyone. When asked about whether CrossFit athletes could be considered manic, Leonard responded, Sadistic is a better word.
Leonard still suffers from phantom pain from time to time, but when he completes a WOD, he said the feeling is euphoric.
It's like: It's done, I can't believe I just did that, Leonard said. There's a kind of joke: You're not sure if you are having a stroke or if you're just working out hard enough. I better just keep working out.
He said he likes CrossFit better than a regular gym because the workout is constant, you're always burning calories and fat, many more that when you're just lifting weights. And you're always working out. Even when you're resting you're still working out, he said.
And another thing about regular gyms is that everyone there is doing their own thing, Leonard said. That's not how a WOD works, though.
What I really like about it is that you're forced to be motivated. There's always someone right there on top of you, making sure you are doing everything right. Then you've got everybody else around that you're almost trying to compete with, Leonard said.
Leonard likes that team approach. He said that's why the military was a good fit for him.
You're working out every morning with your entire unit, and you motivate each other, he said.
Coming full circle
One of the coaches at Alamo CrossFit is a veteran who is missing a leg below his knee. Leonard said that makes him feel more comfortable about his own challenges...and more competitive, too.
If he can do it, I gotta be able to do it, Leonard said. It goes back to that competitive mentality.
Leonard is also involved with Fitness Porvida's Transition Possible.
I get a chance to attend seminars and share ideas about alternative exercises, he said. And I think in the future, I'll be helping out.
And there's the circle: Wounded warriors who have given to their country; coaches who, Martinez says, have not only lived it, but can show an adaptive athlete how to do it; fellow CrossFit athletes providing support, inclusion, and encouragement; and then soldiers who want to set an example for others about what is truly possible.
It has been part of the fabric of our foundation: the mission of giving back to our warriors, Martinez said.