Degenerate disc disease and CrossFit Regionals aren’t usually two things that commonly go together, at least in my life they don’t. But somehow they have for me this year. My name is Cory Gibson and I want to tell you a story about how I dealt with unforeseen obstacles in my life and how I found the light among the darkness in becoming a CrossFit Regional athlete.
A little bit about myself…I’m currently a graduate student at Columbus State University studying Exercise Science with hopes of heading off to Physical Therapy school. I have currently served over six years as a Combat Medic in the National Guard and have recently been accepted into Officer Candidate School (OCS) at the Regional Training Institute with the 122nd Regiment in hopes of commissioning as a 2LT next August. I have been doing CrossFit for over four years and do multiple competitions throughout the year such as Wodapalooza and Pensacola Beach Brawl.
Being diagnosed with degenerate disc disease was an extremely unique incident for me this year. Being a stronger athlete in CrossFit with lifts like a 305-pound snatch, 400-pound front squat, and a 360-pound clean & jerk, I regularly lifted weights in my daily regimen, but one normal afternoon I was squatting and something didn’t seem quite right. My back got extremely tight and remained tight for 2 weeks and it also bothered me to do any kind of pulling from the floor. After a month of complaining and not seeing the doctor like any man would, I succumbed to the pain and went in for X-rays.
After my X-rays the doctor explained to me that I had degenerate disc disease and to essentially just wait until it recovered. That news upset me more than I had thought because I had worked so hard in preparation for the CrossFit Open this year and I felt as if that doctor had just taken all hope I had of even signing up. From the day I received that news all I did to stay in shape was simply ride the Air Assault Bike and do burpees until I was doing them in my sleep.
In previous years I had been so amped for the Open. I had done it the last two years and had done nothing but get better and better each year as my experience grew. I thought that this year I was going to be able to crack the top 40 in the South East but since having my back injury I couldn’t bear the fact that I was going to have to go into this Open not at 100%.
It was delightful seeing all my friends pumped for it, but more so it was heartening to have them more pumped for me than I was for myself. They kept giving me hope by telling me things like “You’re going to crush it this year man” and “I already bought my ticket for Atlanta.” I greatly appreciated the support but I hadn’t thought about even competing in the Open yet alone trying to make it to Regionals because I knew the studs that were competing and my situation.
I actually made a post on my Instagram telling everyone I was not going to be competing this year and that I would hopefully be healthy enough to try next year. Then Thursday came around and 17.1 was announced. The members at my gym hit the ground running Friday morning trying to test their fitness. One of my friends, Dug, texted me and told me to at least give the workout a try and sign up since so many people apparently were supporting me, even people I had never met. After seeing one of my old training partners, Chandler Smith, upload a snippet of him doing it I figured I should try and see how close I could to his time.
I gave it a go and got 12:41, only one second off. Looking at the leaderboard, I saw I had done OK, but still didn’t feel comfortable signing up. The weekend went by and I got another text from Dug about signing up, but this time it was different. I started receiving multiple messages from other members telling me to sign up and see where the dice roll. After reading all of the positive comments I figured that I at least owed it to everyone supporting me to give it my all. I went into the gym Monday with a mindset of leaving it all out on the floor and hopefully being in the top 200 after everything was said and done.
I redid 17.1 and got 11:43 which ended up placing me 31st in the South East region after week one. I was honestly shocked that I was even in the top 100. The workouts 17.2 and 17.3 came around and I performed really well on those which rocketed me into the top 10. After that week I started getting this funny feeling that with the movements remaining with only two weeks left that I was going to have to do a repeat of a workout we did last year that crushed me.
I was at work and received a text a said “Well you knew it was coming.” It was 17.4. The workout that broke me last year and the one movement I feared the most after having back issues was in it and a lot of them, deadlifts. I was so scared and nervous that I was going to really mess something up and ruin the possibility of even finishing the Open and affecting the future Opens. Everyone knew how nervous I was about it and messaged me words of encouragement about it to try and comfort me.
