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CrossFit Made Art Erickson One of the Fittest in the World — It Then Saved His Life

ByKelley LaxtonSeptember 8, 2023

Two years ago, Art Erickson made it his mission to qualify for the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games. 

And when he puts his mind to something, he doesn’t back down. 

After two years of disciplined training, Erickson was on his way to his first CrossFit Games upon taking seventh in the Men’s 55-59 division in the 2023 Age-Group Semifinal.

On Friday, July 14, Erickson headed to his garage gym at 5 a.m. — like he did most mornings — to sneak in some last-minute training sessions before jumping on a plane to Madison, Wisconsin. 

But something didn’t feel right. 

Forty-five minutes into his workout, Erickson started to feel tenderness in his chest. It felt as though he had dropped a barbell on himself while bench pressing. Then he started to feel feverish. 

Immediately stopping his session, Erickson went inside to lie down. He thought he may have caught a cold or even swallowed a bug while swimming at the reservoir the day before. Maybe he was just nervous about competing at the Games. 

But the next morning, Erickson felt just as bad. So, he drove himself to urgent care to be checked out. 

Within two seconds of being hooked up to an electrocardiography (EKG) machine, the doctor told him he was having a massive heart attack. 

12 Years Earlier

Erickson had no intentions of qualifying for the Games when he started CrossFit in 2011. 

Photo courtesy of Art Erickson

He was a high-school football and basketball coach in West Jordan, Utah, when a colleague introduced him to CrossFit. They had been working out together in the high school’s weight room during lunch breaks and before and after school. Once the colleagues picked up CrossFit, they used to program their workouts.

“It was just playing around in the gym where we had fun,” Erickson said. “My interest was really piqued because of the variety and the challenge that it posed to try to develop and meet the standards that all the training modalities had to offer.”

As Erickson progressed, he soon found the high-school gym didn’t carry the equipment he needed to perform all the workouts as written, so he sought out his nearest CrossFit affiliate, the East Draper location of Ute CrossFit, at the end of 2012.

Photo courtesy of Art Erickson


Although Erickson said he already had some athleticism from his background playing college football at Utah State, it took him years to become proficient at the movements. Handstand walking in particular took “a lot of ego checks,” he said. 

“I was just an athletic guy who grew up playing sports that lifted heavy. And the rest of it was a steep learning curve,” Erickson said. “(But) there was this desire to just want to be more efficient, and honestly, it was just fun. It was fun to be able to grow.”

When Erickson first started at Ute CrossFit, one of the owners asked if he was interested in competing. 

“I (was) like, ‘Wow, there’s competing in this?’” he said. 

Just a few weeks later, Erickson signed up for his first local competition — the Salt Lake City Retro Games — competing in the masters division. He didn’t even know what “masters” meant. But he knew he loved it. Soon, Erickson joined his first CrossFit Open, finishing 14th in the South West Region in the Men’s 45-49 division. 

Erickson began to add two training sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, five days a week and a Saturday morning class. He started to focus more on advancing his skills and honing his nutrition to better prepare himself for the demands of competitive training.  

Seven years later, Erickson qualified for the 2018 CrossFit Games. 

A New Plan

Although Erickson had his first ticket to the CrossFit Games in hand, he wasn’t able to make it out to Madison to compete at the 2018 Games. 

In 2019, Erickson suffered a shoulder injury, and the COVID-19 pandemic further delayed another Games qualification. With affiliates closing, he struggled to achieve the level of fitness he needed to qualify again. 

“I remember thinking as I watched the (2020 Games) at The Ranch, ‘If I give myself time, I can come back and put myself in a position to qualify again,’” Erickson said. 

Erickson began to enhance his garage gym so he could keep training on his own during the pandemic, using CrossFit Invictus’ competition programming and Jared Enderton’s online weightlifting program. 

Art Erickson’s garage gym | Photo courtesy of Art Erickson

For the 2021 season, Erickson had a plan set in place. He would give himself 18 to 24 months to train and reclaim his ticket to the Games. 

