John Edward Heath decided to get rid of his left leg. The veteran Marine underwent 12 surgeries after getting hit by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day 2016, and couldn’t fathom spending more time under the knife.
After counseling with many friends, including ex-NFL quarterback Alex Smith, who suffered a gruesome leg injury of his own, Heath decided to amputate. With the help of Run Freely, a charity founded by former ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne that provides financial support for veterans with limb salvage conditions, Heath was able to secure a prosthetic leg.
It was the start of his new life.
“I fell into a dark, dark hole of alcoholism, and I was doing recreational drugs, if I’m being honest,” Heath told me on this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki” podcast. “But one day I woke up, and I was so violent when I was blacking out and drinking, it was like, ‘I need to turn my life around.’”
Six days after Heath’s amputation, he went viral for landing a one-legged power clean. The race towards Paris 2024 had begun.
Heath wants to compete in track and field, and take home the gold. Currently, he trains in Cincinnati, Ohio, alongside NFL players and other pro athletes.
Heath has also linked up with Merging Veterans and Players — MVP — an organization founded in 2015 by NFL FOX reporter Jay Glazer and former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer. The group’s mission is to help combat veterans and former NFL players acclimate to life after sports and service.
“I’m the first amputee a lot of pro athletes have ever seen, let alone lifting the amount of weight that I do,” said Heath. “They don’t know the struggle of what it is being an amputee, and wearing a prosthetic. When I take off my running blade and take off my stump sleeve, and they see a large-scale of skin and blisters, they’re like, ‘Yo, what?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And they’re like, ‘How are you training on that?’ It just opened up a whole different conversation.”
Heath isn’t afraid to converse about his many tribulations and tragedies, including the suicides of his best friend (2018) and partner (2020). Years ago, Heath, who’s gay, was outed on Myspace by another Marine.
The outing was painful, and brought him nothing but hardship during the rest of his time in the service. Other Marines would torment Heath, and make derogatory social media posts about him whenever he changed units.
One post said, “Don’t trust this faggot. He takes advantage of Marines.”
“I never really got to prove myself in service, because everybody had the assumption of ‘Oh, that’s the gay Marine,’” said Heath. “But it went even further. When I was in the process of stepping away from service — it wasn’t because of my injuries. I stepped away for my mental health.”
Some even spread rumors about Heath sleeping with his best friend, and said he had killed himself because he was gay.
“I went ballistic,” said Heath. “My friend had seen what I went through in service. That’s how we became friends. Now you’re going to tell me you have other individuals who are in service that did not know this individual, and you’re speaking ill-will of him, and he’s no longer here to defend himself? It just kept adding up.”
Two years later, Heath lost his partner.
“These last couple of years have been very, very traumatic, but they gave me the strength to just stop caring,” he said. “People would tag me on stuff, and my stomach would drop, because I would be like, ‘What are people saying about me?’ I was alone in service. I remember crying to sleep, and was afraid to show my face.”
It’s been a long and challenging road back for Heath, who’s also a mental health advocate. He knows first-hand about the power of the mind.
With a new sense for life, Heath doesn’t want to stop at Paris 2024. He competes in Adaptive CrossFit, and wants to take part in the 2026 Paralympics, too.
Every day, he works towards the gold.
“It’s been a journey, and I believe so much in what I’m doing,” he said. “I believe I can make it to 2024, 2026 and make it to the CrossFit games. If it’s wasting energy and it’s not being conducive or productive for my athletic career, then you can go somewhere with that, because I don’t have the time for it.”
If you are LGBTQ and considering suicide, The Trevor Project is there to help. You can visit their Web site or call their hotline at 866-488-7386.
Click here to check out this episode of our Outsports podcast, “The Sports Kiki.” You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.
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