Going into the gym that Saturday I told myself I was going to do it once and just try to manage through it and hopefully still do well enough to remain in a qualifying position. I ended up getting 47th place, my worst score of the Open and the worst score of the top 20. To some that score seems quite good, but to me I felt as if I had just ruined my opportunity to reach one of my athletic goals, but I saw that after that performance I was still in the top 20 somehow. I thought maybe there was a glimmer of hope that I could still qualify.
The final workout was finally announced and I had any and every one come to the gym to watch, support, and yell at me do my final workout. Before starting the workout I had to sit back and just look around me. We usually spend our lives constantly moving, but sometimes we need to take a step back and appreciate where we are and what we have. I looked around the gym and realized that I had everyone there just to watch me. There were the gym owners, my training partners, members of the morning classes that I had never met there all to have my back and encourage me one final time.
I finished the workout and as I was sitting on the ground I could see the small smirks and smiles from everyone because they knew what had just transpired. I submitted my score one last time and the waiting game began for an email and on that Sunday night my phone vibrated and my eyes lit up more than my screen.
I had officially placed in the top 20 and had to submit my 17.3 video but there was only one problem, I didn’t record it.
I had to go back into the gym and try to get the same score or close to it and my back wasn’t in the best of moods. I went into the gym later on a Saturday after classes were done to do it in an empty gym by myself and to my surprise there was everyone there waiting for me to warm-up and re-do the workout. I ended up finishing one second slower and submitted my video. A few days later I received an email that my video submission had been accepted. I had done it. I qualified for the Atlantic Regionals with a 14th place finish.
I had been a spectator for 3 years cheering on all of my friends competing along with the community and now I am able to switch places and compete alongside those friends at my first Regionals.
I then questioned how I came to this point in my life. I had not trained any differently or switched up my nutrition from the previous year and then it came to me. It was my support system. It was those who watched from afar, the people I knew from back home sending me inspirational messages, and my CrossFit Sacrifice family. Without the people I have in my life now I wouldn’t be what or where I am today and I believe it’s like that for everyone.
No matter if you’re a CrossFitter, a regular gym goer or even thinking about joining a gym, I encourage you all to find friends who push you not only with exercise, but in life in general. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you support one another through adversity. I also challenge those already in a gym to encourage those around you who aren’t as optimistic about themselves that they can reach their goals.
Too many times we are selfish and only concerned about ourselves that we don’t realize how much a few words can greatly impact someone’s life and help them weather through a storm. I firmly believe that without my friends encouraging me I wouldn’t have performed as well as I did or even signed up for the Open for that matter.
Since qualifying I have been working as hard as I can with the time that I have between work and school so that I don’t get dusted by the field in June. To give an update to those who are unaware, I was recently in the emergency room from slipping two lumbar discs while performing a regional event from last year that has set my training back significantly. A major thank you to my friend Dug and Laurel for carrying me to the hospital and staying there with me until I was discharged. Since then I have refrained from all barbell movements and have just been running and doing what I can to not aggravate my back for the next few weeks.
Ephesians 3:20 “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” . Somehow hit 315 (83%) for the last set of the complex & stopped in case my back decided to throw a temper tantrum again. I also think @savage_barbell should make men’s crop tops 💁🏽♂️ . #CrossFit #TeamSavage #ForTheBoys #Fitness #Lift #RoadToRegionals @savage_barbell @memorialwraps @blitzbelts @officialclassifiednutrition
I’m not sure what to expect for the events or how I will handle them but I can expect to be able to look into the crowd and see those who’ve always been there for me telling me I can do it cheering me on.
To everyone from Tifton, Columbus, and those scattered around the Southeast, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Cory Gibson finished 14th in the South East Region and will be competing at the Atlantic Regional on June 2-4 in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Cory on Instagram (@cgibson20).