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On September 24, 2009, Ryan Job, a Navy SEAL veteran and a close friend of the TRX family, passed away following surgery to address injuries he sustained while operating in Iraq.
As a Navy SEAL Team 3 operator and then as a veteran, Job never asked for recognition or praise from his fellow Americans. Yet those who had the privilege of knowing Job couldn’t help but walk away from any interaction with him without being inspired by his optimism, his determination, his unstoppable drive, and his unwavering commitment and dedication to family and country.
Job set an example that we should all try to follow. Modest, hard working and blessed with an indomitable spirit, Job embodied all of the best qualities of America’s service members.
TRX CEO and founder Randy Hetrick, a former Navy SEAL, had the privilege of working with Job after his injuries. Hetrick developed a TRX Suspension Training program to help Job recapture the physical fitness he lost while recovering.
On Veterans Day, we celebrate all of our active service members and veterans. And we remember Job—a loving husband and son, a true patriot, a dedicated friend who was always quick with a laugh in the most dire of circumstances, a game warrior who never let the magnitude of the challenges he faced dampen his burning ambitions or dim his courageous approach to everything he set his mind to achieving.
He always pushed himself to go bigger, to be better, to get stronger. And he never, ever gave up.
On August 2, 2006, Ryan Job was on an otherwise typical SEAL foot patrol in Iraq when he heard the crack of a gunshot break the silence of a still night. It would be the last thing he heard before he went blind. “I was shot by a sniper through the right eye. The round fragmented inside my head and destroyed the right eye and the optic nerve of my left eye leaving me blind in both eyes. It also severed my olfactory nerve leaving me with no sense of smell or taste.” Two days later, Job woke up in the VA hospital in Bethesda, MD. “I couldn’t figure out where I was and why I could hear people but couldn’t see. I thought there were bandages on my face.”
It’s the kind of nightmare scenario no one, not even a Navy SEAL, is emotionally or physically equipped to handle gracefully. Yet less than two years later, Job fought his way back into shape and to the summit of Mount Rainier with the help of Hetrick and TRX.
Job completed the climb as part of an expedition with Camp Patriot, a nonprofit organization created by Navy vet Micah Clark to facilitate transformative expeditions and outdoor recreation for injured vets. Clark invited Job to join a Camp Patriot climbing expedition on Mount Rainier with several other vets, including an amputee and another blind soldier. Job trained hard using a program TRX developed for him leading up to the expedition. When the group reached the summit of Mt. Rainier in 2008, a fighter jet screamed over the summit to honor the achievement.
Job’s road to the SEAL teams and, eventually, to the summit of Rainier started in rural Washington state where Job spent his youth backpacking while tracking and hunting bears, deer, and elk in old growth forests. Job wrestled in high school and played rugby at Washington State, but never considered himself an outstanding athlete or student. His singular mission in life was to serve his country as a Navy SEAL.
“The only reason I went into the NAVY was to become a SEAL. I had a private pilot’s license and wanted to fly jets, but I wanted to do both: fly and be a SEAL. The thing that appealed to me most was the unconventional nature of the SEAL community compared to the normal military, the kinds of missions they do,” he said.
He wanted to be a SEAL so badly that he left Washington State in 2002 after three years of school to enlist in the Navy. He negotiated a clause in his enlistment contract that guaranteed no matter what, he’d get a shot at Basic Underwater Demolition School, or BUDS, the first testing phase for prospective SEALs. “Right after boot camp and my A school, I went straight to BUDS. The A school I picked was aviation ordinance, and the only reason I picked it was to get to BUDS more rapidly. I started BUDS four months after I went in.”
When he made it to BUDS, he found the challenge he’d been waiting for his whole life—and then some. “BUDS was a major kick in the nuts.” But he made it. After graduating from BUDS in 2004, he joined SEAL Team 3 and spent the next year training with his platoon. In April 2006, his platoon deployed to Iraq and Job spent the next four months performing special operations. “We did all types of SEAL-style missions. Let’s just say my platoon made our deployment worth it. If there was a bad guy, they paid the man.” That doesn’t mean he had fun doing it, though. “There is nothing about combat that I enjoy except the fact that I did my part of it.”
Then came the night of August 2, 2006 when a sniper’s bullet struck Job and took his sight, smell and sense of taste. Two days after being shot, Job was back in the States at the VA hospital in Bethesda where he faced surgery after surgery for the next six weeks. The community of current and former SEAL operators takes care of their own and a steady stream of SEALs past and present showed up to support Job.
Navy SEALs and other special operators have the fitness, mindset and skills of professional athletes and put those aptitudes to the test every day in combat. Before the accident, Job’s fitness and combat-readiness had been central to his identity. Now he couldn’t even go to the bathroom on his own.
“When I was shot, I went from being in the top 1% of most physically capable people in the world to being in the bottom 1% in a fraction of a second. I was skinny and weak and didn’t resemble a SEAL anymore. I spent almost two months flat on my back in a hospital bed with my muscles atrophying. It’s incredible how far backwards your fitness can slide during such a short period of time. I was pretty depressed about the physical state I’d deteriorated into and I knew I had months of inpatient rehab left to go to get me back to my normal life.” As trying as his situation was, Job never gave up hope. “In the SEAL teams, we had a saying. When all else fails, plan B is just make it happen. Never be a quitter.”
