Two years ago, Jeff Goebel tried to end his life. This week, he’s competing in the CrossFit Games.
It was June 19, 2013. The Tennessean air smelled of summer, and Jeff Goebel went to the lake. Along the way, he stopped for a fifth of Jack Daniels.
He’d just buried his deceased father’s best friend, Tim, a beloved mentor for the three decades since his father passed. Tim lost his battle with cancer two days before Father’s Day that year.
Goebel paid for the liquor and drove to the shore.
Driving, he replayed the bitter words exchanged with his daughter, just feet away from the freshly upturned dirt where he left Tim to rest. She no longer loved him, he thought, and that made two children lost.
Two days earlier marked what would have been the 17th birthday of Goebel’s son, Jake. A failed attempt to induce a high via partial self-asphyxiation ended Jake’s young life two and a half years prior.
He swallowed them all, chasing the pills with all 750 milliliters of the acrid spirits.
“The last thing I remember saying out loud was, ‘Take me home, I want to be with Jake,’” Goebel recalled.
In what Goebel now describes as an act of “divine intervention,” while he was passed out, his anchored boat drifted closer to shore, where a kayaker discovered his prone form and called 911.
Today, two years after his foiled suicide attempt, Goebel has qualified for the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games in the Masters 50-54 division. Surviving suicide, he said, has reignited his faith in God, while CrossFit gives him an opportunity to share that faith.
“The Games gives me an opportunity to share my story with others,” Goebel, 50, said. “I am working toward a goal, and that goal is, through CrossFit, to be an example of Christ’s love.”
Goebel had always been athletic. He’s a former collegiate football player, professional boxer and U.S. Marine, and after Jake’s birth in 1993, the outdoors became a way for him to bond with his son.
“We had many fun times on the lake,” Goebel said. “Jake was very outdoors. He loved to water-ski, and snowboarding was also his passion. He was starting to get really good at both of them.”
When Jake wasn’t practicing his tricks on the water or on the slopes, he played bass guitar in a band and helped his father with his lawn service business. Goebel described his son as free-spirited and loving.
“He had a knack for giving hugs,” Goebel said. “You could just feel it when he hugged you.”
Before Jake was born, Goebel lived recklessly, releasing his pent-up anger and grief over his father’s death by defying his own life, jumping from high bluffs, racing down highways at 110 mph and drinking heavily.
“Jake was born, and some switch was flipped in me where, rather than being angry and rebellious, I kind of understood I was to suffer the loss of my dad to appreciate the birth of my son,” Goebel said. “Jake was that moment in my life when I knew it was time for me to turn it around and do something different.”
After Jake’s death, Goebel punished himself on the pavement, running to cope with the loss. He carried a pair of sneakers with him always, running three times per day.
“It helped me to focus on getting over one pain by having another pain,” he said.
But in August 2012, the pain became too much. After enduring surgeries for tears in the meniscus of both knees and with a looming threat of back surgery, his doctor took running off the table. So Goebel started CrossFit instead, following a recommendation given by his wife’s hairdresser.
“CrossFit completely changed everything I thought I knew about fitness upside down,” he said. “For years, I didn’t do squats or overhead lifts, I was pretty much getting through life with injections and pain medications. It wasn’t until I found CrossFit and started strengthening my body in ways I had never done before that I kind of turned a corner.”
Following CrossFit.com, he began in a globo gym. After he was kicked out for being “intimidating to trainers,” he built a home gym. A couple of months later, he attended a Level-1 seminar, where he did his first “Fran” in six minutes.
“In that six minutes, I literally thought I was going to die,” he said.
Though CrossFit provided new distractions and goals and relieved him of 95 percent of the pain in his back, Goebel still battled depression. Tim’s death, devastatingly timed with his falling out with his daughter, Jake’s birthday and Father’s Day, was too much to bear. He decided to commit suicide.
“I just kind of lost clarity,” he said. “The devil had convinced me that my life was worthless … that I was a failure as a father. I had lost my son, and my daughter didn’t want a relationship with me. I convinced myself I was unworthy of love. I really felt like no one would care.”
When he woke from his coma three days after his suicide attempt, he saw the faces of his wife, two stepchildren and myriad friends, and he knew he had been mistaken.
“I realized that people did care and that I did matter, and that there’s a reason that I am here,” he said. “It helped me turn a corner in my faith … maybe God’s not done with me yet. Maybe there’s something I’m supposed to be here for and something I need to say.”
Today, he finds that purpose in CrossFit. A part-time coach at CrossFit Stacked in Johnson City, Tennessee, he sees CrossFit as an opportunity to share his faith in God and to teach others to persevere through trials.
“For me, it’s a very small platform, but it’s a start,” Goebel said. “I’m not speaking in front of thousands of people, but it has given me an opportunity to tell my story.”
And he hopes that when CrossFit fans across the globe watch him compete during the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, they will see him as an example of faith and perseverance.
“God showed me through his word and through answered prayers how to use the pain as motivation to be a stronger more faithful person,” he continued. “CrossFit is a way for me to do that.”