From Injury to Ironman: the Road to Recovery and CrossFit DC

Tuesday, 7/21
July 20, 2015
Wednesday, 7/22
July 21, 2015

By CrossFit DC member Ryan M.

Ryan, snatch_IMG2789cr


2003 – Torn Left Knee ACL (Skiing – Beaver Creek, CO)

2008 – Torn Right Knee ACL (Skiing – Vail, CO)

2012 – Torn Right Knee MCL (Skiing – Whistler, British Columbia)

2014 – Torn Right Knee ACL (Skiing – Jackson Hole, WY)

Two things can be concluded after seeing this list:  1) I’m really good at finding epic places to ski, and 2) According to urban dictionary, which defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” I must be insane.

Well, they are epic places to ski, but “NO,” I am not insane.   Skiing is one of my great passions in life, and I refuse to give up something I love.

However, this is not a skiing story.  This is my story of recovery and CrossFit training as it relates to my most recent ACL reconstruction, and how that process helped me compete in the Ironman 70.3 (1.3-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) in Boulder, Colorado, 8 months to the day from when I had my 3rd reconstructive surgery.

Run - Finish Corral

Here is a bit about my journey…thus far!


Journey to CrossFit 

I started CrossFit back in February 2014 for a multitude of reasons.  Perhaps the main reason was my brother, Chris Morrison.  Back in November 2013 I competed in my second triathlon, which happened to be a highly anticipated race between my brother and me.  He crushed it.  First triathlon ever and he won a spot on the podium.

I was proud of my brother, but admittedly pissed.  I felt ready, had trained hard, and felt like I should have performed at a higher level.  I chalked up our respective finishes to the facts that 1) Chris is a bad-ass and has always been good at everything he puts his mind to, and 2) he cross-trained better than I did.  He did the triathlon specific training, but he complemented his swim/bike/run exercise routine with calculated and regimented CrossFit training.

I needed something different to complement my triathlon training regimen.  In addition to this, and like so many others who eventually find CrossFit, I found the gym dull, and the routine tiring.  I struggled to find a variety of meaningful strength and cross-training methods that could build me into a stronger triathlete.


That brought me to the doors of CrossFit DC, looking for the cross-training that I was missing.

I finished the introductory Elements class and was a bit intimidated about jumping into the open-level CrossFit classes.  Not because I felt like I could not engage in the training, but because I worried that I would embarrass myself.

After my first regular CrossFit DC class, I quickly realized embarrassment and intimidation are two things one need not worry about at this gym, not with the wonderful coaches and people that also call this place “home.”  I was hooked, and I dug in deep to try and make CrossFit a meaningful supplement to my triathlon training.


Back to the Drawing Board

Everything was going swimmingly right up until my ski trip to Jackson Hole in March 2014, roughly one month after starting at CFDC.  I was having a ball with my brother and some college buddies getting crazy in the mountains like we had done for so many years.  The problem with this trip?  I always revert back to thinking I am some sort of pro skier when I am charging hard down the slopes with my brother and college buddies.  The result?  I blew my third ACL.

I came home actually not thinking much of it, but knowing in the back of my head that something had popped in my knee.  I knew the sensation, the swelling, and the pain all too well.  The real issue was that my first Ironman 70.3 race was only a short 3 months away in June 2014.  I was in denial so I refused to go get a checkup and kept powering through training in pursuit of my half Ironman goal.

Bike 2 - Side Shot

The half Ironman came; I raced, and posted a pretty decent time for my first attempt at this distance.  Post-race, I knew that at some point I needed to get my knee checked out.  So, I headed in for yet another MRI to get the diagnosis.

Sure enough: torn right ACL.  I have no idea how I managed to race with a torn ACL.  Maybe my body had adapted somehow to the trauma since it was becoming a frequent occurrence.  Anyhow, it was upsetting.  Rehabbing a torn ACL is a real pain in the ass, and it takes a long time and patience.   I had aspirations of doing more half Ironman races and putting a full distance Ironman race on my calendar in 2015, and this news was definitely throwing a wrench in those plans.

