CrossFit: A Secret Weapon in Kari Averill’s Fight Against Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia

June 23, 2021 by
Courtesy of Kari Averill
Enjoying Morning Chalk Up? Access additional exclusive interviews, analyses, and stories with an Rx membership.

When she was first diagnosed with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a rare genetic disease that weakens muscles below the hips, Kari Averill didn’t tell many people.

  • “I was embarrassed that something was wrong with me. I didn’t tell many people about it,” said 47 year-old Averill. 

The details: For years, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Averill, who started “walking funny” and eventually needed to use a cane to get around.

  •  “I thought something was wrong with my knees,” said Averill, whose balance had also become severely impaired. “They kept trying to diagnose me with MS, but everything kept coming back negative.”
  • In 2002, when Averill came across a cousin with the disease, doctors were finally able to diagnose her with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a condition that is considered a cousin to the deadly ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Since then, Averill has learned that a number of other relatives also suffer, or suffered, from the disease.
  • In January 2020, tired of letting the muscles of her lower body atrophy before her eyes, Averill put a post up on social media asking for recommendations for possible fitness coaches. “I had been doing physical therapy for years and got to a point where there wasn’t anything else they could teach me, so that’s why I put the post out,” she explained. 
  • When a friend of hers recommended Angie McCord, the owner of CrossFit Murray in Murray, KY, Averill decided to give it a go.
  • “The first time Angie had me do a deadlift she was like, ‘Well, you won’t be doing that anymore.’ And then she had me try some wall balls and she told me to catch the ball, and I was like, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ I couldn’t throw the ball without losing my balance,” Averill explained of her early days at CrossFit Murray.

Today: Not only can Averill do a wall ball shot and catch the ball, she can stand on a BOSU ball and squat and catch. “The biggest physical improvement has been with my balance,” Averill said. 

  • “Do I still walk funny, yes? But I used to lean to the side when I walked. My whole body would lean to the side or forward, and now I don’t lean like that. You know, baby steps. Everything is baby steps,” she said. “When I wake up, my first two or three steps are always still wobbly, but now when I focus hard I can control it.”
  • Her new goal is to be able to walk unassisted without her cane. “Will it happen? I don’t know, but I have a goal and have something worth fighting for,” she said. 

One big thing: CrossFit, and the results she has seen, have given Averill the confidence that she doesn’t have to succumb to her prognosis. 

  • “The medical people tell me exercise is good for me, but it still won’t stop the progression of the disease, but I’m trying to prove them wrong,” she said. 
  • So far, so good: Averill has a pain pump that delivers medication directly into her spine. In 2009, she was receiving doses as high as 325 mcgs a day, and recently this was reduced to 99 mcgs.
Courtesy of Kari Averill

The big picture: Considering the disease is genetic, Averill’s mission is to show others in her family the importance of fighting. 

  • “I have a son and a sister with three kids, and I pray they never get it, but if they do I want them to see I’m a fighter, and if this thing takes me down I’m going down fighting,” she said. 
  • And in the last year-and-a-half, CrossFit has become her biggest weapon in this fight. “I may always have to walk with a cane, but I do not want to be in a wheelchair. I want to be able to take care of myself for the rest of my life and I feel like doing CrossFit is keeping my body healthy and moving, so my muscles don’t stop working,” she said. 

Get the Newsletter

For a daily digest of all things CrossFit. Community, Competitions, Athletes, Tips, Recipes, Deals and more.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.