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Don’t Quit, CrossFit! – A Stroke Survivor’s Story

On November 30th 2016, avid gym goer and crossfit enthusiast Paul Dewey was where he spent most of his free time; at his local gym, CrossFit Johns Creek in Georgia, USA. He was coming to the end of a gruelling 10 minute double-unders drill (jumping rope, where the rope has to pass under you twice every jump) when he suddenly stopped. He sat down in silence. When his coach, Ronda Smith, rushed over to him and saw his face slumped on one side, she knew immediately what had happened. 

Paul had suffered a stroke.

A Life-Changing Major Stroke

More specifically, he had suffered an acute ischemic stroke. This occurs when a blockage cuts off the blood supply to part of your brain, killing brain cells. Paul’s front left carotid artery was blocked and attempts to unblock it at the local hospital proved unsuccessful. This lead to the then 52 year old being airlifted to another hospital where he could be operated on. There it was diagnosed as a major stroke that had resulted in aphasia and apraxia. His entire upper right side and 30% of his leg were affected. This, understandably, left Paul feeling both scared and confused.

I awoke, sat there and thought to myself, “What happened to me?” I was there in the freaking hospital, unable to speak. My upper body and right leg were affected, my right arm was limp. My left brain (middle lobe) was 50% impacted. The nurse came in to talk to me…I had had a massive stroke.

After recovering from his operation, Paul was discharged from hospital and moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Here he spent the next 5 weeks receiving intensive occupational, speech, and physical rehabilitation therapy, 6 hours a day! His dream was always to return to CrossFit. But Paul was feeling increasingly tired and frustrated, and this negativity threatened to derail everything he was working towards. He refused to give up though, and on June 1st 2017, almost 6 months to the day after his stroke, Paul returned to CrossFit Johns Creek.

It was not an easy transition however. Many of the exercises Paul was used to doing were now unfeasible and he struggled to adapt to his new found circumstances. So he and his coach sat down together, looked at what he could and couldn’t do, and came up with a set of similar exercises to replace those that were no longer safe to attempt. A number of these involved gripping apparatus though, and Paul’s right hand was still heavily affected from the stroke. 

This is where Active Hands comes in.

Paul’s recovery and Return to CrossFit

During his time in the Shepherd Center, Paul had been introduced to the General Purpose Gripping Aid by one of the physiotherapists and was amazed at its versatility when using it in the rehab gym. He saw this as the ideal way to bridge the CrossFit gap and reintroduce a whole host of exercises. Thus, he ordered a gripping aid and in his own words “[became] hooked on Active Hands”!

From that moment on, Paul began going in almost every day, pushing through the frustrations and making small steps forwards. As he progressed, his frustrations faded and his positivity returned. He went from doing simple step-ups onto a plate and lifting PVC pipe, to doing squats and deadlifts. Soon he was ready to tackle a ½ Murph, a rigorous workout involving a host of CrossFit exercises.

Paul Dewey giving a thumbs up that his General Purpose aid has allowed him to return to CrossFit after having a major stroke
Paul was able to make it back to CrossFit after a major stroke

I struggled, my time was 45 minutes but I was elated. I was BACK to CrossFit!

Paul started setting himself daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals. Supported by a great network of friends and an optimistic attitude, he worked on his recovery every day. He refused to allow himself to plateau.

Fast forward five years and Paul, now 57, has not only continued with CrossFit, but has progressed to levels that would have been considered unimaginable only a few years earlier. This includes recently recording several personal bests of 175lbs in bench press, 275lbs in squat, and 340lbs in deadlift! And with him every step of his journey is his General Purpose Gripping Aid

I use my Active Hands glove with deadlifts, squats, cleans, ring rows and pull-ups. Every movement I do, I wear an Active Hands glove.

Gareth Herridge