November 12, 2012
Moving Forward: Billy Wilkerson
By Billy Wilkerson

My doctors were shocked to find out I was doing CrossFit and  that I had stopped taking all my medications. 

Editor’s note: Five months after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident and being told it would take at least two years to get close to “normal” again, Billy Wilkerson wrote and performed the song “Billy – Around the Bend.” He did so while still having a trache in his throat.

I have done CrossFit for almost a year and I can deadlift 325 lbs. My time for Helen is 11:14, and my time for Murph is 54:13; it is not astounding, but according to my doctors I shouldn’t be able to walk or talk normally, let alone write this article.

On July 31, 2011, I was driving with my best friend of 20 years, Ron Bailey Jr., and a drunk driver hit us.

We both received severe traumatic brain injuries, my face was shattered and my forearm snapped. After being in a coma for a week and in ICU for 16 days, I was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta for intense brain rehabilitation. When I arrived at the Shepherd Center, I had no idea what the date was, how old I was, how I had gotten there, and was unable to recall my two children who were 9 months and 3 years old at the time.

I was inpatient in the ABI (acquired brain injury) unit for four weeks where I received intense therapies from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. In September, I was released to go home. However, before my accident, we were staying with family while I toured as a percussionist/back-up singer for Levi Lowrey. So in October, we needed to find a place to rent that would enable me to continue a safe recovery. With severe traumatic brain injuries, you are told you will have disabilities. You have to redefine who you are. It takes about two years to get back to near normal.

We stopped our search at the first house we visited. My wife, Jill, said it was divine intervention and we were meant to be there. The house had a fence and behind that a three-car garage. My younger brother, Zach, moved in with us to help Jill and I with our two kids Evie, 4, and Dawson, 1. One morning, Zach saw people working out at the garage behind the house and I told him to go see what they were doing. He found out it was a CrossFit gym called CrossFit Confidence. It had just opened up on Aug. 1, 2011.

The day after my accident, Amanda Greaver, the trainer and owner of then CrossFit Confidence, now Orange Beach CrossFit, learned of my story. And then we moved in right next to her box. It was more divine intervention. She wanted to help me in my recovery and let us join for free.

My first day was in November 2011, and I did a baseline that consisted of rowing 500M, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, and 10 pull-ups. It took me 18 minutes but I finished it -- with a trache in, no less. Yes, you read right, by that time, I had had seven surgeries since the accident and one that included a tracheotomy because they were protecting my vocal cords. And I had two more surgeries left.

Amanda and the other CrossFit trainer, Andrew Forbes, became my new physical therapists. They sometimes were like my counselors because they would always listen to me, help me talk things out, and guide me in positive directions. I always finished last on the WODs, but the CrossFit Confidence community would always cheer me on like I was winning the Olympics.

I got my trache out on Feb. 20 and had a total of nine surgeries from facial reconstruction to a rhinoseptoplasty, which corrected a deviated septum and fixed my nose. Finished with surgeries, I was able to enter Beast Mode.

My doctors were shocked to find out I was doing CrossFit and that I had stopped taking all my medications that included lots of pain pills, sleeping aids, and anti-depressants, and asked how that was possible. I was able to because food became my medicine. Combined with CrossFit, this allowed my body to naturally produce the chemicals the medications were trying to replace. It is common that after a severe traumatic brain injury, your chemistry is thrown off, from testosterone to dopamine. I did not want to pull the TBI card and become the unfit, distant, video game-playing husband who was addicted to pills. 

CrossFit has empowered me to make forward motion in the most difficult journey of my life. It has enabled me to become a better husband and father and I am in the best shape of my life. I have been a staff singer/songwriter for Whitestone Motion Pictures for eight years. Now I am adding CrossFit Level 1 certificate to my list, and in the spring, Orange Beach CrossFit is hosting a Garage Games and I am going to compete. But most of all, I am becoming a CrossFit trainer to empower people to make forward motion in their own lives.

Sadly, my best friend, Ron, remains in a vegetative state. He resides at a nursing home in Athens. His family is planning for him to return to their home before the holidays this year.