Erickson at Skol CrossFit | Photo courtesy of Art Erickson

Ute CrossFit’s Draper location closed permanently in the wake of the pandemic, so after gyms began to reopen, Erickson landed at Skol CrossFit, splitting his time between his garage gym and the affiliate. 

Erikson’s new job as a high-school administrator required him to be at work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then supervise the after-school sports, so he woke up at 4:45 a.m. to train for one hour in his garage. He would then return to his garage gym after work for another two hours of training. Weekends and online competition days were spent at Skol CrossFit. 

Erickson’s schedule took a lot of discipline. But although his goal was to qualify for the Games, his training sessions were a time of self-care and reflection.

“I love being in the garage with the door open and the breeze blowing through in the morning,” Erickson said. “It’s time where I put my headphones on and listen to inspirational things. … I spend time listening to things that are motivating and empowering to me.”

Erickson said he feels calm and relaxed for work after his morning training sessions. 

“Getting to the Games — as fun as that is to be able to say you achieved it — that is 1% of my experience,” Erickson said. “(Training) is something that is a passion. It’s a lifestyle for me.”

By the 2023 season, Erickson was primed and ready to snatch another ticket to the Games. He took 12th in the Men’s 55-59 division in the Age-Group Quarterfinal and seventh in the Age-Group Semifinal. 

This year, he was ready to take the floor in Madison. 

How CrossFit Saved Erickson’s Life

“CrossFit prepares you for the unknown and unknowable. I fully experienced that,” Erickson said. 

Erickson ringing the bell on “grad” day at cardiac rehab | Photo courtesy of Art Erickson

After his EKG on July 15, Erickson was immediately transported by ambulance to the Intermountain Healthcare Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, suffering a very rare type of heart attack called spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). A SCAD heart attack is a tear in one of the blood vessels in the heart, resulting in a blood clot. It is still unknown what causes these types of heart attacks.

But Erickson’s doctor said CrossFit is what saved his life. 

Rodrigo Jasbick, M.D., a cardiologist and CF-MDL1 in Brazil, explained, “The heart is a muscle. We can train the muscle of the heart to be (stronger).”

Due to Erickson’s level of fitness, his cardiac recovery would be a lot easier and quicker. Most patients who suffer a heart attack are given beta blockers as part of their recovery to lower the heart rate. Because of how low Erickson’s resting heart rate and blood pressure already were, he didn’t need to take as much medication to heal. 

Just 28 days after his operation, Erickson was back at work. 

“After (a heart attack), people are always scared to do exercise again,” Dr. Rodrigo said. “So what do we recommend in people like (Erickson)? He needs to come back and (do) cardiac rehabilitation, and he needs to be training.”

Doctors told Erickson to ease back into CrossFit by adding 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity at a heart rate of 120 beats per minute or less. After a month, he was allowed to put a light barbell in his hands. Soon, he will be able to train CrossFit as prescribed to keep his heart healthy. 

Community Support

Two weeks after Erickson suffered his heart attack, the community at Skol CrossFit gathered together on a Saturday to do a workout in his name. Everyone wore red 2023 CrossFit Games jerseys with “Erickson” printed across the front. 

They brought Erickson in to watch as the community applauded his accomplishment of qualifying for the Games and supported his recovery. 

Skol CrossFit community | Photo courtesy of Art Erickson

“That would not have happened if I’d only worked out in my garage,” Erickson said. 

Although Erickson didn’t get to compete at the CrossFit Games, his years of competitive training haven’t gone to waste. Now, he applies his knowledge and discipline to his recovery — and to maintaining his fitness for life. 

“So for me the goal now … is to get physically healed,” Erickson said. This is who I am. I’ll take my next step, and I’ll take my next rep, and have fun doing it.”

About the Author

Kelley Laxton is a sportswriter and editor for CrossFit, LLC. Graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in journalism and sports media, she has become passionate about promoting women in sports through her writing. Kelley has previously written for Her Sport, the first women’s sports magazine in Ireland, and continues to share the stories of strong women in the Sport of Fitness. She currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and enjoys her morning CrossFit class at CrossFit NCR.