Battling MS, Kevin Maijer Learns CrossFit is “More than a Place to Workout”
In January 2020, Kevin Maijer started experiencing pain in his left eye. “It felt like there was something in it all the time,” said the 28-year-old who has been a member of CrossFit Bunschoten in Spakenburg, Netherlands for the last three years. When the pain started waking him up at night, he decided to go see a doctor.
- “They thought I had a brain tumour at first,” he said. “Then eventually they realized nothing was wrong with the eye itself. It was the optic nerve that was the problem. There was a lot of inflammation and it was damaged.”
- Doctors suspected Maijer had Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, and in Maijer’s case, his eyes.
Things got worse: Five days later, Maijer had lost most of his vision in his left eye. And two weeks after that, he started having a similar pain in his right eye.
- “They tried everything to stop the same thing from happening,” Maijer said about doctors’ efforts.
- They weren’t able to, and by March 2020, Maijer’s MS diagnosis was confirmed.
- Today, Maijer has just 12 percent of his vision in both eyes, which he describes as always seeing “a blur, and then around that blur I can’t really see any details.”
CrossFit steps in: Maijer, a father of two young kids, credits the CrossFit Bunschoten community for being there for him in three big ways.
- Making it possible to even get to the gym: Maijer walks to the gym with the help of a cane, but there’s one big intersection he has to cross and can’t do it alone. “Someone from the gym, usually a coach, will come over and meet me at the main road and help me get across,” he said. “It’s stuff like that that’s helping make this work and it’s what is keeping me going.”
- Keeping his spirits alive: “At one point, I was close to being depressed and people from the gym saw that,” he said. One of his friends called him and said, “Hey, I’m picking you up tomorrow and we’re going for a drive,” Maijer said. That was when he realized just how much he needed the community. “
- Offering ongoing support: When you’re going through something like this, you need people around you in this situation. That’s why I love CrossFit so much,” he said.
One big thing: Since being diagnosed with MS, CrossFit has taught Maijer that it’s not a death sentence, and that he can even continue to make fitness gains despite his illness, something his doctors have encouraged him to do.
- “My doctor told me whatever I do, don’t stop working out. It’s so important for me,” said Maijer, who has taken that to heart.
- On his second day back in the gym after he was released from the hospital, he surprised himself with a clean PR.“I was doing one rep every two minutes and (my coach) was putting more weight on the bar (each lift). He was using black bumper plates, and I couldn’t see how much weight was on the bar. It just looked like one big black block on either side of the bar,” he said, laughing. “I hit 117.5 kg that day. I was so happy. It was amazing. And at that moment, I was like, I’m going to make this work,” he said.
Embracing the journey: Though Maijer admits there are good days and bad days both physically and emotionally, the good days are what he lives for. Recently, he has been experiencing MS symptoms in his arms, which can make holding a cane challenging.
- “On those days, my wife will take me and I’ll just hop on an Assault bike and will feel better,” he said. Meanwhile, on the good days, he finds himself lifting more weight than anyone else in the class. “It makes me feel alive,” he said.
His message: Maijer’s mission is to raise awareness about MS, which he’s doing through his YouTube channel. He wants people to know that life doesn’t end with an MS diagnosis, especially if you stay fit.
- “CrossFit is so much more than just a place to workout. It’s like a family,” he said. “It empowers me in so many ways. If I’m having a bad day, the first thing I do is sign up for a class or text a coach and say, ‘Will you do a workout with me?’”
And every time he does, he leaves feeling 100 percent better.