The human body is resilient. Just ask 50-year-old Brian “Brig” Edwards of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Edwards recently returned home from the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games as the second fittest man in the Master’s 50-54 division.
Edwards was a competitive cyclist for more than 20 years when a car cut him off a bike lane and nearly ended his life in March 2003. He collided into the back of the car, fracturing multiple vertebrae in his neck, breaking his jaw in several places and losing most of the bone structure around his right eye and cheek. He spent two weeks in the hospital, and had several major reconstructive surgeries during the following two years.
When finally well enough to return to the road, Edwards wasn’t comfortable with the potential for another accident. “After getting myself back in cycling shape, I realized that with the hazards of cycling, I needed to find something a little safer,” he says. “I had two children at the time and could not afford to go through the same thing again.”
The accident left Edwards unable to blink his right eye, and doctors had to implant a gold weight into his eyelid to allow him to close it.
A friend introduced Edwards to CrossFit about five years ago and he proceeded to set up a gym in his garage. He’s been training by himself ever since, following the CrossFit.com programming.
“When I first started to do some of the CrossFit WODs, there were only a few affiliates nationwide, and I was not aware of any near me, so I really did not have much of a choice at first,” he says. “When I finally started to take it seriously three years ago or so, I was so used to training in my garage that I never thought about joining a box.
“Because I train out of my garage, I think most people in the neighborhood think I have a screw loose in my head when they see me, at 50 years old, running down the street carrying a 45-pound plate or holding a sandbag over my head,” he says. “I usually try to keep all my WODs confined to my garage area so I can partially shut the door, and no one can really see what I am doing. Then I do not have to worry that everyone is thinking there is a lunatic running down the street.”
Edwards has primarily followed the main site for his programming, and almost everything he has learned about CrossFit has come from watching online videos. Some may find it difficult to stay motivated when training alone, but not Edwards.
“Motivation has never been a problem for me. I just go as hard as my body will allow me and always keep track of my times so I have a time to shoot for the next time around,” he says.
In preparation for the Games, Edwards focused on gaining strength and working on his technique for the Olympic lifts. He veered off course from his normal main site programming by adding Rudy Nielsen’s Outlaw Way to his regimen. He credits this for new PRs on his back squat, snatch, deadlift and power clean. “I wish I had found the Outlaw Way sooner because I do feel like I am getting stronger and developing better technique from performing the lifts often.”
He is pleased with his second place finish at the Games this year and says competing at that level was an unbelievable experience. “I have competed in various events over the years, mainly cycling, but never in an environment like the Games. The size of the crowd, even for the Masters, was more than I had ever experienced,” he says. “It was still difficult after the Games to explain to outsiders what exactly the Games are, and most could not appreciate the time and effort it takes to compete at that level.”
Edwards was surprised when many Games competitors and fans alike knew who he was.
“It was also quite a humbling experience having many competitors and spectators come up to me and mention that they had recognized me from my Open videos and enjoyed watching me on the videos,” Edwards says. “I did not initially realize that I was the only one in the top 20 (in his age group) who had submitted videos during the Open, and I was the only one who trained solo out of my garage.”
Edwards considers Masters an “untapped market” that will continue to grow. He appreciates the increasing number of local competitions that include a Masters category and is hopeful there will be more sponsorship opportunities for Masters competitors in the future. “I don’t think any of us are looking to make a living doing this, but just getting some of our expenses covered for some of the big events, like the Games, would be nice,” Edwards says. “There is still a huge untapped market with my generation of people who are looking to stay fit, and some of us in the Masters categories would make good spokesmen for clothing companies, supplement companies or any CrossFit related companies.”
Edwards still feels the effects of his accident due to the nerve damage he suffered around his right eye. Being unable to blink that eye forces him to wear glasses rather than contact lenses during workouts and also causes vision impairment. Edwards said the weight inserted by the doctor means he can close it, but it also has drawbacks. “When doing double-unders or box jumps, the weight typically causes my eyelid to actually bounce up and down giving me little control over the opening and closing of the right eye. I also have some double vision when I look down or to the side, which also makes doing certain things a little tricky,” he says.
Being thrown off the road that fateful day on the bike created a new course.
“As bad as the accident was and the problems I still have to deal with as a result of the accident, if it wasn’t for the accident, I would probably still be cycling and would have never found CrossFit. This is difficult to imagine given the passion I have for this way of life,” Edwards says.
Edwards continues to train by himself in his garage and hopes to continue to get better and to stay healthy in CrossFit. “I know the time will come when all of my times and lifts will no longer improve, but I want to prolong that as long as possible.”