Canadian CrossFit athlete, 51, suffers stroke during competition

MADISON, Wis. — A 51-year-old CrossFit athlete is recovering after suffering a massive stroke during the event Thursday.

“I remember realizing I had skipping rope with me because that was going to be one of the things I get warmed up with, and I realized that it had fallen out of my hand,” Dave Rempel recalled.

Rempel remembers slurring his speech but insisting he was fine. After dropping the rope, his coach rushed over.

“He had called over — CrossFit has their own medical team on staff, they have a doctor on staff — so by that time they called the CrossFit medical team over and they acted very quickly and calling the ambulance and assessing me and getting me stabilized,” he said.

Madison firefighters and paramedics responded to the call and quickly identified his symptoms as a stroke.

SSM Health relayed they were grateful and impressed by the field diagnosis that was done, as other diagnoses could have been considered being how fit and young the patient was. 

Within ten minutes of Rempel’s arrival, the emergency department administered IV Tenecteplase, a clot-busting medication, in order to break up a clot that was in one of his main cerebral arteries.

Within 17 minutes, the patient was in the operating room where Dr. Alex Witek was able to retrieve the clot.

“I didn’t know really, I just thought this was overreacting,” Rempel said. “I just stumbled a little, I’m fine, by that time CrossFit — I’m not sure who it was –had called for an ambulance and I remember getting slid into the ambulance thinking this is not necessary, I didn’t feel like I warranted a trip to the hospital.”

Two hours after his arrival, the patient was moving his left side and talking. 

“The symptoms were very severe, so Dr. Ronck and I took two seconds to come to a consensus that a thrombectomy was a procedure that he would benefit from,” Witek, a neurosurgeon and endovascular surgeon at St. Mary’s Hospital, said.

CrossFit athletes are among some of the fittest athletes in the world, so what was the cause of this happening? 

“I don’t know if I could give you a definite answer to that,” Witek said. “One of the most important things we do anytime someone has a stroke is to try to figure out why that happened, and in this case, after a lot of investigation, we determined (it was) probably due to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.”

Rempel is looking to make a full recovery and hopes to compete again. A GoFundMe page was created in order to help raise money for his recovery.

Being that a CrossFit athlete suffered from a stroke, this should be eye-opening for many. Strokes can happen to anyone, no matter how fit or healthy they are.

There are a few things that can be done to prevent strokes, such as choosing healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol, checking cholesterol levels once every five years at least, controlling blood pressure, controlling diabetes and meeting with healthcare professionals.