blind athlete

If darkness was all you could see, would you still work out?

Terry Garrett is blind. So what? He still does CrossFit.

Put on a blindfold before you start your WOD and you’ll get an idea of what Terry Garrett experiences every time he sets foot in CrossFit Crush.

Completely blind for nearly twenty years, Garrett (whose thirtieth birthday is this month) has been working out at CrossFit Crush since the end of 2013. He does all of the movements — box jumpovers, double unders, clean and jerks, wall walks — and only adjusts two of them due to his blindness:

  • When he runs, he holds onto another person’s arm for guidance.
  • He no longer tries to catch wall balls.

When he talks about that second one, he doesn’t mention his lack of sight.

“I can’t catch it because I’ve almost strained one of my fingers and I’ve hit myself in the head a lot with it, so I have to let it drop every time,” he says. “It’s throw, drop, pick it up. Then you have to stand all the way up before you start the next squat, so it takes me forever.”

In a world seemingly driven by visual stimuli — sparkling screens and flashing lights and solar eclipses — Garrett travels in darkness, guided by his seeing eye dog Hazel, his own keen sense of space, and the help of friends and family.

Originally from Fort Lupton, Co., Garrett grew up on a farm with his mom, dad, and two brothers. He was an active kid, but several eye problems led to a series of surgeries, and at the age of 10, Garrett’s eyes had had enough. Scar tissue took over and his sight was completely erased.

At the time, Garrett was relieved to be done with eye surgeries, but that didn’t make transitioning to a life of blindness any easier. He was a 10-year-old boy and an active farm kid who liked to run around, ride bikes. He hated being different from all of his peers.

“And then my parents sent me to the deaf and blind school which was a hundred miles away,” he said.

That’s a literal hundred miles. The Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind is in Colorado Springs. Fort Lupton is 30 miles north of Denver. Garrett only saw his family on the weekends.

Still, his time at the school was pivotal.

“They have some really gifted people who were able to turn … my blindness from something that hindered me to something that now strengthens me,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t define who I am, but it defines how I live my life.”

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Terry Garrett in front of the gorilla mural at CrossFit Crush.

If there’s one word to describe Garrett, it’s gumption.

As a CrossFitter, he’s competed in The Open, CrossFit Castle Rock’s Battle at the Rock, and the Festivus Games. Before CrossFit, he did triathlons. In high school, he wrestled and ran track. His Facebook cover photo is of him on the rocks at Windom Peak, the highest peak of the Needle Mountains in southwestern Colorado, which he climbed in 2015 — his eleventh 14er (he’s climbed a total of 12).

He enjoys pushing himself physically, but those aren’t the only challenges that call his name. Garrett works as a second level software engineer for Northrup Grumman and hopes to become a third level engineer in the next year. He owns his own home and does all of his own lawn care, including gardening — vegetables in the backyard and what he calls “lookable plants” in the front.

“I also have a history of playing video games,” he said. In 2011, Wired published an article about his endeavor to play Zelda: Ocarina of Time. He beat the game five years later. “I really haven’t played video games a lot since.”

His attitude toward the challenges he faces is overwhelmingly positive. You get the sense that he enjoys engineering situations and circumstances in order to accomplish success.

“The world’s not going to bend over backwards to help me, so I have to do what I can to adapt to the world around me,” he said. “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.”

When Garrett came into CrossFit Crush for the 4:30 p.m. class on a Friday afternoon this past July, he put his bag down in the same corner he always does and started joking with coach Travis Lay.

“Who else is here?” he asked, and Lay told him. Then Garrett started warming up, taking another member’s arm to run the first 400 meters. Strength was the deadlift, and Garrett loaded his own barbell. Before long, the WOD was on the screen, and a total of 400 double unders glared down.

The clock started and Garrett strung together his personal best of 100 double unders without stopping.

He’s a spirited competitor. Throughout the WOD, he kept tabs on where the other CrossFit Crush-ers were in the workout.

“How many is Gavin at?” he asked in the middle of his seated strict presses.

“28.”

“Okay, I’m fine then.” And he pressed on, throwing the bar from the front of his upper shins to his shoulders to pound out a few more reps.

Garrett is your typical CrossFitter. He loves (and hates) a hard workout. He enjoys joking with and razzing his coaches and fellow athletes. He’s got the shoes and his own jump rope.

Yes, he’s blind. Yes, he can’t see what he’s doing. But watch him navigate a workout and, except for when he’s loading the barbell or moving to the next movement, you can’t really tell. It’s enough to hear the rope click against the floor, to grip the bar with two hands, to pull and push.

“Just because my eyes don’t work doesn’t mean that the rest of my body should suffer,” Garrett said. And while those outside of CrossFit might consider a typical WOD straight “suffering,” the rest of us know better.

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