Return to Play

Ben Stoneberg’s remarkable recovery and return to the Games

Getting to the top level of any sport is an incredible feat. Staying there (especially in the ever-increasingly competitive CrossFit Games) is a mark of legend. Returning to that elite level after back surgery — other worldly. That’s precisely what Eugene, Oregon’s Ben Stoneberg has accomplished this year with his return to the 2016 CrossFit Games, after missing last year while suffering a debilitating spinal injury.

“Just trying to touch my chin to my chest caused unbelievable pain to shoot down my leg,” Stoneberg describes. “I couldn’t extend my leg to get into the GHD. There was no way I was going to last year’s Games.”

In May 2015 Stoneberg, now a five-time Games athlete, developed a bulging disc at the base of his spine, which pinched down on a nerve, causing searing pain in almost any kind of movement. He had to undergo an L5/S1 laminectomy (read: “drill away some of your vertebrae”) in order to relieve pressure. Typically, the recovery time for a procedure like this is up to a year. Stoneberg’s surgery was in August of 2015, so when the Open arrived this past February, Ben was just in the middle of his recovery.

“I wasn’t ready for the Open,” Stoneberg admits. “That was the worst I’ve ever felt, and it was the worst Open performance I’ve ever had.” Only six months post-op, and only three months of actively training, Ben’s “worst performance” was still enough to qualify for the West Regional, and eventually move onto the Games after and 2nd place finish. Ben gives all the credit for his recovery to the people around him.

“I’ve got everybody here in Eugene helping me — my family, my girlfriend, the people in my box — they’ve all been there to support me and lift me up while I’ve been through this,” Stoneberg adds. In addition to the tremendous emotional support that surrounds Ben, he works regularly with a physical therapist, and chiropractor Dr. Michael Hill, DC, MS, CCSP.

“We all knew Ben would make it back to the Games. He’s kind of this freak of nature,” says Dr. Hill. Stoneberg’s uncanny superpowers notwithstanding, Dr. Hill uses a mix or therapeutic techniques and modalities to help in Ben’s recovery, such as Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization with Hawk Grips tools. Stoneberg meets weekly with Dr. Hill at Oregon Sport & Spine to help regain the mobility and neurological capabilities he needs to compete as a Games athlete.

Ben’s journey through tremendous adversity is a testament to his passion. The speed with which he’s made his recovery is a testament to the incredible support that exists within the CrossFit community. The members at CrossFit Intensify encircle Ben with love, encouragement, and the occasional glass of mead, and they serve as an example of the ideal CrossFit Box to build and support a Games athlete.