Motivation Monday – Meet Jason Sturm

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In 1998 I joined the Army, attending Basic Training at Ft. Leonardwood, MO and moving to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA for language training. My permanent assignment was to the 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, NY. My first 18 months at Ft. Drum were spent with 2/10th Aviation Regiment as a QUICKFIX operator. I then moved to the 110th MI Bn, serving in the role of team leader on a SIGINT Voice Interceptor team. As a non-commissioned officer I grew to love mentoring not only my team, but all of the Soldiers I could possibly influence.

On March 20, 2002 while finishing up a 14 day break-contact exercise in the field at Ft. Drum, I sat down for breakfast in a mess tent with my team and fellow Soldiers. As I made my coffee and joked with my Soldiers while pouring hot sauce over my eggs, a loud explosion came from behind me. Then another in the distance to my right. Loud explosions were followed by screams. I stood up and glanced behind me to see what could have exploded. That’s when I realized something had hit and injured me; I knew that March 20, 2002 was going to be a day I’d never forget. As I lay there on the cold ground, receiving medical attention to a wound I could not yet see or understand, I tried to help give first aid to anyone near me until I was physically unable to help anymore. “He tried to die on us a few times…..” was something I heard several times over the next few days as I learned what happened that morning. Two 105mm Artillery rounds fell 1.5 miles short of their target. One landed five feet behind me in the mess tent while another landed 20 meters to my right; impacting the unit’s mobile kitchen trailer. Two soldiers lost their lives that day and 13 of us were injured.

Several of my injuries were severe enough to require multiple surgeries. Doctors decided that in order to treat my injuries, I needed to be transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Since I was from the Washington D.C. metro area I was familiar with the facility. My leg was decimated by a close blast injury resulting in the loss of nearly 80% of the muscle on my left calf, massive nerve and vascular damage and a shattered fibula.  I, along with my doctors decided that we would try to salvage the limb. However, after failed attempts at rehabilitation and pain beyond imagination I made the decision to have my leg amputated below the knee in November of 2002. Subsequently, I was medically retired in September 2003.

As a former fat kid, I was able to change my life in the Army and become an athletic runner with a PT score of 290+, so it was a hard pill to swallow when I fell back into old habits and gained weight. A heavy amputee has a hard time moving around. As a heavy amputee I had a lower quality of life because of limited ability to play with my kids, walk hand in hand with my wife, or just do household chores without being winded, and additionally having diminished function and fit of my prosthesis. Pushed by my desire to not be the fat kid again, but rather be physically active, I decided I wanted to run again in 2007. I had been lifting weights and was strong but I needed to lower my weight. I put myself on a diet, made changes in my workouts and in just three months I was able to drop weight in order to run. After I began running, I continued to fluctuate in weight, which caused a poor fit with my prosthesis. In 2011, I discovered CrossFit and began really working hard to break boundaries that I had placed in front of me. Learning to jump, Olympic lifts, gymnastic movements were exercises I perceived I couldn’t do……until I tried them! As I learned and studied these movements, I started to understand the adaptations I needed to make in order to make them possible with a prosthesis.

I have since attended the CrossFit Level 1 and Kids Certification courses and have been coaching both adaptive and non-adaptive athletes at CrossFit Rubicon and CrossFit Walter Reed. I am currently exploring scholarships to return to school for Athletic Training and Kinesiology.