Sometime around the first of May, I took over the strongman program at Body Armor CrossFit. With it came several yokes, axles, farmers, a load of stones and tires, and a handful of members wanting to learn…and lift heavy. Several were still young and resilient, a few older with nagging injuries, and one, an amputee named Shawn Shick. I was thoroughly impressed by all of the athletes as they would take on just about anything I threw at them. Many times, as they sat exhausted in a pile of sweat, I would congratulate them on working out with novice women’s weight, two weeks later lightweight women’s weight. They would return the following week more determined than ever.
In a matter of months, we saw deadlift numbers go up, grips get stronger, stones get bigger, and other event weights get heavier. When I decided to put together a strongman competition with United States Strongman, the two younger guys in the group immediately started talking about the possibility of competing. As word spread and excitement grew around the gym, members began to volunteer, and a few more entries came in, including one from the first woman to take on my strongman class.
I met Shawn for the first time while visiting the class, prior to taking it over. He had just returned from a mountain bike accident that left him sidelined for more than six months. He was one of the first people to walk over and introduce himself, had a great sense of humor, and pulled some pretty heavy deads that day. Shawn attended class just about every Tuesday, with additional training on the weekends when I could be there to open the gym. As the competition got close, we rarely went a day without discussing the events; from how to get quicker on the yoke, to deadlift alternatives, to making the continental clean a “go to” lift for overhead events. I could tell he really wanted to compete, but he knew that he would not be able to compete in his weight class. He signed up to work at the event, and the following week I suggested creating an adaptive weight class. The comp was just four days away, but with the progress he had been making, and confidence he already possessed, Shawn would have no trouble competing.
Shawn grew up on the East coast in Fairfax, Virginia. He was an athletic kid who participated in football and wrestling, and became an avid runner as he got older. At age 18, Shawn joined the Army. He was deployed three times, first to the Persian Gulf, then to Panama and Haiti. For each deployment, soldiers are immunized against a number of diseases they may encounter while overseas. Seven years and three deployments later, at the age of 25, Shawn contracted Meningococcemia, a bacterial meningitis and potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream, for which he had been vaccinated three different times. This resulted in Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), and the loss of his left leg below the knee, as well as his right foot below the ankle.
After becoming an amputee, Shawn returned to a mainstream gym a few days a week in attempt to simply stay active. In 2013, he decided to give CrossFit a try, and found he loved the community and support of his fellow crossfitters. While he looked forward to the heavier lifting days, the repetitive body weighted exercises and running left a lot to be desired. The introduction of a strongman class brought excitement back to his workout, and he finally felt like he found something in which he could be competitive. And he proved this to be true in his first competition, SATX Strongest, on August 15th. The first time he put a yoke on his back, 300lbs for 20ft was a struggle. In his first event as a competitor, he hauled 410lbs for 80ft in less than twenty-five seconds. His first stone loading attempt was 120lbs, but on this day, he loaded 167lbs six times over a 42″ bar without tacky. Shawn also saw an increase on his continental clean as he was able to clean 225lbs, followed quickly by an easy push press.
Shawn’s limitations are few as far as event training. Occasionally, he will incorporate a modification in his technique, and spends far more gym hours perfecting his technique than your average strongman. He will typically train box squats over back squats due to an imbalance with his prosthetic, and has seen more success pulling from the floor with a trap bar. His lone deficiency, he will admit, is his leg strength, as he relies heavily on the non-prosthetic leg to bear more of the load on specific lifts, such as the deadlift. This has caused hamstring issues in the past, but he is focusing on evening out his leg strength so it will not be an issue in the future.
Up next for Shawn is a qualifier competition in Ohio for a spot at the World’s Strongest Disabled Man. He knows there is a lot of work to do in the coming months in order to compete at the next level, but he is ready and committed to the challenge. And his fellow strongmen and women at Body Armor will be there to push him every step of the way.
The possibilities are endless for this 44 year old amputee.