April 2, 2012
Purple Heart Recipient Takes on the Open
By Chris Strauss

Chris Migliaro’s first-ever CrossFit WOD took place on a roof in Baghdad.

Stationed in Iraq in 2007, the former hockey player for the United States Military Academy at West Point, took on Fran under a setting sun with a clear view of Saddam Hussein’s palace in the background. And he hated it.

“I tried doing pull-ups strict and was smoked after the first set,” Migliaro recalls. “I was like, ‘That’s CrossFit, huh?’ and never thought about it again.”

Not for another few years, at least. After incorporating a weekly CrossFit workout into his training for the Army’s Best Ranger competition prior to his deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009, Migliaro started to become a convert. With plenty of downtime to look forward to between missions, the infantry company commander decided to spend his entire year, which would be spent at a remote FOB on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, dedicating himself to CrossFit.

“I did it everyday, often two times a day,” Migliaro, 29, says. “We had six people doing it at the beginning and 50 to 60 guys per day by the end of the deployment.”

Migliaro started programming the workouts himself and the group would improvise certain equipment, crafting a medicine ball with sand and duct tape and using dumbbells instead of kettlebells. That dedication to fitness helped Migliaro get through his yearlong tour and may have helped him escape much more.

“My last day in Afghanistan, I was going home in six hours and had an automatic grenade round land right behind me,” he says.

"My wife said ‘Maybe you should start working out again. You’re miserable, your energy level is low and you’re not the same person.’ It struck a chord with me."

He avoided major injury, but was hospitalized after losing some vision and having pieces of metal shrapnel strike the back of his skull. During that attack, he carried a wounded colleague to the nearest aid station, an act of valor for which he received his second Purple Heart.

After recovering, he finished out his final year in the military in Colorado, where he joined a local affiliate for six months until the birth of his premature son shortly before the end of his enlistment limited his training. Migliaro moved back to the East Coast, settling in the Stamford, Conn., area and finding a job with Cintas last spring. Yet he left his fitness routine in the military.

“I didn’t do anything. I had all my equipment on the back porch of my house and I took a hiatus from working out,” he admits. “I don’t know what caused me to do it, but I did. I took from May to October off and didn’t do anything. I was in the worst shape. I was driving 70 minutes each way to work. By the end of September my wife said ‘Maybe you should start working out again. You’re miserable, your energy level is low and you’re not the same person.’ It struck a chord with me.”

Migliaro connected with Kurt Garceau of North Haven CrossFit, a former hockey teammate of Migliaro’s brother. Garceau got him going at their box and after two weeks, Migliaro found himself training there every day.

“It’s changed my life since October. Got me back on track and I’m the same person I was before,” he says. “It’s hard to believe that just going to a gym can change your life. I went from being outdoors, Type A, infantry guy to sitting behind a desk. That’s what resulted in me needing to do something outside of work. I wasn’t getting the excitement at work everyday and the same camaraderie.”

Participating in the Open, he’s also found a challenge in each of the Open Workouts, setting individual goals for each five and meeting four of them, as he made the mistake of setting too fast of an initial pace on the 12.1 burpees.

He ended up with 95 burpees. On the next workout, 12.2's snatches, he recorded two snatches at 165-lb. Migliaro's regional performance improved again on 12.3, when he notched 314 reps, taking 379th place in the region. While he didn't submit a performance for 12.4, he did complete 98 reps on 12.5.

Whether it’s an Open Workout, a Hero WOD or even a regular workout, Migliaro makes it a point of honoring his fallen comrades every time he’s at North Haven CrossFit. The workout “Tyler,” is named after Tyler Parten, a fellow West Point grad who was stationed in his unit. He wears a bracelet to commemorate a fallen college hockey teammate and has four initials on the back of his shoes that signify lost members of his company.

“When I’ve got my head down and I’m looking through my legs the first thing I see is their initials and it reminds me to stand up and keep going,” Migliaro says.

Both of Migliaro’s siblings (brother Michael, who is stationed in Oklahoma and his sister Carissa, a nurse) are now participating in CrossFit and he has started planning ways to get his affiliate more involved in Wounded Warriors, another group he’s heavily invested in.

In May, North Haven CrossFit will host a “Battle of the Forces,” in which current and past members of each military branch, along with fire and police departments compete to see which one is the fittest. Proceeds will go to the Wounded Warriors. A wounded warrior himself, Migliaro still suffers residual headaches from his injuries and often struggles with sleep issues.

“If I could get a solid eight hours of sleep, I could probably improve my deadlift by 10 or 15 pounds,” Migliaro laughs. “I feel like I never recovered enough. It is what it is.”