October 25, 2023

#126: From a Coma to CrossFit Games – Masters Finalist Spencer Whiteley (CrossFit Games 2023)

Hosted by Fran Racioppi

The mortar landed at his feet, shredding his leg and torso. Despite immediate medical care, he died twice on the helicopter during medical evacuation. He spent a week in a coma. He was told he would never walk again.  This was 12 years ago in Basra, Iraq. In August, he competed in his second CrossFit Games finals. 

Meet Spencer Whiteley, the British Army Veteran who walked into a CrossFit gym on cane over a decade ago with no plan except to find a way to walk . Spencer joined Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from the US Army Fitness Truck at 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games just after his competition ended to share his story of combat, loss, resilience, perseverance and grit. 

Performing at our best often requires perspective and the ability to stack small wins day in and day out towards our goal. Spencer shows us how our approach to training and life is based on seizing opportunities, overcoming physical and mental limitations, and balancing our training mindset with ripping our shirt off and competing to win in some small way each day. 

Learn more and read the transcript on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube

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From a Coma to CrossFit Games – Masters Finalist Spencer Whiteley (CrossFit Games 2023)

Spencer, welcome to the Jedburgh Podcast.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

I’m glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Fresh off competition.

Feeling remarkably okay, to be honest.

How do you feel? You competed in the 45 to 49 range. How do you feel the day after the competition?

The day after, I was still a little sore walking up and down the stairs and stuff, my lower back was a little cranky. I do feel a lot better now.

Two days after, you’re feeling all right.

I do feel okay. To be honest, I feel like my lower body was a bit hammered and lower back, but we didn’t do much of a body, so that feels perfect.

Can you give us some of the highlights of the competition? What were your proudest moments most excited about?

For me, the highlights would probably be not necessarily the best results. I had a couple of three six places and stuff, which were my best results. Maybe the PR or PB as we say in the UK.

We won’t hold it against you.

On the 5K run. That was good for me. I can’t run in training.

What was your 5K time?

Twenty-one. Which isn’t amazing, but it’s cross country and I can’t run.

We ran the 5K. The same course and there are some hills in there. It’s not like hopping on a treadmill and going out and running a 5K.

There’s pre-fatigue though. It’s event six. You have to consider all that stuff. Even though that still landed me eighth in that event, I was still pretty happy with that. The gymnastic chipper was another great highlight. Another just fun to be in the Colosseum, have a good event and have good fun. Also, probably the last event in the Colosseum was great. It was a tight race between the whole field. It was 30, 20 bar muscle ups followed by 30 overhead dumbbell squat snatches, which for old dudes is a pretty savage combination.

We saw that one. That one was intense.

It was fun.

It is intense. We’re saying all this and we’re throwing out how you competed at the CrossFit Games. Now we’re going to back up and talk about the real story, why it’s so amazing, and why we wanted to talk to you. Look forward to this. You served in the British Military.

I was an engineer in the British Military.

One of our best partners. You and I both served in Bozrah. Right around the same time, right when you guys were leaving, my unit came into Bozrah and then we ended up doing back-to-back. It was a great time because we just blamed everything that was fucked up on the British. We got away with a lot of stuff.

We were the last battle groups to stay in the city for political reasons. We needed to be out of the city as part of the withdrawal, etc., and backed out to the contingent operation based in the desert. The withdrawal was pretty hairy politically. There was a lot of the time we were on a bit of a back foot and then now and then we’d be released to get back on the front foot. It was interesting times but it was good times.

That withdrawal for you was a significant event because you were injured and decimated your leg. Talk about that operation and what happened to your leg because you almost lost it. The story here is that you’re a guy who lost all functionality of your leg and should have lost your leg. Here you are, one of the best athletes in the world, competing at the CrossFit games.

It’s a good story. It was September 2007, I was in Basrah City and we got attacked and it is a shithole. It was a terrible tour. We had a lot of casualties. One afternoon, essentially, we came under attack and a mortar landed literally at my feet. I just don’t know how I didn’t die, but I didn’t. I sustained injuries in my right leg. My right femur was obliterated. My right quad was mostly blown off. I had a femoral artery bleed in my right groin, straddling my left groin, and straddling my left leg. My stomach was blown open. I had to have bows and stuff removed. I had a punctured lung and other shot injuries to my chest wall. My thumb was blown off. My right forefinger was damaged. I was pretty bad.