When CAPT Rick Woolard (Ret.), a former SEAL Commanding Officer visited Job in the hospital he found that while the sniper’s bullet had taken Job’s sight and ability to smell or taste, it did nothing to diminish his toughness. When they talked, the only wish Job expressed was a way to work out on his own. In a quest to fulfill Job’s wish, Woolard reached out to the SEAL community and got in touch with Hetrick.
Hetrick knew he had a solution for Job in the form of the TRX. “It was like, hey, here’s a training system he can do blind without any assistance. I knew he could challenge himself from the elementary level to the highest elite level. I liked that there wasn’t anything he could benchmark his effort against on the TRX. If Ryan had jumped on a bench press and could only bench 100 pounds when before he could bench 300, he might’ve been discouraged. With the TRX he was able to start from scratch and it gave him something to practice,” says Hetrick. When Job transferred to the Palo Alto VA in December 2006 for rehab to help him adjust to being blind, Hetrick had a special TRX workout protocol waiting for him.
Until Job got his own Suspension Trainer, he had to have someone else help him work out and transport him to and from the weight room. When he got a TRX, he was finally to train on his own again at home. The next step was conquering the beast of a training regimen that Hetrick had waiting for him.
“I spent weeks developing the routine,” says Hetrick. “I had this hypothesis that some of the exercises would be exemplary for blind people. I had a pair of blinder shades for flying in an aircraft and started with squat rows and curls and other stable positions. But that was no big deal. I could do it just as well with my eyes closed as well as open.
“It turns out you can do any of the TRX exercises with your eyes closed. You never have to take your hands off the system. I could go through a whole workout with my eyes closed because I know how to adjust it, how far it should be from the floor. You lie down, you put your feet in. You stand up, you hold onto the handles. You never lose contact with it.
“For someone without sight, the TRX serves the same purpose as a visible horizon. You know where you are because when you tug on the straps you know they’re up and in front of you.”
Hetrick met with Job and introduced him to the new workout protocol during a hardcore session on the TRX in the garage of Hetrick’s Bay Area home. Job was gassed, but thrilled. “The timing of when I started using the TRX was good for my specific injury because I was learning how to be blind,” said Job. “I had been blind six weeks and learning how to do everything blind. The TRX works on your spatial orientation, your body position, your balance, it’s something that teaches you how to do physical activity and coordinate yourself blind. Besides all of the strength training and physical training, it really enhanced my proprioception.”
Throughout his rehab in Palo Alto, Job continued to use the Suspension Trainer. When he finished that portion of his rehab, he settled in Scottsdale, AZ with his wife, to pursue a business degree at Jones International University. The TRX became a cornerstone of his training. “It’s really an efficient way to get a workout done. It’s something I always have an option to do,” he said at the time. “It totally eliminates my problem of transportation to and from the gym or who am I going to workout with? And where am I going to workout? I like the fact that you can stretch on it, too—flexibility is important to fitness also. I like the fact that you can travel with it. I like the fact that you can incorporate it into any training routine whether you’re a runner or swimmer or weightlifter. You really can develop a program on it for any type of sport.”
With the help of Camp Patriot, Job planned to climb Mt. Rainier. He’d never done any serious mountaineering prior to his Rainier attempt. In order to prepare his body for the challenge, he trained seven days a week and tackled a special mountaineering training program TRX designed just for him (the same workout found in the Ryan Job TRX Summit Workout).
Once on the mountain, Job found himself ready to face the challenge rising more than 14,000 feet in front of him. The Camp Patriot team had reached the summit with a blind veteran the year before in 2007. The guides used the same system they developed on that climb to enable Job to ascend safely. Job was roped to a sighted guide five feet in front of him. “I could follow him based on the tension and direction of the rope,” he said. A second guide followed five feet behind Job and verbally described the terrain. “I used trekking poles in both hands for stability and steeper terrain and for finding obstacles, just like I’d use a cane.” The system worked and Job and the team successfully made the summit.
“I attribute summit success and making it to the top to the team, first of all. Second, fitness was a huge key for me. Everyone else could see what they were walking up and take the right height, length and direction of steps. I’d have to pick my foot up a little farther each time, stride a little farther, and spend more time on each step just to identify where to put my foot. I had to use my upper body to pull myself up the mountain sometimes and support my upper body in addition to finding the footing in front of me with my foot, testing it and seeing if I could put my foot down safely. My process was twice as energy consuming as a sighted person.”
He didn’t let that get in the way of enjoying the climb, though. “I love the mountains, I love the outdoors. I was very tired at many points but I was happy the whole time, excited the whole time. I loved being able to go back up to Washington state because that’s where I grew up. I liked the cold air on my face. I’m very sensitive to sound now. I like the sound of things when there’s snow on the ground. It sounds very different. It’s muffled. Echoes sound different, but I can still hear when a cliff or rock wall is next to me. On the summit there’s nothing above your head and nothing on your sides, just entirely open space.” The team made it to the summit and back down to the parking lot in just four days. “I was recovered from each leg of the climb each day we did it. Once we got back down to the parking lot, I was ravenously hungry but by the time I was done eating the big mountain of food I was ready to go back up the mountain.”
The next adventure Job had planned after reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier was to complete a triathlon. He never got to accomplish that goal as complications from an operation to address his injuries took his life.
Today, we remember Job for his tenacity, for his courageousness and for the way he inspired us to be our best. No matter what he faced, he never gave up. He showed us what it means to be a truly strong human.