February 19, 2014
A Labor of Love
By Alex Brown

“We are building a community here.”

Photos courtesy of Pete Williamson

Three years ago, Dan Bonett left his career as a firefighter to open CrossFit IOM. 

The community of about 100 members is thriving on the Isle of Man, a small island, home to about 80,000 people, and famous for hosting the annual Isle of Man TT motorbike race. The island is situated between mainland Britain and Ireland. The CrossFit IOM community is tight knit, and members regularly meet for meals, have in-house competitions and even travel together annually on holiday.

“We are building a community here,” Bonett said.

Bonett is also rebuilding something within the walls of his affiliate—his body.

The fact that the former firefighter is taking part in the Open this season is remarkable given what his 2013 Open experience entailed.

“My left shoulder suffered pretty much every injury it is capable of in one hit: ligament, capsule, cartilage, muscle, tendon, nerve and artery,” said Bonett, 30, whose injury happened during a muscle-up. “Luckily, all bones were OK.”­­

Bonett’s enthusiasm for CrossFit is evident as he talks about his long recovery, the prospect of his wife, Erin, possibly qualifying for regionals and about the devoted CrossFit community on Isle of Man. Clearly the sport—whether he’s competing or coaching­­—is a labor of love.

But ask about the prospect of him making it to regionals this year, and he pauses.

“I just don’t think I’ll be ready,” Bonett said. “It is just that my range of movement isn’t there yet. I still have some strength to build.”

He knew last summer, after shoulder surgery, that he would have to wait until 2015 to really focus on being competitive beyond the Open.

Given the injury and despite needing more time to get back to his previous level of fitness, Bonett said he is relishing the fact that he is taking part in this year’s Open at all.

Permanent damage to his shoulder—the nerve supply to his teres muscles has been cut, rendering them useless—has forced Bonett to find new techniques with some movements, particularly the Olympic lifts. The adaptations feel different and will take time to come naturally.

“You just have to keep going. I am missing some back muscles and they are never coming back,” Bonett said. “Wall balls are a nightmare. The ball just won’t go straight. I have to use my hip more on one side.”

“When I had my injury, I could have sulked about it, but I treated it as an opportunity to work on other things—running and some swimming,” he added. “So in a way, you can say it was a blessing in disguise.”

Bonett managed a top-200 finish in the 2013 Open despite having one arm for most of it.

“Looking back, with one arm, I was happy with it,” he said. “I’ve not really thought about where I will place (this year). If I get in the top 500 in Europe, I will be super happy. I’ll start putting pressure on myself at the end of the season this year, and everything will get ramped up for this time next year. I am not putting the pressure on myself this season.”

“I will definitely enjoy it—I always enjoy it,” he added.

But Bonett knows his competitiveness must be kept in check.

“If I do well in the first few workouts, and if I am in a good position, but I am not ready to do a movement that comes up, I know what my mind set will be: I will want to do it. I know what I am like,” he said. “Hopefully Erin will keep me grounded. I have to be sensible about things.”

Bonett’s wife and physiotherapist, Erin, said her husband realizes there’s no rush.

“At the start, I think it was the boredom that got to him as the weeks progressed—there are only so many box step-ups you can do,” she said. “He is a lot happier now, which makes me happier, too.”

While dealing with recovery and rehabilitation, Bonett has been able to focus his attention on training the athletes at CrossFit IOM, including his wife.

“When we go away to competitions, it is hard because I want to be competing, but my focus is on coaching,” Bonett said. “I love that Erin is doing so well. It puts everything back into perspective. To see her excel is amazing because she has only been doing it just over a year.”

The couple tied the knot in October, and had the wedding reception at their affiliate.

“We wanted to keep that kind of CrossFit feel,” Bonett said.

And while qualifying for the Europe Regional this year is a long shot, this particular Games season will be extra special for the newlyweds.

“We are going to go to the CrossFit Games for our honeymoon,” Bonett said.