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Your thumb is gone. I didn’t realize that for a second.

That’s a grip thing.

Those pull-up snatches, no problem.

I was badly injured. I was kept alive in the field by some close friends and some field medics.

The work those guys do is unbelievable.

It’s amazing. There’s a whole another story to that about the training behind that, etc.

Training and then the will to save your brother.

The application of that training is amazing. One of the guys that saved my life, throwing the blood clotting powder into me and torn and all that stuff worked for me. I got him on his in-theater medics course about a month previously. They didn’t want him to go on it because we were so busy. They didn’t want to let me release someone off ops for a two-day course back in the main contingency operating base. I pushed hard for it. I said, “We’ve got to get it. We are out every night.” We need people in our teams that are medically trained as well. They put him on it and he saved my life. It was cool. The chopper should not have come in when it came in. We were still in direct fire and stuff when the chopper came in. I owe him and loads of people had a debt of gratitude. On the casevac out, I faded out twice, was brought back, and resuscitated twice on the ten-minute trip.

Faded out, like died?British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Yeah, on the chopper on the way out. Just gave up. Just wanted to go to sleep.

Were you unconscious at this point?

I was fading in and out of consciousness. I was fully conscious of the whole thing and just battling. After about half an hour when the casevac and the chopper came in, I was just fed up with fighting. Became very relaxed and at ease with the whole situation. Started drifting off to sleep as it were. I was very acutely made to wake back up by the medics on the chopper slapping me around and punching me around a bit, not letting me get to sleep.

You can laugh about it now.

That whole experience. I got into the operating base where there’s a more major-like field hospital. I underwent major surgery there. About eighteen hours later, I was flown back at a low level to the UK, a big hospital in Birmingham. I was in a coma for about a week. More surgery happened then. Two and a half years of rehabilitation.

Where do you go from there, barely put back together, realizing how is your life going to change?

My whole life I’d been quite a high achiever in sport. I was promoted in the Army fairly quickly and all that stuff. It was a bit of a struggle. I spent for my family as well. You go away on an operational tour and you have a six-month buildup. You go on the tour and so you’re out pretty much for a year. I was probably nearly out for 3 years because I went on the operational buildup and then I did half the tour for 3 months, which a lot of my friends still hammering me for just doing half the tour before I got casevac backed out. Two years in rehab.

You are away from your family a lot. I was in a military rehabilitation hospital near London called Headley Court where injured soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghan at the time. It was quite a busy rehabilitation center. As I said, I spent two years there. It was like a 4-week block and then you get to go home for about 1  week and then you go back in for another 4 weeks. That continued for the best part of two years. I tried to learn to walk again and underwent further abdominal surgeries and things like that. Just generally trying to get back on my feet.

Talk about your mindset at that moment. You’re in rehab. You’re starting to come to grips with, “Number one, I didn’t die, thankfully.” Now what’s going through your mind in terms of what the goals become?

Honestly, in my mind, I had massive gratitude. I felt so lucky. It’s unbelievable. I’d seen too many friends on that tour die. One guy died. He got hit by one piece of shrapnel, puncturing his chest wall into his heart. Considering all the injuries I sustained, I honestly just felt lucky. I didn’t feel remorse, resentment, anger, anything. I felt determined to do something in my life. I suffered a little bit as well from survivor’s guilt. I didn’t realize that’s what it was for a while, but it probably was for a good few years. Still a little bit now. The overarching mindset was to not waste the fucking opportunity. That was my overarching mindset.

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

The physical training and all that side of thing and the mental toughness, I’ve had that my whole life. It’s doubling down on that. Having a focus to double down on that. I didn’t have this plan, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll try and go to the CrossFit games a year after.” I didn’t even know about CrossFit. I didn’t even know what it was. No one did. Many years ago, no one knew about CrossFit. I stumbled upon a CrossFit gym a few years after in 2010 or 2011. It was a very slow process of just doing sport again and fitness and over the years, got a bit better and better.

