Hero WODs are special, while doing them we are reminded the true meaning of sacrifice and discipline. This hero WOD is extra special to us. Let us all remember how fortunate we are we get to wake up today.

My Cousin Matt: Sergeant Matthew T. Abbate
by Annemarie Hendrickson
December 2, 2019

There are moments that always stick in your mind and your heart, moments in which time stops that take your breath away.  On December 2, 2010, I was enjoying dinner with my friend and her family when I received a text that would change everything, one that would make me question things I thought I knew.  “They killed Matt.” Military officials had just darkened my aunt’s doorstep with the news that her Marine was gone. 

My blood immediately went cold.  Who could have killed this beast of a man-the boy who always knew he was meant to be a Marine?  Everything Sergeant Matthew Abbate did was in pursuit of being the best Marine he could be; his primary role model growing up was Rambo.  Being tough was instilled in him young by my aunt, a Sorensen, who always told him “Sorensens get up” when he would fall. Matthew always got up.  He was running in boots from the time he was a kid because “Marines run in boots”. He was a skinny kid with limitless energy who grew up to be a 6’2” giant with limitless energy and a beautiful heart.

He always wanted to protect the people and things he loved.  Before his final deployment, he and I were hanging around talking about life.  He offered to come to my class to talk to my students about the importance of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  He offered to beat up any guy who might have treated me wrong. He loved his family and was always looking for opportunities to protect and defend the people and the country he loved.

On the day we put him on the train to Camp Pendleton for the last time, I remember him wringing his hands constantly.  I thought he was nervous, scared to go back into battle, but that wasn’t it at all. He said he was anxious. He was ready to get back to protect and fight alongside his brothers.  

In the aftermath of his death, our family had the opportunity to talk to many of his comrades and heard lots of colorful stories.  Matt was the hero in all of them-a real-life Rambo whom everyone looked up to. He had a powerful sense of right and wrong, and he would always fight for it.  Once Matt noticed a guy in Australia beating up a woman, cops said it was a “domestic dispute” that they could not do anything about. Matt did not agree, and took matters into his own hands.  I don’t think the man ever beat another woman.

Matt was all about fitness and perfection.  He was the top sniper in his class of around 1000 people.  He was known to be carrying massive kettlebells in his backpack at any given time.  They say he would be up at 3:00 am lifting weights and running. Signs at the gym saying “No boots on the treadmill” didn’t deter him from continuing to run in boots.   

Matt was an elite Scout Sniper assigned to the 3/5 Marines, known as the Dark Horse Battalion, a group who saw action in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Matt’s final deployment was one of the most deadly in Marine history.  25 of our bravest men were killed in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.  I would never have imagined he would be one of them; he was larger than life, a true legend.  He was a beast on the battlefield, always trying to talk people into going out on patrol with him.  He went on at least double the patrols that he was required to do. He was always a leader, always ready to sacrifice himself for his brothers.  

On October 14, 2010, Matt earned his first purple heart, and his mom got her first unwanted contact from the Marines.  He had been hit with shrapnel from an IED on his leg. That would not be the only honor he would receive from that day.  He and his men found himself in an area full of IEDs and enemy sharpshooting. In short, he administered aid to Marines who had lost limbs tripping bombs, saving their lives, and drew enemy fire upon himself, while firing back with “deadly accuracy” in order to allow the injured Marines to be helicoptered to safety.  There were casualties that day, but many were saved due to his heroic actions; he was the last to leave the scene. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the highest honor in the Navy, the second highest honor in the United States for his actions that gruesome day.

His death came in another battle on December 2, 2010 when shrapnel from a friendly air strike hit his neck.  The people I spoke to said he was running ahead of his team, and although he knew the strike was coming, he apparently didn’t know his own speed and ended up too close to it.  He bled out too fast to be saved, and his comrades had to watch their hero die. This is what earned him his second purple heart. 

Seeing the men who had just returned from their deployment in April 2011 was almost as hard as seeing Matthew come home in a casket.  There were so many young men whose bodies had been literally ravaged by war. So many wheelchairs, scarred faces, and missing body parts.  All of them grieving the loss of their 25 brothers. One of Matt’s brothers made the documentary linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkpNZWf8lw0 (Video Below)

The next time I saw this large group of brave men was at Matt’s Navy Cross ceremony.  They had all made remarkable rehabilitation, many of them shedding their wheelchairs for prosthetic limbs that seemed so natural.  I admired their perseverance.

The first time I heard about CrossFit was in the aftermath of Matty’s death.  His friends told me that there would be a Hero WOD in his honor. Whoever submitted the workout knew Matt and made sure those who did it would run (preferably in boots.)  I appreciate CrossFit honoring people like my cousin who died way too soon-people in the prime of their lives with unparalleled levels of skill, honor, and strength.  

It is a real honor for me to be part of the MidState community who will honor Matt on the anniversary of his death to remember his sacrifice.  Matt died with great honor, and he was ready to do it. None of us were ready for it, though. We still aren’t. Matt’s legacy is one of love and pride in his country.  He was a hero in life, and now in death. In thinking about CrossFit and their dedication to honoring these Marines, I am reminded of Matt’s favorite quote “You don’t have to be blood to be family.”  What greater way is there to honor a man who knew his life and the lives of others depended on his physical fitness than with a brutal workout for the greater CrossFit family?