BY EMILY BEERS
At 10:30 p.m. on August 18, 2014, Matt LeBorgne clocked out of work.
The next thing he remembers is waking up in a wheelchair and seeing his wife.
“I asked her, ‘Why am I here?’ And she answered, ‘You had a motorcycle accident,’” said LeBorgne, 43.
He suffered brain damage amongst a host of other injuries, including a brain hemorrhage and a broken elbow. After the accident, LeBorgne fell into a coma for two weeks.
“Nobody knows exactly what happened, but they found me in the parking lot of my work,” said LeBorgne, who worked as a building maintenance officer at the time.
“I might have gotten hit. Nobody knows. All I know is I punched out of work, got on my motorcycle, then drove 100 feet. That’s where they found me unconscious,” he added. He was wearing a helmet.
Since then, LeBorgne, a father of three, has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. He spent the three years after the accident in physical therapy relearning how to walk, talk and eat, and the brain damage took a toll on his memory. He often forgets conversations he had the day before and remembers little of the months leading up to the accident.
“My wife mentioned our two dogs one day, but I thought we only had one. We got the second one before the accident, but I had no memory of it,” said LeBorgne.
He added: “My short-term memory is totally gone, to be honest. That’s what’s most frustrating about everything.”
He also grew bored and frustrated with the exercises doctors and physiotherapists prescribed for him. They didn’t seem to be help, he said, and he was still in constant pain. He felt useless.
“My left arm is always in pain—from my shoulder and down my arm—from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep,” he said. “The best way to describe the entire left side of my body is that it has ADHD. It does whatever it wants. My head tries to tell my left arm and left leg to move right, but it does what it wants to.”
After the accident, LeBorgne had to relearn basic life skills. Despite physical therapy, he remained in pain. (Courtesy of Matt LeBorgne)
Then one day in 2018, LeBorgne and his wife drove by CrossFit TLA in Southwick, Massachusetts.
“The doors were open and people were working out, and I was like, ‘Whoa, what is that?’” LeBorgne remembered. “My doctor was always trying to get me to do more rehab, so we stopped in and talked to the owner.”
LeBorgne was straightforward about his limitations.
“The first thing I said to Mark was, ‘I can’t do much. I can’t jump rope. I can’t jump on boxes. I can’t do much at all,’” LeBorgne said of his first conversation with CrossFit TLA owner Mark Hardy.
But after just five months of consistent CrossFit, LeBorgne found himself doing all that and more: jumping with a skipping rope, jumping on 20-inch boxes and even cycling burpees together with ease.
“When I first got here, I could barely do a burpee. They were the ugliest burpees you’ve ever seen,” he said, crediting Hardy with giving him the confidence to pursue new goals.
“Mark always says, ‘No, I think you can do it,’” LeBorgne said. “And every time he has told me I’m ready to do something, he has been right.”
Hardy helps LeBorgne with more than just the physical challenges of CrossFit. As a consequence of the brain damage, LeBorgne struggles to add numbers together.
“So Mark is always there telling me how much weight to put on the bar,” he said. “I feel bad because he’s always helping me out. He’s always there for me, supporting me.”
Hardy dismissed the notion that LeBorgne is a burden.
“I find it rewarding to help anyone. With Matt, it’s a special kind of reward. … Seeing his progress in the gym in just a few months is the big reward,” said Hardy.
Hardy takes pride in LeBorgne’s improvements in balance and coordination but said LeBorgne is no different from any other new client who wants to improve his or her fitness.
“His journey has looked like anyone’s journey with starting a new fitness regime, not knowing the movements, the names. … He is capable of doing a lot of the typical movements,” he said.
Just as he does for many others who show up deconditioned and weak, Hardy employs basic scaling principles when coaching LeBorgne, such as using lighter weights and modifying movements. Back squats become box squats; walking lunges become stationary lunges with support.
Training LeBorgne is no different from training any other athlete, said coach Mark Hardy. Simply follow CrossFit’s charter of mechanics, consistency and then intensity. (Courtesy of Mark Hardy)
As LeBorgne’s body strengthens, so does his mind. He recently rode a bicycle for the first time since his accident—something he said he wouldn’t have had the confidence to try before CrossFit—and doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“I assumed I’d never be able to skate again, but now I’m hopeful I’ll eventually be able to skate again,” said LeBorgne, who used to play hockey and coach high-school hockey teams. “And I’m in Vermont right now, and I drove four hours to get here. I never would have driven for four hours before I was doing CrossFit.”
His optimism is in sharp contrast from his outlook pre-CrossFit.
“Just talk to my wife. She would tell you I was like Eeyore before—just down on life all the time. I’m 100 times different now,” LeBorgne said.
“And a lot has to do with CrossFit. It has given me the confidence to try things, and to be able to think, ‘Hell yeah, I’m going to be able to do it.’ I feel unstoppable.”
About the Author: Emily Beers is a CrossFit Journal contributor and coach at CrossFit Vancouver. She finished 37th at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Cover image: Courtesy of Mark Hardy
From: CrossFit Journal