We had the chance to sit down with Heather Lawrence, who’s the Director of Sports Operations for CrossFit. In her role, they’re designing a lot of the programming. The workouts that are put up on the website every day that the gyms are doing that you see here at the games. Coming back from an injury like this, these movements that are required in CrossFit are often foundational but they’re complex at times. Talk about making that progression from being able to walk again and stand. How do you then go from basic daily life functionality to, “I’m going to incorporate these very complex movements at a very high level?”

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

When I walked into the CrossFit gym, I couldn’t jump. I didn’t know I couldn’t jump because I didn’t try to jump. I still tried to learn to walk and stuff like that. I still used a cane a little bit when I first started in my first CrossFit gym. Not all day every day, but when I was tired, I was still using a walking stick or a cane. I remember one of the first workouts came, had a jump in it and I stood and looked at like an inch-thick 5K plate and I couldn’t jump to it. My plyometric ability is just zero. It’s learning to walk again. That was weird. Runs and things would come up and I just couldn’t do it. I was shuffled along or whatever. Over time, I built it up slowly. My range and stuff was terrible through my hips and my knee and things like that. I very slowly made adaptations and stuff.

It’s a long game. The thing is, I’ve been doing CrossFit for many years. I qualified for the games in ‘21 and qualified again in ‘23. One thing that frustrates me is when people come into a CrossFit gym and they get annoyed they can’t do something, I’m like, “You got to put some time into it.” If you want to be good at anything, if you want to be a good runner, you can’t just turn up to your first run and be good at it. You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to put the reps in. That’s what I did. After 3 or 4 years I was getting better. I am obsessed about it. I train too much. I’d probably have to do more mobility and recovery than most people.

If you want to be good at anything, you need to put in the work. Share on X

That’s a fact. I cannot do that stuff. If I don’t do a half-hour recovery a day and stretching and all the rest and build all that in, it just doesn’t happen. I can’t function. It’s all a layer principle. It just happens over a long time. Just persistence, that’s what it is. As I said, I couldn’t do anything when I started, but it’s that layer principle. “Now, I can jump to a 5K plate. I can jump to a ten-kilogram plate. I can jog.” A year later, you’re like, “I jogged 400 meters.” It takes time and persistence.

Were there any movements that were a particular struggle to get back that had challenges?

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Yeah. Things like pistol squats on a leg where you’ve got no VMO for example. It’s really hard. There are adaptations there. Pulling movements, not being able to complete your grip, very hard. Also, I’ve discovered through medical analysis that one of the reasons I get knee and hip pain is because my femur, where it was obliterated, was pinned from top to bottom. Essentially, where they bring the bone back together, the bottom half of the bone is 30 degrees externally rotated. If I look like my hip’s in the right place, my foot is going to be turned out to the right, 30 degrees. If I correct my foot, my hip’s going to internally rotate 30 degrees.

All the physios forever are telling me, “Square your feet up. Don’t be lazy with your hip.” I’m bringing my toes in. The whole time, I’m internally rotating my hip. You tell me to squat. If I tell you to squat with an internally rotated knee, you’re going to struggle with that. That’s how squatting is for me. CrossFit is squatting.

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.Almost every exercise is squatting. You have to overcome it. For ignorance, I bastardize movements. Meeting the standards and get to a point where you can do them. I have worn away my hip and my knee too much because of the imbalance. I’m having surgery in 2023. On the 7th of September, I’m starting with some abdominal surgery that’s overdue. Once that heals, I’m going to have my femur cut back in half, the nail removed, the rotation corrected, and then re-pinned, which is pretty major surgery, but it’s no good going the CrossFit games and then not being able to walk when you’re 50. If I need to do that surgery, from now the rest of this year will be all about surgery and recovery and see what recovery I can make from that.

That’s a huge deal having that big of a misalignment. Now that you’re aware of that, do you have to squat and just allow your foot to be turned out because that’s how it’s aligned?

I’m just a bit less harsh on myself, constantly bringing my foot back in. I’ve adapted this way now for years. I’m just going to carry on doing what I’m doing because it’s got me this far. I carry on doing what I’m doing and then hopefully, when the corrections are made through surgery, I hope things will feel easier.

