The Heart Attack that Saved his Life
In 2016, unbeknownst to him, Al Sagapolutele had a heart attack.
He didn’t find out until later why he had been feeling uncharacteristically out of breath — and as if he was rocking back and forth on a boat — for the last week.
- “All of a sudden, during my appointment, my doctor told me to remain absolutely calm, but that emergency services were on their way to take me to the hospital,” said the 46-year-old, who ended up getting three stents in his heart.
While Sagapolutele was surprised to find out about his silent heart attack, another part of him wasn’t surprised it had happened. He weighed 460 pounds at six-foot-three at the time and wasn’t exactly the picture of health.
- “There had been warning signs for a long time and every time I went to see the doctor she would tell me I needed to lose weight,” he said.
But Sagapolutele just never took his doctor that seriously until the heart attack, which left him feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
- “I remember being so embarrassed and feeling so bad for the (emergency services) guys. I was so heavy and they had to help me up onto and off the bed,” he said. “I also didn’t tell anyone for a few days. Three days after going to the hospital, I finally called my family. They were angry and upset with me for not telling them sooner.”
He added: “I realized then that my life was completely out of control. Even before the heart attack, I would call in sick to work on Mondays because I had been drunk the night before. I knew I needed to make a change.”
First, Sagapolutele met with a gastric bypass surgeon and considered the surgical route, but something stopped him from going through with it.
Instead, he started to eat better and lost some weight on his own, but he still had a long way to go, and he knew he needed help. That’s when he reached out to Dorian Shockey at CrossFit Resurgens in Atlanta, Ga.
- “He told me to come in and talk to him. And it’s amazing when I look back to that conversation, because (Shockey) understood the severity of what was before him, but I connected with him on that day and it felt like I was having a conversation with a friend. He told me, ‘I want to help you, but you have to show up and do the work.’ Those words really resonated with me, and I started Fundamentals at 420 pounds,” he said.
He connected with his coach, and he also quickly connected with the community around him.
- “I remember the group class, and people walked over to me and started cheering for me. I quickly realized these people were invested in my well-being, invested in my health, so why was I not invested in my health?” he said of his first group class experience.
Sagapolutele added: “I recognized this community being something I needed. It really was amazing. When you come from a world where you’re desperate and nothing has worked, to an actual community where people quickly embrace you and want you to succeed. It made all the difference.”
The support he received not only helped him continue to go to the gym and gain fitness, but it was also the encouragement he needed to change his diet. He stopped eating things like rice and bread and processed food and adopted a Paleo-type diet. And he stopped drinking alcohol as a way to cope with his emotions.
Today, Sagapolutele is down to 240 pounds, a weight he has maintained since the end of 2018. He feels much healthier, his blood pressure has returned to normal and he no longer needs medication, and he even seems to have resolved his sleep apnea.
- “I used to sleep with a CPAP machine, but I don’t need it anymore,” he said.
In April 2017, Sagapolutele moved to Bloomington, MN and had to leave his community in Atlanta at CrossFit Resurgens. But he has embraced a new community at CrossFit 952.
Today, Sagapolutele trains with Coach Pat Tait at CrossFit 952, and more recently, he has become a part-time coach there. And just like in Atlanta, his coach and the broader community at CrossFit 952 have become invaluable to his journey.
- “The community makes all the difference. Before I was attempting to get healthy, but didn’t have the right support system in place,” he said.
This is why he wants to tell his story: So others can get the help they need, like he has through CrossFit.
- “I’m a pretty private guy, so this feels weird to me to be vulnerable and open up about my journey, but I think paying it forward is important and it’s part of my growth,” he said.
He added: “I remember when I was really heavy and I would watch videos of success stories, and I would think, ‘Man, I wish I had that motivation or that guy’s mental toughness. But it wasn’t about that. It was about the support. And it’s kind of weird being in this position today, but I’m so thankful I’m here. And if my story can help someone start their own journey, then I welcome that.”