The 2010 CrossFit Games
The ultimate proving grounds of the world’s fittest athletes.
July 16-18, 2010 • Carson, CA
The Home Depot Center Sports Complex
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United States Qualifiers
Ben Hopkins: Recovery and Return to Competition
Eight Months After the Motorcycle Accident
Eight months ago, Ben Hopkins lost his chance at the 2010 Southern California Regional while riding his motorcycle home on a busy Los Angeles freeway. A driver hurrying to make his exit changed lanes without looking or signaling, sending Ben into the side of his car, ripping off the mirror and front bumper, before bouncing off a neighboring car and sliding to a stop on the asphalt. Hopkins’ collarbone was shattered, his left shoulder joint damaged, and his body lit with road rash.
Less than a year later, with a plate and seven screws in his newly healed collarbone, Ben has returned to CrossFit competition. He recently placed 2nd at the January 15-16 2011 OC Throwdown, and says that his sights are set on the 2011 Games. We caught up with Hopkins to hear about his recovery, decision to compete, and the recent changes in his life.
Could you tell us more about your recovery?
I had surgery at the end of April, and did my first CrossFit workout five weeks after. I eased back into training with bodyweight exercises, that didn't involve use of my left shoulder. The doctor didn't want me even running, but there was a lot my doc didn't know I was doing.
I went to physical therapy twice a week, which I highly recommend for anyone with injuries. Not that the physical therapy worked miracles, but what it did do is force me to give my shoulder the attention it needed to rebuild structure, and regain mobility. I did six weeks of physical therapy, and think I should have done even more. Months later, my collarbone felt strong, and though there was some pain with pressing heavier weight, I felt close to how I had previously.
My first actual workout back, I believe was "Fran." Of course, I scaled it to 65# and ring rows. It still took me six and a half minutes. My metcon was garbage from sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and eating unhealthy.
When I finally got back to doing workouts as Rx'd, the joint problems started. The WOD was Isabel, and I decided to do squat snatches. The sixth rep in, and my shoulder dislocated. This has happened twice more since then. I had an MRI, and it revealed that I have a labral tear. This injury occurred as a result of my accident, but since the damage was so extensive on my collarbone, I didn't notice my joint problem. My arm was immobile for nearly a month. It's hard to tell that your joint is out of whack when you aren't moving it.
I am avoiding surgery at all costs…at least until after the Games. If I had surgery now, I would definitely not be able to compete. Fortunately, I have a great network of educated friends that have been helping me with my shoulder issues. I'm doing isolated movements to strengthen the muscles around the joint, and icing at least twice a day. It is discouraging at times, because the instability of my joint in wide overhead positions holds me back.
My advice to anyone with shoulder injuries is to take recovery slow and rehab daily. I often make the mistake of coming back too soon because the rest of my body wants to go faster and harder.
You mentioned that you'd like to avoid surgery on your labral tear so that you may have a chance at the 2011 Games. Have your friends helped you get to know when you can keep going and when you should pull out?
The people advising me on my shoulder are all working with me on strengthening the muscles around the joint and mobility. I know my limitations, and so do they. My shoulder is very finicky. Only specific things irritate it. I either avoid those things completely, or I work with lighter weight in a non-fatigued state to strengthen it.
Even before the OC Throwdown, I made a decision that if the movements that irritate it come up in a workout, I would take a DNF. It wasn't worth it to have my shoulder dislocate and lose what I have gained back from rehabbing it. I have the same outlook for the Games. I am 26 years old, and I know I haven't hit my prime yet. I have a lot of competitive years left. If I miss competing in the Games this year, I will be back for the next five.
What do you think the risks are in going into competition without surgery? Would you mind sharing how you've balanced the risks and your drive to compete?
Surgery at this point means no CrossFit for months. It would take 6 weeks for the tendons and ligaments just to heal enough to start mobility. By avoiding surgery and doing my best to repair the problem through rehabilitation methods, I at least have a shot. Surgery isn't guaranteed either. In fact, the odds aren't great that surgery would fix my problem.
Like I mentioned before, risking more damage to my shoulder joint just to get a faster time isn't worth it. I kind of had to learn the hard way with that. I would come back too soon and end up having my shoulder slip out again. Not fun. If a workout comes up for the Games qualifier that could potentially hurt my shoulder, I may have to humble myself, and think about competing next year.
At the OC Throwdown, you and Ronnie Teasdale competed in a tiebreaker of 20 muscle ups for time. How did your left shoulder feel during the muscle ups? Can you tell us more about what went on physically and mentally for you during that event?
The muscle up tie breaker was a surprise for sure. I didn't know I was tied for 1st. I knew I wouldn't have problems with my shoulder for the tie breaker. Muscle ups don't really mess with it. Often times before an event, my mind is almost blank. I am just anticipating the start, and know what I have to do. Ronnie beat me because he was the better man at that moment. After 6 workouts over 2 days, my body was starting to rebel. My abs and arms began to cramp during the muscle ups towards the end. I even missed a couple of attempts, and usually don't miss muscle ups. Sure, I look back on it and wish I would have brought my rings a little higher so I could get a bigger kip when I was tired, but I couldn't think strategy at that moment. All I was thinking was "just go."
How did your body feel after the OC Throwdown? Did you experience any extra swelling or soreness in your left shoulder?
After the OC Throwdown, I could feel my body needed rest and rehab. The shoulder was definitely sore and inflamed, but I ice twice a day almost everyday, so I think that helps control that a lot. On Monday, the day after the OC Throwdown, I went for a run with my wife, and I felt like my body was saying "What are you doing?!" I tapered back into training from there, but recovered quickly.
What are your benchmark stats after the accident and rehab?
Back Squat: 380lbs.
Clean & Jerk: 275lbs.
Filthy Fifty: 17:36
400m run: 56 seconds
We hear you’ve changed careers. How’s it going making the switch from furniture design to CrossFit box owner and trainer?
The switch in careers has been awesome so far, partly because I am still doing design work on a freelance basis and making my own hours. I love design. I've been interested in it since I was in elementary school, and don't think I will ever stop. I have been doing more graphic design for the CrossFit community lately. Logos, t-shirt designs, etc. I have done all the branding for Stronger Faster Healthier, the fish oil and protein company.
Opening a box has been a long process because of the location. We searched all over West LA for months, and it was difficult to find a space where we wanted to be. Finally, we found one in Marina Del Rey, which is great. The downside is it's not available until the end of February. We are willing to wait, but I am very anxious to open.
I have been coaching here and there, and training at Paradiso CrossFit, my home box, and at a number of local boxes. I think it is important to visit as many boxes as you can. You can learn so much from other people about training, business, what to do, and maybe what not to do.
CrossFit Marina Del Rey (CFMDR) will be open in late February or early March. I have a lot of confidence in what we are going to do as a team. Great things to come!
We hear you’re recently married. Congratulations. How’s the married life?
Yeah I am newly married. :) I am loving it. Makes you into a better person when you have someone to lift up above yourself.