Derick Carver counted the somersaults as he flew through the air. One, two, three…four of them, and then he landed right on his ass. It wasn’t the Hollywood way. Things never slowed down or froze or went black. Carver saw, felt, and heard every detail the day his platoon was ambushed in Afghanistan, eight miles outside Kandahar.

He and the 40 army soldiers he was leading were there to open a school the Taliban had shut down after a village elder had allowed girls to attend.

Refusal To Quit

Shortly after landing, Carver assessed the damage. His trigger finger had been ripped off by the force of the blast. Half of his right thigh was gone, his left leg was lost, and his left elbow was torn up. Rather than tend to his own wounds, he turned the medic away to deal with other soldiers, called in the report by radio, and continued to direct his men to engage.

“A lieutenant can die on the ground, and it’s a little bit of a loss because [he has a lot of training], but it’s nowhere near as because you panicked,” Carver says. “You make sure the mission is completed.”

Once he was in the hospital recovering, doctors told him it would be three years before he could get in the gym and start training again. For Carver, this wasn’t an option. Before that day in Afghanistan, he could deadlift more than 700 pounds. He had also started CrossFit to increase his conditioning for military deployment.

A month after the injury, he eased in slowly, doing pull-ups and dips, eventually working up to the bench press—and much more in the months that followed.

Deadlifting 405 lbs. 

It’s now been just over three years since the injury. If Carver, who retired as a captain, had listened to doctors, he’d only now be getting clearance to hit the gym. Instead, he’s deadlifting 405 (225 without the prosthesis), benching 515, and inspiring people with a video of his work at a CrossFit competition at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH, this past March. He also opened his own gym, Bayonet CrossFit, in Shelby Township, MI, where he pushes people to improve their lives with military-style CrossFit workouts.

“This is my opportunity to help people change their lives,” Carver says. “I know that sounds stupid. But if you’re willing to put forth the effort, you will be successful. There’s just no room for failure.”

At last report, that Afghani school eight miles from Kandahar was still open, and the village had been declared “green,” or friendly, by the U.S. military. Carver, meanwhile, is on to his next objective.

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