How a Life Changing Brain Surgery Led John Prescott to Double Down on Working with Adaptive Athletes

August 10, 2023 by
Photo Credit: John Prescott
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Gym owner John Prescott has always been passionate about coaching adaptive athletes. This passion led him to connect with leaders in adaptive athletics like Kevin Ogar and help found WheelWOD, a company that offers programming and hosts the popular WheelWOD Games for adaptive athletes.

Factor in that one of his coaches has a neurological impairment, while his business partner Kristy Hagan, is missing her arm below the elbow, and his gym—Neuse River CrossFit in Raleigh, NC—has long been a hub for adaptive athletes of all kinds, from wheelchair athletes to amputees to short-statured athletes.

Despite his heavy involvement in the adaptive community, Prescott himself was able-bodied.

Until he wasn’t.

Seventeen months ago, Prescott was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation in his brain, which led to a brain bleed requiring surgery that left his motor functions severely diminished to the point that Prescott had to learn how to walk, eat, and even talk again.

Doctors told him they didn’t think he’d be able to do anything physical a year post-op, but Prescott has exceeded all expectations.

Though he’s still only what he estimates to be 65 to 70 percent better, he’s hoping within three to five years he will be closer to 100 percent.

  • “There will be some (permanent) changes, but physically I should make a full recovery,” he said.

The CrossFit Factor

Prescott insists he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for CrossFit, both prior to his surgery and since.

  • “I know that being fit prior to was a critical part of my survival and recovery,” said Prescott, who can bike, squat, deadlift and even jump again.

He admits the road hasn’t been easy, but again he credits CrossFit with giving him the mental strength to do hard things.

  • “I have been doing CrossFit for 13 years so I was accustomed to doing hard things, but this is a whole other level of hard,” he said.

Being hard, however, never once deterred him from his intention to prove health practitioners wrong. 

Hagan remembers watching Prescott earlier in his recovery pull out a box and attempt to jump on it, but failed over and over and over again.

  • “If he fell he fell, but he would just get back up and keep jumping,” she said. “It might be really freaking hard (but he is showing) you can do it.”

Giving Back 

Becoming an adaptive athlete himself has only led Prescott to double down on his efforts to help others in similar shoes. 

One of the lucky recent recipients of Prescott’s coaching is his client Alex Dunn-Best, who suffered a stroke in March 2020 leaving him paralyzed on one side of his body and limited to walking with a cane.

But six months ago, Dunn-Best saw Prescott on the news one morning and decided to give CrossFit a shot.

Today, Dunn-Best is a shadow of who he was before he started working with Prescott. He has ditched his cane and can walk again, he can squat and jump, and he can get up and down unassisted, things that were unthinkable to him just a few short months ago.

  • “He wears an AFO (ankle foot orthosis) on his left leg, so he can’t plantar flex, but he is walking. And the goal is to get his AFO off…The difference between when he started and now is night and day,” Prescott said of Dunn-Best’s quick progress. 

The big picture: Both Prescott’s and Dunn-Best’s message to others who might unexpectedly find themselves able-bodied one day and adaptive the next is simple: Life goes on and fitness makes it way better. 

  • “You’re still a human, so don’t stop. Never give up. You can’t quit,” Dunn-Best said. 

Prescott added: “I have always believed that (believing you) can’t is just a mindset.”

And so one of his missions is to continue to provide coaching and a space to help adaptive athletes get on the other side of that mindset.

“Having a stroke or traumatic brain injury (doesn’t have to be) a death sentence,” he said.

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