Stronger, Faster, Harder to Kill: Doug Tronzo

downtown charleston crossfit members

In August of 2017, one of our members suffered a horrible motorcycle accident. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and against all logic and reason, came back to life.

It’s been less than a year since his accident, and he’s in the gym four to five days a week working hard and lifting more weight than he did before the wreck.

We asked him a few questions about his experience, and how being active in CrossFit has helped him with his recovery.

What was the date of your accident? 

August 15, 2017; 3pm

What do you remember leading up to the actual event, if anything? (Did you lose time before the accident as well, or only after?)

The last thing I remember is about a week before my accident. I was the GM of a bar in North Charleston called North Park Grill, and I remember working my shift there.

So tell us the back story. Where were you? What happened to cause the accident, or what do you believe, or have been told happened?  

I don’t remember the accident itself. After speaking with the driver whose truck I hit, I’ve come to some logical conclusions about what I think happened.

Safety is a priority for me. I’ve always worn helmets, ever since I started racing motocross in 4th grade. This particular day, I had a new helmet on that I had only worn three times.  The visor release button was in a different location than I was used to.

I ride with my visor down on the highway, but I usually release it when I get off an exit. I was exiting Highway 526. The exit intersection had two lights, and I’ve wondered if I was looking at the wrong light – since I don’t remember the accident, I’ll never know. I’m assuming I wanted my visor up, but was having trouble locating the release button.

The driver said he saw me coming and not slowing to a stop. He also said he was going to move, but something told him not to. If he had moved out of the way, I would have gone right into the intersection and the outcome could have been much worse. So he stayed where he was, and I slammed in the back of his pickup truck at 60mph.

I was told a month later that my story went viral on Facebook in various motorcycle and car groups: I was pronounced dead on the scene, but came back to life and was apparently fighting the EMS team in the ambulance.

I was transported to the hospital and was in the ICU for two weeks. I had fractured four upper vertebrae, my right scapula, and had compound breaks in both my forearms.

Along with the physical injuries, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury which stretched out my right optical nerve but didn’t sever it. I had double vision for quite awhile, but my vision has slowly started to come back. I still see multiples of things sometimes.

How did you find CrossFit originally?

I started CrossFit in St Simons GA, While there, I had broken my right arm from a 16-foot fall I had. The coaches there helped me get back into shape and rehab my injuries, very similar to the way the coaches here did after this accident.  When I was moving here two years ago, the coaches at St. Simons CrossFit referred this gym to me. I trusted their word and haven’t looked back yet.

How long had you been doing CrossFit before the accident?

Six years. The doctors told my mother that the shape and health my body was in prior to the accident helped minimize the damage and contributed to how I healed so quickly.

What was the extent of your injuries/your diagnosis?

Movement in my wrist was limited, along with my right shoulder. My casts were removed at the start of October. And I did simple stretches for my arms and shoulders.

When did you return to CrossFit?

By December 1, 2017, just three and half months after my accident, I was back in the gym. The coaches were amazed with my story. We discussed my injuries and limited mobility, and what I could and couldn’t do at the time. Each day we adapted the WOD to what I could do and what would help my muscles and body heal and grow stronger.

In July of 2018, I’m now able to do everything I could before the accident and more. Because of my injuries and the pins and plates they put in, some things have changed. For example, a strict pull-up is easier now for me than a kipping pull-up.

How often were you coming, and what were the things you were doing? How were you scaling? 

When I first came back to CrossFit, I was coming 2-3 days a week. I wanted to be intelligent with my body and how it was healing. Even though on some days I felt I could do more, I didn’t. I allowed my body to recover properly and heal at its own pace.

Because I was careful, I never ran into issues of pain. The only pain I ever experienced would be if I accidentally hit my wrist on something. Being responsible about my recovery and intelligent with my workout choices allowed my body to heal so much more quickly.

If there’s something that you’re limited by and can’t do because of an injury, you can’t be ashamed or let your pride win. Say no. Don’t do the thing that aggravates your issues until your body tells you it’s ready to try again.

What were you limited by? How did the coaches help you?

I was limited on how angled my wrist could be. For example, I couldn’t do a pushup on the floor because of the wrist angle, so I did parallette push ups. As long as my wrist stayed straight, I was able to scale most of the movements. This allowed my muscles and tendons around my wrist to heal and strengthen.

Less than a year later, and you’re doing more than you ever did inside the box. Yes, that’s a credit to the coaches, but it’s more a credit to you, your patience with yourself, and not letting your ego get in the way. (Honestly, sometimes I just want to yell at people, “BE MORE LIKE DOUG!” For real.) Anyway, did you find challenges within that? Were there times that you pushed too hard and paid the price, whether that was pain in your wrists, getting dizzy, etc?

A couple of times I did pay the price. I’m a chef, so I work with my hands a lot.  I wasn’t in pain at the time of the workout, so I didn’t know anything was wrong,  but later that day at work I would feel pain when trying to grip or hold certain things that were light, such as a sauté pan.

My work schedule allows me to come to CrossFit in the morning, then go into work as late at midnight at times. My double vision would really get to me at first when doing things with bouncing or swinging motions like jump rope, GHDs, or box jumps.

I avoided box jumps because I would be see two boxes and wasn’t confident that I could land safely. After jumping rope or GHDs, It would take me a few minutes to see straight. I would just lie on the floor and focus on the ceiling. You know how you can sometimes stare at an object and make it split into two? I would be doing the opposite, focusing on a split image, trying to see one.

What are some of the lasting effects of the accident that you continue to scale for?

I still scale for singles and not double unders when jumping rope. For turkish get-ups I use a dumbbell and not a kettlebell to avoid weight resting on my wrist.  I still use the parallette bars for push-ups instead of the floor. I don’t do burpees because the down and up makes me dizzy. Instead I sub 50# over the shoulder with a slam ball. If the workout has rowing involved and my wrists are feeling taxed from the previous days’ workout with a lot of arm movements, I’ll run instead to give my wrists a break.

How do you think your story can help other people?

I hope my story will inspire others and give some people the drive to help themselves. A life-changing accident affects everyone around you: close friends, family, and loved ones.  You have to stay positive and never give up or let yourself feel defeated. Always remember what you could do before, and use that as a goal to work back to. Educate yourself on what is best for yourself, your body, and will promote healing. And don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

Let’s say I’m someone who has an injury or a limitation, I don’t do CrossFit, and all I see are these musclebound people flipping tires around. I KNOW CrossFit is not for me. Can you change my mind? 🙂

CrossFit is what you make it out to be.  Know what you can do and when not to push yourself. I’ve never been hurt doing CrossFit. Instead, CrossFit has helped me recover from the injuries I’ve suffered outside of the box.

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