Sunday, February 6, 2011

US Marine from FOXBORO, MA chases World's Record while serving at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan

Staff Sgt. George Bryant, 27, of Foxboro, Mass., executes an overhead Olympic-style lift as part of a CrossFit workout aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 1. Bryant, the data chief for Alpha Company, 9th Communications Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd), has been training with CrossFit for the last five months and plans to set the Guinness World Record for highest standing box jump in the near future.

It was nice to see the Marines on the TV from Camp Leatherneck at the start of the Super Bowl.....Here's a story about a local boy from FOXBORO, MA (Home of the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS) - Glad to see that my homestate is represented by such fine Marines as this young SSG who is after a world's record and also proud to defend his country.

SEMPER FI SSG make us proud.

Leap of faith: 9th Comm. Marine’s athletic obsession fuels chase of world record Regional Command Southwest
Story by Sgt. Jeremy Ross

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. George Bryant is sore. On a recent afternoon here the 27-year-old data chief for Alpha Company, 9th Communications Battalion, walks into the makeshift fitness area at the battalion’s compound wearing compression tights. For the soreness, he says. Most Marines pride themselves on fitness, but not to the point of wearing ultra-tight clothing to alleviate the pain of the previous day’s workout. Then again, most Marines don’t work out like Bryant does.

“I am sore every day that I wake up,” he says as he slides plates onto a bar for his warm-up. “It’s always a new body part though, so it’s never demoralizing. It’s kind of nice.”

Aches and all, here he is at the plywood and camouflage net outdoor gym that has been his domain nearly every day for the last five months. The gym is a hodgepodge of handmade wooden workout stations. There’s a set of pull-up bars, a pair of dip bars, a collection of large tires for flipping. Weight plates and Olympic bars are nearby, along with a set of kettle bells. These are all tools of CrossFit, the high-intensity program that is part workout and part philosophy. In the hands of a fitness buff like Bryant, they might as well be torture devices.

In a corner of the gym sits a palcon, a box-like military container. Its top lies 40 inches from the ground. A wooden post stands next to it. Scratched into the post are markers, one at 42 inches, a second at 55 inches. The higher mark indicates Bryant’s highest standing box jump, a CrossFit exercise in which an athlete begins flat-footed on the ground and ends flat-footed on a surface higher than the starting point.

If Bryant has his way, there will be a third marker on the post. It will read 57 inches. It will be a Guinness World Record.

Sports have always been part of Bryant’s life. As a freshman at King Phillip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass., Bryant stood 5 feet 5 inches and weighed more than 200 pounds. He played center and middle linebacker on the football team. This would be the first in a long series of sports interests.

“I have a very over-achieving personality,” he explained. “If I find something that piques my interest, I put everything I have into it, until I master it. Once I master it I find myself getting bored.”

He’s a 7-handicap golfer. He’s a licensed scuba diver. He enjoyed his first sky diving trip to the point that he paid for a second jump immediately after landing… and then made 99 more in five months.

As his activities have changed, so has his weight – to a surprising, doppelganger-like degree. To even ship to boot camp, Bryant had to lose weight. It took him four months to slim down from his linebacking build to the 181-pound max allowed for his 5-foot-7-inch frame. By the end of recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., he was a trim 153 pounds.

Bryant wouldn’t stay slim for long. While deployed to Djibouti in 2004, Bryant was introduced to serious weight lifting. During his 13 months in Africa he bulked up to 241 pounds. After returning to the U.S. he got into amateur bodybuilding while stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. The sheer volume of improvement in size and muscle mass came with a price, though.
“All that extra weight wasn’t meant for someone who’s 5-foot-7,” he said.

He was diagnosed with exercise-induced compartment syndrome in his shins. Over the course of the next eight months he had a total of five surgeries. A year of physical therapy followed, during part of which he was confined to a wheelchair. Doctors told him he would probably have a hard time running for the rest of his life.

As he recovered throughout 2006, Bryant received orders to Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He continued his physical therapy there, and it led to yet another athletic endeavor.

“My physical therapist was into triathlons,” he recalled. “One of the things she did was have me do exercise to build up my ability to do slow runs, and then brought me out with her triathlon group a couple times a week just to get my confidence back up and help me get back running again.”

As he recovered he kept training with the triathlon group. His build changed again, close to his current weight of 168 pounds. He had found a new addiction – endurance sports. Over the next two years, the Marine who had been told he might never again be able to run more than a couple of miles without significant pain would run triathlons, duathlons, and in 2008, the Honolulu Marathon in less than three hours.

“I did everything I could while I was (in Hawaii) to stay in the best shape possible, which I thought was the best shape possible,” he said. “Until I found CrossFit.”

In the gym at the 9th Comm. Bn. compound here, Bryant is ready to begin a workout. He has the day’s routine listed on a board like a menu of suffering: sets of thrusters (a front squat that ends with a shoulder press) mixed with weighted pull-ups. By the end he will have done 72 of each exercise. The ordeal will take him less than 15 minutes, but in that time he says he will pack in more gain than a much longer conventional session at the gym.

