How I Got the Nickname, Cardiac Kev!
For some unknown reason people have always put my job title in front of my name. For example, Navy Kev, CrossFit Kev, Paleo Kev, KettleBell Kev and most recently Cardiac Kev.
Hello. I’m Kev Westerman, I’m the senior coach at Primal Gym in Leeds. I coach the Olympic weightlifting and kettlebell sports teams at Primal along with 1-2-1 and semi-private coaching. I didn’t find my passion for iron spots until my late 20’s, as a teen I was fairly good at punching and kicking things, and used kick-boxing and boxing to keep me fit in my youth and focused throughout my military career.
As with many, CrossFit was my introduction to Olympic Lifting. When I first discovered CrossFit, it was nothing more than a website and clips on YouTube, far from the billion-dollar brand it’s become! As you can imagine, with no training except from the YouTube clips I could find, the staff at the local Fitness First wasn’t best pleased with me trying to snatch, clean & jerk with their cast iron plates! It wasn’t long before a CrossFit affiliated gym popped up in Leeds.
At the ripe old age of 31 and 77kg I was in the best shape of my life with a 185kg deadlift, a 145kg back squat, a sub 6 minute miles and over 20 strict pull ups. It was around this time I decided I wanted to become a trainer/coach.
As I started to studying for my level 3 PT course in 2012, my mother took ill, that resulted in me having to go for an ECG and an Echo scan of my heart. They discovered I had a Bicuspid Aortic Valve. The plan was to monitor it over the next few years. I had no restrictions or limitations.
As a matter of precaution, I eased up on CrossFit for the time being and concentrated on Olympic lifting and my Personal Training business that I was operating from a large chain gym. I took over a 20 square foot corner, I purchased my own squat rack, Olympic standard bars, bumper plates and some kettlebells.
I worked out of that corner for two years, building a reputation as a personal trainer, but I was slowly getting disheartened with the industry. My experience of working in the fitness industry was only this facility, where they claimed to be the “Peoples Gym!” They cared for their members about as much as Colonel Sanders cared for his chickens! There had to be more.
After attending a kettlebell certification, I was introduced to Phil Write (co-owner of Primal Health) he told me about the future of fitness and that was Primal Gym, it was opening in 2014. This was the lifeline I needed and my way out of the prehistoric model of the fitness industry I started in.
In March 2015, Primal had been open for four months and it was proving to be somewhat of a success story. I’d just set up the weightlifting club and I had a few competitions lined up for that year in both kettlebells and weightlifting I was training hard and working harder.
I was at work coaching when I took a turn for the worst, my heart rate increased significantly. I was on the verge of passing out but I carried on the best I could. Two hours later I was hooked up to an ECG in A&E with a heart rate of 218 bpm. I was able to regulate my heart rate after about 45 minutes however there was a rhythm problem, I was diagnosed with AF (Atrial Fibrillation). This is when you have an irregular heart rhythm and is the one of the biggest causes of strokes. This was most likely caused by the bicuspid aortic valve.
I was prescribed a beta blocker to control the AF, and over the coming months my health started to deteriorate. I thought it was the medication that was making me short of breath, but unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. I had consultations and check-ups, they found that the valve had narrowed significantly and it needed to be replaced, this would involve open heart surgery.
At first this hit me like a bus, however I quickly came to terms with what was going to happen and the benefits of having the op at a young age. I was told that the procedure would go ahead in October 2015 and I would be given two weeks’ notice. This was enough time to physically and mentally prepare for this adventure.
Preparation before the op involved mindfulness and mediation, I had a great support unit who helped me come to terms with what was going to happen. I researched what limitations I would have after having my sternum sawn in two, I figured that a strong core and leg strength was going to be benefit me the most. The stenosis on the valve was causing quite saver shortness of breath, so I took salvage with Turkish get ups and variations of the complex. I built up to a 40kg get up on both arms, which kept me in decent shape also it gave me a short term goal to focus on.
On Tuesday 13th October 2015 I underwent an open heart procedure to replace my aortic valve with a mechanical ‘On-X’ valve.
Two days later I was up and about walking and climbing stairs. Four days later I was at home and the day after getting home I was walking 1.5 miles plus per day and quickly built up to 6/7 mile walks.
At home, I would squat during the adverts when watching TV and tried to keep as active as possible. This quickly turned into squats and lunges and by week four of recovery I was heading down to Primal on a Saturday morning to catch up with the weightlifting team. By week five of recovery, I was able to overhead squat (PVC pipe only) and able to easily hit 50 + double unders (skipping).
Goals For This Year.
Since the op, it feels like I once again have everything to prove. Getting my fitness levels and ability, back up to the standards of how I was going to be was a slow process. It’s going to take patience and positivity.
In the first six months of this year, I’m going to tackle the following challenges, this will be used as part of my training and lead to me climbing Kilimanjaro next year
March: Yorkshire 3 Peaks
March/April: Complete all scaled workouts in the 2016 CrossFit Open
April: Climb Snowdonia
June: Row 46,000m for Heart Research UK
July: OKSE Kettlebell Sports competition
2016: Master 77kg Weightlifting Comp
2017: Climb Mt Kilimanjaro
After such a short period of recovery, and after instantly feeling the benefit of having my valve replaced. I realised, having had this procedure doesn’t have to get in the way of my career as a coach, or any further sporting/athletic achievements I want to pursue. If anything it’s given me more drive and determination to succeed in everything I do. I just have to do things a little slower, and with a little more care and planning than usual!