Staff Sgt. Matt Cable survived two bouts with cancer – including two comas and a blot clot in his heart – and racked up seven medals last month at the Invictus Games. And he has no plans to slow down.
Mere weeks after traveling to the Netherlands as part of Team USA’s 65-person conglomerate, he will be a sports mentor for the Air Force Wounded Warrior C.A.R.E. event at Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado, followed by a camp for the Warrior Games basketball team. Not to mention actually competing at the Warrior Games in mid-August.
But the athletic hustle is nothing new for Cable, who will medically retire from the Air National Guard this year.
CrossFit leads to Titan Games
After his time as a five-sport athlete in high school, Cable continued with wrestling and football after graduation but ultimately joined the military and made the transition to CrossFit after seeing the “Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness” documentary.
“I loved it,” Cable said of starting his CrossFit journey. “But boy my form was garbage. And it humbled me for sure. And I knew it was going to because I was a big powerlifter. So all I did was squat, deadlift, bench … I went in there humbled, and it humbled me more.”
Cable said his training allows him to work on explosive movements, which helps with sprints, starts and “exploding out of the blocks” for running events. Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches give him an edge with shot put.
“I train not to be good at one thing, I train to be good at everything overall,” he said.
With CrossFit as his “foundation of fitness,” Cable also landed a spot on NBC’s Titan Games in 2019.
“The experience was amazing,” he said. “After the Titan Games, I went on deployment orders, and I was still training full-time pretty much … Once I deployed, I was sick pretty much immediately after deploying, like day of. Boots on the ground.”
Cable never recovered, yet continued to train – even competing in the 2019 CrossFit Open.
“I wanted to make big noise in the Open, and I just – the workouts were strength workouts that I would normally be good at, and I was fatiguing out,” he said.
Three months into the deployment, he learned that his cancer, which he initially was diagnosed with in 2014, had relapsed. Cable was medevaced stateside to undergo treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he stayed for about 40 days. While there, he got a blood clot in his heart.
After that issue was resolved, he moved to Arizona to be closer to the Mayo Clinic and continue chemotherapy.
“After my third chemotherapy session, once it wiped out my white blood cells … I had no immune system,” Cable said. “I was still training, trying to do what I could. But I got really, really sick. I got a fungal infection that was going up my head into my brain.”
After five surgeries in seven days, Cable was put on life support for the second time – the first in 2015 resulted in an 18-day coma.
“They were able to save my right eye,” Cable said. “They went through my nose and scraped all that stuff out of here … [They] had to shoot me with white blood cell fertilizer so my white blood cells could grow back and so they could perform surgeries on me and whatnot and my body could heal itself.”
Training and treatment
After emerging from the coma, he did what he could to work out. Once undergoing a previously rescheduled bone-marrow transplant, he was hospitalized for about 30 days and required a caregiver (his wife, Ensley).
“For like 11 months, my blood was not reproducing,” Cable said. “It was crazy. And so we tried this procedure called plasmapheresis.”
In plasmapheresis, blood is removed through a needle or catheter and separated into red and white cells, platelets and plasma. The plasma is then replaced with a substitute fluid and, along with the blood cells, returned to the body through a separate needle.
“It’s a miracle,” he said. “In about a month-and-a-half, two months, it started reproducing. I was getting blood transfusions twice a week, it was crazy. And my iron levels shot up, it was nuts. But yeah, I was very blessed to have Ensley there to take care of me because without her, I don’t know if I would have made it.”
With the success of that procedure, it didn’t take long for Cable to get back on the competition floor.
“My crazy ass, a week later did a CrossFit competition,” he said.
And how did he do?
“Brutal. I didn’t place. I took fourth actually,” Cable said.