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K.C. Mitchell doesn’t want our pity. He’s spent enough time wallowing in his own, and he’s over it. Before the 242-lb powerlifter, dubbed “That 1 Leg Monster,” began decimating able-bodied competitors on the platform in 2015, he wandered down an all-too-familiar path many military folks traverse: addiction.
The downturn can be traced to April 3, 2010. Mitchell, an Army staff sergeant on his second tour in Afghanistan, was on patrol with his unit when they drove over an explosive device. Lying in the dirt and bleeding out, Mitchell had no idea where he was. When he came to, “I wasn’t able to move. I ended up being in a hospital bed for the next four months,” he recalls.
His ankle was fractured, his right knee was shattered, and both legs were shrouded in third-degree burns. Worse yet, Mitchell still had to decide what to do about his left leg: endure years of agony and physical therapy or amputate.
In November 2010, Mitchell made an “easy decision.” “I saw other amputees doing well at the hospital,” he explains. “I knew with the amount of pain that I was in that I would be better off [amputating the leg].” It took three years and more than 30 surgeries for Mitchell to reach a point when he was ready to rejoin the Army, but his injuries proved too severe. He was presented with the Purple Heart—a bittersweet moment for him—and chose to retire. With his body taken from him and his career cut short, Mitchell spiraled into depression. To cope, he became a shut-in and popped painkillers, existing but not living.
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“I was just using them to put myself in a whole other place because I was depressed,” he admits.
Mitchell reached the bottom of his dispirited abyss on a trip to Disneyland for his daughter’s third birthday. Every step through “the Happiest Place on Earth” was sad and painful. He couldn’t make it a block before having to sit down to catch his breath and pop more pills.“The next thing you know, I was walking around as high as a kite. It ruined the whole trip,” Mitchell says. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m sorry…I’m going to fix this.’ As soon as I got home, I went to my medicine cabinet and dumped every pain pill that I had down the toilet.”
Then he adopted a strict diet and workout regimen. After months of clean eating and hitting the weights, his steps became more fluid, he could walk farther, and he was starting to look like a powerful lifter instead of a couch potato. After joining Metroflex Gym in Long Beach, CA, where a lot of his YouTube “idols” trained, Mitchell’s outlook on lifting morphed from his treatment to his obsession, which was to inspire people like they inspired him. While attending a national powerlifting competition in Las Vegas to support a friend, Mitchell had his eureka moment and wanted to get his name out to the world by lifting “some really, really heavy-ass weight.”
His prosthetic leg and nonexistent ankle mobility make squatting difficult, but Mitchell refuses to compete in the disabled division. His first competition, last January, was a push-and-pull meet, where he clinched first place with a 418-pound bench press and a 530-pound deadlift. Next up is a full powerlifting meet on Oct. 8. He’s dedicated the last eight months to squatting for depth.
“I’d rather be crushed by hundreds of pounds than not know what I’m capable of”
“We didn’t know if it would be possible,” he says. “I just knew that I would do everything I could to try to make it happen.”
From nearly dying in the dirt for his country to squatting close to 500 pounds, Mitchell, now 31, is focused on furthering his new career. He wants to be the first amputee to compete at Nationals, and he wants to deadlift 630 pounds. But above all else, he wants people to remember his name.
“Once my daughter is married, my last name is gone,” Mitchell says, explaining that his ordeal left him unable to procreate. “When I pass away, I want her to get online and show my grandkids, ‘Look at Grandpa. He was a crazy SOB…He went through the worst things ever and he overcame.’ That’s my goal. I’d rather be crushed under hundreds of pounds than die and not know what I’m capable of.”