April 28, 2013
Brothers Again: Joe and Philip Weigel
By Brittney Saline

“When I finally realized something had to change and decided to quit (doing drugs), I turned all my focus to CrossFit. I was training to live and stay alive.”

Above photos by: Jessica LillyPhoto by: Samantha Heydlauff

In June 2011, Joe and Philip Weigel went their separate ways.

Joe decided to train for the CrossFit Games while his younger brother decided to get high on cocaine and opiates.

For eight months thereafter, Phillip tore his body down, while Joe built his up.

Today, after the close of the 2013 Open, both brothers are headed to the Central East Regional with 23-year-old Joe in seventh place, and 21-year-old Philip in 39th.

Their reunion began with CrossFit.

“We were as competitive as you can be, but we always had each other’s backs when we needed it,” Joe says of growing up with three brothers.

The second youngest, Philip, always admired Joe’s mental focus and physical strength. When Joe picked up CrossFit in 2008, at the age of 18, it was only a matter of months before Philip, 16 at the time, joined him.

“(Joe) was bigger and stronger than me, so I asked him what the best thing to do was,” Philip says. “He made me do Fran.”

Before the year was out, each had gone to the Level 1 Seminar and began training friends and teachers out of the high-school weight room. Later that year, Toby Jurging, a teacher at their school, launched SPC CrossFit. The Weigels became his first two trainers. For two years, the brothers coached side by side.

But Philip had a secret.

He’d been using marijuana since he was 16. But in June 2011, his senior year, he advanced to cocaine and prescription opiates.

As he became increasingly unstable, he used more and trained less. By the following October, his addiction was his life.

“I would wake up around noon and snort a considerable amount of cocaine and a good portion of Opana,” he says. “I would eat only once a day and then go to sleep around four in the morning. I had completely fallen away from CrossFit.”

Joe, who had since become a firefighter and EMT, tried to intervene.

“Working with the fire department, we get plenty of EMS calls with people overdosing,” he says. “I remember telling (Philip) that people are pretty much dead when we get there. Sometimes we can bring them back, and sometimes we can’t.”

But Philip wasn’t ready to quit.

“I shrugged it off because I still wanted to go get high,” he says. “I held a firm grudge against my family and brother (because) I felt they were condemning me.”

It was the brothers’ last conversation for more than six months.

“The toughest part was the bitterness between the family,” Joe remembers. “It’s kind of a sucky feeling when you try to help someone, but there’s only so much you can do when what they need to do is have that realization that it’s their life, and they have to take charge and do something about it.”

Eventually, Philip did take charge. After several unsuccessful attempts to get clean on his own, he knew he needed help. Still, he wasn’t ready to return to the family he thought domineering and judgmental. So, in February of 2012, he moved in with a supportive friend who helped him find a job, and convinced him to return to training at SPC CrossFit, now operating out of a full box in Kent, Ohio.  

He says he doesn’t know what finally clicked, but he does say CrossFit became the replacement to the drugs that were killing him.

“When I finally realized something had to change and decided to quit, I turned all my focus to CrossFit,” he says. “I was training to live and stay alive.”

At the end of May 2012, Jason Welch, owner of SPC CrossFit’s sister affiliate, CrossFit Cadre, offered him a position as head coach. It was the second chance that turned him around for good.

“That’s what really solidified my recovery,” Philip says. “There was no looking back. That was my horse and I was going to get on and ride it.”

The move to CrossFit Cadre was the first step in reuniting the estranged Weigel brothers. After leading team SPC CrossFit to a second-place finish behind Hack’s Pack Ute at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games, Joe began training out of CrossFit Cadre as an individual for the 2013 season.

As their paths crossed in the gym, the brothers began talking again. But it was this year’s Open that gave them the common ground they needed to reunite.

“As the Open went on, we started talking more about working out and different strategies,” Joe says. “It brought us closer together after a time when there wasn’t much communication.”

Months of silence turned into daily texts and calls with Leaderboard reports and suggestions for improving each other’s scores. After a poor initial performance on 13.2, Philip says it was Joe’s support and coaching that helped him earn 316 reps on his second try, a score that ultimately made the difference between qualifying and not.

“We sat down and discussed technique for the box jumps,” Philip says. “He cheered me on throughout the whole workout and I ended up two reps behind (Joe).”

It was a proud moment for Joe, as he watched his younger brother’s success after returning from rock bottom.

“It was really exciting,” he says. “I loved seeing him do well.”

With the Open behind them, the two are working together toward a common goal: Regionals. And this time, Philip is eagerly taking advice from his older brother, who has already knocked back three Regional competitions and two Games performances in his time.

“He has a lot of knowledge I don’t,” Philip says. “He’s given me a lot of insight into areas of training I wasn’t as focused on as I should be.”

One piece of that insight is to train for Regional chippers with what Joe calls “one-rounders.” These are workouts of any time domain, comprised of one round through several different stations of high-volume reps at each station. For example, a 2k stationary bike ride, 50 handstand push-ups and 30 power snatches at 135 lb.

“I had been training a lot in AMRAP format, but that’s something we’ve cut out a lot of because at the next level, we won’t be doing AMRAPs,” Philip says.

Philip knows this isn’t his year for the Games. But he’s looking forward to competing alongside the big brother who first introduced him to Fran.

“He’s strong-willed, self-motivated and unstoppable,” he says. “He’s going to find a way to make his goals happen, and I admire that a lot.”

The admiration is mutual.

“I think (Philip) has come tremendously far,” Joe says. “It was awesome to see that he was able to get good enough to get to Regionals after coming off the drugs.”

For the Weigels, Regionals will be more than a test of their fitness. It will be a reunion.

“The whole family will be there and it will be great to see everyone enjoy that together,” Joe says. “It means a lot to know we’re back to being brothers.”