One of my biggest problems is I can’t run because imagine that misalignment. My foot turns out. My knee just gets destroyed. It swells up so badly. It’s the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. It’s not worth me bothering and training because then I can’t do anything for days. I train to be fit in other ways. Running and lunging damage it. I can’t do it. I just have to shoot for it when it comes up. I’m hoping I can fix all that moving forward. It’s quite exciting. Let’s see what happens.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

As Jessie and I have gone through our CrossFit journey in 2023, we’ve talked a lot about the balance between focusing on form and function and doing the exercises correctly versus getting out there and just getting after it. Giving everything you have and generally getting it right but pushing that threshold. CrossFit is big on the threshold training. You can imagine that Jessie’s very good at being disciplined and tempering the fundamentals getting on me. Especially about, “Maybe you back it down a little bit and do it right.” I’m always like, “Come on. Let’s go. Get after it.” I’ll push it. We talk about that a lot.

When you’re competing, you have to make these adaptations because of the physical nature of what you’ve gone through. What’s in your head? You now have to balance. The competition may have somewhat of an advantage because they’re not missing half their leg at some point. Maybe their threshold could be a little higher and they’re not thinking about those limitations. What’s going through your mind when you’re in the heat of the competition? Is it all out?

It’s totally all out. Training and competition are two very different things. That’s the same in any sport. I try to train with as much integrity of movement and all the rest of it to stay healthy, fit, and move correctly. When you do enough reps at that, the idea becomes so ingrained that when you layer in the intensity and the competition environment and all the rest, then that sticks and you stay safe, healthy, move well efficiently, and do better. That is the principle of CrossFit. The intensity comes last, all the great movements come before that.

I have to do some adaptations. For example, in that last workout, I couldn’t even do that dumbbells overhead squat movement in 2022 because of my hip mobility and stuff. My left knee was caving in a little bit on the last set of reps or whatever in the Colosseum. I don’t give a shit. I’m not there to look pretty at that point. I don’t want to move like a fucking idiot. Sometimes I’m just trying to race a bit. I don’t care.

I’m going to meet the standard of hitting the depth and standing up to full extension. I’m never going to train like that. You’re not going to see me doing that in the gym just because my friend wants a little break. You’re not going to see me break down the movement like that. On the very rare occasion when I’m at the CrossFit games, I might move a little bit like shit on that one workout. It’s 30 reps versus in training, thousands of reps. That’s how I strike the balance.

It’s an important principle for people who are watching you and inspired by you in competition. In the gym when you’re training, you’re focusing on your form and building that muscle memory. When you take it to 100% effort, form goes out the window sometimes to some degree. When you’re in the gym, you’re perfecting it.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Only some movements will form, where physical limitations are creating a little bit of breakdown in the form. I’m not going to break down my form in movements where I don’t have a disability thing. That principle is so important because that is longevity. In general, injuries come from poor movement. There’s more to it than that. With overtraining, overuse, not enough rest, poor nutrition, poor hydration, the list goes on.

In general, if you move well, you are 90% of the way clear to being healthy and progressing further. The minute you let your ego get ahead of you in the gym, you’re fucked. If you start racing or lifting too much beyond your ability, etc., you’re on a quick ride to injury. Do you need to take note of that? Is that how it works? I don’t know. That’s what you were hinting at maybe at the start.

The minute you let your ego get ahead of you, you’re doomed. If you start racing or lifting too much beyond your ability, you're on a quick ride to injury. Share on X

That’s the hardest part for me. You’re right about longevity. It has got to be about, “How am I still able to do this in 1 year, 2 years, or 10 years?” That’s what we got to do. We were strategizing before this workout we did with the Warrior Fitness team and Jessie said, “How are we going to approach doing this?” I said, “I’m going to take two lifts. I’m going to go out there and get after it.”

There’s always a ton of stuff you can swing for the fences on. That’s cool.

You’ve got to prioritize. When are the moments that you’re going to risk it and put it out on the line?

