May 27, 2014
After the Crash
By Sam Radetsky
“I thought I was permanently damaged and might never be able to compete again,” Sarah Pierce said.
“I thought I was permanently damaged and might never be able to compete again,” Sarah Pierce said.

"I realized that it wasn't over, and that I wanted to come back and be a success story and not a tragedy. So I started training my ass off ..."

Photos courtesy of Mark Probst.

Sarah Pierce was driving home late at night when suddenly she saw a vehicle coming straight at her in her lane.

There wasn’t enough time to get out of the way. Instinctively, she threw her arms in front of her and was soon struck by the force of the collision and the airbag.

Incredibly, she survived the accident and was able to walk away.

Later, Pierce learned her sore shoulder and neck were an AC joint separation and a herniated disc. Still relatively unaffected by the injuries, she tried to return to training for the 2013 Northern California Regional, which was just three weeks away.

“I made the mistake of trying to continue training for regionals, thinking I was OK, and further aggravated my injuries to the point where I ended up with severe pain and no (range of motion),” she said.

She had to withdraw the the regional, which she would have entered as the second-second seeded woman. Depressed, she considered giving up on her dream of someday qualifying for the CrossFit Games.

“I thought I was permanently damaged and might never be able to compete again,” she said. “My depression was bad. I contemplated leaving CrossFit altogether and struggled with staying positive for a very dark month after I missed regionals.”

Then, in the middle of that dark time, she got what she needed to hear from affiliate owner, TJ Belger.

“He told me to not lose hope and to come back fighting,” Pierce recounted. “He told me I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself. That advice will never leave me as long as I live.”

For the next couple months, she did nothing other than physical therapy. Unable to turn her neck sideways or tilt it up and down, she saw chiropractors and ART practitioners, and experimented with traction and regular stretching.

“My every waking moment was consumed by those stretches,” she said.

Eventually, she started doing modified CrossFit workouts, and by five months after the accident she signed up for a local competition. Her goal was to do the workouts and not finish in last place, but instead she set a PR on her clean and jerk, and took second overall.

“That weekend I realized that it wasn't over and that I wanted to come back and be a success story and not a tragedy,” she said. “So I started training my ass off and signing up for more competitions than I'd ever done.”

Before the accident, she had been a bundle of stress and overwork. She coached in the early morning, afternoon and evening at two affiliates, and spent her limited time off either commuting or getting her own training in. She obsessed over the Leaderboard, and did many of the 2013 Open Workouts multiple times in order to keep her name near the top.

It was her life, but it wasn’t fun.

After the accident, she decided to make it fun again. She cut her workload in half by quitting one of her coaching jobs, pared down her training and added training partners. She now jumps between two boxes—CrossFit Healdsburg and CrossFit Ross Valley—so she can train with her boyfriend, Nick Herman, and friends Kate Brierly and Brittany Williamson.

The injuries from her accident are now just like the rest of her “goats.” She works on them the same way an uninjured athlete works on their weak spots. Since her shoulders and neck occasionally bug her, she works on making them stronger with front squats, muscle-ups, strict handstand push-ups, and snatches, and follows that with plenty of mobility.

“I still have some problems from the wreck,” she said. “I can’t do kipping handstand push-ups. I can’t put any weight at all on my head.”

Luckily, Regional Event 4 calls for strict handstand push-ups.

“I'm excited for the strict handstand push-up workout just to see where I end up,” she said. “I'm also excited for the handstand walk—it's my favorite thing and I'm every good at it. It doesn't bother my shoulder.”

While the one-rep-max hang squat snatch, and other movements may challenge her shoulder and neck, she’s not too concerned. She’s in it to enjoy the experience, not fight for the podium.

“For 2014 I'm just excited to participate,” Pierce said. “I know I have a long way to go to make it to the CrossFit Games. So a successful regional for me would be trying my hardest, having fun and staying injury free.”