‘There’s Nothing You Can’t Do if You Don’t Try:’ 72-year-old Adaptive Athlete Takes on His First Open

March 24, 2021 by
Credit: Courtesy of Jason Miyagishima
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John Strickler, like many CrossFitters, is competing in his first Open this year. 

The 72-year-old adaptive athlete — who was born with cerebral palsy and now uses a wheelchair — wants “to go as far as he can go,” proving, as his trainer Jason Miyagishima says, that the Open truly is for everyone. 

His story: Strickler’s cerebral palsy only affected his legs, and for a lot of his life, he walked without assistance. Around the time he hit 30 or 40, Strickler began using crutches, switching to a wheelchair by the time he was 60. 

  • “I was fortunate to have very, very good parents,” Strickler says. “They were open and honest with me from the beginning, they told me, ‘You know what, you’re going to have a difficult time with many things, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s nothing you can’t do if you don’t try.’”
  • Strickler says he was able to do “a lot of things as a kid,” things that you wouldn’t necessarily think a kid with cerebral palsy could do. 
  • “My life has been a lot of fun for me. I certainly don’t look back on anything and I’m not sad about anything, I’m not a victim in any way, and this has been a great journey,” he says.

Strickler got involved with CrossFit about three years ago when he moved to Simi Valley, CA, and was connected with Miyagishima, who introduced him to the sport. Before CrossFit, Strickler was working out at basic fitness centers, saying he was “lucky to find trainers that were willing to adapt exercises” for him. 

  • One thing he’s noticed since starting CrossFit is improved endurance. 
  • “My wife won’t let me use a motorized [wheelchair],” he says, recalling a time when they were getting a new chair made, and the person building it assumed his wife uses the handles to push Strickler around. He laughs, “She said ‘Oh no, I don’t push him, but I put the handles on the back to hold bags.”
  • Miyagishima and Strickler have also been able to adapt more exercises.
  • “We’ve adapted a sled to a wheelchair — I pull a sled with weights on it so we can increase the weights and increase the distances. He’s taken a rower apart and we’ve adapted the base of the rower to the wheelchair so I can stay in the wheelchair and do rowing. For a while I was on one of the ski machines,” Strickler explains. 
  • Miyagishima has been working with adaptive athletes for a few years now and says he enjoys “overcoming the challenges.” As for Strickler, the trainer says he’s “always game to try new and creative movements.”

During the pandemic, Strickler has been training outdoors at a local YMCA and once a week at Miyagishima’s home gym.

  • “When they closed the gyms down, psychologically, that just destroyed me,” Strickler says. “I depend so much on even working out, doing normal weightlifting, it’s so much psychological for me. I would say 75% of what I do is for my psychology.”

The Open: Strickler is participating with an open mind, treating the Open as a chance to compete with himself. This, he says, is one of the good things about CrossFit in general. “I can see the progress that I make day-to-day and that’s what I want to see, that’s why I’m in this… to make myself better.”

  • Before the 21.1, Strickler said he didn’t “really know what to prepare for.” 
  • Miyagishima said Strickler “did awesome” in the first workout, showing heart and pushing through uncomfortable positions.
  • “It’s more of a curiosity for me than anything else,” Strickler said about the Open. “I look forward to doing it only because it gives me something to work on.”

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