It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” —Rocky Balboa
Some stories are defined transformation, while others are defined by inspiration, but for firefighter and CrossFitter Frank Storey, his is a tale of DETERMINATION.
Frank grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida, a beachside town on the Southeast coast. “There were seven kids in the house,” he recalls. “We played outside, rode three-wheelers, and ate beenie weenies and mac and cheese.” Frank was an active kid, and found his outlet in athletics. He dabbled in wrestling, but when he discovered cross country, he found his calling.
Running gave Frank focus; it gave him a goal. He loved to push himself and fought hard to be the best. The miles of training required calories, however, and his coaches wanted him to keep his intake up. “I was skinny,” Frank says. “They wanted me to eat.” These were the days of the carbohydrate craze, and runners were at the epicenter of the movement. The pre-race ritual revolved around plates of spaghetti, but despite all the carbs, he still kept his six-pack. “Those days, I could eat anything and still kept a normal weight,” he recalls. “It wasn’t a struggle.”
At the age of 17, and with his parents’ permission, Frank enlisted in the Marine Corps, and thanks to his high school running habit, the notoriously difficult boot camp running regimen didn’t throw him for a loop. In fact, he gained 29 pounds, weight he attributes to simple chow-hall food and a steady diet of calisthenics. After boot camp, Frank went into active duty, working as a welder in Okinawa, Japan, during Operation Desert Storm. Aside from driving on the wrong side of the road a few times, and eating a live squid, Frank’s time there was uneventful, and when his deployment ended, he moved back to Fort Pierce.
Back in the States and out of the military, Frank’s attention turned to bodybuilding. He began working out daily at a gym called Nature’s Way, and eventually added over 60 pounds of bulk to his frame. His diet included six full meals a day, in addition to an entire loaf of bread as a snack. “I’d tear the crust off, ball it up and eat the whole loaf,” he recalls. “I was big, but I wasn’t very lean!”
One fateful afternoon, Frank decided he was going to do something he hadn’t done since he was a kid, and attempted to ride a mountain bike off a picnic table. “I slammed into the ground shoulder first,” he recalls. “That pretty much put an end to my bodybuilding career.”
Frank’s injury kept his arm in a sling for nine weeks, but as soon as it healed, he began looking for ways to work out again. With pumping iron out of the picture, he went back to the basic bodyweight exercises he had learned in boot camp. By this time, Frank was working as a corrections officer, and he’d heard about a competition called the Toughest Cop Alive (TCA).
Organized by the International Law Enforcement Games, the TCA contest encompasses eight separate events: a 5K run, the shot put, a 100-meter sprint, a 100-meter freestyle swim, a 20-foot rope climb, the bench press, a pull-up contest and a 200-meter obstacle course. Frank trained an entire year for the TCA, and ended up winning the pull-up and rope climb portions of the event.
Encouraged by his results, he immediately started preparations for the following year’s event, but during an afternoon practice, disaster struck. He had set up an obstacle course in his neighborhood, which included a wall that he used to vault over. On every other day, the ground behind the wall was flat. On this day, there was a hole. By the time he leaped over, it was too late to change course. Frank’s ankle rolled to the outside, and although he didn’t realize it at the time, he had suffered an “eversion” sprain.
Also known as a medial ankle sprain, the injury involves damage to the deltoid ligament on the medial (inside) edge of the ankle. Eversion sprains are rare, as the leg bone itself usually breaks before the deltoid ligament does. “I was in a walking boot for three months before I could even start rehab,” Frank recalls. “It probably would have been easier if I had broken my ankle.”
Frank spent months working with a physical therapist, doing stretches and ankle rotations, and working with resistance bands. Determined to stay in shape even while rehabbing his ankle, Frank continued to do whatever exercises he could. “I couldn’t run,” he recalls, “but I was still doing push-ups, sit-ups. I didn’t give up.”
For several years after his ankle injury, Frank’s competitive juices had stalled. He was working out, but in more of a holding- pattern than a focused program. When a friend mentioned that he was taking jiu-jitsu classes, Frank decided to give it a shot and signed up at the American Top Team (ATT). An offshoot of the legendary Brazilian Top Team, ATT is home to numerous professional MMA fighters and jiu-jitsu players. “It’s like a chess match,” Frank explains. “You solve problems and get excited when you learn something new.”
But after several years, and numerous broken toes, broken fingers and injured elbows, Frank decided that it was time to hang up his jiu-jitsu belt. “My son was getting older,” he explains. “I wanted to focus on being with him more.” At the same time, Frank’s career was also going through changes. His sister-in-law was a firefighter, and the pay and benefits were appealing. He enrolled in the Fire Academy, studied hard and landed a spot in the St. Lucie County Fire Department.
By this time, the TCA contest had expanded to include both firefighters and law enforcement officers. Determined to compete again, Frank set his sights on another run at the TCA and began training. When the day of the TCA arrived, Frank completed event after event without incident, until he got to the obstacle course. “At the end of the obstacle course, there is a sprint with a hurdle,” Frank recalls. “I went over, and when I landed, my foot rolled to the inside, the same injury as before.”
Another long recovery period followed, and with time on his hands, Frank’s attention wandered. While searching the Internet one day, he learned about a new workout trend called CrossFit. It piqued his interest, and after gathering together some rusty barbells and homemade medicine balls, Frank was ready to try it.
For the next 12 months, Frank CrossFitted in his garage. Eventually, his firefighter buddies started coming over. They would look up the WOD on CrossFit.com and train together, which got them results for a while. When the group started to outgrow their DIY equipment, Frank decided to sign up at a local box called CrossFit Fort Pierce.
“That first workout whipped my ass,” Frank recalls. “I did FRAN and thought I was going to die at the end of it, but I kept coming back.” He was sold on the social aspect of the gym, the friends he made and the positive, encouraging atmosphere. One of his personal mottos is “Hang out with people you want to be like,” and at CrossFit Fort Pierce, Frank found kindred spirits who could match his own drive and intensity.
It was at his CrossFit gym that Frank also learned about Paleo. “I was drinking diet Monster drinks, coffee with sugar in it, and I cut all that out,” he recalls. “The first week was tough, but you get used to it.” His nutritional regimen focused on eggs, almonds, fish, chicken, steak, asparagus and sweet potatoes, and he quickly began to see results. “Your clothes get looser, your insides feel good, you sleep good,” he says. “I feel great now.”
In typical Frank fashion, CrossFitting alone wasn’t enough to scratch his competitive itch. He enlisted in the National Guard and, at the age of 44, competes against 20-year-olds in the annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). “They have us do a 2-mile run, sit-ups and push-ups,” Frank says. “These guys are quite a bit younger than me, and I should probably be retired at my age, but I’ve had the best PFT score in my unit the past few years.”
Frank’s family also has a competitive streak. His 14-year-old son CrossFits, wrestles in school and is an ATV racer. Frank’s girlfriend, who he nicknamed “Linda Carter” after TV’s Wonder Woman, is also a CrossFitter.
When asked why he trains as hard as he does, Frank says, “It’s not for looks. I want my son to be able to look up to me and know I’m going to be there for him.”
- Sayih J. “Toughest Cop Alive.” 911 Fitness. Fall 1999. http://www.911fitness.com/corner/articles/toughcop.htm
- “Eversion Ankle Sprain.” Sportsinjuryclinic.net. http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/ankle-achilles-shin-pain/eversion-ankle-sprain
- “American Top Team.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Top_Team
- “World Police and Fire Games.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Police_and_Fire_Games