No Fear

With determination (and more than a little stubbornness) CrossFit athlete Krystal Cantu adapts to life with one arm.
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With determination (and more than a little stubbornness) CrossFit athlete Krystal Cantu adapts to life with one arm.

“I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of flying. I’m scared of thunderstorms. I’m scared of lightning. And yet, I took this so well,” Krystal Cantu says. “I have no idea why. I really don’t.”

Cantu is referring to life without her right arm. On August 2, 2013, she was the passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend Daniel Cuate in San Antonio. A freak tire blowout sent the vehicle rolling in a ball of twisted metal and shattered windows. Cantu’s arm was chewed between the mandible of the highway and the car wreckage. The doctor described it to her as being “caught in a meat grinder.” Surgeons removed the arm above the elbow.

Just 24 years old, Cantu began to acclimate to life without her dominant hand. Blessed with a deep pragmatic streak and very little tolerance for self-pity (“I just say that I am stubborn,” she says), Cantu insisted on immediately training her left hand to brush her hair and button her clothes despite protestations from her mother. Incredibly, Cantu left the hospital after only three days and returned to CrossFit one month after the accident.

A relative newcomer to CrossFit, Cantu had only been training for a few months before the accident, but it had ignited a fire in her, a fire that raged all the more intensely after she lost her arm. “I became a lot more determined after the accident,” she says. “I was more willing to get better, to prove to myself that I could still do it. I have a video of myself cleaning 95 pounds with two arms and the technique is horrible. I just looked at it side by side with a recent video of me cleaning 105 pounds with one arm, and the form was there, the depth was there. It had improved dramatically after the accident.”

Cantu, who recently moved with Cuate to West Palm Beach, Florida, and now trains out of CrazyTrain CrossFit , has learned to adapt most CrossFit exercises. She performs the Olympic lifts with one hand in the center of the barbell, her nub is able to accommodate a back squat and a front squat, and she uses a band around her right shoulder to do pull-ups. Instead of handstand push-ups, she will wall-walk into a one-armed isometric hold. Muscle-ups are one of the few moves that she hasn’t figured out yet.

Krystal Lifting

Adapting CrossFit exercises for specialized communities is a calling for Cantu. David Wallach and Jason Sturm (who appeared on the cover of The Box last year) have created the Crossroads Adaptive Athletic Alliance, a foundation that connects and educates adaptive athletes and will eventually certify trainers in programming for athletes with permanent injuries. Cantu has recently joined their seminar team. For Cantu, the larger acceptance of adaptive athletes is the key to fulfilling a larger dream.

“I want to get to the CrossFit Games. I want them to have a division for me,” she says. “I work hard so the day they get an adapted division, I can be there.”