Two years losing his left arm, battling PTSD, depression and weight gain, Brendan Ferreira used community-based fitness to heal
Credit: Courtesy Brendan Ferreira

Before U.S. Army Sergeant Brendan Ferreira’s platoon was attacked by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, causing him to lose his left arm and suffer multiple other injuries, he weighed 175 lbs.

Two years after the attack, Ferreira, who stands at 5 feet 8 inches, looked down at the scale to see he had gained 74 lbs., clocking in at a total of 249 lbs.

“There was a lot of depression and bad unhealthy habits that took over my life revolving around my recovery,” Ferreira, 28, tells PEOPLE. “I just started going into the bottom of a bottle and eating very unhealthy and not getting back into the gym.” He suffered from PTSD and had been putting on weight.

Some of his lowest points during his two-year recovery include not having the energy or desire to get out of bed in the morning.

“I almost missed my daughter’s first steps because I wouldn’t get out bed,” he says. “I was sleeping the day away, I wasn’t motivated and everything was going downhill.”

But everything changed when the veteran’s wife pushed him to try CrossFit in March 2013.

“My first time in the gym beat me up bad because I hadn’t done anything except walking on the treadmill for a while,” says the Massachusetts native. “But it brought me back to a piece of the military that I had lost up until that point.”

A little more than two years later and Ferreira is down 70 lbs. thanks to CrossFit training and changes to his diet.

“The amount of stress that it lifted off my shoulders and the amount of burden it lifted off my wife’s shoulders is huge. She really had to do everything,” says Ferreira who has partnered with the Veterans Operation Wellness program, which encourages vets to maintain their health and recently launched new military-inspired workouts with the training app, FitStar. “It helped with my relationship, it helped with my kids, and the biggest thing is it’s given me a career path.”

In addition to being an adaptive CrossFit coach and athlete, he also works to promote community fitness in the veteran community.

“It’s really a go-to method as far as getting veterans back into shape,” he says. “If you’re going to a cross fit gym or a kettlebell course, people are more apt to talk about what they’re doing for a workout rather than just asking about the military. So it’s a little bit easier to integrate into the civilian sector and break down that initial barrier.”