This is the idea behind CrossFit - intense bouts of full-body motion exercises, typically centered on Olympic lifts such as cleans, presses and squats. The workouts vary greatly from day to day, and usually don’t take more than 20 minutes to complete for an athlete experienced with the routines and using proper form.

“When I got to Afghanistan in the middle of August I decided I didn’t appreciate the dust when I was running,” said Bryant. “So I needed something else to pique my interest. I’d been introduced to CrossFit a couple of weeks before (I deployed) and the workouts I’d tried had completely demolished me. I thought ‘man, that sucked, I’m never doing this again.’”

After arriving in Afghanistan, however, he found the stage was set for a reunion with the program; someone on a previous deployment had built a makeshift CrossFit pit a stone’s throw from his workspace. Bryant and a handful of other Marines soon put it to use. It was during one of these workouts that his pursuit of the world box jump record began.

“We were doing (a workout) one day, and there was only room for five of us to do box jumps at the same time. We started looking for something else to use and I got the bright idea to try jumping on top of the palcon, which is 40 inches off the ground. After doing a couple more workouts like that my buddy challenged me to see how high I could jump, seeing as to how I’m just a short, white guy.”

To add height in their makeshift gym they began stacking weight plates on top of the palcon. After the total height had reached 48 inches, he and his workout partners were sufficiently impressed to look into the world record. They figured it would be much higher than their own attempts, he said.

“We did a lot of research, and saw it was at 56 inches,” he said. “Once I found that out, I kind of made it my goal to try and break it.”

Bryant registered his attempt with Guinness World Records, and now has a year from last month to set it, he said.

“The hardest thing about jumping on a stack of weights that’s 55 inches tall is that it’s nearly up to my chin when I stand in front of it. I have to focus on a point that looks over the weight so I won’t see what’s in front of me so I won’t get distracted.

“Your shins get demolished from the corner of the palcon,” he said when asked what happens when a jump misses its mark. “You get bruises and bleed. That’s happened three or four times.”

When asked about his obsession with athletic achievement, Bryant points to his past.

“I attribute a lot of it to my father,” he says.

Bryant’s father, Leslie, was a general contractor and small-business owner. He moved his small family around several times before settling in Foxboro, Mass. The constant moving lifestyle had a tough-love effect.

“I was the very stereotypical, made-fun-of little kid,” Bryant recalled. “I was overweight, I had a bowl cut because my parents tortured me with barber shops they thought were cool, I had an overbite, I had to wear headgear.

“I don’t want to say that I do what I do out of drive to prove anything to anybody, I do it to prove it to myself. It’s impressed on you when people pick on you until you can’t do it, so I give a lot of faith to myself and I like to set internal goals for myself to prove I can really accomplish anything I put my mind to.”

School wasn’t the only problem Bryant faced growing up. There were issues at home with his parents. They began getting divorced when he was 14, a process which took almost five years. He spent most of his high school years living with the family of a close friend or his grandmother. A social services caseworker came to the house each week.

“It was something when you’re 16 years old you don’t want to deal with. I ran from it a lot. I didn’t go to school all the time. I never did drugs or drank or anything but it was so much pressure, and it seemed like it was never-ending. So when I made the decision to try and get out, I found the hardest thing I could find, which was the Marine Corps.”

He left for boot camp in July 2002 and, after graduating as the company honor man, was on his way. Still, his upbringing near Boston lingers, sometimes painfully. His father died last year after a stroke ended a battle with brain and lung cancer.

“Literally, with cancer, after getting his leg amputated, after becoming partially paralyzed, the first thing he wanted to do was go back to work,” said Bryant. “He taught me that no job is ever done until you finish it yourself, and you put everything you have into that and you take pride in what you do.”

It’s another day at the 9th Comm. Bn. CrossFit area, and it’s time for another early afternoon workout. This time Bryant has left the compression tights at home. He’s still sore, though. The workout menu du jour includes pull-ups, sit-ups, kettle bell swings, and power cleans. He’ll do 50 repetitions of each exercise, plus a half-mile run. For dessert he does 50 box jumps. He doesn’t build to his max jump height on this day, but by the end the stack of weights he is leaping onto is up to his armpits when he stands next to it.

“One of the reasons I use the (makeshift) gym where I work is because no one else is there,” he reflected. “For me my workouts are borderline embarrassing, because I feel like I have so much improvement to make that just by me keeping it a secret and only working out around maybe one other person I don’t feel the pressure of everyone else around me.

“I’m the guy at the beach who sometimes won’t even take his shirt off.”

Bryant may say he’s humble, but it hasn’t kept him from pursuing the box jump record. His best jump is currently 55 inches; one inch short of the record. Bryant wants to break it cleanly, though, with a leap of at least 57 inches. It should happen sometime in the next two months, he said.

For now he has those last two inches to hold his attention – until another pursuit takes their place

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