How CrossFit Literally Saved This Man's Life

Nov 25, 2018

 by chris brown

How CrossFit Literally Saved This Man's Life

Stroke victim makes unheard-of recovery after collapsing at the gym.


It was like any other weekday morning for Joe Frainee as he headed into his local CrossFit gym to work out. He did the warm-up, he set up his weights and he waited for the countdown clock to let him know when to begin the day's WOD. His 12-year-old son was even there by his side to follow in his dad's fitness footsteps, as he often does — all before the sun was up, at 5:30 a.m.

But it soon became a day that no one in Joe's personal or CrossFit Awaken family will forget.

"I was looking around and I notice Joe fell over on the ground," remembers Coach Danielle Ring. "So he was kind of kneeling, and I thought, 'What the hell is going on?'... And then I saw the side of his face was drooping and immediately I thought he was either having a heart attack or he's having a stroke."

It was indeed the latter.

As Danielle sat down next to Joe to comfort him and try to speak with him, the rest of the gym jumped into action. Someone called 911; his son, Joey, called his mom.

"Mom you need to get down here now," Joe's wife, Lisa, recalls of the terrifying phone call she received. "Something is wrong with dad. He just fell down at the gym." 

The paramedics rushed in and called Lisa, telling her to meet them at Redlands Community Hospital.

When Lisa saw Joe, she said what was left of his speech was incomprehensible. A team of doctors rushed in around her husband and began performing tests and preparing him for emergency surgery.

"This is when I was told that I need to prepare for long-term help, as he would have damages that would probably heal over the course of a year," she says. "He would need help feeding himself, dressing, showering, etc. Basic needs. I was terrified. Our lives changed in the blink of an eye."

Normally, that's how the story would play out: the stroke victim would gradually improve and perhaps regain some or all functionality... eventually.

But not in Joe's case. Lisa says that everyone saw an immediate improvement in the well-conditioned athlete and father-of-three.

"I kept asking every medical professional that entered his room 'Is this normal? He is talking to me.'," Lisa says. "I was so shocked. They seemed almost as surprised as I was that he had regained so much function in such a short time." 

His recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Within just hours, he was communicating with his family and doctors. The breathing tube that had been inserted for surgery was removed later that day. He regained the use of his limbs and was even able to get out of bed and stand.

Within just two days, Joe was released not only from the ICU, but was completely discharged from the hospital. His doctor said that's something he's seen so rarely — maybe once every two years — he had to get help with the administrative process.

And Joe's doctor said if anything helped save his life that day, it was fitness.

"I feel Joe was prepared [for a battle]," says Lisa.

"His doctor said in his opinion the rigorous workouts prepared his body by building reserves of oxygen and blood," she says. "So even though his brain was deprived of blood, his body was able to supplement from the reserves that he gained from CrossFit."

Joe's CrossFit community was beyond thrilled with his prognosis, if not stunned.

"It's so amazing," Coach Danielle says. "When they took him away, I just lost it. So I was thinking about it all day, and it's just amazing that he's home, already."

Joe, Lisa and the CrossFit Awaken coaches all agree that the community has been truly blessed and are grateful for this second chance at life.  They are also determined to help spread the word about how exercise can help save lives. 

"Working out and eating healthy is going to keep you from some things, like diabetes, being overweight," Danielle says.  "But there are some things that just are inevitable, that just could happen. But being healthy and fit keeps it from being worse.   His recovery is because he was in such great shape. Someone not in great shape may not have had the same outcome ."

Though he his barred from all but very light exercise for the next six weeks, Joe is already joking about getting back on the scoreboard with the fastest times of the day in nearly every WOD.  His son Joey plans to continue attending classes.

In the meantime, while Joe is on doctor-ordered rest, friends have started a GoFundMe page to help his family. You can find that here.

— By CrossFit Awaken Staff