April 4, 2014
A New Attitude Toward Life: Gustavo Marquez Jr.
By Andrew Lee
“They don’t see it like I am in a wheelchair,” Marquez said. “They push me. They always say that I have no excuse, that I am going to do the same things as everyone else does, just scaled.”
“They don’t see it like I am in a wheelchair,” Marquez said. “They push me. They always say that I have no excuse, that I am going to do the same things as everyone else does, just scaled.”

"They don't see it like I am in a wheelchair. They push me. They always say that I have no excuse, that I am going to do the same things as everyone else does, just scaled," Marquez said.

Photos courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

In 2003, 22-year-old Gustavo Marquez Jr. was driving under the influence when he lost control of his car.

“I remember everything,” Marquez said. “My car flipped over six times, I shot out the sunroof, I didn’t have a seatbelt on. I remember the rolling, black and white, black and white. I landed 60 feet away from the car.”

If there was ever an event that could change the life of a young man with the world at his feet, it was this. Marquez, a business graduate from the University of San Diego, quickly found himself in an ambulance and then at the hospital, talking with doctors.

“Right there on the spot, the doctors said that I was never going to walk again,” he said.  

Marquez sustained severe spinal cord injuries and instantly became paralyzed from the waist down. He has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, Marquez was unable to comprehend the extremity of the situation and the impact this would have on not only his life but also those around him.

“I didn’t know what to think,” he recounted. “I didn’t really take it too seriously. I don’t know if it was the alcohol, the anxiety or the stress, but I couldn’t feel anything.”

The pain for Marquez came a week later when reality struck as he found himself in a body cast at the UC San Diego Hospital. Relocating to the Santa Clara Medical Facility, he remained there for close to three months, undergoing occupational and physical therapy sessions toward a slow recovery. Six months from the time of the accident, Marquez was released and returned home.

With his father running the family business, his mother and sister stepped in to provide Marquez with care. It was his mother who provided the greatest sacrifice, from providing care at the hospital or sleeping bedside at home, to ensure her rehabilitating son was comfortable.

As time passed, Marquez battled the swings of emotions expected from such a life-changing event. The limited freedom, restricted movement and change in lifestyle had brought Marquez to a new low.

“My mind wasn’t straight. I was really depressed and I had suicidal tendencies,” he said. “I would have mood swings, I hated the world, hated God and I was upset with my family. I took it out on them.”

Three years after the accident, Marquez woke up to the reality of his situation and the impact his accident had on his family, in particular his mother. He knew something had to change.

“I noticed her age,” he remembered. “I saw the first set of white hair appear. I thought that couldn’t be because of me. That is what sparked a trigger in me (to change).”

He came to accept the situation and completely changed his attitude. Aiming to be more autonomous and independent, he adopted a positive mindset, taking more responsibility for his daily tasks to reduce the load on his mother.

“I accepted my situation. I was at peace. I was not going to give up,” he said. “I knew that sooner or later it will come, but I am not going to give up. Science, faith and a good will (are) going to pull me through.”

The adoption of a positive attitude resulted in a greater commitment to exercise. With the help of an acupuncture specialist, Dr. Zhu, Marquez incorporated intensive treatment with physical activity.

“At the time, I didn’t go to work. I was doing eight-hour-a-day workouts,” he said. “Bike, crawl and stand. Dr. Zhu would make me sweat.”

As Marquez continued to seek the best possible opportunities for his rehabilitation, he linked up with SCI-FIT in Pleasanton, Calif., a specific facility for those who suffered spinal cord injuries. Many of his trainers, including head coach Jerry Rainey do CrossFit.

Names such as Jason Khalipa and the language of burpees and kipping were foreign, as Marquez was more focused on his specific workouts. But the seed was planted.

The tipping point was when a close friend, Rigo Sanchez Jr., who was training at a local affiliate, showed him a poster, encouraging him to start CrossFit.

“Damn, that guy is big. Khalipa. I recognize that name,” he said.

Marquez joked about Khalipa training him. To his surprise, he was eventually linked up with NorCal’s endurance coach Chris Hinshaw, Jamie Loera and NorCal’s leading man, Khalipa. It was Khalipa’s positive energy that rubbed off on Marquez, who agreed to start training at NorCal CrossFit in San Jose, Calif., in October of 2013.  

“Coming through the doors (at NorCal CrossFit) was an epiphany moment,” Marquez recalled. “As I came down the halls, Jay-Z was playing in the background. Boxes and barbells were all set up. It was like Jason, Alex (Rollins) and Pat (Barber) were choreographed. They would jump onto the box at the same time, finish and get back to their weights.”

