We have the freedom to do just about anything we want in the USA. Sure, we have laws and rules to keep behaviors in line for the most part, and that is good. Outside of that, we have the freedom to shop where we want to shop and eat where we want to eat and workout where we want to workout. Do we ever stop to think about those that provided that freedom for us? Do we actively acknowledge that our freedom is not free?
In CrossFit, we have Hero WODs that take their name from fallen members of the armed forces or service professions such as police or fire department. These Hero WODs are generally tougher, more intense workouts than a “typical” WOD. Last week, my box had Hero Week where we did a Hero WOD every day.
Before each Hero WOD, our coaches will talk about the person behind the WOD, then explain the workout. For some, this will include a description of his/her service, the circumstances of their death, their surviving family members, etc.
On Friday, July 4th, the WOD was McGhee. However, Coach Jesse did not tell us about CPL Ryan McGhee before the workout.
Ryan’s mother did.
Meet Sherrie Battle McGhee. She was gracious enough to come to CrossFit 865 on Independence Day to share her son’s story with us.
CPL Ryan C. McGhee was born November 4, 1987 in Pittsburgh, PA. He was an automatic rifleman assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, GA. Ryan was killed in action on May 13, 2009 as a result of small arms fire while conducting combat operations in Central Iraq when his unit came in contact with enemy forces. Ryan’s unit was conducting operations to rid Iraq of a weapons facilitator and suicide vest cell known to be operating in the area. CPL McGhee was on his 4th deployment in support of the War on Terrorism.
McGhee loved football and made 2nd string All-State defensive lineman and gave up a partial scholarship to a private college to become an Army Ranger. The events of September 11, 2001 and his role model, Pat Tillman, were motivating factors which led Ryan to enlist in the military. 9/11 had a tremendous impact on his belief that he had to do something to protect our freedoms.
CPL Ryan McGhee died defending civilians. He was operating with his unit to clear civilians out of harms way during an operation. Shots rang out from the rooftops of buildings and Ryan returned fire while Iraqi civilians ran for cover. McGhee had body armor on, but a bullet ricocheted off the ground and bounced up and penetrated his side. Members of CPL McGhee’s unit said Ryan dropped his gun for a moment, then raised his arms again and kept firing for another 30 seconds before dropping and succumbing to his injuries.
Ryan was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
This is the last known photo taken of CPL McGhee.
This is who we honored at noon on July 4th with our workout. The majority of my box was there for this special Hero WOD.
It was so awesome that so many people turned out at noon on the Fourth of July to celebrate Ryan’s life and to honor him with a great workout. Before the start of the WOD, there was more water coming from people’s tear ducts than from their sweat glands.
The McGhee Hero WOD is:
AMRAP in 30 minutes of:
- 5 deadlifts (275/185)
- 13 push-ups
- 9 box jumps
I did the WOD a little less than Rx, doing 225 for most of the deadlifts (I did pull the 275 for a few sets). I got 13 rounds, and it felt good.
Sherrie stayed and watched our two heats go at it for the entire duration, all 60 minutes of the combined heats.
One thing she said multiple times during her sharing before our Hero WOD was that freedom is not free. It isn’t. It may seem that way in the comfort of our own lives, but there are people on the other side of the world that truly hate America. They hate us. Sherrie said that Ryan once said to her that it was inevitable that we would fight, it was just choosing to fight them here on our soil or over on their soil. Ryan McGhee chose to fight the enemy on their turf. Four times.
I can’t say that I held honoring Ryan or any other fallen hero in my mind the entire thirty minutes of that Hero WOD. But, every time I glanced over at his photos or saw his mother overlooking our sweaty tributes, I couldn’t help but steel myself and push a little harder. I did every deadlift set unbroken. I jumped up and down unbroken on every set of 9 box jumps. As the suck started to mount I tried to remember that I am safe and free in my box because of people like CPL Ryan McGhee who gave his life defending my freedom. Nothing in those 30 minutes of my workout was going to come close to what he did.
Thank you Sherrie for coming and sharing yourself and your son with my box. Thank you for your sacrifice and for your son’s sacrifice. I will try to live my life with a little more conscious effort to remember that freedom is not free, and I challenge you to do the same.