Man on a mission

Student Caleb Grossman makes a remarkable recovery from a hiking injury he had as a teenager.

Grossman+works+his+way+through+a+clean+during+CrossFit+Biola.+Even+with+a+bulging+disc+in+his+back%2C+Grossman+fights+through+the+pain%2C+but+makes+sure+to+stay+in+tune+to+his+body%2C+not+wanting+to+hurt+himself+further.+%7C+Ashleigh+Fox%2FTHE+CHIMES
Grossman works his way through a clean during CrossFit Biola. Even with a bulging disc in his back, Grossman fights through the pain, but makes sure to stay in tune to his body, not wanting to hurt himself further. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

Grossman works his way through a clean during CrossFit Biola. Even with a bulging disc in his back, Grossman fights through the pain, but makes sure to stay in tune to his body, not wanting to hurt himself further. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

Grossman works his way through a clean during CrossFit Biola. Even with a bulging disc in his back, Grossman fights through the pain, but makes sure to stay in tune to his body, not wanting to hurt himself further. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

Lauren Frey, Writer

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Caleb Grossman, a freshman, poses after just finishing a workout during the 6:30 a.m. session of CrossFit Biola. Grossman is pursuing a career as a missionary and is working to get to a healthy weight in order to help fulfill that dream. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

 

In 2009, on a hike over Joshua Tree National Park’s gigantic rocks, 14-year-old Caleb Grossman, freshman Islamic studies major, lost his footing and fell six feet directly onto a boulder. Little did he know it was a fall that would change his life.

An unforgetable fall

With such a heightened adrenaline rush, he got up and walked away.

“It hurt for a while [afterward]. But because I was growing and playing football at the time, I was getting stronger and just kind of lived with [the pain],” Grossman said.

He had no idea how serious it really was.

Grossman played sports until the age of 16. But his days of overlooking the pain ended when he broke his foot jumping off a small ledge inside his house, binding him to a wheelchair for six months.

During that time he gained 60 pounds.

“I was eating a water polo diet but … was just sitting in a wheelchair all day. And that is when my back got weak again and was in excruciating pain,” Grossman said.

Grossman plays recreational game called "Kajabe Can Can" at a Hume Lake Christian camp in 2011. Beginning with a six-foot fall, leading up to a life-changing sermon and finally being invited to join CrossFit Biola, Grossman has lost over 100 pounds in his pursuit to get back to a healthy body weight. | Courtesy of Caleb Grossman

 

More than a minor injury

When he was 17, Caleb finally visited a doctor to find out why he was in so much pain. The doctor reported that the six-foot fall had caused a bulging disc in Grossman’s lower back. He learned that the bulging disc’s soft center squeezed into the cracks of the outer covering, putting pressure on the nerves connected to his right leg. This caused severe numbness and stinging all the way down to his toes.

“If you feel my back, it feels like speed bumps … physically my disc could not get any worse,” Grossman said.

Grossman saw multiple doctors and chiropractors and even tried strong steroid shots to free himself from the agonizing pain — but nothing helped.

“The only way to fix my injury was through surgery,” Grossman said.

But traditional herniated back surgery was an extreme risk. He learned that it might require more back surgeries in the future, leaving him with great physical limitations for the rest of his life and no guarantee of being completely pain-free.

Self-initiated health

In 2011 he decided that being pain-free through a risky surgery wasn’t worth it. Delaying back surgery, a 306 pound Grossman set out to lose weight in order to ease the excruciating pain and restart an active lifestyle.

That was just the beginning of the many turning points in his life. In October of last year, while listening to a sermon on the great commission at Grace Evangelical Free Church, Grossman said God called him to be a missionary.

“I was sitting in church just sobbing,” Grossman said. “[It was] the clearest, I think, God ever spoke to me. He told me: ‘…You’re going to be a missionary in the Middle East … just go, and trust me.’”

From that point on, Grossman lived with a new sense of purpose. Yet as his faith grew stronger, his pain grew greater.

Grossman said his pain felt like a man with steel-toed work boots was standing on him and forcing all his body weight into his lower back.

Without back surgery as an option, the only way to lessen the pain was to lose more weight.

On Jan. 1, he stepped onto a scale and realized that, at 276 pounds, it was time to do just that. A new weight-loss journey began. He lost 15 pounds by April and shed more weight working out six days a week over the summer.

“I want to be able to go into the mission field for a long time and not have my body fail me. And if I’m overweight and unhealthy, it could happen — like, I could have a heart attack,” Grossman said.

Fitness friends

2013 Biola graduate Miles Bocianski met Grossman at Grace Evangelical Free Church and encouraged him to join CrossFit Biola last year. Since school began, Grossman’s shoes have hit the track Monday through Friday at 6:30 a.m. with CrossFit Biola.

“I’m just really impressed by his initiative,” Bocianski said.

Now Grossman is lifting heavy weights, running and eating a strict Paleo diet. He has lost nearly 100 pounds.

Andrew Talley, freshman pre-physical therapy major and Grossman’s roommate, explained that Grossman’s doctor is surprised he can even walk.

“He’s always had really high pain tolerance,” Talley said.

Although CrossFit is an extreme workout program, junior and president of CrossFit Biola Blake Nelle makes sure Grossman uses proper form over high intensity.

"It doesn't do anything to add intensity until you have really mastered the movement,” Nelle said.

Without a drug that could help, Grossman is careful to listen to his body. But Grossman doesn’t allow the pain to stop him from pushing himself.

“He doesn't complain. He doesn't whine. He doesn't play the victim,” Nelle said.

Grossman has found that the adrenaline from working out temporarily relieves his pain. But for Grossman, CrossFit is not only about the physical benefits.

“It’s taught me to, [in] whatever I’m doing, give it my all. And when I feel like giving up — don’t. Endure till the end,” Grossman said.

Grossman works his way through a clean during CrossFit Biola. Even with a bulging disc in his back, Grossman fights through the pain, but makes sure to stay in tune to his body, not wanting to hurt himself further. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

The total transfomation

Talley, who has been friends with Grossman since sixth grade, has witnessed a big transformation in Grossman’s life.

“He’s a man on a mission … We used to eat a lot of food together — like bad food,” Talley said. “But now whenever I have those splurges … he’ll just be sitting there not eating any of it.”

He is not only on a mission, but also on fire.

“He sees himself running around Iraq with a backpack full of Bibles,” Talley said.

Grossman is happy about his fitness accomplishments, but it is not where he finds worth.

“My significance isn’t wrapped up in how much I weigh, or what I look like, or what I do or how strong I am. But my significance is because I’m an image bearer of God, and I’m a child of God,” Grossman said.

Weight loss has successfully lessened the day-to-day pain. But the pain is still just that: day-to-day and hour-to-hour.

“Every morning when I sit up, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind … pain,” Grossman stated.

But he doesn’t let his pain steal his purpose.

“Jesus is my only source of joy,” Grossman said. “I would be a bitter person about it, if I didn’t have Christ … so I can be at peace and have joy because I’m in his hands.”
 

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