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Injured veterans turn their lives around with CrossFit

Brendan Ferreira's face is the picture of determination. Using a strap he cobbled together from a snowboarding boot strap, ski equipment and a little hardware, he attaches his amputated left arm to the barbell with a chain, clearing one deadlift after another. Then he dives into push-ups and box-jumps, pushing his body to its limit. It's all part of a routine he that would have seemed unimaginable eight years ago.

Ferriera was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan by an Afghan soldier he'd worked alongside with, and he'd even served him soup the night before. Ferriera suffered traumatic brain injury, shattered every bone in his face, almost lost both legs, lost his left arm, sight in one eye and most of his hearing. Two soldiers in his unit died in the bombing. Ferriera was sewn back together 500 stitches, 75 staples and more than 40 surgeries.

Now, he is a CrossFit coach in Seekonk, MA and an ambassador on the Taking Up Fitness (TUF) team, a joint effort on behalf of the Yellow Ribbon Fund and Blue Titan Fitness encouraging veterans to take up fitness to combat after-effects of military injuries.

Last month the TUF team entered the Civilian Military Combine crossfit competition in Brooklyn with a team made up of both civilians and veterans. The course requires intense teamwork. They had to carry a 5-foot long portion of a tree trunk through the 4-mile, 26-obstacle race, passing it from one teammate to the next.

Asked about the difference CrossFit has made in his life, Ferriera said it's reduced his stress levels. "I feel better about everything. Much better mood and it is all natural," he says. "So definitely a big change, a big lifesaver."

Jason Sturm, another TUF team member, lost his left leg in a combat exercise on base in upstate New York, and he's now a CrossFit coach at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD.

"I am reaching out to people on Facebook, reading articles. If I see anything about a wounded warrior pop-up I do anything I can to reach out to them." Sturm says.

Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide every day. Ferriera and Sturm remember having those thoughts, at a time when they didn't know what would become of their lives. They say CrossFit has helped them take back control of their lives. Today they're targeting the veterans that "are on the couch and in the bars." Sturm takes satisfaction in watching the veterans he coaches grow stronger physically and mentally.

"He didn't talk very much," Sturm says of a left below-the-knee amputee veteran he has coached. "But after a few weeks, he started to make eye contact. He has PTSD issues, they have not totally gone away, but they have diminished."

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