Also, there’s something I coach. I train CrossFit to a high level. I coach CrossFit at my gym and I also have another job. When I’m coaching, we talk a lot about this. It’s very easy to get into the gung-ho everyone beats their chest and goes bonkers in a WOD. It’s not even doable. I’ve learned from this for years. If someone said to a runner, “We’re going to do running club five days a week. Every single session is sprints,” they would look at you like you’re stupid.

That’s what people think CrossFit is. Come in, tear your fucking shirt off, and go bonkers every session for five days. No, pick and choose 1 or 2 sessions a week to do that and the rest of it, work on your form. Cruise the water 80. Make focus on, “How well can I make my pullups?” and not, “How fast can I do it?” Once a week, I’m feeling tasty on a Friday, rip your shirt off, and go for it.

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

You can’t do it every day. People just can’t get their heads around that. If you put the analogy of a running club or something like that in, it makes perfect sense. Imagine you turn the running club and the coach every session, every day saying, “We’re sprinting. We’re doing a 10K threshold as fast as we possibly can.” It doesn’t happen and you can’t do it. There’s no point in even trying to do it. The same applies to your CrossFit. Don’t try to do it. It’s not possible. Don’t do it.

Not only is it not possible, but that is not the way to optimize your performance.

That’s another long and great discussion. It’s not the way to optimize performance.

How do you decide which days are hard? Is it planned and periodized or is it intuitive how you feel that day?

Both. Planned and periodized through the season of working with my coach for the athlete program. It’s periodized strength periods and periods ramping into the games where you’ll focus more on upping the intensity in the actual workouts from WODs. A lot of the season is building baselines back up, building cardio baselines back up, and getting efficient on the AGS again. Most people do things like running.

As I said, building just a big base looking to constantly move the strength numbers slowly. You can’t do all things all the time. If you are leading into the last six weeks of the games or something, you can’t be going super heavy all the time trying to build your base on your strength because, at the same time, you’re trying to build your aerobic capacity and speed and fast twitch and everything for WOD. It’s a delicate balance.

It is all periodized then it is all programmed through. More so in GPP for general classes, it’s not quite so periodized. It doesn’t need to be for the general CrossFit in the general community for general classes. There still should be some structure and some strength phases through it. It’s not random, it’s varied. When you start competing and competing at a higher level, it becomes very periodized. There are almost seasons.

How do you plan when to taper back a little bit? You don’t want to be always increasing. How long are your cycles before you’ll take a light day?

It often depends. For example, you might do a 4 or 5-week period of building strength in a certain movement and have a bit of a deload week where you’re backing off intensities, backing off the pressure, the speed work to recover essentially. Go into another block. Or that might be a 5-day or a week deload, a 2-week deload, whatever. You might have a natural break because competition comes up. You’ll back off a little bit and deload into that competition. You’re a bit fresher for the competition.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

If you’re trying to get to the games, the amount of times you compete is a lot less. When I first started trying to compete in CrossFit, it was not a bad thing to do quite a few competitions because you have to know how to get better at doing a competition. Once you try to take it up another level, you have to knock back how many competitions you do and you have to focus on a season that leads you to this outcome of ultimately arriving at the game. That’s how it works. Your season changes.

Do you notice that when it’s scheduled that it’s time to deload, does that coincide with when your body feels like it needs a deload?

It should. If you’ve been on the program long enough and following these training cycles, you should be talking to your coach and you should be like, “I feel good.” That’s exactly what should happen. You should be working together and understanding that we’re going to start a strength phase to feel good. In the last week of your strength phase, you’re like, “I’m struggling. This feels way too heavy. I’m missing the odd rep here and there.”

That’s okay because that’s the thought you’ve got to get to the place where you’re starting to break down to make those true improvements. When you’ve been doing it for years, not just in your first year or two, you might be getting PRs all the time. You’d never squatted and then you start squatting more, you’re going to get better a lot more, a lot quicker, a lot faster.

I might not have a squat again as heavy as I did when I was 40, but my relative squat now, if I can get near to that, then that could be a massive PR. As you age up, you have to start changing the way your mindset works as well. A win might not be the best squat you’ve ever done because you’re 45, but it might be your best squat in the last few years. That’s a fucking massive bonus. It’s all about managing and understanding your limitations as well, and where you’re at.

