Athletic is hardly enough of an adjective to describe Mino Solomon. Lifting weights for him isn’t about staying in shape—it’s his passion. Mino’s been active all his life and he was never the one to sit still. After finishing college football, he knew he needed another physical and mental challenge. First, it was rock climbing but ultimately CrossFit is what kept his attention.
Unfortunately, life changed quickly and drastically one day in early September 2015. Mino was involved in a weightlifting accident that broke his spine. This immediately caused a loss of sensation from the waist down. Many people would be devastated, defeated and broken, but Mino is determined to be upright and active once again.
Mino’s positive attitude isn’t the only thing that’s keeping him going. He has an amazing community that’s standing behind him and motivating him. His gym, CrossFit Jaakarhu in Austin, Texas, started a YouCaring fundraiser to provide help for the long road to recovery that he has ahead. The campaign, which includes several inspiring videos and has been shared more than 1,200 times via social media, has already raised well over $51,000 to date. In Mino’s words, having this type of community support means everything.
We interviewed Mino and his girlfriend, Sharon Blecker, to see how he is doing, what has made his fundraiser so successful, and how they managed to rally such a supportive community around him.
How has Mino’s accident affected you?
It’s heartbreaking to see a loved one suffer—to sit by and not have the ability to ease their pain and fears. It’s something we are never prepared for, but I’ve found that somehow we find the strength to not only pull through but to smile again. The accident has changed my perspective on life. It has strengthened my faith, increased my gratitude, and made me realize how truly precious our time here is. Every day, I am grateful Mino is still here—that I can hear him laugh, that we can debate with each other, that we can support each other, and love our life together.
It seems like Mino is a very well-liked person. To what do you attribute his popularity?
Mino is a rare breed. He is a man full of love, energy, joy, positivity and smart aleck remarks. I think it’s these qualities that make him such a likable guy and a magnet to most.
What was the inspiration behind the “Mino Strong” video you used in your YouCaring fundraising campaign?
The video allows everyone to see how awesome the people in our life are. It allows people to see that we are real people, and that is priceless. Mino’s friends had the idea to get everyone who loves and cares about him involved in making a video to remind Mino that he isn’t alone and to make him laugh. I’d say they were incredibly successful.
Our friends in San Francisco really drove the efforts for this video. I was supposed to spread the word to our friends in Texas but did a poor job giving them less than 24 hours to submit their videos, but they did it. That’s how strong Mino’s support group is. We had a lot of people participate, but the big masterminds behind the project were Justin and Kelly.
How has the CrossFit community and your family made an impact on Mino and the fundraiser?
The CrossFit community is part of our family. They have supported us from day one. Our gym, CrossFit Jaakarhu, organized an event inviting gyms in Texas and across the U.S. to participate in raising funds for Mino’s recovery. We didn’t ask for this. They came up with the idea and brought it all to life. This speaks to the integrity of the CrossFit community—to the heart of our Karhu community. Karhu, along with other CrossFit gyms, hosted a CrossFit event where athletes were able to donate. It was a fun day we hoped would encourage folks to get active and enjoy physical activity. For Mino, the fundraising was second. His hope was to get folks to enjoy working out and make memories with their community.
Also, my family in Orlando worked very hard in spreading the word of Mino’s accident and recovery at two food truck events. My little cousins baked cookies and were running around asking folks to help Mino get better. It was adorable and so touching to know everyone worked so hard and successfully shared Mino’s story.
How has social media played a role in Mino’s fundraiser?
Social media has moved mountains for us. Seeing so many people share Mino’s story and contribute to his fund has been such a humbling experience. It’s a true testament to how kind people are.
Why did you choose YouCaring to host your fundraiser?
Mino’s coach, Michael Winchester, found YouCaring. He compared it to other fundraising sites and really saw value in its user-friendliness. It was the right fit for us.
Do you have any advice for others starting a YouCaring campaign?
People want to help. YouCaring allows folks to do that and show you how much they care. It can be tough to share so much about a difficult time, but the love and support that it generates is well worth it. Whatever you are dealing with, hang on to hope and allow people to help.
What has made you so passionate about weightlifting?
I have always been active. My entire life I have been the one who couldn’t stand still and had to be doing something. I played football throughout college, and following that I kept working out for my own health and enjoyment. I used to rock climb at an indoor gym back home, and one night I saw their CrossFit classes. I had no idea what it was but I knew I needed to be a part of it. I was like so many—hooked from the start for the physical and mental challenge, competitive nature and, most importantly, the amazing community that has been so vital for me following the injury. Weightlifting and CrossFit are skill-driven challenges where you need to be mentally strong, and it allows you to challenge yourself and improve every day. Olympic lifting especially is such a detailed skill that it was something you can improve a little bit everyday. All of those things made it very attractive to me.
How involved are you in the CrossFit community?
As I mentioned, CrossFit was a game changer for me because of the physical challenge but really more so because of the amazing people you meet and become close with. I have met some truly incredible people through my CrossFit journey and some of my closest friends have come into my life because of CrossFit. The CrossFit community and specifically my CrossFit Jaakarhu family have been there for me every step of the way and have been a rock of support from the start.
I saw the video of you taking your first steps after the accident. Amazing! How did that make you feel?
I was able to swing my legs using my hips about 10 weeks ago or so but was still using a weight-supported harness and braces. It was exciting for me to simply be upright and put weight through my legs after spending so much time in a hospital bed. I started physical therapy seven days after the injury and it was a lot of adjusting to simply be able to sit up and stand supported upright. I’m so grateful for all the support of friends and family and even strangers who kept me going during that time. Also to the RIC team who worked extremely hard and patiently to give me the best opportunity to improve, I can’t thank them enough. Also my girlfriend Sharon, who has been with me since the moment it happened and has kept me positive and moving forward.
Do you have any updates you’d like to share?
I’m currently back in Austin and back to work. I have a pretty full schedule of rehab in the morning and then to the office and back for another session of rehab or workout at Jaakarhu. I have had some return in both feeling and use through my hips but there is still a ways to go. With the support from so many and hard work and a positive attitude, I believe it will happen.
What does it mean to have so many people rallying around you?
To sum it up in a word: everything. I realize how fortunate I am to have such an amazing support group. My family, friends, coworkers and all those who have reached out have truly made the difference for me. There are plenty of hard days, but I know I can do it because of all the positive thoughts and incredible selfless actions of my extended family. I love you all! Step by step, brick by brick, we will overcome the odds. It won’t be the first time.
Visit Mino Solomon’s Hakuna Matata Fund to help with his recovery. Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive a “Mino Strong” T-shirt.
Inspired to help a loved one with medical needs? Start a free fundraising campaign today.