#TeamRed adaptive CrossFit athlete Darren Thomas ready to take on world’s best

Overcoming Major Adversity
“I hope my journey shows people that thy can achieve anything. I survived a shooting and multiple surgeries. Hopefully my success shows that you don’t have to give up on life when bad things happen.” – Darren Thomas

Athletes who represent the Biogen brand constantly strive to #BeYourBest, even in the face of adversity, which is the exact attitude that #TeamRed CrossFit athlete Darren Thomas exemplifies. After burglars shot Darren in the chest and left him paralysed from the chest down during a home invasion, he refused to let his disability dampen his zest for life and his passion for competition.

In fact, Darren draws inspiration and motivation from that fateful evening in October 2007 as it so nearly ended his life.

“The bullet missed my heart by a millimetre, which saved my life. However, the damage to my spinal cord left me paralysed from the chest down,” explains Darren.

He also suffered a collapsed lung, and spent time in ICU recovering from multiple procedures. As Darren’s condition improved, he moved to a general ward and began the gruelling rehabilitation process.

Darren spent three months in rehab rebuilding his strength and re-learning how to do most basic tasks from a wheelchair as he lost all core strength and balance.

“Simple things like sitting up became a mission and sometimes I’d faint from exhaustion,” he recalls.

However, through his tenacity and grit, and support from his family and girlfriend Lauren (who is now his wife), he regained these abilities.

But that was just the beginning of his journey, as his indomitable spirit and unconquerable mindset have helped him become the first South African adaptive athlete to qualify for an international CrossFit competition.

As someone who played competitive sports at the highest levels, representing his province in sevens rugby and earning national colours in kickboxing, Darren looked for new ways to keep his competitive spirit burning.

While he initially played some wheelchair basketball, Darren felt he needed something more. In his search for a bigger physical challenge, he discovered that the CrossFit Games added an adaptive division in 2021.

These divisions cater to various categories, including: Upper Extremity, Lower Extremity, Seated with Hip Function, Seated without Hip Function, Vision, Multi Extremity, Short Stature, and Intellectual.

“While I had trained in the gym, I had never done any CrossFit. But I was intrigued and decided to enter the CrossFit Open.”

Darren started working with a CrossFit coach to prepare for the weekly workouts and through hard work, tireless dedication, and nutritional support from Biogen supplements, he managed to get them all done.

“While the workouts themselves were extremely challenging, the ability to compare my results against those from other adaptive athletes from around the world provided the competitive element I was looking for,” explains Darren.

Despite competing at a disadvantage to other adaptive athletes who had more upper body function and physical capabilities, Darren regularly placed in the top 20-30.

“A T12 athlete has full core activation whereas I am a T2 athlete, which means I cannot activate my chest or core muscles,” explains Darren.

Despite his physical disadvantage, Darren thoroughly enjoyed the Open experience and wanted to do more to get better, so he started training at CrossFit Juggernaut in Cape Town and progressed from there.

Darren’s training regimen:

  • Morning training: 30 minutes+ on the Concept Rower or SkiErg.
  • Afternoon training: CrossFit session at 5pm.

As Darren’s confidence and capabilities developed, he decided to take things to the next level and qualify for an international competition. Darren chose to enter the TYR Wodapalooza, which takes place in Miami.

“It is the biggest event where able-bodied and adaptive athletes compete in the same arena. All the elite athletes compete there, and it gives me the opportunity to compete against the best adaptive athletes in the world.”

While his initial attempt ended prematurely due to an injury after he tore a tendon in his arm, Darren regrouped and structured his season to focus solely on his qualification attempt.

“In 2023, I saved myself by limiting how many other competitions I competed in during the year. This meant I made it to the six-week qualifier injury-free and ready to perform.”

Darren powered through every workout, performing each with a certified CrossFit judge present to confirm his results. After submitting his results, Darren waited eagerly to hear if he had qualified.

“I eventually got an email confirming that I had met the standard to compete in the Rx Seated Men’s division, which was my main goal.”

This means Darren will head to Miami from 11-14 January 2024 to compete against athletes who have more physical function and abilities, performing the same workouts with the same loads and requirements.

“It is a massive achievement for me because I wasn’t sure I could compete at that level,” says Darren.

More importantly, Darren will be the first male adaptive CrossFit athlete from South Africa to compete at an international competition.

“It’s the biggest accolade I have ever achieved as an athlete because of the challenges and adversity I faced in getting to this point. After I was shot, I thought my competitive sporting days were over but I worked 10 times harder than I ever did as a rugby player and kickboxer to get to where I am today.”

Darren credits his journey to the unwavering support he gets from his family, especially his wife Lauren, and his sponsors, including Biogen.

“I hope my journey shows people that thy can achieve anything. I survived a shooting and multiple surgeries. It wasn’t easy, but hopefully my success shows that you don’t have to give up on life when bad things happen.”