CrossFit Games

Emily Rolfe Reflects on Emergency Surgery in Madison, Says Calluses Changed Surgeon’s Approach

August 5, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Emily Rolfe
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Heading into the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, Canadian Emily Rolfe was suffering from “a slight strain” in her bicep, but wasn’t concerned it was anything more than that. 

But after the toes-to-bar portion of the first event on Wednesday, Rolfe noticed her left hand was blue.

“Worse, I had no feeling in it,” said Rolfe, who was competing in her third Games this weekend with the goal of finishing in the top 10.

At the time, she wasn’t concerned about her health. She was just worried about how she was going to get through the chest-to-bar pull-ups. Stopping the workout didn’t seem like an option. 

“By the second bike, my whole left arm was numb and I knew something was very wrong,” she wrote on Instagram on Thursday.

She was right. After the event, Rolfe approached the medical staff at the venue, who determined she had no ulnar or radial pulse.

Then, she was rushed to University of Wisconsin hospital, where she underwent emergency vascular surgery to remove blood clots in her brachial, ulnar and radial artery. 

“They were going to do a bypass, so cut my leg and just go in that way, because it’s a lot easier and faster, but the surgeon told me after that he looked at my hands and saw my calluses and was like, ‘She works really hard. I’m going to work really hard for her,’” she said. “And he put in an extra hour and went in the harder way for him, but (it’s) a lot faster recovery for me…So my calluses paid off.”

She was so touched, she couldn’t hold back tears. 

“My heart. I just started crying. He was exhausted. He put in a long day, and the fact that he was willing to do it the harder way just for me…was pretty amazing,” she said. 

Catching up with Rolfe on Friday

The Morning Chalk Up caught up with Rolfe—who was out of the hospital and on hand at the venue with her arm wrapped up—on Friday.

Rolfe said she was having some pain and is still nauseous from the surgery, but her pulse is back. The harder challenge was the emotional aspect of being there.

“It’s hard to watch. A little bit of salt in the wound,” Rolfe said of watching the competition she so desperately wanted to be a part of. 

Moving forward, Rolfe has been told she’s not allowed to use her arm for two to four weeks, and after that she can resume training as normal.

“They say I should actually feel stronger, because I’ll have constant blood flow in my hand,” she said. 

Although Rolfe has a long journey ahead of her to return to the Games next year and is still feeling “heartbroken,” the 33-year-old isn’t ready to give it up just yet.

“I will be back,” she said.

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