No Excuses: From Heart Failure to CrossFit

Written by:

Damect Dominguez

Last updated:

By Kacie Fisher

I’ve been an athlete all my life, and started organized sports at the age of 3. I learned balance and coordination in Wee Ones Gymnastics, teamwork in soccer and tee ball, and the value of hard work and determination through competition. The most important strengths I gained as an athlete are mental strength and an appreciation and awareness of my body and health. I developed these qualities when illness ended my athletic career and nearly ended my life.

In the summer of 2005, I finished my second year of college at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California and had just turned 21. I was in the best shape of my life and was training for the heptathlon on Cal Poly’s Track and Field team. One Saturday afternoon, I went for an easy run by myself only to wake up in a heap on the sidewalk about two miles away from my house. My heart was beating so hard I couldn’t think; I was scared and confused to say the least. That was the first time I collapsed from heart failure.

Something Isn’t Right

I continued to pass out at unexplainable times over the next couple of months, waking up on the ground or having a sudden loss of energy that would last for days. I went through months of tests and assessments by a local cardiologist who eventually told me that something was seriously wrong; however, he couldn’t find the problem. Before releasing me he advised me to stop competing and training, warning me that the next time I had an episode, I most likely wouldn’t wake up. I don’t know if I was in denial, being stubborn or just plain stupid but I kept all of this a secret from everyone and continued training. After collapsing in front of the track team during an intense workout, I knew I had to stop and really start assessing my health. My body had a domino effect of symptoms over the next two years including blood clots, external compartment syndrome in both of my legs, and a destroyed immune system. I was still having tests done for my heart, hearing a different story from every doctor, each telling me something new. I was told I may need a heart transplant, I may need a heart defibrillator, my heart might be “dying”, and I might have twisted arteries, yet I received no concrete answers. I wore a heart rate monitor for almost a year with my highest heart rate recording at 255bpm; and a low of 27bpm; still with no answers. I was having trouble walking because of the compartment syndrome but the worst was when I eventually had to see a therapist to help accept the fact that I was dying. Most people would give up at this time.

No Excuses

Everything changed for me in February 2008 when I decided to take myself off of the birth control medication I had been taking due to lack of regular menstrual cycles. A prescription every doctor knew I was using, yet encouraged me to continue taking. One month later, I felt like my life restarted. I still could not use my legs due to the compartment syndrome and was told I needed a surgery that would put me in a wheelchair for 6 months. Attempting to avoid surgery, I taught myself how to swim with a flotation support between my knees, swimming only with my upper body, gradually regaining control of my legs. As my legs grew stronger I took up biking and joined a local bike club cycling more than 50 miles everyday. I eventually beat the compartment syndrome with no surgery or medication, and was able to introduce my legs to running again; leaving the doctors baffled and dumbfounded. I believe that refusing to be inactive and sedentary saved my life. In November 2008, less than 9 months after I was told I was “never going to run again” I completed my first marathon, where I also qualified for the Boston Marathon, which I completed in April of 2009. I not only had my life back but I set out on a journey to do and try as many things as possible, especially the ones everybody said would be “impossible”.

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Getting Into CrossFit

I was introduced to CrossFit by my fiancé about a year and a half ago, which opened up a whole new world of sport and exercises I was absolutely horrible at. CrossFit is completely different from any other sport I have been apart of and had too many challenges for me to pass it by. I currently coach at CrossFit Balboa in Newport Beach, CA with the founder of CrossFit Football and former NFL offensive lineman, John Welbourn. CrossFit’s philosophy of training for the unknown and being prepared for the unknowable is the philosophy I live and coach by. I avoid specializing my training by mixing up my competition schedule; following a sprint stair race with a half marathon, then I start focusing on my next 60-mile skate. I would rather be good at everything than great at one thing.

In overcoming my health issues and losing the ability to exercise and compete, I gained a deep appreciation for new challenges. I will continue to see obstacles as vehicles for improvement and will face them eagerly as they come. CrossFit helps prepare me for these challenges. What does CrossFit do for you?


About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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