Development Athlete, Richard Wassell

Author: Richard Wassell and Aimee Beck   Date Posted:12 February 2013 

At the age of 28 I suffered a massive stroke while on duty on board the Australian submarine HMAS Ovens leaving me with complete paralysis of my right side.

Throughout my life, I have always been competitive, and continually challenged myself physically and mentally, participating in a variety of sports including soccer, rugby (league and union) and cycling. This is how I spent my childhood growing up in the UK, and I viewed my rehabilitation the same way, as just another physical and mental challenge.

After 8 weeks in intensive care in a military rehabilitation ward, I began walking again, initially for just a few steps at a time, and eventually for a few hours each day. Each time, my goal was simply to strengthen my leg and work on my balance, and ultimately become independent once again. Later on, despite my initial difficulties, I took up running, completing 10 full marathons (42km) and the Six Foot Track Ultra marathon. That, however, was just the beginning. I also succeeded in finishing 2nd in the Australian Marathon championships for Athletes with ambulatory disability in the last year it was held.

My introduction to CrossFit came just shy of my 46th birthday, and I instantly developed a passion for the sport. Since then, my CrossFit box, Southern Crossfit, in Willeton, Western Australia, has become my second home. 

With just a few modifications and scaling to some WODs, I am able to suffer and succeed alongside my fellow CrossFitters, despite not having the use of my right arm. I do “Fran”, for example, by substituting kettlebell thrusters for barbell thrusters and ring rows for pull-ups. I have a modest PR of 5:41min, which I intend on breaking in the near future.

The challenge, camaraderie and the motivation to always improve are certainly what I love most about Crossfit. Having two ex-Navy Directors at Southern Crossfit only adds to this feeling of mateship.  I have finally discovered a sport and a group of people that live and breathe the same “live life to the fullest” philosophy, and rather than pity me, celebrate and revel in the fact that I’m an adaptive athlete.

My gym mates view me as an inspiration, but in all honesty, I look at them exactly the same way. Together, we strive to improve ourselves and get faster, stronger and fitter. 

It was CrossFit workouts, mixed with a bit of support and encouragement from my friends and box-mates that prepared me for my first ever CrossFit competition, the Wounded Warrior weekend held in Perth in 2012. Not only did I make it through the day in one piece, I managed to end up finishing 6th in the beginner’s category. As I was the only adaptive athlete in the event, this result was made all the more special to me as it was against able-bodied competition. With my competitive nature still fuelled by this result, I signed up to compete in the Working Wounded games in the US, which is run to support wounded veterans. Through hard work, dedication, and a small amount of luck, I was fortune enough the win the video submission category of this competition worldwide.

Next on my list of adaptive sports is indoor rowing (another nasty CrossFit staple), and I will be travelling to Boston (The home of Again Faster) in February, 2013, to compete in the C.R.A.S.H-B. World Indoor Rowing Championships held over 1000m, before coming back to Perth to prepare for a 24-hour indoor rowing World Record attempt. As with my past events as successes, I will be using the functional fitness magic that is Crossfit to prepare me, not only for these and future endeavors, but for the everyday challenge that life can throw at me.

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