CrossFit Athlete's Paralyzing Injury Renews Concerns

Kevin Ogar's weight-lifting accident described as an anomaly.

January 16, 2014, 10:13 AM

Jan. 16, 2014— -- Kevin Ogar was performing a routine "snatch" at a fitness competition this weekend in southern California, a move thousands of amateur athletes do in their local CrossFit gyms each week, when something went wrong.

Ogar, a top-tier CrossFit athlete, hoped his training would one day take him to the equivalent of the World Series of the burgeoning sport, the CrossFit Games, where $300,000 and professional sponsorship could be top prizes. The sport combines weightlifting, gymnastics and sprinting.

But on Sunday, as Ogar lifted hundreds of pounds of weights first to his waist, and then up over his head, he bailed on the lift, letting the bar bounce to the floor behind him. There, it bounced against another set of weights, came up, and hit Ogar in the back, critically injuring his spine.

"When impact was made, he jumped almost like someone shot him," Ogar's friend, boss and training-partner Matt Hathcock told ABC News.

RELATED: CrossFit for Kids Raises Safety Concerns

Hathcock was helping to coach Ogar at the competition in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Ogar fell to the floor and could not move his legs.

There was no medical staff or doctor on site during the competition, in which amateur athletes lift hundreds of pounds, swing from ropes, jump on boxes, flip tires and perform other intense exercises as quickly as they can.

Hathcock said that was an anomaly; most competitions have some medical assistance available. Ogar was rushed to a hospital when an ambulance came, but was soon told he may never walk again, Hathcock said.

CrossFit Inc. has not responded to ABC News' multiple requests for comment by phone and email.

WATCH: CrossFit Athletes Compete for "Fittest on Earth" Title

Ogar, a professional CrossFit coach in Denver and part-time worker at Whole Foods, had no medical insurance.

Ogar and his training partners say the injury was a "freak accident" that had nothing to do with CrossFit, but the sport has come under scrutiny as it has risen in popularity in recent years and many athletes have fallen prey to injuries.

"You can get injured doing anything, playing soccer, football. I'm sure you can get injured doing curling," Hathcock said.

"Kevin has been doing CrossFit for a very long time at a very high level. Are injuries going to occur? Sure, but Kevin's not going to blame the sport. This was not the fault of CrossFit."

CrossFit was created by founder Greg Glassman in 2000, and now operates in more than 5,000 affiliated but privately owned gyms across the country.

Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said she has seen a rise in the number of CrossFit-associated injuries that result from overuse and bad technique.

"There's a real competitive nature to fight through the pain, to get through it and do really, really high numbers of reps, and there's not a lot of listening to your body going on," Wright said. "That's when people get stress injuries."

And if athletes are using improper technique to lift or squat or do a pullup, and push through to do many repetitions of that move, she added, they can cause an injury.

Other CrossFit competitors and friends of Ogar's quickly set up a fundraising campaign to help cover his medical bills and future costs, raising more than $100,000 in just three days online. Hathcock also worked to get Ogar covered under Medicaid.

Hathcock owns the CrossFit gym in Colorado where Ogar was a head coach, but Hathcock explained that most CrossFit coaches work as independent contractors -- not full-time employees -- and are not provided health insurance. Hathcock himself, as owner of CrossFit Unbroken, is only insured under his wife's plan, he said.

"It's the world we live in. They make stuff ridiculously expensive, and CrossFit gyms are not cash cows," Hathcock said. "It's hard to make that seem like a viable expense when you have so much other stuff to take care of, and being as healthy as we are, this is what brings us to the hospital. We don't go in when we have the flu or cold or anything."

Ogar has completed two surgeries, had screws and rods implanted in his back, and will be moved to a rehabilitation facility in Colorado. His spirits have been high and he has adopted an attitude of seeing his injury as fitting into God's plan, Hathcock said, adding that Ogar's friends and family remain hopeful that he will walk again.

Hathcock pointed out that Ogar's goal was to make it to the CrossFit Games, a nationwide competition for top CrossFit athletes broadcast on ESPN each year.

"There's the ability to make an income," he said. "Are we NFL players? No, but you are able to make money from the sport and Kevin was at that level. It seems like a greater loss because a lot of his livelihood was dependent on the use of his legs."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events