In September of 2012 we got the keys to the gym. We planned to open officially in October, and ran free classes Monday through Saturday to start getting people in. Our friend, Hannah, who helped with a lot of the initial set up and did photography was in Target one day when the kid, who was her cashier, asked about her WildFire CrossFit T-Shirt, so, she invited him to our Saturday Friends & Family class (the only class we had on Saturday in those days). I still remember when he came in for his first class. He was sporting a mohawk, was obviously no stranger to working out, was a little bit cocky, and was gung ho for what we did from the beginning. From the first time we met Damian on that Saturday morning, he was larger than life and one of the best people we’ve ever known.
In the beginning, he didn’t quite understand all the aspects of CrossFit and the difference from his normal workouts. For example, when he saw the kipping pull up, and we wanted to teach him how to do it, his response was “you don’t understand how fast and how many strict pull ups I can do in a row”. He also didn’t understand why CrossFit didn’t have weight classes, something I went back and forth with him about all the time, even though pound for pound he’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. His main goal for getting started was that he wanted to qualify for America Ninja Warrior. His gymnastics skills, while already impressive, accelerated quickly, and while he never made it on the show, his goals evolved just like he did.
It was a couple years of Damian coming to CrossFit classes, working at Target at the time, and going to school part time that we got to know him. Not long after we met him, he shed his mohawk and shaved his head entirely. We found out it was because he dressed up as the Silver Surfer for Comic Con, silver body paint from head to toe and all, and that’s when we realized we had a shared interest in the Marvel comics and movies. We learned over time how much he also loved Dragon Ball & Pokemon, animals, and especially, his beautiful wife Salmeh.
Coach Damian always had a way of having a long and involved explanation to make a point referencing everything from comics and movies to high performance cars. It was Coach Jeff who told me: “Damian was the only coach that I’ve met that got my Dragon Ball references, we will go on and on wether GT or Super was better, and how both of us at some point tried to go Super Saiyan. Then have deep conversations about our future and our goals and somehow tied it back to Dragon Ball. I bet he is on his way to train with Kaiosama”
In the first couple years at WildFire, he battled Tom Casella, among others, in the workouts. They would go back and forth depending on what the WOD was that day. He was a world class trash talker and sometimes needed to be reminded of where the line was, even though it was always in good nature. We realized right away that he had a heart of gold and only wanted to help people and be the best person he could be, all the way around. He had a way of brining out the competitive nature in athletes and made it fun.
It didn’t take long before we talked to him about coaching, and he put his heart and soul into it. Like most of our coaches, he started out shadowing classes, then assisting, and before long he had his own coaching schedule. This was also back when we only had 6 or 7 classes each day and 1 class on the weekend. He was there as the gym evolved and we got to see him evolve with it and grow into an incredible coach, athlete, and friend.
Damian matured before our eyes, that kid that we knew and loved gave way to a confident and passionate man who encouraged and inspired others to be their best in every way…and yes, still a bit cocky at times. He was always willing to go the extra mile to work with people. He would take people under his wing and whether it was working out or doing a competition, he’d make sure they were ready for whatever life threw at them and he pushed himself to the limit, always ready and willing to help people in whatever way possible.
Chris Stasik, our Olympic Lifting Coach for a few years, laughed this weekend about Damian in his classes. He told me “ Damian would show up late, and with no warm up he’d go to the heaviest bar in the room and start cranking out reps”. Chris also said “the jumps he would take were crazy, often 90# at a time”. Damian was always going for it. Not because he had something to prove, because he knew he could do it, and more often then not, he was right!
Most of you know that Coaches Damian & Tiffany did most of the programming for the gym. He was a master of putting incredible workouts together and seeing the coming weeks and where different levels of intensity or weight should go. I know they had a lot of fun meetings discussing what was coming up, what we just did, and how to make the workouts balanced and fun to get the most out of the athletes. He also did most of our YouTube videos that explained the programming. I know there were a lot of great outtakes, and just like him, the videos were always a lot of fun and high energy.
Damian loved joking around and practical jokes. His favorite was jumping out and scaring the living shit out of people, and he did it well. One of his proudest after an early 6am class, when Jeff Rogge was heading outside to get into his truck after a tough workout. He was talking with other members along the way. Damian waited for him to unlock his truck with his key fob, and while Jeff was distracted, Damian hopped into the passenger seat, waiting for the drivers door to open. Once it finally did, Jeff got his heart rate pumping again and almost jumped out of his skin when Damian jumped up at him. I think there was a time when most everyone who attended classes early in the morning got a fast wake up from Coach Damian.
Nicole James was on the end of one of Damian’s best scare set up that she explained in the form of a letter that she wrote to Damian:
“Oh Damian, where do I even start. I love you and miss you so much buddy. We have competed together, coached together, completed U the Leader together, and talked a lot of shit over the years. I went through our messages and all I could do was laugh and smile. Lots of memes, tons of crazy gymnastic videos that neither of us wanted to try but wanted to program, pre workout sales, discounted shoes, class coverage, sour patch kids, scores to beat in workouts….I’m going to miss all that so much.
I lost count of the times you scared me at the gym hiding behind anything to make me scream. The worst one was when you followed me upstairs without me knowing. Of course, I didn’t turn on the lights that day to put food in the fridge. When I turned around, you were on the ground and made this AWFUK animal noise and I screamed SO lpud my glasses fell off my head and over my eyes so I still couldn’t see what made that noise and I screamed again. I legit thought a raccoon or possum was going to eat me. That was such a good one D, thanks for that.
You brought so much energy and attitude to coaching and the best part was that everyone always had “a Damian story”. You touched so many lives. I’m going to miss all of our talked and laughs. I couldn’t be more proud to call you friend, you are a freaking hero Damian, love you.”
There have been so many great times and memories from the time we met him until his final moments of being a hero that Damian will be a legend. Playing paintball with a bunch of people from the gym, go carts and VR Zombie games for his birthday, competing, coaching, epic 30th Birthday celebrations, and many, many more. Anyone who saw Damian and his wife Salmeh together knows how amazing they were. They put their heart and soul into each other. There will always be a piece missing from our hearts from losing an incredible coach, friend, and a part of our family. We will be there for each other, for his family, and for Salmeh and celebrate the incredible way he lived.
We love you Damian!