Young Hobokenite beats pneumonia to compete

CrossFit athlete underwent surgery at HUMC

“It felt like I was having a heart attack. I thought I was dying,” said Hoboken resident Anthony DiFrancesco, 27, remembering the events that led him to dial 911 in May.

DiFrancesco is the head coach of Brazen Athletics, a local CrossFit gym located on 13th Street and Willow Avenue. He’s also a professional CrossFit competitor, so he’s used to pushing through the pain.

According to DiFrancesco, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning workout of everyday movements done at a high intensity.

DiFrancesco had been feeling sick for over a month. But the self-proclaimed “hard head” thought it would sort itself out as long as he rested. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and he called 911 just in time.  

Once he was admitted to Hoboken University Medical Center, the physicians told him he had pneumonia, and if he had waited any longer to seek help it could have developed into sepsis.

Scar tissue, pus, and mucus had built up between his left lung and his rib cage, preventing the lung from expanding.

Dr. Ziad Hanhan operated five days later.

“The old fashioned way of doing this surgery is called a thoracotomy, in which we would cut open the side of his chest and use rib spreaders, kind of like a car jack, to pull them apart to remove the material,” said Hanhan in a phone interview last week. “This has a much longer recovery time and is very painful.”

Hanhan opted instead for a more minimally invasive technique. “We made three 1-inch incisions in his chest, one for a camera, and the other two to use smaller instruments to take out the infectious material.”

This allowed DiFrancesco to leave the hospital after five days and eventually get back to what he loves doing.

“At his first follow-up visit he was grinning,” said Hanhan. “His spirits were very high”

“I’d say I’m operating at about 85 percent now,” said DiFrancesco. Working his way back to full strength, the athlete was preparing for a national competition in Salt Lake City which took place on Aug. 18, where he will compete as part of the professional team the Boston Iron.

The Boston Iron is part of the National Pro Grid League that DiFrancesco describes as extreme CrossFit athletic team racing.

“The weights are heavier, and the speeds are faster, and it’s an overall score of your team, not just yours, which determines a winner,” he said.

Unfortunately the team lost on the 18th (Thursday) to the NY Rhinos 18-17, but despite the loss, DiFrancesco feels the team and he did well.

“It went well,” said DiFrancesco. “A couple missed calls, and close calls cost us the race in my opinion…but there is nothing to do about it now.”

He said that he competed in the last race called the “flipper,” in which a 450 pound object must be flipped a total of 20 times, and he did seven of the 20.

The Boston Iron has two more matches, according to DiFrancesco, and if they win them, they will proceed to the playoffs.

The team has been incredibly supportive during his recovery, he said.

“I’m a very outgoing guy, and sitting at a desk all day answering emails was not fulfilling at all for me.” – Anthony DiFrancesco

They aren’t the only ones who have been there during this time. DiFrancesco says his CrossFit family at Brazen Athletics was supportive as well and visited him during his 12-day stay in the hospital.

CrossFit beginnings

The Pennsylvania native grew up on his parents’ mushroom farm in Landenberg, and after he graduated from college, worked “unfulfilling, backroom, bank jobs.”

“I’m a very outgoing guy, and sitting at a desk all day answering emails was not fulfilling at all for me,” he said, “so this does a lot better.”

He became a head coach after the owners of Brazen Athletics asked him to quit his other job and work there full time.

His passion for CrossFit isn’t just about looking good. It’s derived from the people he has met along the way.

“Of course, it’s not just about getting fit and getting abs and lose weight, but really feeling healthy about their lifestyle and really feeling that they are getting something out of the hour that they come here a day,” said DiFrancesco. “CrossFit is more than just throwing weight over your head or doing burpees, or doing squats. It’s about the people you meet. I’ve met thousands of people through the gym and competitions, and I’d say 50-100 of them are my really close friends.”

More importantly to him, coaching is what makes him wake up and go to work every day.

“I love being a coach,” said DiFrancesco. “I love helping people. I love seeing the smile on their face, whether I am done with a class or a personal client.”

Although he realizes an 85 percent recovery is good after his ordeal, he is frustrated that he isn’t back to 100 percent yet.

“I’m very competitive,” said DiFrancesco. “I want to eat faster; I want to work harder, I want to be faster than everybody else. Of course I want to be healthy, of course I want to be fit, of course I want to have a great body, and all that crap, but I’m doing this because I want to be at the best of my abilities.”

Marilyn Baer can be reached at

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