In the blink of an eye, Kevin Ogar went from completing what should have been an ordinary snatch — 235 pounds, light for his one-rep max of 300 — to death’s door, paralyzed from the waist down.
Small things matter. A lifting platform that tilted slightly backward, a barely noticeable heel slip, a small backward-forward movement to regain balance, microseconds at best, all combined in an instant. Ogar bailed on the lift. The barbell went out of control behind him, bouncing off the back of his left shoulder, into a stack of 45-pound weight plates, and then the bar came whipping back, crushing part of his thoracic spine.
Ogar was an emerging CrossFit competitor who stood 6-foot-3 and weighed around 220 pounds. But he wasn’t in a CrossFit competition in California back on Jan. 11, 2014, even though people claimed he was, and claimed it was CrossFit that put him in a wheelchair.
“The competition I was in had nothing to do with CrossFit,” Ogar maintained as he prepares for his first-ever trip outside the United States, to take part in the 2017 World Para Powerlifting Championships.
In fact, Ogar believes it was quite the opposite.
“Secondly, the only reason I survived — well, not the only reason, but one of them — had to do with how fit I was because of CrossFit,” said Ogar, now 31.
Small things matter. Paramedics would not reach the competition venue for 15 minutes, but a friend’s wife who is an EMT was on hand and kept him alive until help arrived.
The ambulance ride to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, California caused excruciating pain, and once there, a CT scan revealed what Ogar already understood: he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Download the Team USA app today for breaking news, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, videos and more.
“They said it was the equivalent of getting hit by a car going 70 miles per hour,” Ogar remembered. “They said if the musculature of my back and core had not been so strong, the bar would have broken me in half. CrossFit made me that strong.”
Small things matter. The first surgery he underwent that day only carried a 15 percent survival rate. The surgeon who performed it, one of the best in California as Ogar was told, wasn’t even supposed to be there that night.
“Anyone else does that surgery, I’m dead,” Ogar said matter-of-factly. “I had an 85 percent chance of dying. They told me what got me through it was my red blood cell count was so high and so efficient that I could lose the blood during surgery, but my body was able to utilize the oxygen I had left more efficiently.”
After 11 days in the California hospital, the insertion of four plates, two rods and eight screws from T10 to L1 on his spine, Ogar transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, a rehabilitation hospital specializing in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
“My best friend grew up next door to the president of Craig Hospital,” Ogar said. “It’s the only reason I got in.”
Small things indeed.
In just three weeks, Ogar started playing around with weights with the blessing of his physical therapist, and was back at the CrossFit “box” where he had previously trained. Just to move things. Small weights at first.
“I was a powerlifter growing up, I started lifting when I was 12,” he remembered. “I was powerlifting until 2007-2008 when I got into CrossFit, and then I got paralyzed in 2014. I still wanted to lift heavy things, so I got into the bench press, and I saw there was a selection process in Para for bench press.”
And so the wheels turned. Small lifts became bigger lifts. Small things became bigger things. Some would call them miracles.
This man, who uses a wheelchair, is now a Level 1 CrossFit coach who owns his own box, CrossFit WatchTower in Denver. He coaches able-bodied and adaptive athletes. CrossFit released a documentary on him earlier this month.
“I always felt my purpose in life was to help other people, whether it be to coach or train them,” he said. “My injury has positively affected my ability to help other people. I’ve been able to reach more people and help more people than I ever thought possible. I feel I was put in this wheelchair because I was supposed to help other people.
“I work with a lot of adaptive athletes, a lot of people who come from Craig Hospital,” Ogar said. “What inspires me to go on is seeing the progress my in athletes as they achieve what they thought they could no longer do.”
Ogar may not be in CrossFit competitions anymore, not the way it was before, but in Para powerlifting, he’ll be competing at 107 kg. in the powerlifting bench press, looking to crank out 185 kg. if all goes well.
“My personal opinion is that God put this in the path of my life,” Ogar said as he acknowledges the circumstances that have led to bigger, more important roles in his life, like reaching out to other adaptive athletes. “There are so many small incidences and coincidences with my injury that point to a higher power wanting me to do something more.”
From small victories to miracles, Kevin Ogar is headed to worlds.
Ogar was set to compete at the World Para Powerlifting Championships in Mexico City from September 30 – October 6; however, due to the recent earthquake and devastation in Mexico City, the championships have been postponed.
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.