Austin Cahoy lived for the physicality of football.
“I loved the violence of the game,” the former New Palestine and Missouri State running back said.
It turns out Cahoy was one hit away from a potentially destructive injury.
Days before the Bears’ Maroon and White Game on April 20, 2013, Cahoy – who had recently earned the starting running back job through a strong showing in spring football – woke up one morning and attempted to straighten his legs. He quickly found out something was wrong.
“It was the worst tingling I’ve ever felt,” Cahoy said, recalling the pain that stretched from his hips to his toes. “I could barely walk or move.”
Rewind to the fall of 2011.
Cahoy’s father, Rod, accepted a job in Springfield, Missouri, shortly after Austin finished redshirting his freshman season with the University of Indianapolis. Austin left UIndy, enrolled at Missouri State, earned a walk-on spot and sat out the 2012 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.
As the Bears started their winter workouts, Cahoy began experiencing minor back problems. They would come and go, and occasionally he would see the training staff for treatment.
Incidentally, the pain he felt that morning in the spring of 2013 may have saved him from serious harm. Though doctors originally believed Cahoy may have had spinal stenosis, he was eventually diagnosed with a ruptured disc in his back.
“It was a wear and tear thing. The disc was completely gone,” Cahoy said. “It had been ruptured so bad that it wasn’t there anymore.”
With the help of a cortisone shot, the disc eventually healed on its own, but any type of impact or twisting and pulling could cause another rupture – which could lead to spinal fusion surgery.
The decision to give up football was an easy one for Cahoy, who ran for 1,167 yards and scored 23 touchdowns as a senior for the 2010 Dragons.
“They gave me the choice. They said, ‘You can go back, but if it ruptures again, then it’s going to be hard for you to walk and do normal, daily things,’” he said. “It wasn’t worth it.”
Almost immediately after reaching that life-altering decision, Cahoy asked his doctors if he could do CrossFit, a fitness regimen that forgoes specialization and focuses on, in Cahoy’s words, “strength, speed, power, and flexibility – it’s everything you can combine from fitness into one sport.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something that involves working out and fitness,” said Cahoy, who is pursuing an exercise and movement major at Missouri State. “I asked the doctor about working out, and he said to get a feel for it and if you don’t have a problem, keep on going.”
Cahoy lived for being the guy with the football in his hands, the one being counted on for a big play or touchdown run.
“It’s what I live for every day of my life,” he said.
Cahoy works out three to four times a day – CrossFit workouts can last from two minutes to an hour – and the rush he receives from the varied workouts and CrossFit competitions has helped with the transition to his post-gridiron life.
“I’m extremely competitive,” he said. “When I compete now, it gives me that same exact feeling I got before football games. It really helped with the transition.”
With several individual and team CrossFit competitions under his belt – Cahoy says he’s yet to finish outside of the top five in either an individual or team competition that usually contains 30-40 competitors – Cahoy is looking to make a career out of CrossFit.
“It’s becoming a professional sport and people are starting to get paid to do this,” he said. “They started a league called the National Pro Fitness League, which is team-based competitions. They also have the CrossFit Games, which is an individual competition.”
Tim Able, Cahoy’s former coach at New Palestine and now the head football coach at Triton Central, isn’t surprised by his former player’s ability to take care of his body on a daily basis.
“Unfortunately in college, he didn’t get to play as much as he wanted,” Able said. “Some people let that bother them, but he’s the type of kid that took it as a hurdle to jump over and he’s continued to work hard and train his body.”
As he prepares for an upcoming CrossFit event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Cahoy is thankful he found a new passion.
“I got into CrossFit not knowing where it was going to take me. I started it and fell in love with it,” he said. “And what I love about it is that it pushes your body places where you think it couldn’t go. You push your body beyond limits. It’s amazing how far you can push yourself. And I train everyday to find new limits.”
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