How Strength Training Is Helping This Adaptive Athlete Prepare for the Ironman® World Championship

Imagine later today you’re walking around as normal, then out of nowhere you’re struck by a car and the life that you’ve become adapted to living changes in a split second. You wake up in a hospital bed being told that you’ll never be able to run, walk, lift, or compete again. What would you do as a strength athlete? This could happen to anyone, and it did for Jonathon Lopez.

To date, Lopez has completed 13 Spartan™ race courses, runs marathons for the Achilles Freedom Team, and is a future Ironman® competitor. Did I mention he only has one arm? Earlier in his life, Lopez had served a total of seven years in the military, living his purpose in an effort to serve others.

It was during the middle of his time serving when he was struck by a drunk driver. He woke up in the hospital to find that seven parts of his leg had been broken and he had lost an arm, along with suffering several other serious injuries. He was told he would never be able to walk again under his own power, let alone run or lift.

He spent almost two years of his life in a bed at the military hospital in Washington D.C., Maryland after the accident. He was not only forced to deal with the injuries, but he was also faced with separation from the military. Something he had found his purpose in was now fading.

He had become a part of the military, understanding that death and injury were a part of the job, but he was there to serve and help others. This life-altering injury infuriated him because someone else’s recklessness took away from his ability to serve his life’s purpose. When asked how he dealt with this, Lopez admitted,

“I knew I was upset and angry constantly at everything; I didn’t realize I was depressed.”

After the realization of his injuries, his mental health took a turn. Doctors were prescribing him medications to cope with the pain. He never saw a problem with it because his doctors said it’s what he needed. It wasn’t until he had to stop taking them that he realized he was addicted. He turned to other drugs as a way to cope.

Four years later, he attempted suicide.

His wake up call came when his son was born. He felt a new purpose, and decided to get back on his feet and re-learn basic movements like walking to be fully mobile for his son. He didn’t want his own physical limitations to create limitations for his son and his growth.

His first steps to doing so were spent swimming and attempting to walk on his own. He ignored the limitations that were set for him and worked as if they were not there at all. Eventually he attempted to ride a bike. It was at this point he realized he could probably get back into the gym again… and he did.

The more he got back into feeling himself again, the more the depression began to fade, although he still continued to struggle. As a former military member with a competitive side to him, he realized during his journey to physical and mental recovery that,

“Fitness doesn’t have to be at a competitive level. Every day you just need to work to be better than you were yesterday.”

And that’s how Lopez, a man who was never meant to walk again, has competed in 13 Spartan races (with more coming) and runs marathons (26.2 miles). If that’s not impressive enough, he is also in-training for an Ironman, which is a total of 146 miles of running, biking, and swimming.

His motivation for this new Ironman goal came from his military friend, Tito. Lopez’ friend Tito had seven combative deployments, earned five purple hearts, and broke the world record for the longest distance run while wearing a gas mask for 100 miles.

His code name was “Unbreakable.” Check out this video below on Tito.

Around October 2017, Lopez got a call from a family member saying that Tito had been hit by a driver and had passed away. Lopez and Tito’s last conversation was the week prior, and they talked about future plans in running an Ironman. An Ironman consists of a 3 mile swim, 116 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run all within 15-hours. Tito was never able to make that run.

In honor of him, Lopez’ future plans are to complete the full 146 miles for Tito. He’s been invited to race in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii on October 13, 2018. It was also on the phone that Lopez and I both realized that the World Championships are right around the date of Tito’s passing, only one year later.

What better way to honor a life than running a race most doctors said was would be impossible?

Feature image from @lopez.oew Instagram page.