In June 7, 2013, Zach Nichols' life was flipped upside down after a horrendous head-on collision. Nichols was headed to Austin at 6:30 that Friday morning for a Texas Security Course when another vehicle struck him on Highway 31 at 75 mph. The 28-year-old Army National Guard member woke up in a hospital bed seven days later.
"I was in pretty good shape, the best in my life before the accident," Nichols said. "When I woke up I tried to get up … and that's when my wife told me I couldn't move my legs."
The doctors told Nichols, an avid Crossfit enthusiast, that he would probably be in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Nichols suffered injuries to his spine, a bruised heart and bruised lungs, an open-book pelvic fracture, shattered femur, distil fractures on both legs, a crushed left foot and a broken right foot with severe displacement.
At the time, Nichols' had a 2-year-old son with his wife, Sarah, and the couple had another child on the way.
"I was waiting for a contract to pick up, expecting to keep working with a pregnant wife and my young son and then wound up there," Nichols said. "The doctors told me I wouldn't be able to stand up for 90 days because my pelvis would not be able to take it … neither could my legs … or my feet."
Doctors told Nichols he was a complicated case. Usually a patient will come in with one or two lower body injuries happening at one time after a wreck. On rare occasion, patients like Nichols come in with multiple severe issues all affecting the complete lower body. The doctors told Nichols he would probably be in a wheelchair or walk with a cane for the rest of his life.
"I just couldn't accept that," Nichols said. "I refused to believe it. My wife was in her second trimester and I said ‘No, I'm going to get up for my kids.'"
After being sent home to heal after an 8-hour surgery, and ordered to stay in a wheelchair for 90 days, Nichols was determined to defy the odds and stand up again. Nichols showed up at the Crossfit gym in Tyler in his wheelchair just over 2 weeks after his discharge from the hospital and began doing seated upper body workouts.
"The Saturday after my wreck, I was supposed to be in Dallas for a Crossfit level 1 certification," said Nichols. "I was in the gym 16 days after the wreck doing what I could, sitting down in the wheelchair … it was embarrassing because I had to use kids weights at first."
Nichols began a strength training routine, working out 5 days a week, and was able to stand just 45 days after his wreck. He began to walk with a cane at 51 days and progressed from there. Five months after the accident, Nichols competed in Festivus, a national competition designed for novice and intermediate Crossfit athletes, wearing a boot. Nichols did not place, but participated in the event.
Nichols plan was to work overseas as a contractor and reach financial goals before going back to school, but the wreck sped up that plan.
"Immediately that semester, in my wheelchair, I started back to college in the surgical technician program," Nichols said. "Amidst surgeries, removals, infections, pregnancy and general physical fitness I was in school and I've been there until now, and I'm still in school."
Future goals for Nichols, now 30, are finishing school, competing heavily in Crossfit and raising a family. Since the wreck, Nichols has competed in 3 fitness competitions: the 2013 Festivus, 2014 Rose City Ruckus and 2014 Tyler Sprint Triathalon.
"My life beforehand medically and workout-wise prepared me for my wreck," Nichols said. "My doctors told me from the beginning: my fitness is what saved me."