John Edward Heath’s days begin at 6:00 a.m. With a full-time advocacy job that often takes him to Maryland’s state capital, the former Marine needs to get his training in early.

Heath, who lost his leg in 2021, is an aspiring Paralympian. Armed with a new prosthetic, he went viral for landing a one-legged power clean six days after his operation, and his athletic success has only increased from there.

Heath is an elite adaptive CrossFit athlete, track and field standout and total gym rat. He got hit by a driver under the influence in 2016, and underwent 12 surgeries afterwards. None of them could make his leg operational again.

Distraught at the prospect of spending more time on the operating table, Heath decided to amputate. He was in a dark spell at the time, caught in a vicious cycle of alcohol and drug use.

When he received his new leg, it came with a new lease on life. A lifetime athlete, Heath returned to the gym full-time, with the goal competing among the best adaptive athletes in the world.

That’s what he’s doing today, fresh off a CrossFit competition in Florida. But an experience that Heath endured during the event served as a reminder that competing can’t come without education.

There is a lack of knowledge about adaptive athletes in society, which causes many challenges. One of the judges at SeaDog Throw Down, the Crossfit event, penalized Heath for not going low enough during a particular set.

Heath wound up reaching the standard, but not without cutting the back of his non-prosthetic leg. He’s now battling an infection.

“A lot of people think they are being tough, and not allowing us to quote-unquote ‘cheat,’ but there are certain things you to take into consideration that the person with the disability is telling you,” he said. “It’s very, very mentally and physically challenging to do all of these things with one leg.”

The challenges for adaptive athletes are compacted when they don’t own the proper prosthetics. As the founder of a non-profit, the Adaptive Foundation of Maryland, Heath is trying to increase awareness. His latest project involves lobbying state legislators to pass laws mandating that insurance companies cover the costs of multiple prosthetics for amputees.

Five states have already passed such legislation–Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico and Illinois–and 20 more are working on proposals, including Maryland.

Since movements are so precise, amputees need multiple prosthetics to work out effectively, says Heath.

“What that means is, if you go for a run after this interview, you don’t have to switch your leg. You just have to switch your shoes,” he said. “As an amputee, I cannot go for a run with the same prosthetic. The same goes for every moment that I have to do.”

Queerty recently caught up with Heath (naturally, in between meetings in D.C.), and talked about his intensive training regimen, friendships with NFL stars and his beloved corgi, Lord Voldemort. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: What’s one misconception about disabled athletes that you would like to clear up?

JOHN EDWARD HEATH: I would love for individuals to understand that competing as a Paralympian and adaptive athlete is not a participation trophy. A lot of individuals think our competitions are scaled. There’s a difference between scaling the workout and adapting the workout. Scaling is, by definition, changing numbers and changing weights. Adapting a workout is taking an able-bodied workout, and adapting it into your specific disability, and having the same energy expenditure in that workout. A lot of people don’t take us seriously when we say we’re Paralympians or elite adaptive CrossFit athletes, because they think it’s a participation trophy.

What’s your training regimen?

It’s very intense! It’s funny you asked this question, because I spent an hour after the gym this morning meal prepping my food and weighing it in my cooler, because I’m in D.C. all day, and I can’t miss a meal for training. 

The first session is 6:00 a.m., and that lasts around 2.5 hours. Then I go home, and make sure I hit my first meal. Right now, I’m eating 4,000 calories per day. People think that’s a lot of food; but honestly for me, I wish it was a little higher. I will be having that conversation with my nutritionist later today! But I get all of that done, and then I spend a lot of time at the state capital. If I did a strength workout in the morning, then I have to do some sort of accessory workout, either a MetCon or a high intensity workout in the afternoon around lunchtime. All of my food is so tedious. Then I’ll be back in the gym at 3:00 p.m.

What do you enjoy about training? It seems really hard, and as you said, really tedious…

As you know, I’m a recent amputee. It’s been three years. In that, I’ve achieved a lot. I’ve had the best performing coaches and the best facilities and people who believe in me. It’s just the progression. At the 2022 adaptive CrossFit games, I was last in every event. Then come 2023, I placed third. It’s just the progression of what I’m capable of doing, with such a massive change in my life, missing a leg. 

You counseled with many friends before your amputation, including NFL QB Alex Smith. How did you become close with him and other pro athletes?

Alex played for the Redskins, and I’m from this area originally. I’m not sure how Alex pulled it off, because I’ve never heard of a non-military person being able to use [Department of Defense] resources. I don’t know how the NFL pulled it off, but Alex Smith was able to use military resources to regain his life. They really saved his life; Alex could’ve died from his tragic accident. When you’re not as famous as an NFL player, it is very easy to just go on about your life every day. Everyone was watching Alex Smith’s story, and it was something very similar to what I was going through. It just ended up happening that our networks played a role

A lot of people wonder how I became successful in such a short period of time as a brand new amputee but honestly, it was orchestrated. It wasn’t just Alex Smith. Sonny Webster is an Olympic weightlifter who’s my weightlifting coach. Sonny told me to get into CrossFit. You’ve got [track and field star] Devon Allen, who was at my amputation. He took me to the hospital, and he was the one who reassured me to just go after it. My best friend is [NFL defensive end] Khalid Kareem. All of these people have played a major role.

What do you like to do when you’re not training?

I am a lego nerd! I build legos. Honestly, if I’m not training, a lot of it is recovery. So building legos and playing video games are what you can do. The hardest part about being an athlete at a professional level is, somebody always wants to invite you somewhere. But if you get out of your regimen, if you miss one hour of sleep, all of that plays a massive role in your training. A lot of what I do has to consist of low-key things. Don’t get me wrong: in the offseason, I go crazy. I eat dessert after every other meal, because I’m still human!”

You post a lot about your corgi! Tell us about him.

Lord Voldemort! As you can tell, I’m a Harry Potter nerd as well. My dog has played a major role in my mental health. I would not be successful without him. He was able to get certified as an actual service dog, not $300 paperwork that you pay to say your dog is an emotional support dog.

And honestly, my dog has traveled. My dog probably has more stamps on his passport than the average person! I spend so much time with him, and everything I do is based off of whether it’s conducive to his health and wellbeing.

Do they have doggy passports?

They have a European one, actually!

Are you training for the Paralympics this summer?

I am! I’m having some funding issues, so I’m not sure if I’m gonna get a full track season before I go to trials. But if all cards are aligned, I’m going to show up to trials, and we’ll see what the universe has aligned for me. But I’m doing so much more than just being a professional athlete. My identity is tied into so many things. Don’t get me wrong, the interviews and travel is fun. But I think the longevity of what I’m doing for the disabled community plays a more major role in my life than competing in the Paralympics. 

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