Wounded warrior climbs mountains to raise funds for prosthetic care

Kionte Storey with Esther Marek and Nicole Zapoli, co-owners of CrossFit Del Mar. The gym donated $1,200 for Storey’s quest to raise funds for prosthetics for underprivileged amputees.
(Sebastian Montes)

Off in the back corner of the CrossFit Del Mar gym as he and a dozen others power through a workout — named in memory of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq in 2004 — Kionte Storey pushes himself back and forth through a circuit of exercises — relentlessness bordering on obsession, teetering on the brink of exhausted collapse.

He hunches over after a set of heaving a medicine ball 15 feet up the gym’s back wall, takes a fleeting pause, then throws his finely-tuned physique upside down into a set of inverted pushups.

He will not let himself stop. This is what keeps the darkness at bay.

Seven years ago, when he was a 21-year-old Marine Lance Corporal deployed in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device ripped away the bottom half of his right leg. Physical recovery took a matter of months. Mental and emotional battles are always raging.

“Everything that I’m doing today, if I had not remained active I would sink back into that dark depression and that feeling of being lost,” he said after the Friday, July 7 workout. “It’s how I’ve been able to keep moving forward.”

So much of Storey’s climb out of that darkness came in the Sorrento Valley gym. When Mark Marek —himself a veteran — and his wife, Esther, opened CrossFit Del Mar in 2011, they welcomed in wounded warriors recovering at Naval Medical Center San Diego in Balboa Park. Storey was one of those who took advantage, using CrossFit to pull himself from the abyss of dread and self-loathing into which he had plummeted. Within two years he was training full-time to qualify for the Paralympics as a sprinter. He faltered that year but did not waver, setting his sights on Rio 2016. After again meeting disappointment, he mounted a bid this spring — perhaps his last — to make it to the World ParaAthletics Championships in London, but the increasingly fierce competition outraced him to Team USA’s spots.

He would not let himself stop.

He shifted his focus to the Range of Motion Project (ROMP) — an international nonprofit focused on developing prosthetic technologies in underserved countries — and embarked on a campaign that will take him at the end of this month to Ecuador, where he and a ROMP team will climb nearly 19,000 feet to the top of the Cayambe volcano.

Every $400 he raises will pay for someone’s prosthetic.

“I love giving back and I love motivating people, so that became my purpose — and even the reason why I’m still alive today,” he says. “ROMP really resonated with me personally because I believe in giving back, especially when it comes to prosthetic care and hopefully being able to give people their independence back, just like my prosthetic gives me my independence today.”

So when Esther Marek and co-owner Nicole Zapoli presented him with a $1,200 donation on Friday, gratitude overcame his characteristic shyness. With that check and another $3,000 he raised last month by conquering the 5-Peak Challenge at Mission Trails Regional Park, he’ll be able to give prosthetics to 10 people — more than twice his original goal.

Of course he’s not stopping there. After Ecuador, he’s heading to Tanzania to climb the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro.

And as his 30th birthday approaches fast over the horizon, he’s looking to summit a new challenge: transitioning into school to pursue his dream of becoming a physical therapist.

But for now, his focus is on the literal mountain ahead.

“There’s nothing I can’t do,” he said. “I’ve proven that to myself already.”

Learn more at www.crossfitdelmar.com.