I first heard about Kristin Hopkins when someone mentioned hearing her on the Athlete On Fire Podcast. A crossfit athlete with 2 prosthetic legs sounded pretty incredible to me, I knew I had to speak with her.
On May 4, 2014, Kristin was found in her car, about 140 feet from U.S. 285 just north of FairPlay. Her car had driven off the road and gone airborne for 120 feet off the highway before rolling another 200 feet. It landed on its roof and was pinned against trees, not visible from the highway. She had been trapped in her car for 6 days.
In an interview on Spartan.com she recalls, "I was flown by Flight for Life to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood,CO with a broken nose, broken cheekbone, five broken ribs, a traumatic brain injury, and numerous facial and neck scars. Both of my legs had to be amputated below the knee due to vascular problems from being pinned for so long. Anyone would might expect I got mad about what happened, but I never did. I didn’t get all depressed, get into a funk, or drink myself into a stupor. I decided to make the best of it. I couldn’t change what happened. I couldn’t wish it away. All I could do was pray for the strength to get through it. I would cry in the shower for a few seconds, then put on my big girl panties and move forward."
When I caught up with Kristin she had accomplished many of her goals finishing the Spartan Race and receiving her new Versa Foot prosthetics through the fundraising efforts of her crossfit gym. “The Versa Foot has hydraulics that will allow me to do a squat!” Says Kristin. “You don’t realize how much you need an ankle to do things in the gym. To do air squats in the gym now, I have to hang onto a pole and squat–or just do a wall sit. I can’t do heavy weights because I need to use momentum to help me back up to standing.”
Were you always into fitness? Why was fitness so important and what did that accomplish for you?
I was active growing up in tennis, basketball, softball, track and cheerleading. Starting in 4th grade I got on the school teams. and I will say I was an asset...After high school I just went to college and gained the freshman 15, but that was it. I stayed pretty slim but didn't workout or anything. I got married at 23 and gained a few more pounds but nothing too major. After having 4 kids though, I kept a few pounds on after each one. I didn't have time to workout. I worked and raised kids. I am fine with that, but looking back, there are things you can do at the park or at home. You don't need a gym membership to stay in shape. You just need some discipline. I grew up in small towns. Sports was pretty much all there was.
Describe your experience at the gym before your accident and how it was after. How did the accident change the way you thought about working out in a gym again?
Before the accident, I knew I was fat. I was a size 18 but I knew I wanted to change that. I went and joined a gym...but it was a national chain and very busy. I would wear the sweatpants and big shirt to cover myself up and hide in the back so no one would have to look at me. I was embarrassed. I didn't know how to really use any machine other than the treadmill or stairmaster. I really wasn't going near the dumb bells or free weights. That was where the mirrors and men were. Talk about intimidation. I ended up finding a gym that was local and the people were more my age. I still stayed clear of the mirrors and free weights, but I was going more often and not crying before walking in.
After the accident my gym donated a bunch of personal training sessions to help me get my core and upper body in shape. I also needed to be able to find my center of gravity and balance. It was less intimidating to work on the machines when you have someone standing right there with you. It was a little security blanket. (now I know why going with a friend is important) I saw what my body was capable of and I liked it. I was getting stronger and losing weight. My trainer was awesome and would get creative with some exercises. Without ankle flexation, squats was kind of hard. So I did them on my knees. For some core to throw in as well, I would do them on a bosu ball.
What I realized was everything can be modified and adaptable. That is what most people need to know. Someone may have a bum shoulder so they do different exercises or a bum knee so they modify something. I have 2 prosthetic legs so I modify things as well. I can't do planks or push ups on my toes so I do them on my knees. That is an easy modification, but still a modification.
How did your view of life change after your near death experience if any?
Oh my...life can be taken from you at any given moment. I know I am here for a reason. I have 4 kids to show you don't let something keep you down. Life isn't fair. I know that for a fact. You have to find the silver lining in everything because if you don't, you are going to be miserable. My oldest is in the Air Force. While writing to him in basic training I would remind him of the fact that life is hard sometimes and you have to find the good. I didn't go in a funk or depression because I can't change what happened. I chose to try to be a badass instead.
You managed to achieve your goal of running the Spartan Race. What was the biggest challenge during the race and how did you manage to over come it?
The Spartan was a "fun" challenge. I wanted to do it and I owe my friends who did it with me a ton of appreciation for walking the course with me. They could have been done 3 hours sooner but stayed with me through all my rest stops of taking off my prosthetics and letting my legs rest a bit. The fluctuation in my limbs while working out changes and I sometimes need to add layers of prosthetic socks or take them off. I had extras tied to my shirt so I had them with me throughout the race. I lost a few along the way and I am sure the people who cleaned up the course afterwards were a little curious as to what they were. The race was at Ft. Carson which is on the side of the Rocky Mountains so it was quite hilly. Going up and down the hills was killer on me without ankles. I basically had to have one of my friends in front of me on the way down so I could basically push them down and brace me so I wouldn't just tumble down the hill. Going up was easier but ankles would have helped a bit. My quads were burning by the end. We had to find something to help get the socket (the part of the prosthetic that my limb goes into ) off as with all the dust and sand the button got stuck and my leg felt like it was being squeezed to death. We ended up finding a crowbar and banging on the button to get it to release. My prosthetist knew I was doing the race and I had an appointment the next day for him to fix anything that broke. Three months later he is still finding mud in places when he has to take them apart.
