Just more than a year ago, Daniel Casey couldn’t find a scale that could weigh him.
Knowing he weighed more than 300 lb., the limit for most conventional scales, he tried the scale at the local fitness center in Johnson City, Tennessee. It bottomed out at 400 lb.
Local obesity clinics only had scales measuring up to 450 lb., so he went to Walmart. The manager led him through a set of double doors to the store’s warehouse shipping scale. Expecting to see a number around 500 lb., Casey blanched when the screen read 550 lb., flashed “error” and went dark.
“I walked in to CrossFit the next day and I went harder than I had ever done,” Casey recalled.
That day was in October of 2013. Casey joined CrossFit East 10 a few weeks prior, and his first workout—3 rounds of step-ups, wall push-ups and air squats to a bench—“completely destroyed” him, he said.
Today, 13 months later and around 150 lb. lighter, the 23-year-old is preparing to compete in the inaugural-scaled option of the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.
“I can call myself an athlete now,” he said.
Since middle school, Casey found solace in food, a comfort during the long hours he spent home alone while his mother worked late.
“I’d go to a movie and eat a large bag of popcorn, drink a large soda and get refills,” he said. “Then I’d go home and eat six plates of food and play video games.”
By the time he reached high school, he had more than 300 lb. on his 5-foot-10 frame and few friends. His response to the cruel jokes was to throw the first punch. He was expelled in his sophomore year.
“Eighty percent of people didn’t like me just because I was the weird, fat kid,” he said. “Because of that, I wasn’t very friendly.”
Casey isolated himself in his home, the pounds thickening layer by layer like a steady snowfall. Though he went on to earn a GED, he could not secure a job.
“I tried for quite a few interviews and never got one,” he said. “I felt as if it was because of my size, not my qualifications.”
Though he tried to lose weight by walking on a treadmill in the fitness center, he always quit after a week. After moving in with his grandmother, she gave him an ultimatum: To live under her roof, he needed to get his weight under control.
Casey returned to the fitness center. The manager introduced him to Rob Stacy, owner of CrossFit East 10, an affiliate operating in partnership on the center’s property. Stacy took Casey to the small CrossFit gym nestled in the back, and began to teach him the air squat.
“I still remember him telling me that two of his goals (were) to go to a store and not have people stare at him, and for someone to give him the chance at a job,” Stacy said. “I could see that he was motivated and driven. I knew with the proper direction that he could achieve his goals.”
This time, Casey didn’t quit. Weeks passed and stairs seemed easier to climb. The support from the coaches and other athletes, he said, is what kept him coming back. Still, Casey doubted himself. Fatigued after a tough workout in his second month, he looked to Stacy.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Casey told him. “I’m never going to be an athlete.”
Stacy tried to argue.
“I started to … explain to him that everyone is an athlete in my eyes,” Stacy recounted. “My mom, my 67-year-old client, and even he was an athlete in my eyes.”
Still, when the Open came around last year, Casey hid behind the camera, filming workouts for other athletes. In 2015, he’ll throw down beside them.
“(Stacy) basically just told me that not only is there a scaled version, but at the same time, I’m capable of doing almost anything,” Casey said.
When Casey first started CrossFit, he could not squat to full depth and could barely complete a wall push-up. Today, he can snatch 135 lb., clean and jerk 185 lb. and jump rope without knee pain. He can also complete an unassisted hand release push-up.
“Right now, the only movements he can't perform are pull-ups, ring work, double-unders or running,” Stacy said.
“Even if I can’t do it all, I’ll do what I can,” Casey added.
When he’s not training, Casey spends his time researching colleges with a plan to enroll after the spring. But first, he’ll compete in his first CrossFit Games Open. Though he knows he probably won’t finish in the top tier of the scaled option, he said that’s not what matters.
“I just want people to look at me and see it’s not just the Fronings of the world that can do this … it’s everyday people,” he said.
And so when the Open begins Feb. 26, Casey will call himself something he never thought he would: an athlete.
“The way I see an athlete is they pick a sport and they’re at that sport every day,” Casey said. “They do their best to get better at that sport and they give it their heart and soul. Every morning, I go to CrossFit, I give it my all, I fight through the soreness and the agony, and I’m back at it the next day. If that’s not the definition of an athlete, I don’t know what is.”