So, I started mapping out my surgery, rehab, training, and race plans for 2015 to see if the races I wanted to accomplish would be feasible.  I would spend the summer and early fall getting strong, something CFDC would play an integral part in accomplishing.  I would have surgery in October, rest for a couple of months, focus on PT and rehab during that time, then start building my base strength at CFDC so I could slide right into the late winter and early spring with my triathlon training.

Aggressive?  Maybe.  But I knew that with the coaching I would get at CFDC, reaching these goals would be possible.



I spent the remaining summer months and early fall of 2014 getting strong and building as much strength as possible prior to going under the knife.

The coaches at CFDC monitored my strength building closely during this time and I spent a lot of time listening and learning from them, the importance of good form in every exercise or movement you are attempting.  I was especially careful given my knee’s weakness and occasional instability, but it felt comforting knowing that I was in a place where those that were teaching me, 1) knew the importance of building my strength prior to surgery, but 2) knew the importance of understanding my limits given my occasional moments of knee instability.  With many months of solid strength and muscle building complete, I had ACL reconstructive surgery on 10/13/14.

Post-operative rehab is frustrating, but all the work I put in pre-surgery paid off.  Per my PT and doctors, just by virtue of the effort I put in at CFDC getting strong prior to surgery, I was well ahead of schedule from a rehabilitation perspective.

As such, I was back in at CFDC, ready to start pushing the envelope a bit with my rehab, just 6 weeks post-op.  The coaches were very cautious with me, many times actually asking that I “stand down” from some of the workouts that I was eagerly wanting to be a part of.  In lieu of being able to participate in some of the workouts and movements, the coaches spent time with me emphasizing the importance of mobility training and stretching.  I had a hamstring graft taken to repair my ACL, so the stretching and mobility were critical in getting my leg ready for an increased workload.

As time passed and with my strength progressing, so too did the programming adjustments that the coaches gave me so that I could slowly and safely start getting back into the meaningful parts of my base-building phase. The special care for me given my situation made me realize that the coaching staff and their “Proven” mantra really are something to appreciate.  The encouragement was huge, but maybe even more important, was their ability to help me check my ego at the door so I would not hurt myself.IMG_6952

I spent 3 solid months base-building and getting as strong as I could with everyone at CFDC, and it paid off.  As planned, I moved into light triathlon-specific training in February (running and all), complemented with 3-4 days of CrossFit per week. I felt great, better than I ever had during any prior recovery and rehab phase.

When spring came, I was running, jumping, doing hard interval training and holding very little back as it relates to training.  Admittedly, the leg was still not as powerful as it was pre-surgery, but again, it takes time.  Unfortunately, rigorous triathlon training, that is, spending time in the pool, in the saddle and pounding the pavement, doesn’t allow for as much time devoted to my CrossFit training, so strength and CrossFit became more of a 1-2x per week occurrence.  Nonetheless, I had put in the hard work over the winter getting ready at CFDC so I knew my base strength was there and I was ready for the transition.


Racing Season

From here, I hired a triathlon coach, Leslie Knibb, and she started planning my road to the Boulder 70.3 race and beyond.  Being the great coach that she is, she knows the importance of cross training and ensured that my schedule always allowed for strength and power training via CrossFit in addition to targeted and meaningful triathlon discipline (swim/bike/run) training.

So, exactly 8 months to the day, I competed in my 2nd Ironman 70.3 in Boulder, CO.  With my brother there cheering me on, I PR’ed by roughly 16 minutes and put out top 20 times in my age group in both the swim and bike!  The hard work had paid off.

It was hard to imagine that 8 months prior I was doped up on the couch having just come out of surgery. But through the hard work, amazing coaching, and support of my wife Julie and the rest of family… I was back in the saddle and stronger than ever!

Swim Exit

The last phase of my plan is still to come.  I will be racing in my first full-distance Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) on 9/27/15 in Chattanooga, TN.  I am anxious to get there, but still need to get stronger and spend some time in the saddle, pool, and pounding the pavement before I get there.

In other words: CFDC, we are not done yet!


  1. Craig Arnold says:

    Awesome stuff Ryan!