Four-time Heart Attack Survivor Fights Back with Exercise

Four-time Heart Attack Survivor Fights Back with Exercise

CrossFit allows me to compete with myself and strive to be better every day even if it means recovering from a myocardial infarction, rowing slowly, and lifting very lightly or attacking an Open workout with all I have. - Mike Payne

He had seen the warning signs with his dad. At only 52, Mike Payne’s father passed away from a massive heart attack, after having his first bypass surgery 10 years earlier. Despite knowing his family history, Mike lived what he deemed a “normal” life- mostly sedentary and overweight- and by 37 years of age, Mike suffered his own first heart attack.

It was a wake-up call, and Mike made significant changes, losing 80 pounds by doing triathlons and cycling races. At age 41, Mike overcame yet another obstacle when a scary cycling accident damaged his cervical spine and left him paralyzed. Through the power of prayer, surgery, and amazing doctors, within a year Mike was fully recovered.

Mike stayed dedicated to his training and his new healthy lifestyle. He was 9% body fat, cycling 250-300 miles per week, racing on a cycling team… And absolutely stunned when he had his second heart attack.

“I lost a fair bit of heart function, and I became depressed as I was doing all I could with diet and exercise and it wasn't enough. I couldn't perform at levels I recently had performed at, so I sat around gaining weight and feeling depressed.”

By age 47 he was back up to 280 pounds and in and out of cardiac intensive care. Something had to change. He and his wife made the choice to join CrossFit San Clemente and committed to going 5 days a week, no matter what. “I might go lighter or slower if I felt ‘off’ but I went.” They also revamped their nutrition, and now eat a mostly primal diet with occasional indulgences. The new lifestyle worked: together Mike and his wife lost over 100 pounds!

Fast forward to September 2015, when Mike suffered his third heart attack, and had his 10thstent installed, despite a “bad” cholesterol level measuring under 60. As he recovered, Mike’s cardiologist encouraged his to resume exercise, saying, "If you die exercising its okay, because if you don't exercise you’re gonna die anyways.” “Funny guy,” says Mike. His trainer worked under the guidance of his cardiologist to slowly reintroduce exercise and rebuild his capacity.

By 2016, Mike was fit enough to compete in the CrossFit Open and finished within the top 50% of his age group and region. His recovery, however, was short lived, and within the span of a year, he fought his way through another heart attack, a triple bypass, and a total hip replacement. Now 54 and fully recovered, Mike says he’s scaled back on trying to be one of the strong guys, but is still battling to be as fit as possible.

“I need to constantly fight to keep my body fit, at whatever level my health will allow and CrossFit fits this perfectly. From scaling to Rx, there is no limit to the flexibility of the workouts. I'm naturally competitive and CrossFit allows me to compete with myself and strive to be better every day even if it means recovering from a myocardial infarction, rowing slowly, and lifting very lightly or attacking an Open workout with all I have.”

“My dream is that somewhere, someone is struggling with health, weight loss, etcetera and thinking of giving up. I'm a very average guy with absolutely nothing special about me. If I can do CrossFit anyone can, I mean anyone!”

This post was originally published on March 3, 2020.

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