Going for the big PR, the best I’ve ever done is such a strong driving force that keeps me excited about every workout. How do you keep that same motivation to keep going when you’re not in a cycle where you’re likely to get your best? What keeps you going?

If you’re not in a strength cycle, you’re in some other cycle. Whether it’s focusing on a bit of rowing, your cardio, or a bit more intense involving your gymnastics. I’m always after somewhere. You’re always chasing something. Getting a quicker 2K on the row. You might not have as big a cleaning jerk as you had years ago, but your 2K row time is ten seconds quicker. You’ve got to get to the place where you are always trying to nip away at everything. You’re trying to just improve at everything. You might not get stronger on this cycle, but you’ll get quicker or you’ll link a few more muscles up or something. It’s the same. It’s still PBs.

British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

It’s PBs by volume, by number might not be one big strength number or it might not be your fastest 5K time, but there are ways to find PBs to motivate you. You could be like, “I’m doing a dumbbell squat snatch work. The last time we did this, I was shit to them. I was hardly hit in depth and I looked like a mess. Now I’m doing them and I look pretty sweet.”

You have to fucking make PRs up. I believe you should never leave the gym without a win. It’s not a PR. You can’t PR every day. You can find a win in everything. You can find a win somewhere. Whether that win is, “I’m never going to lift a capacity.” I’m going to film myself doing a technically wicked snatch,” and then you’ll leave there, “I felt snappy. I felt really good. I moved well.” Just leave with a win.

You should never leave the gym without a win. Share on X

At the beginning of a workout, you may give yourself a couple of benchmarks like, “If I achieve this and this, those are all wins and they’re achievable.”

Some days, you’ll get this something that you can shout about and some days, it’ll just be, “I felt smooth. It was pretty sweet. I came in with a bit of a sore back and I’m leaving feeling good and moving well.” That’s a win.

That’s smart. I like that.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

That’s what you’ve got to do for longevity, especially.

I’m working on that.

That’s the tougher bit for a lot of people. A lot of people want to be able to chalk something on a board saying they nailed this when psychologically, you can get some massive wins without needing it to be a PR.

The psychological game is massive.

It’s massive in CrossFit. We’re in sport. In any sport, high-level sport, performance. Whether that’s military, job, or work, the psychological aspect of it is the difference between the winners and losers.

The psychological aspect is the difference between the winners and losers. Share on X

I always find the middle to be the hardest place to keep going and the maintenance and stuff. If I’m at the top of my game if I have a chance of winning or beating myself, the energy is so high, the excitement, that’s the easy place.

If you can smell blood in the war, it’s easy. When you’re just bobbing up and down in the ocean, it’s fucking hard.

You give yourself ways that you can win every day. That’s the new driving force.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Even sometimes, knowing you’re tougher than other people is a win as well. Just the fact that you got up at 6:00 when you didn’t want to go and do cardio at 6:00. You got a long day in the office and then you got to train at night. The fact that you got there and you just put your hoodie on and you’re in the corner with him grinding. Take a bit of a win away from that. You’re tougher than most people you know.

Still going to go do hard things. Wake up and commit to doing hard things. You’ve got a couple of hard things coming up. You talked about now, you’re going to go from here, and you’re going to have surgery to correct the femur. What’s the goal post-surgery?

It’s probably going to do me a favor. I’ve been chasing this for years. I could probably do a year of not smashing myself to pieces. I’ve not been plagued with injuries, but I’ve had a few injuries in the past and yet I’ve just turned them into a massive growing opportunity to learn about shoulder rehab. Learn about lower back pain. Twice in 12 years, I’ve had a period of about 2 months where I’ve tweaked my back and then had to learn about rehab, and then I can pass that on massively to members. They come to me. I go, “I know how to help you.” You can take some massive learning opportunities from that.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

I’m going to take some big rehabilitation opportunities again on this next surgery. I’m going to try and rebuild. I’m going to do a massive strength phase for six months without being too stressed about my fitness. I’m going to try and rebuild like mega strong. I’m going to do CrossFit a few times a week, but I’m not going to CrossFit everything. I’m going to be on a really good strength and rehabilitation program then I’ll try and come back to the game. Now I want to come back to the games having operated, having my femur re-corrected. That’s the goal. I’ll go for that. See what happens.

