Flesh-eating bacteria doesn’t take vet’s drive

Lisa Marie Pane
Associated Press

Dacula, Ga. — A year ago, Cindy Martinez was struggling to walk even just a few feet and lift just five pounds.

A flesh-eating bacteria had ravaged the 35-year-old Marine veteran’s body. She had a grim choice: Amputate both legs, an arm below the elbow, and parts of the fingers on her remaining arm — or face almost-certain death.

The amputations saved her life. And after months of hospitalizations and rehabilitation, she finally found herself back home but alone during the day while her young children were in school and her husband was off at work.

“It kind of takes a toll on you mentally, just sitting there after all that I had gone through,” she said.

In the stillness of her home, she fired off an email to a local gym and asked about joining. When they called back later that night, “I told the lady on the phone, well, there’s a twist to my story.”

She soon found herself sitting in a circle surrounded by trainers at Crossfit Goat — with the motto Be Your Greatest of All Time — in Dacula, about 45 miles northeast of Atlanta. She told them her story and began in February to embark on an unusual quest: becoming a Crossfit athlete. Crossfit gyms are known for high-intensity strength and cardio workout, and their members often consider their “box” to be like a family as they bond over workouts-of-the-day that test their strength and resolve.

Her coach, gym owner Amanda Greaver, pledged to work with her and to find whatever way they could for her to do exercises that challenge even people with all of their limbs. She’s come away in awe of how Martinez tackles each workout.

“She will not be stopped no matter what,” Greaver said. “If something doesn’t work, there’s no getting frustrated. We adapt and move on to something else. She is always, always positive.”

Martinez has worked up to deadlifting 95 pounds — nearly her weight — and squatting 65 pounds.

She needs to use her abdominal muscles to ensure she remains balanced. The fingers on her remaining full arm have varying degrees of amputation, which makes it difficult to grip a barbell or dumbbell. Part of the latissimi dorsi muscles on the left side of her back, the area where the infection first sprouted, were removed.

But she and Greaver constantly find ways to adapt. When she’s performing squats with the barbell behind her, she uses a strap to connect the arm that was amputated just below the elbow to the bar. When using dumbbells to do chest presses, she uses a strap to attach the weight to her hand and arm to allow her to lift it without needing a tight grip.

Martinez is often surprised by the attention she gets and how others see her as inspirational. “I’m just doing it. I want it — not that other people don’t want it,” she said.