"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.
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.”