This July, Josh Cinnamo ’03 competed with the U.S. team in the London World Para Athletics Championships. Cinnamo, who has a congenital amputation, has made a name for himself among adaptive athletes. He holds eight national titles in discus, shot put, and javelin, and he’s a 2017 world record holder in shot put. He placed fourth in the category at the London Para games, setting another American record, bringing his total American track and field record count to six.
Cinnamo, a data center infrastructure manager for the state of Minnesota, responded to our questions this summer.
Did you grow up playing sports?
Sports ruled our world growing up in San Diego. My brothers (one being Chris Cinnamo ’98, Luther Athletic Hall of Famer) and neighborhood friends congregated around a ball. As fun as the games were, they were fiercely competitive. For me, sports were an opportunity to prove (mostly to myself) that I was as valuable an asset in sports as the next person. When you’re born with a built-in disadvantage, as most people see it, you seek an environment as tough as possible as a proving ground. Sports of the unorganized variety set the tone for my love of competition.
Were you an athlete at Luther?
Luther head football coach Brad Pole recruited me to Luther to play football in the summer of 1999. I lettered in football all four years and in track and field my final three years. When I finished my Luther athletic career, I was the school record holder for PATs [points after touchdown] and ranked second in total points scored (kicking). I also had a top-10 javelin throw in school history.
When and how did you enter the post-collegiate world of competitive sports?
When I finished at Luther, I wanted to continue competitive sports. To my surprise, there were two arena-league football teams that asked me to try out in the summer of 2003. Unfortunately for me, I had, as one former coach put it, “an NFL leg with high school accuracy.” If you’ve ever seen the goalposts in the arena league, they are only a few feet apart . . . So when I moved to the Twin Cities in 2004, I joined a semiprofessional football team and kicked for one final season. The following year, my kicking career was over.
In 2011 and on the advice of friend and Luther alumna Lynn Dalhed ’02, I started CrossFit. It’s essentially the idea that you cross-train for any life situation. In my four years at Luther, I’d be surprised if I ever touched a free weight. CrossFit opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities based on my physical limitations. Thankfully, the owner of CrossFit Templar at the time was open to the idea of taking on an adaptive athlete and willing to spend time adapting movements to get me the type of workout the able-bodied athletes were receiving. As time passed and I became more familiar with my body, I tried more movements. As long as I made up the difference between my short arm and the normal one, I was probably okay. CrossFit taught me a lot about life. It was okay to crawl, walk, run. After a few months, I was in full sprint. I was performing technical Olympic lifts and surpassing every lifting record in the gym all on the body I was given. . . .
I soon received a call from the founders of Team Some Assembly Required, a 501c3 nonprofit that at the time was putting together an adaptive CrossFit team to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. With a bit of apprehension and a lot of excitement, I joined the team and began competing in CrossFit, powerlifting, and strongman. Soon I’m transitioning into a leadership position focused on the future of adaptive sports.
Tell us about the first time you won a major title.
In 2014, when I decided to enter the US Paralympic Track and Field National Meet, my wife [Kate (Swenson) Cinnamo ’03] and I partially used it as an excuse to take a vacation to San Francisco. I don’t think either of us saw me winning the discus, shot put, and javelin with new American records. What struck me most was the level of competitiveness of the athletes. I had this misconception that para sports were recreational, but it completely changed my mentality in training and made me respect the athletes much more than I had.
Why do you compete? What is most challenging about it? How do you stay motivated?
I compete now for two reasons:
1. It shaped who I am and gave me the confidence to look past my congenital amputation and realize that with work, there isn’t a human on earth I can’t compete with in life. Even as an adult, I still need to prove that to myself.
2. I want my kids to see that hard work precedes everything worthwhile.
The most challenging part of competing at a high level now is that time is expensive. Every minute counts, and if I choose to spend that minute with my kids or Kate, it takes away from my training. It’s a delicate balance. I stay motivated because even at the age of 36, I’m still learning. I’m still succeeding. I’m still at a point where I can grow.
What are your next plans for competition?
I’ve got two years of hard work to put in prior to the 2019 Para Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, and the 2019 World Para Championships (location yet to be determined). Once those are over, my focus will turn to Tokyo and the 2020 Paralympics.