In just a little more than four weeks, John Dalrymple will compete with team Thorbeckes CrossFit at the West Regional in Tacoma, Washington, for one of five team spots at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games. Four weeks later, he’ll endure a different kind of trial, as he escorts his 4-year-old son, Jack — affectionately known as “Bubba” — into the ER for the third open-heart surgery of Jack’s short life so far.
“It’s gonna be tough walking him in there,” John, 34, said. “He’s my little buddy.”
Jack is the fourth of Dalrymple’s six kids. Though he’d never planned on having a big family, after having their first child in 2004, John and his wife, Cara, “realized that kids are such a blessing,” he said. “They made our world just that much better, and with the joy we got from that, we just continued.”
The couple met on Christmas Eve in 2000 at a Hawaiian resort where each of their families were vacationing. Eight months later, John moved to Cara’s hometown in Washington state, and after having Sophie, they married in 2006.
John, a 25-year-old bartender, began to consider more stable career options to support his family. When a new bartender recounted tales to John about his time as a special-operations officer with the U.S. Air Force, John, a former triathlete, was intrigued.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I could get paid to work out and have guns,’” he joked.
“It all kinda made sense,” he added, more seriously. “It was a little bit of stability and a career path, and a way to serve my country.”
In 2007, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, eventually becoming a captain and serving two tours in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Though he was proud to serve, it was difficult for John to be so far from his wife and, by that time, three children.
“To be gone from them for six months at a time is not fun at all,” he said. “You’re excited to serve, but it becomes a reality real quick when I’m over there that I’m way far away from my family. While there’s Skype and email, that’s not the same as hugging your little kids or your wife.”
The absence hit hard in the summer of 2010, when Cara was pregnant with Jack. At her 20-week ultrasound, the doctors delivered shocking news: Their son would be born with congenital tricuspid atresia, a condition in which the heart is missing a valve between two of its chambers, preventing oxygen-poor blood from reaching the lungs. He would require open-heart surgery to redirect the blood to his lungs.
“My heart was broken,” Cara said. “There were times I just wanted to have him home with me so that I could cry and have him there to comfort me.”
“It was a really scary time, but it helped us grow our faith more,” John added. “We were so confident that despite what some people said, we knew that he should be born and given a chance to live and survive.”
Fortunately, John was able to return to the U.S. for Jack’s birth on November 20, 2010. Two days later, Jack had his first open-heart surgery to install an artificial shunt to keep the blood flowing to his lungs. Six months later, he went under the knife again to connect veins carrying un-oxygenated blood to the pulmonary artery.
Today, Jack loves to wrestle, ride his dirt bike and do CrossFit with his dad in their garage gym.
“He’s got some awesome burpees,” John said. “We treat him like every other kid, and he gets pooped out and then he gets up and gets going again.”
John discovered CrossFit while in officer training school in 2008. After watching CrossFit videos online, he incorporated movements like box jumps, pull-ups and air squats into his running training. On his next military fitness test, he ran 1.5 miles in 7:25, his fastest time ever.
“I thought, This CrossFit thing really does help,” John said.
After leaving active duty in 2012 and taking a full-time position as a senior director with the Washington Air National Guard, he bought a barbell and some plates to outfit his garage. Today, he has almost everything you’d see at a CrossFit affiliate.
Though he also trains at Thorbeckes CrossFit in Centralia, Washington, the home gym helps him spend more time with his family and set an example for his children.
“I enjoy them being able to see what it’s like and see Dad do it,” he said. “I want them to see, ‘Hey, Dad’s working out and here’s the payoff.’” It’s a different way to find joy in life and have fun.”
“It is really sweet to see him working out and the kids are cheering him on or working out with him,” Cara added. “I can't see any better way to spend time as a family, and I admire John for his dedication to CrossFit.”
Today, John splits time between working for the Guard, caring for his wife and six children and training eight to 10 hours per week with team Thorbeckes for the West Regional. In his first Regional appearance with the team, he said they’re shooting for the podium and a trip to Carson, California.
“I’m really excited. I love competition, and I haven’t been able to compete on this kind of stage since my triathlon days,” he said.
And one month after Jack cheers on his father from the sidelines at the Tacoma Dome, he’ll hold his father’s hand as he wheels into an operating room for what will hopefully be Jack’s last open-heart surgery for many years to come.
“We’re gonna take care of him right now the best we can,” John said. “Who know what the future brings, but we’re just hopeful and prayerful that things are going to work out ... he’s Bubba, he’s this short little kid riding around on his dirt bike and loving life.”
Click here to help support the Dalrymple family as they prepare for Jack’s third open-heart surgery.