Brandon Aubuchon slipped into the driver’s seat of his car at 4:30 a.m. Friday morning, July 12, and tried to rub open his half-closed eyes. It had already been a long week, and he had one more 65-mile drive to work before he could work towards the weekend.
About 30 minutes into the trip, the 37-year-old Potosi, Missouri resident was no longer able to fight the inevitable despite his hot cup of coffee. What seemed like a microsecond of sleep instantly turned into a disaster when Brandon jolted from darkness to see a concrete wall barreling towards his vehicle.
And then the darkness returned, immediately after Brandon overcorrected his car and slammed into the immovable cement that cost him his consciousness – and nearly cost him his life.
“I don’t remember a thing once I overcorrected,” he said. “The car turned sideways, and I wasn’t buckled. They found me pinned on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. When I came to, I was in St. Louis University Hospital and my wife was there with me in ICU.”
Brandon looked down at his leg to see it completely bandaged. Right away, he knew that something was seriously wrong with his knee.
“My wife, Stacy, explained to me what happened,” he remembered. “I broke my tibia that joins the kneecap, and a piece of bone went into my ACL and my LCL.”
Brandon was also suffering from a skull fracture that caused some head trauma, but doctors said he would quickly recover from that wound. Some wounds, however, take longer to heal.
Brandon doesn’t have that kind of time.
For the past four years, the CrossFit athlete and certified coach has been chasing a dream of qualifying for Regionals. He has also spent a lot of his spare time helping others try to reach their athletic goals, too. Suddenly, Brandon couldn’t help but wonder if that concrete wall crushed all of his dreams.
Brandon looked away from his mangled leg and closed his eyes in hopes of waking up from the nightmare. Overcome with emotion, he thought of his first CrossFit work out at 573 Fitness in Missouri, where he spent his first day trying to keep up with a girl doing 15 minutes of burpee pull-ups. The experience was a horrible kind of awesome that only CrossFitters can truly understand.
Then he thought about his own garage, where he later invited friends to sweat alongside him. Those same friends ultimately convinced him to open his own box in March, ABSolute FITness, with the help of his training partner and box co-owner, Matt Gibson. Just four months after officially opening, their box has already grown to 96 members strong.
He instantly wondered if he let them down, as well, with one wrong turn of the wheel. Sure, doctors saved his life and his leg – but at the end of the day, what did he lose?
“I really worked so hard to get where I am,” he said. “I still remember my first day of CrossFit. I told myself I was going to do everything I could to do all of it – the double-unders, the muscle-ups and the pistols (one-legged squats). I went at it as hard as I could and soared into a whole new level of fitness. The results were crazy. It ripped me into a whole new person.”
Was all of his hard work ripped apart in a single microsecond?
“I was doing everything I could to get to Regionals,” he said, “and when I saw my knee, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘I certainly hope I’m not done with CrossFit forever.’”
During his first night home from the hospital, Brandon felt like he had something to prove. He decided to do a workout in the middle of his living room, with a knee brace protecting his still unrepaired leg.
“Not being able to work out was torture,” he continued, “so my first night home from the hospital, I told my wife, ‘I’m going to do a WOD (workout of the day). She didn’t know how to take that, but she CrossFits with me, so she understands. I did 50-40-30-20-10 push-ups with one leg, sit-ups and dumbbell curl and presses while sitting up in my chair.”
When asked for his time, Brandon smiled because he remembered it, like every good CrossFitter.
“It took me 11 minutes and 40 seconds,” he said.
On July 19, just seven days after his accident, Brandon couldn’t keep away from his home-away-from-home any longer either. He didn’t just miss his workouts; he missed his family.
He received a warm welcome when he rolled into his box, but reality set in as soon as his substitute coach sounded, “3-2-1-go” without him.
“I’m in a wheelchair,” he explained. “I’m limited. That’s exactly how I feel. I can’t coach without other athletes helping me demonstrate the movements. I can explain thoroughly, but I can’t do the movements. It’s hard, not being able to demonstrate when you’re the coach.”
Brandon surveyed the room of athletes and questioned his own abilities. How can he teach someone to do something he can’t even do? How can he make others stronger while he’s sitting on his behind, weak and broken? How can he lead from the front if he can’t lead by example?
He paused his own pity party and looked up at a pair of gymnastic rings that had been lowered for the workout of the day. He rolled himself over to the rings and reached out to grab them with his fingertips, as they just so happened to be set at the perfect height. Then he did something that felt so natural to him.
He pulled himself up.
“Wheelchair muscle ups,” he smiled. “I was able to do two in a row. Dead weight. Straight up. Someone saw and said, ‘That’s amazing. Do it again so I can video it.’ Then I did five in a row for the video.”
In that moment, Brandon knew something he should’ve never doubted in the first place.
He can still lead from the front.
He can still lead by example.
He can still coach from a wheelchair because his leg doesn’t make him a great coach; that’s always been all heart.
It simply took a wheelchair to make Brandon realize his own abilities, as his injury has already made him better at what he loves to do.
“We have a competition next Saturday and nine teams from my box are going,” Brandon said. “I’ll be there to motivate all of them.”
He will also be around to push them past their limits because in CrossFit, there are no real limits. He learned that lesson the hard way.
“I’ve had a lot of time to sit at home and learn more about other people, too,” he said. “I think this experience has already made me a better coach. It’s also made me realize how much more I want to help other people. If someone walks in with a bad knee or a shoulder problem, it’s going to make me think harder for them – how can I scale a movement better for them?”
While Brandon will have to scale many of his movements as he recovers from his surgery, he doesn’t plan to let the plate and five screws in his kneecap hold him back for long.
“I have a goal in my head,” he summed up. “I’m not saying I’ll ever make it to Regionals, but I’m going to fix my knee. And I’m going to be back, stronger and faster than ever. I’m going to work toward Regionals with everything I’ve got. I may not make it there, but I’ll be a better person for trying it.”
His family of fellow CrossFitters will all be better people, too.