With the music and movement, Marquez knew he had stumbled upon something significant.

“I just felt the rush. I got goose bumps. And that’s how I hit it, just like that,” he explained.

The initial plan of working out two to three times a week was thrown away as soon as he rolled in the doors. With specialized coaching, Marquez works with his core team at NorCal CrossFit—Miranda Oldroyd, Rollins and Garret Fisher. With a training session of two hours each day and being part of the coaches’ workout, training has been taken to the next level.

And Marquez loves every minute of it.  

“Obviously I can’t get all the movements, but I do it to my ability,” he said. “I push myself to the fullest. I get injured, but I get back in there, I don’t care.”

His workouts represent the scalability of CrossFit. The movements retain their essence, but are modified to his capabilities. When looking at a clean, Marquez will set up some boxes and clean from the box, similar to a hang position. A push jerk will be more of a strict press, with the limited leverage from his legs.

Not one to be excused from burpees, Marquez scales with jumping push-ups. Transitions back to the wheelchair are via a modified rope climb. When the movements present a challenge, it’s an opportunity to get creative.

In a short amount of time, Marquez has established himself as a huge part of the NorCal CrossFit community.

“He works harder than everyone put together,” Oldroyd said. “He is always in here, having a good attitude and wanting to fulfill himself. He is so genuine.”

Whether it be in the gym throwing around weights, or on the track working endurance with Hinshaw, Marquez is both inspired and inspiring, and an integral part of the community.

“His positivity, attitude and work ethic is contagious,” Hinshaw said.

“They don’t see it like I am in a wheelchair,” Marquez added. “They push me. They always say that I have no excuse, that I am going to do the same things as everyone else does, just scaled.”

Khalipa said he appreciates Marquez’s presence. 
“Whether in a wheelchair or not, the whole goal is whoever you are working with, to push their own limits,” Khalipa said. “Gustavo’s limitation is that he is unable to use his legs. But screw it. We aren’t going to treat him any differently to anyone else, we will just scale accordingly.”
As just another member of NorCal CrossFit, Marquez has positively embraced this mentality and it has fueled his desire to push his limits in CrossFit. 
“I want to represent NorCal; be a part of the team,” he said. “They have accepted me as part of the team as I put my work in. I wanted to show them, I am able to pull my weight and more.”
And Marquez said he looks up to Khalipa.
“He is a great father, a great husband and a hard worker,” Marquez said of Khalipa. “He has core values and a work ethic. He knows what it takes to be on top and the hard work it takes. He sets the tone with his leadership, it transcends down. He has done a great job leading by example.”
Since beginning CrossFit a little more than six months ago, Marquez’s motivation has brought many positive lifestyle changes. He gave up drinking and smoking, and has more recently completed the Level 1 Seminar.
There is no bigger evidence of the impact CrossFit has had on his life than his involvement in the Open. Wanting to test himself, Marquez signed up without hesitation. 
“You will never know where you will stand if you never put yourself up against the best in the world,” he said. 
Completing the modified workouts relative to the Open workouts provides a benchmark, so next year Marquez can re-test and see just how far he has come on his CrossFit journey. 
When the CrossFit community took on Open Workout 14.1 with double-unders and snatches, Marquez modified the movements to 30 rotations of the battle rope and snatching. The snatches were scaled in weight and done from the box.  
For Open Workout 14.2’s overhead squats and chest-to-bar pull-ups: “Overhead squats are behind-the-neck presses and for chest-to-bars, I will grab the bar and do a pull-up to my chest.”
Although yet to tackle 14.3, Marquez said he enjoyed the challenge of 14.4, finishing with 180 reps. Scaled to similar movements for his capabilities, he successfully made it through a 60-calorie row, 50 sit-ups, 40 wall-ball shots and 30 cleans.
For 14.5, he plans on doing clapping push-ups for the burpees and strict presses for the thrusters. 
Finding himself amongst the big CrossFit community at NorCal CrossFit, another key driver was to be a part of the spirit of the season, the hype and the community. Enjoying the experience was key for Marquez and the fact that he was unable to register a score was irrelevant.
As he continues on his CrossFit journey, there is one message that remains motivating: Doctors advised his lifespan would be shortened and that he would be more prone to disease because of his accident. 
“If I can stay fit and healthy and get my body on point, I will be that much ahead of the game,” he said. “If they give me a number of 30 or 40 years, I know that if I can get fit, I can add another 10, 15 or 20 years to that.”