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Huntington CrossFit athlete celebrates overcoming cancer, heart transplant

January 8, 2019

BARBOURSVILLE — At 6 years old, Chris Foo defied the odds after doctors gave him just a couple of months to live. By 15, he was battling for his life again with a weakened heart. At 27, he was placed on the heart transplant waiting list, later undergoing a transplant and difficult recovery.

Now at 37, the Huntington native has completed several marathons, gotten married, fathered a 4-year-old daughter and regularly outpaces other athletes at the CrossFit gym in Barboursville.

Approximately 20 people on Sunday gathered at the gym to honor Foo’s triumphant journey from near-death to star athlete on the 10th anniversary of his heart transplant. He and his wife, Amanda, were gifted six months total in free gym membership, and he was dedicated a workout of the day, or WOD as it’s known in CrossFit lingo.

In 1987, Foo was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that strikes cells inside the muscle tissue.

Surgeons removed two-thirds of his left shoulder blade, and he underwent intense chemotherapy and radiation. By age 12, the cancer was gone, and he was in remission.

The intense cancer therapy he underwent as a child eventually took a toll on his body and by age 15, he was diagnosed with Adriamycin-induced cardiomyopathy. Adriamycin is one of the chemo drugs he took in the late 1980s which enlarged his heart and led to a host of problems. He was told he would eventually need a new heart.

“Before my transplant, I would go to work, come home and lay in bed without the energy to do anything,” Foo said as he prepared to begin his warm up exercises Sunday.

In 2007, Foo’s health was declining, and he was sent to the Cleveland Clinic for evaluation, where doctors placed him on the transplant waiting list. He was told the wait would be at least three months, so he prayed to God for strength to get through it.

“The scripture verse I was praying said, ‘God can do exceedingly or abundantly above all we ask of Him,’ ” Foo said. “The average wait time on the waiting list is three to four months and I was actually only listed for seven days. I attribute that to God.”

He underwent the successful transplant on Jan. 6, 2009. That’s when he decided to make use of his recaptured energy, running marathons and living healthy. About four months ago, he joined CrossFit Barboursville after becoming reacquainted with Zach Wilson, one of the gym’s owners.

Wilson said he and other athletes pitched in to donate free membership to Foo and his wife as a way to thank him for being an inspiration.

“His attitude is fantastic; he’s always positive and upbeat,” Wilson said. “He’s excited to come in here and work hard. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself during a workout when Chris is in the class with me.”

Evan Worrell, coach at CrossFit Barboursville and member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, surprised Foo with the free membership before announcing the day’s workout routine.

“He works really hard, and I’m also just impressed with what he does in here, what he’s been through and his story,” Worrell said.

Sunday’s workout routine was named after another Foo, Sgt. Gary “Foo” Morales of the Port St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Morales, 35, was fatally shot during a traffic stop Feb. 28, 2013.

The workout consisted of seven chest-to-bar pull-ups, 77 double-under jump rope swings, two squat weight thrusts and 28 sit-ups.

“The thing that got me through it is my faith in God has always helped with everything,” Foo said. “I always tell people God is keeping me here for something.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.