It’s inspirational. For most people who’ve gone through what you have, it would’ve been enough to walk. Someone would’ve been enough to be in a wheelchair, and for you, it’s about coming to the games then getting fixed to 100% or as close to you as you can, and coming back. It’s awesome.

I was told I wouldn’t run or walk properly again. One of the physios that was in the rehabilitation center, the intensive rehab I was in for two years after surgery was a friend of mine called Dale Walker. He’s been treating me again before the games. We often laugh and talk about it. At one point, he couldn’t get my knee to bend even 90 degrees and I had to go under the night. I had to be put to sleep and have what they call an aggressive manipulation. They rip it into position into a range of motion and tear a few bits and bobs to achieve that.

I just cannot be able to bend my leg, not even enough to ride a bike. It was just like, “I’m never going to run again. I’m never going to do this and that.” As I said, “Fuck that.” I was determined for that not to be the case. Over the years, if you just keep persisting, you can achieve anything physically and mentally. I’m one more perversity quite looking forward to having this operation and being like, “How does this feel? Got to do something cool again. I’ve got to try and come from the back of the field again from nowhere and fucking rebuild myself physically. I will try and get back here, see what happens.”

That’s incredible. Now the test question time. The Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things every day to be successful. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. You probably heard those through your previous career. If they did those things with precision, if they were the habits, the foundations of everything else they did, then they could focus their attention on more complex challenges like arming the French resistance. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Unfortunately, it’s not shoot, move, and communicate anymore. I’d say communication is one of them. The first thing is about routine. It’s like a drill, slightly military. It’s making sure that you plan ahead. If you want to be successful, you have to have a good routine through, “How does my day start? I’m going to take a liter of water to start the day with some salt. I’m going to make sure I’ve prepared some breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The foundation of everything, which is nutrition, isn’t taken to chance.

Solid preparation for fueling for the day breeds success throughout the whole day and anything, whether that’s being fueled for work, for the gym, or for having a good day. If you leave that shit to chance, you’re taking a chance on something that you don’t need to. Just a little bit of plan and a little bit of preparation and you’re squared away. Don’t have to be a saint with it. I’m not saying that, but I’m saying you at least have to have a fucking plan and think about it. What you’re going to eat and drink for the day needs some thought and recognition.

I wish I had some time to think about this one because it’s worth a bit deeper thought, but I’m going to go with planning your nutrition and fueling for the day and then also having a plan for the day. Make sure that you’re not just taking things to chance. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve got your work routine planned. You’ve got to find time or carve out that time to do your training and for your mobility. Don’t leave this shit to chance.

My wife diarized the day for the next day and the night before because otherwise, she’s just scatting. She won’t get shit done. I don’t have to write things out, but I’ll have a plan again to achieve anything. I’m busy. I get up early. I might coach at the box at 6:00 AM and then I’ve got to go to work from half 7:00 to half 4:00. Busy job, regional ops manager.

I’ve got to squeeze in two and a half hours of training. I’ve got a coach in the evening, three days a week. I’ve got to get some mobility in before I go to bed. There’s no time for TV or any fucking about. The weekend, I might chill out a little bit, it’s a plan, the routine. Off the top of my head, they’re the main two things. It’s all about planning and routine. Even plan time to not have anything to do. I know that sounds weird. To elaborate on that plan to not be doing anything on Sunday. Why? I’ve got to be able to chill out and watch a shitty show on Netflix and/or go for a long dog walk with a missus. I’ve got to have to do shit as well, not just be a total weirdo.

It’s been awesome talking to you. What you’ve done, what you’ve been through. Thank you for your service. We wouldn’t be here without the UK, as Americans in general.British Army Veteran Spencer Whiteley on the Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

We can safely say the same back from a military perspective.

It’s been awesome getting to know you and we’ve been going back and forth and meeting you in person here. Watching you compete was inspirational and I can’t wait to follow you. Watch what happens post-surgery. See you back here.

I appreciate that and I’ll get back here.

I have no doubt.


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