Choosing Wellness: My GORUCK + CrossFit® Journey

Choosing Wellness: My GORUCK + CrossFit® Journey

By Chad Nordstrom

At 40 years old, I was walking around a theme park carrying my then 6-month-old daughter, feeling short of breath and “heavy”; my legs were swollen, and I felt fatigued from simply strolling around ‘the happiest place on earth.’ During this time I was just over a decade out of the Army and a nurse for almost 10 years. At that moment, it hit me like a freight train that I was on a path I didn't want to be on. In those 10 years I had gained well over 50 pounds (I stopped weighing myself, as if somehow that would lessen the damage), and, as a critical care nurse, I saw the path crystal clear–as I looked at the end of that path every shift when I was on duty: I was going to be on the other side of the hospital bed. I was on a path to diabetes, hypertension, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and an early exit from this life. As I held my child in my arms, I realized if I wanted to be around for my wife, my daughter as she grew up, and be a productive role model, I needed an intervention. 

I had no idea where to start—I tried to diet and failed. I tried running and failed, I kept getting shin splints and other injuries. I tried to diet again, failed again, rinse and repeat; many of us know this roller coaster all too well. My wife was the most supportive partner I could have asked for, as she gave in to every crazy idea I had, hoping that one would stick. Realistically, I knew I was the only one who could do this.

In my search for something to do, I thought about my military time and how easy fitness was; I wasn’t in amazing shape and I didn't love PT, but it was easy in one regard: I just showed up at the time and place I was told and did the work. As I searched for “boot camp” workouts, two things kept coming up– this company called GORUCK and something called CrossFit. I actually liked rucking when I was on active duty, and it was something I was pretty good at. My battle buddy and I even podiumed at a few rucking competitions we competed in. Mistakenly, I thought I would need to get in better shape before I could participate in a GORUCK Event or try CrossFit. 

So, I simply started walking. I loaded my little girl into her jogging stroller, and I walked. I had a short course we could safely go back and forth on that was just over 1.75 miles, rinse and repeat. We walked a lot that summer, slowly building the miles. I knew I would plateau soon. Walking is a great, safe start but I needed more. I purchased my first Ruck, a Rucker 1.0 (still cherish it) and a 20# Ruck Plate. Now I was rucking, and pushing my training partner in the stroller. We rucked many miles that summer–back and forth on that short 1.75 mile sidewalk route. 

This led me to CrossFit. I finally had the courage to walk my  5’9” ~260lb self into a gym and try it out. I was nervous to say the least; I felt out of place, intimidated. I can recall that day crystal clear. When I walked in, it looked to me like a bunch of super fit people doing all kinds of crazy stuff. I thought, “This isn't going to work out for me”. Yet I quickly found out that no one judged me–in fact, I was literally welcomed with open arms with nothing but support. We say it all the time… “CrossFit is a community”-- and it is. Both GORUCK and CrossFit. My only regret is that I waited so long to try. I cannot express how excited I am that these two communities are coming together. CrossFit and GORUCK welcome everyone–, it is FOR everyone. No judgment– they meet you where you are and adjust fire. You're just coming in off the couch? It’s for you. You're a former athlete looking to round out your fitness? It's for you. You're a mom or dad who wants to be around for your kids and keep up with them? It’s for you. You want to put your ego where your money is and see what you can do? It’s for you. 

“Building Better Americans”

I saw some YouTube videos of GORUCK challenges and realized they are team events. Maybe I didn't have to be in the greatest shape– I saw people participating who actually LOOKED like me having a great time. I’ve always been up to a challenge, so when I saw a video with Cadre Chris saying at the beginning of a GORUCK Light,  “This is the Diet Coke of events, all the flavor and half the calories,” I decided that I was going for the fully leaded version and signed up for a GORUCK Challenge (Tough).

The event was hard, as all GORUCK events are, but I realized something right away in my thought: “These people paid to be here?!”  They did, because they wanted the challenge. That's what I was missing. The want. I had a why, my family–but now I had the want. I wanted to do this, WE wanted to do this. All the absolute best parts of my military service– the satisfaction of teamwork and the camaraderie, like minded people sharing in the suck– all for our own reasons, but we're all doing this together.

That is when I realized what I wanted and needed–to be fit, to PARTICIPATE in my wellness. I wanted to feel and look like those people around me, many who told me “YOU can do it,” –strangers just a few hours ago, now literally lending me a helping hand. 

Physical fitness is actually the second best part. Number one is people. My social life is based around my fitness, as most of my closest friends like to do hard things.. My ruck club friends and gym friends are far more than that–they're family. Mental health is health. Fitnessing with friends is infinitely better. The support and accountability are priceless. I wouldn't trade any of this life. 

I’ve had ups and downs as we all do in life and on this journey. This simple start has pushed me to reach out and try to share and be a role model for ANYONE. I went from that nervous 40 year old in my first CrossFit class to becoming a CrossFit Level 2 trainer. I've completed every GORUCK event I've ever signed up for including Star Courses as well as many events with my friends and family. 

I’m now 52 years old, and I am fortunate to not take any medications. I don’t have any health concerns; certainly nothing that scares me or will hasten my exit. I don't share my story to brag– I share it because you can write your own story too. I’m lucky. But we all know luck is for suckers. You have to make your own luck. I work everyday to make myself harder to kill. I am unequivocally in better shape at age 52 than I was ever–even in my “peak” military life.

My why is my family. That little 6 month old is now 12 and she has a 9 year old brother. We model the behaviors I want them to learn early in life, simply how important and easy some fitness can be. Every now and then you get some clues that maybe we’re doing it right. For Christmas this year, my son put a KR1 kids ruck at the top of his list. Santa happily provided. 

A few weeks ago, I had a friend mention a 20 mile “swamp” ruck coming up…so we signed up. No planning, no training–we knew it would be a challenge, but we Ruck all the time and my baseline fitness was more than adequate. We had an approximately 6 hour goal, and we finished in 6:13. It was a great day.

My life mantra is this: You can't change yesterday, for it is gone, and although you can plan and hope for tomorrow, it is not promised. So today: today is the day you can act and change anything you want. You're the main character of your story, live a good one!

Chad Nordstrom is a US Army Veteran, a nurse of 24 years, a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer, GRT, dad, and a husband. We want to thank him for sharing his story with us and the rest of the community!