As a box owner (CrossFit 8035) and CF competition event director (The MAT Games and The CF Circus), I try to be prepared for the worst. I make sure my gym is clean to avoid the spread of illness, I hire people who I believe to be the best trainers around, I staff my events with medics and doctors, and I always have my athletes’ best interest in mind. But preparing for the worst is typically just that: preparing. Rarely does a worst-case scenario play out. But rarely doesn’t mean never, and a life-or-death situation can change your very vision of what worst-case can really mean.
Less than two weeks ago, my husband and I were on the homestretch of running The MAT Games, a three-day competition for individual athletes. The entire weekend had run like clockwork, and Sunday was no exception. We were ahead of schedule, giving out awards, and gradually the crowd was slimming down. With only several heats of RX Men to go, some of our local athletes decided to stick around and cheer on their peers. One of those cheerleaders was an 8035 OG (original gangster) and King of Cool, Kurt. He was a Masters man who always had a great attitude, never got wound up, could squat a house, and made classes five to six days a week for almost three years straight. His great ideas and gracious demeanor gave him a reputation for being a community-minded person. There wasn’t a single member of our gym who didn’t wanna “be like Kurt” when they were big.
Kurt had completed his final Masters event about an hour prior, and he was making his rounds chatting to other competitors and sipping protein. But his day was about to take a turn for the worse. The worst-case scenario we never expected to face was eminent because although Kurt appeared healthy and happy, his heart had a blockage — a 100 percent blockage. Midsentence, Kurt dropped to the floor, unconscious. Our paramedic, two doctors and one nurse (by the grace of some higher power) were within 15 feet and rushed to his side within moments. With no pulse and no breathing, it was obvious that this wasn’t a case of dehydration, and our medical staff immediately cleared the area, got 911 on the phone and hustled to retrieve the venue’s AED (automated external defibrillator). Manual CPR was administered without hesitation.
The event stopped. The curious crowd kept a respectable distance wondering what the hell was going on. The AED was applied and shocked Kurt’s body seven times in an attempt to regain a heartbeat. He would go from a lifeless shade of gray to a panicked body in moments and fade away again. An ambulance, fire truck and police officers arrived about 10 minutes following the initial episode and took over, quickly rushing him to the hospital. Luckily, our membership system contained Kurt’s personal information, including his emergency contact, his wife. I made a phone call I never planned on making, and I hope to never make again. I explained that Kurt was in serious cardiac distress and that she needed to get to the emergency room right away. Her fear was obvious, and my quivering voice didn’t help.
With more than 70 athletes still waiting to compete, the show had to go on. Everybody in the venue (hundreds of people) were shaken and confused. My husband pulled it together, gave the athletes a moment to collect themselves and initiated the start of another heat. While he did that, another member and myself rushed to the emergency room to meet Kurt’s wife and offer any support or information we could.
After an uncomfortable 15 minutes in the waiting room, the nurse told us that Kurt was conscious and that he gave permission to update us on his status. He was having a heart attack and would be sent to the cardiologist for a cardiac catheterization upon his wife’s arrival. He requested we come back to his room. I have to say, walking into that room and seeing him sitting up and moving and talking was one of the most beautiful sites. It’s crazy… we always thought of our members as family, but when you’re faced with the possibility of a life ending, it really puts those relationships in perspective.
Kurt was in a complete state of shock. He kept telling us, “This wasn’t supposed to happen.” And we couldn’t have agreed more. His wife and kids whisked into the room minutes later and embraced. There were tears and hugs, and we made our way out of the room to give the family some privacy.
We continued to get updates throughout the day. Less than one hour after Kurt dropped to the floor, his full blockage was detected and repaired with a stint. The doctors called his blockage “the widow maker.” Had he been anywhere else, without the medical support he was provided, his life would have been lost in minutes. The medical support (provided primarily by Dr. Brooks Newton, paramedic Matt Charnetski and nurse Michaela Snyder-Freiermuth, and a small team of other amazing and wonderful people) saved Kurt’s life during an emergency that left no room for error or delay.
It got me thinking: What if this had happened at the gym. Are we prepared? While I pride myself on being prepared for the worst-case scenario, I suddenly found mountains of room for improvement beginning with CPR certifications for ALL trainers on my staff. While several trainers do have CPR/First Aid, another handful don’t. At CrossFit 8035, CPR is no longer a bonus certification; it’s a required one. In addition, an AED purchase is in the works. Should a sudden emergency present itself, I want my staff at both my events and gym to be fully prepared to save a life rather than see it slip away. And I would love to see CrossFit Headquarters implement a CPR certification requirement prior to Level-1 sign-up to ensure that every trainer has the know-how.
The world wouldn’t be the same without Kurt. I encourage every box owner, trainer and even the general public to be prepared for the unexpected. A seemingly healthy individual can have ailments with little to no symptoms present. Accidents and emergencies can be totally unpredictable. But if you have even the most basic knowledge, you might be a lifeline. Don’t skip a beat; get your certifications.