During the last 2 years you’ve also lost 80lbs and dropped at least 4 dress sizes. What do you attribute to this weight loss?
Losing all that weight is what happens when you work your tush off. My eating habits could be better as I am a stress eater. But finding Crossfit and bootcamp workouts have been a blessing. Also finding a gym and trainers that are willing to work with adapting things for me is a plus. Finding trainers who push me and don't baby me because I have prosthetics. They treat me and push me just like everybody else. Changing up what muscles are being worked everyday and pushing yourself to go a little heavier each week helped.
What are some tips you can give as to how your keeping the weight off.
By continuing to push myself at the gym. By going at least 4-5 days a week. I could probably lose more weight if I would eat better. I know that.
You train in Crossfit, what’s your favorite workout? What about it do you like?
Anyone who does Crossfit knows it's a love/hate relationshiop. I have that with Fran. Instead of thrusters it's a push press because of the lack of ankles, and pull ups...well, it has been a goal to do a pull up without a band. It still has not happended, but I will get there. One of these years.
Are you where you thought you’d be at this point in your life? Explain
I don't think anyone thinks they will go through a horrific car crash and suffer the loss of your legs and have a traumatic brain injury. Everyday I am reminded while getting out of bed that this happened to me. There is a wheelchair next to my bed. But I go about my day the only way I know how now. Hop in that chair and wheel to the bathroom to shower. Hop back in and wheel to the chair to put my legs on. It is what it is. I have to make the best of it or I am going to go into the funk of depression. I can't. I have kids who will watch me do that and I can't.
What are some of the more surprising things you’ve come across now that you move through life with prosthetics?
I had a revision surgery a few months after getting my prosthetics to make my sockets fit better. I had too much tissue on my limbs still because it was originally a trauma surgery, not a cosmetic one so they took off only what they needed to. This meant I was back in a wheelchair for 3 months. Places that say they are handicapped accessible really are not. Bathroom doors in restaurants are really quite heavy if you think about it. Try opening one when you are in a wheelchair. Or try fitting a wheelchair in some handicapped stalls. Before I left the hospital the occupational therapist and I went around the hospital and I had to maneuver myself through bathrooms and an obstacle course to prepare me. Also, some people park next to handicapped parking spaces like losers. I have so many times wanted to leave a note on their car about not parking so close to the lines but I don't. I take the high road and look like the handicapped person who can't park correctly.
What do you want people to know about you? ( this is a space where you can address misconceptions from people)
Technically yes, I am handicapped. I do not consider myself handicapped at all. I may not be the fastest at walking or running, or the highest jumper but I can still do it. I am not always the most graceful walker as I sometimes walk into walls, but I can walk. I gained a couple inches in height, so I am noticed in crowds but unless you look down, you really can't tell I have prosthetics. People will sometimes say I am an inspiration to them. I saw a quote from Amy Purdy which she answered perfectly I think. "Having a disability does not make one inspirational. However, hard work, perseverance and determination does."
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my kids. They had to deal with their mom almost dying and having her legs amputated. My ex-husband didn't let them see me right off the bat because I looked horrendous. He would make videos of them and show me. They all dealt with what happened in their own way and timeframe but they all did fabulous.
Why do you want to become a trainer (what about it inspired you)?
A couple people at the gym in the beginning when I was working out with the trainer said some things that resonated with me. They were along the lines of, "if she can do it I can do it." It's true. I kind of think along the same way. I see women who are older and tinier than me lifting heavier and busting out pull ups one after the other and I think the same thing. "If they can do it, I can do it." I think being a trainer would help some people push themselves a bit more.
Your story inspires people, who inspires you?
There are people out there I follow on Instagram/facebook who have lost limbs in the wars, cancer related or car accidents like me. I watch videos of people with one arm jumping rope or doing cleans heavier than me. I watch videos of people with no arms doing the butterfly stroke in the pool faster than people with two arms. People with adaptations to sports (see...I didn't say handicapped) are bad ass. Where there's a will there's a way. It's about finding your passion and going for it. There are artists out there who don't have arms and paint with the brush in their teeth. It's all about how bad you want to do something. Finding your purpose. If I can help someone lose some weight because they see me doing something, that's awesome. But don't call me inspirational. Just say I motivate you to be better.
What advice would you give women who are currently starting there fitness journey?
I truly believe if you need the security blanket of a friend to go with you, then do that. Or get a trainer to help make you more comfortable in the gym. If you can't afford a gym, there are so many body weight exercises you can do at home. If you can afford a gym, make sure you are comfortable walking in there and using all the machines or weights. We are lucky to have Red Rocks and the Manitou Incline nearby to go workout at. (I want to do the incline so bad!!) Those are free. I was always so worried about what people thought about me and that they were watching and critiquing me in the gym but I realized everyone is too busy working on them to notice me. Go and do your own thing. Be your own badass.
You can find Kristin on:
Facebook: Footless Goddess
Read the entire recount of her story here: http://www.spartan.com/en/community/blog/spartan-stories?article=38019
Special thanks to Chris and Scott at www.athleteonfire.com
Pictures Curtesy of Kristin Hopkins and Silver Heels Towing