2010 CrossFit Games Finals

Fit But Not Invincible

A cautionary tale about a good athlete who almost missed discovering a blood clot.

Allison Belger owns and trains at TJ's Gym in Northern California. Their affiliate team finished 11th in the 09 Games, and were recognized in a highlight on the Games Site for the unusual age-span of thier members. This year they qualifed for the 2010 Games via the Southwest Regionals. But now she writes of an education of a different kind:

David Zeff is a monster of an athlete from TJ’s Gym. In 2009, at age 39, he helped our affiliate team take 11th place in Aromas. He played the role of strong man on our team, but, because of another team member’s sprained ankle, he also helped us earn 6th place in the run relay, tearing up the hill in his 6’2”, 210-pound frame as though he was born to run. Over the past year, after his 40th birthday in October, Dave stepped up his training in order to participate on our affiliate team again this year. He also competed at the NorCal Sectional as an individual.

Despite being many years older than most of the competitors, Dave took 13th place in the run/OHS workout and tied for 4th place in the max Clean and Jerk, lifting 285 pounds off the ground and overhead. While the long metcon dropped Dave down some in the rankings, he was primed and ready for the team competition at the Southwest Regionals. Dave competed in two of the three team events in Irvine, helping us solidify a third-place ranking (tied with two other teams) and a spot at the Games in Carson. Dave played an integral role in the tire flip/log carry workout, acting as the anchor during the log squats and flipping the tire with abandon.

A few days after Regionals, Dave was back at his training and went for a local trail run. Unfortunately, he turned his ankle and broke a bone in the front of his foot, threatening his chances of going to Carson. Doctors were cautiously optimistic about Dave’s potential for recovery, as were his teammates. Dave continued to train in earnest, doing as many pull-ups, pushups, handstand pushups, muscle ups, shoulder presses, and situps as his body would allow.

Two weeks after his break, doctors put Dave on crutches; the bone was healing more slowly than anticipated, and Dave’s chances of going to Carson were slimmer with each passing day. Last week, after the Games Registration deadline of June 21st was announced, I texted Dave to let him know how much time remained until we had to make our final decision. Within 30 seconds of sending that text, I received an email from Dave saying that he was in the hospital with severe pain in his ribs.

En route to a weekend away with college buddies, Dave had experienced excruciating pains in his side and had, thankfully, contacted a friend who is a physician. Despite Dave’s desire to brush off the symptoms, his friend urged him to get checked out at the nearest emergency room before flying.

Long story short, doctors discovered two blood clots in Dave’s lungs and one in his left leg, above the broken left foot. Turns out blood clots can be caused by the inactivity in a limb after a break. This all made sense. However, it also turns out that Dave had experienced the same kind of excruciating rib pain one morning back in January, and he had also coughed up blood. At that time, doctors at an urgent care facility had assured him that the pain in his side and the blood had nothing to do with each other. When a chest x-ray came back normal, Dave was sent on his way.

Unnerved but reassured by doctors, Dave had gone back to his training the following day. After his most recent episode, Dave was immediately put on blood thinners, and he stayed in the hospital for two awful nights. He had time on his hands, staring at blank walls, his young daughters at home thinking he was whooping it up in Arizona with college buddies. During those moments, Dave wondered how it was that he could be so fit and yet so vulnerable.

“This isn't supposed to happen to me,” he concluded. And yet, it did. Had Dave not heeded the advice of his friend, his story might be very different. When I asked Dave if it would be okay to submit his story for the Games site, he agreed, hoping it might benefit somebody in the CrossFit community at some point.

He wrote the following on our TJ’s Gym discussion board last night:

“We do stuff that very few of our contemporaries would do. We train hard, and it provides a high level of well-deserved self confidence and self worth. All of the CF training makes you feel invincible. Borrow my perspective, so you don't have to experience it yourself. The CF ?Games are important in a very different way. They are something we GET to do. The same goes for the WODs we fear - we GET to do them. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. GET YOUR SHIT CHECKED OUT AND BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE!”

There is no longer any grey area surrounding our team roster. Dave won’t be competing on the team he helped qualify for the Games. Thankfully, though, he’ll be in Carson on the sidelines, coaching us through the workouts that we GET to do. Lucky for all of us!

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8 comments on this entry

1. Timothy Chan wrote...

Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with all of us Dave. Also, Happy Father's day!

2. Kimberly Malz wrote...

Thank you for sharing Dave. It's moments like the one you shared that help us see things in such a clearer sense. I bet the leaves on trees are much greener, the sky bursts with blue, and your kids laughter is music to your ears after your experience.

You are absolutely spot on~ Look out for #1 and #1 is you.

All the best to you for continued healing and hope to meet you in Carson.


Kim Malz

3. Nesfam wrote...


You are amazing and you are right, it wasn't supposed to happen to you. It was deja vu reading your story. It has happened to two of our family members both CF competitors (and more than once as it is in our genes - the blood clot thing). Truer words were never spoken..."Listen to your body". You are a competitor and a champion and you will be back!

Wishing you all the best!!!

4. Patty Flynn wrote...

Thanks, Allison. Always enjoy reading your stuff- great writing!
I am still stunned by Dave's health incident - and much more respectful of what our bodies do for us every day.

5. Alicia Gomes wrote...


You are so very lucky. I had a teammate in college that developed a blood clot after an injury and isn't here to share her story. She was 19 and an exceptional Division 1 scholarship gymnast. She is actually the motivating force behind me doing CrossFit. She pushed me during weight training, and she promised to do some type of fitness competition with me when we graduated. So, when I decided to compete I figured I'd do it for the both of us. She would have absolutely loved to do what we get to do! I am so thankful to be able to crossfit and so thankful that you shared your story with our community!

6. Karen Carnahan wrote...

Allison and Dave.: thank you so much for sharing. It is extremely difficult to experience something of this magnitude when we feel so invincible. I hope we all learn from your story!

7. Billy wrote...

"During those moments, Dave wondered how it was that he could be so fit and yet so vulnerable."

Again, shows that fitness over time does not equal health.

8. Tony Budding wrote...

What do you mean? I think you have substantially misunderstood the definition of health. We have never said that just doing CrossFit workouts means you'll never get sick or injured. Instead, keeping high levels of fitness over time is what health really is. Being able to do what life demands of you is fitness; sustaining that over time is health. Don't mistake the result for the prescription.

When you're lying in a hospital bed, your work capacity across broad time and modal domains is pretty small. At that moment, you're neither fit nor healthy.

The big question is, of course, how do we stay fit and healthy throughout life? Some issues are genetic, some are freak accidents, others are chronic conditions brought on by poor lifestyle choices. Obviously, we have more control over some of these than others.

There's so much to write about this, but I'll finish here with, if I was going to get a blood clot or cancer or get hit by a car, I'd sure rather go into that with a boatload of work capacity than without.


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