After losing his leg, this former Marine became a fitness superstar & has his sights set on the Paralympics

After losing his leg, this former Marine became a fitness superstar & has his sights set on the Paralympics

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John Edward Heath never gives up.

The former Marine lost his leg after getting by a driver under the influence in 2016; and in recent years, has dedicated himself to CrossFit. A Paralympic hopeful, Heath competes in track and field and snowboarding as well.

His mindset fuels him, and his prosthetic leg allows his body to follow suit. That’s why Heath is fighting to expand mandated insurance coverage in his home state of Maryland, hoping to make high qualify prosthetics available to all.

On Monday, Heath commemorated the start of April, which is also Limb Loss Awareness Month.

“I’m a high-ranking, professional sprinter. I snowboard. I surf. There are so many things that I’m able to do by the access that I’m allowed. I want to be able to give that to other people,” he told CBS News in a recent interview about his advocacy efforts.

For Heath, amputation was a last resort. He underwent 12 surgeries after his accident, and couldn’t fathom spending more time under the knife. After counseling with many friends, including ex-NFL quarterback Alex Smith, who suffered a gruesome leg injury of his own, Heath decided to amputate in 2021.

Rather than being the end of his athletic life, it was just the beginning.

“I fell into a dark, dark hole of alcoholism, and I was doing recreational drugs, if I’m being honest,” he told me in an interview. “But one day I woke up, and I was so violent when I was blacking out and drinking, it was like, ‘I need to turn my life around.’”

Training alongside pro athletes, Heath went viral for landing a one-legged power clean six days after his operation. Compared to other obstacles he’s faced, rebuilding his athletic prowess was a motivating challenge.

His childhood was dark. As he tells Canvas Rebel, he was removed from his biological parents, and lived in a recruiting station when he was 17 years old. From there, Heath embarked on a 10-year run with the Marines, which he calls “bittersweet.”

While Heath discovered self-discipline, he also encountered discrimination. He was outed on Myspace by another service member.

Other Marines would torment him, and impugn his reputation online whenever he changed units.

“I never really got to prove myself in service, because everybody had the assumption of ‘Oh, that’s the gay Marine,’” said Heath. “But it went even further. When I was in the process of stepping away from service — it wasn’t because of my injuries. I stepped away for my mental health.”

His life circumstances got worse before getting better. Heath lost both his best friend and partner to suicide.

“My road has been extremely difficult, but I have managed to keep a high spirit and keep my faith on God strong,” he told Voyage Ohio.

Since his amputation, Heath has immersed himself in the gym. He started training with Merging Veterans and Players, known as MVP, an organization founded in 2015 by NFL FOX reporter Jay Glazer and former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer. The group’s mission is to help combat veterans and former NFL players acclimate to life after sports and service.

“I’m the first amputee a lot of pro athletes have ever seen, let alone lifting the amount of weight that I do,” said Heath. “They don’t know the struggle of what it is being an amputee, and wearing a prosthetic. When I take off my running blade and take off my stump sleeve, and they see a large-scale of skin and blisters, they’re like, ‘Yo, what?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And they’re like, ‘How are you training on that?’ It just opened up a whole different conversation.”

Now a mental health advocate and motivational speaker, Heath shares his incredible story with anyone who will listen. For him, the focus is always on moving forward.

“A lot of people live in the past, and instead of redefining who they are and developing a new version of themselves post-service, they’re still living in the past. And that’s not healthy,” he told Muscle and Fitness.

Heath has certainly accomplish that. He’s an adaptive CrossFit superstar, and hopes to qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games, which take place following the Olympics. His Instagram page is filled with shots of him in the gym, and just enjoying life.

Sometimes, Heath even surprises himself.

“[Two] years ago I embarked on a new journey of fitness post amputation. My passion has been weight lifting since I was 17yrs old,” he posted on Instagram last September. “When I started CrossFit I did not expect to make a career out of it, let alone find some of the most important people in my life while doing it.”

Heath’s words are always important, and this month, they take on a special meaning.


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