By John Chambless
Each time Larry Perry lifts weights at the Crossfit gym in Toughkenamon, he takes another step toward optimum fitness, and another step away from the day when he almost died.
On Oct. 25, 2006, Perry was on his second tour of duty, riding with two other soldiers in a truck in Haditha, Iraq, when they were hit with an explosive device. The other two men were killed, and Perry, a 24-year-old Navy corpsman, sustained massive injuries, including a shattered elbow, a broken back, broken ribs, a fractured left kneecap and severe burns and cuts. Thirty surgeries have put him back on track, but he still battles the damage to his knees and his arm.
Perry, a Cecil County native, has lived in Oxford since 2012 with his wife and two children, ages 5 and 1. Since his return to civilian life, he has worked to stay fit, and he particularly enjoys the supportive atmosphere offered at Crossfit locations. He found the Toughkenamon branch of the gym last April and quickly became part of the family, according to gym owner John Wallen.
“Our classes are a hybrid of group classes and personal training,” Wallen said. “We cap our classes at no more than 10 people per class. It’s an intense mix of constantly varied exercise. The big thing about Crossfit is the community.”
Wallen saw that Perry had trouble with stability when lifting weights. Perry’s elbow joint was removed as a result of recurring infections, and while there is still muscle tone, he cannot keep the barbell steady.
“We do a lot of overhead movements,” Wallen said, “and I was a little worried that he might get a little imbalanced. We talked about it, and the muscles are still there, it was just the problem with the instability. Now, I’m no engineer, I’m a lawyer. What I came up with is the crudest thing, but it works.”
His adaptation is two wooden boards that are attached to the weight rack, extending upward so that the weights do not wobble to the front or back when Perry is lifting them. The device doesn’t prevent others from using the equipment and guarantees that Perry can’t drop the weights.
Perry said he hasn’t had therapy for his arm in the past couple of years, but he knows he has to keep working out to keep the limb strong. “I wanted to show my kids a healthy lifestyle by keeping in shape,” he said. “I started with golf in 2008. In 2010, I started doing triathlons. In 2012, I did an Iron Man triathlon. Then I came to Crossfit in April 2013.”
“The Crossfit community sticks together,” Wallen said. “We have military, we have mushroom farmers, we have bankers, teachers, lawyers -- everybody from all walks of life. They come here with the common goal of getting in the best shape of their lives, and we all become friends. We leave our egos at the door.”
Perry said he’s at the gym almost every day. His wife often joins him, bringing their youngest daughter to the gym during his afternoon workouts.
“In terms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, one of the things that’s important is bringing people back into a community,” Perry said. “I was a Navy corpsman stationed with the Marines, and you’re a family while you’re out there. A lot of the veteran organizations try to get people back into the community, with veterans and civilians interacting with one another in camaraderie. Crossfit is the one place where the last person working out gets the loudest cheers. If you go to a regular gym, no one’s cheering you on. Here, everyone sticks around until the last person is done. I have a family right here.
“ I try to push myself to do what I can do,” he continued. “When I have to scale something down to do it one-armed or whatever, I try to do whatever I can do. If I can’t, I ask John what I can do instead.”
While his injuries are a daily reminder of that day in 2006, Perry said, “I don’t curse the people that did it. I was put there at that place, at that time, for some unknown reason. I was the only survivor. I lost two guys who were with me. I have a feeling of completion about this whole injury. I know that one day I’ll see my buddies again. You can only live one day at a time. You just have to set a goal and go after it.”
Given how close Perry came to death, his determination to succeed is stronger than ever.
“The doctors said, as soon as I was coherent in the hospital, ‘You might never walk again.’ So I set out to prove that I would walk out of the hospital, which I did,” Perry said. “I pushed myself, and I’m not done. I assure you there will be something else that I want to do.”