It was just after sunrise and 29-nine-year-old Erik Lyon had just finished up a WOD at Left Coast CrossFit. Spent and out of breath, he sat down at a nearby desk to catch his breathe. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But Lyon wasn’t catching his breath, he was dying.
“My leg feels numb,” Josh Miller, owner of Left Coast CrossFit, remembers Lyon saying.
Miller proceeded through a series of questions to pinpoint the problem.
It wasn’t until another member at the gym — a chiropractor — noticed that his leg was white that Miller knew this was serious. Lyon had a major aortic dissection, something doctors would discover later on the operating table.
An aortic dissection happens when the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. Basically blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate. It’s something that kills 95% of all people on the spot. Of that 5% who make it into surgery, 95% of them don’t make it through.
Time to act fast.
Josh grabbed the keys and backed up the car while athletes shoved Lyon into the front seat. The 1.1 miles during Southern California’s morning commute could ordinarily have taken 10 minutes. But it was all greens lights to Mission Hospital and just the beginning of a miraculous morning.
Little did the Left Coast CrossFit team know as they approached Mission Hospital at 7:50 AM, that the same surgery Lyon would need had already been scheduled for 8:00 AM that day, and canceled minutes before they arrived. The top heart surgeon in the country was already scrubbed in for a patient he didn’t know was coming.
“We are still completely blown away by God’s provision in all of this. Especially with the timing of it all,” Miller said.
On the operating table, doctors would discover that Lyon tore his valve from above his heart, through his stomach all the way to his leg. They’d never seen a tear so big especially in someone his age.
14 hours later, around 1:00 AM they felt a pulse in his right leg. This was good news.
Erik’s Going to Need Help
The costs for the surgery alone would reach six figures. Then factoring in months of recovery, rehabilitation and special treatments, Lyon was going to need a lot of help and support.
If there were ever a community that would stand up and protect their family, CrossFit is just that — family.
Clay Corwin, a 61-year-old Masters who was heading to Madison in a few weeks, had an idea.
“Clay came to me a few weeks ago,” Miller said. “He thought that at the Games, all of his points that he would score, he would have people pledge a certain dollar amount to those points.”
The idea was immediately adopted and proved to be a great way to capitalize on the attention around the Games competition and galvanize support for Lyon’s recovery. Corwin also wouldn’t be alone. Left Coast CrossFit was sending a second athlete to the Games, 60-year-old Armando Garcia-Besne.
“We live in a world where there seems to be too much focus on the ‘me’ aspect, CrossFit is all about the ‘us’ aspect,” Corwin said. “That’s what draws people to it and creates a sense of community to do things whether it’s this type of situation or simply supporting people who are trying to be their best or achieve whatever goals they might have.”
But unlike other fundraisers, the amount of money raised was now directly tied to how well these two athletes performed in Madison, and some of the longer events would give Corwin time to remember that.
“Certainly the Run Swim Run which is a long event where you do have time to think about things, and those are the times when the pain gets a little bit sketchy you look at those things and think ‘ok, this is easy, a little bit of unpleasantness is nothing compared to what Erik or other people who don’t have the opportunity, who would kill to be doing this right now,’” Corwin said.
Corwin and Garcia-Besne would go on to finish fifth and sixth overall, combining for a total of 1174 points, nearly $5,000. Combined with t-shirts Left Coast has sold, the total comes to nearly $7,000. You can still support Erik and his family by donating here.
Far from the end to this story comes a new beginning. While still in the hospital Lyon proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes.