K.C. Mitchell Lost His Leg But Not His Spirit

AT AGE 25, ARMY SGT. K.C. MITCHELL LOST HIS LEG IN COMBAT—AND HIS SENSE OF SELF-WORTH. SIX YEARS LATER, HE’S AN ELITE POWERLIFTER WHO SCOFFS AT THE WORD DISABLED.

K.C. Mitchell doesn’t want your pity. He’s spent enough time wallowing in his own—and he’s over it. Before the 240-pound 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, now 31, 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 ended up being in a hospital bed for the next four months,” he recalls. “I wasn’t able to move.”

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 where he was ready to rejoin the Army, but his injuries proved too severe. He was presented the Purple Heart—a bittersweet moment for him—and afterward chose to retire. With his body taken from him and his career cut short, Mitchell quickly spiraled into a depression. To cope, he became a shut-in and popped painkillers, existing but not living.

“I was just using them to put myself into a whole other place because I was so depressed,” he admits.

Mitchell reached the bottom of his dispirited abyss on a trip to Disneyland for his daughter’s second 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 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.”

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“I’D RATHER BE CRUSHED BY HUNDREDS OF POUNDS THAN NOT KNOW WHAT I’M CAPABLE OF.”

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 those who had 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 makes 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 Sept. 24. He’s dedicated the last eight months to squatting for depth.

“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.”

He nearly died in the dirt for his country and was once able to squat close to 500 pounds, but Mitchell is now 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 [my daughter] 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 by hundreds of pounds than not know what I’m capable of.” – FLEX