With a little more focus on core strength and balance, John Edward Heath finally landed a perfect power clean.
The total amount of weight Heath pulled was irrelevant considering his now viral 2021 performance came barely a week after his left leg was removed. As bleak as this moment may sound, the amputation could hardly overcome the top three obstacles the former Marine has faced.
Heath is fortunate to be alive after being mowed down by a drunk driver on New Year's Day 2016, resulting in the lower left half of his body being completely crushed. Five years and 12 excruciatingly painful reconstructive surgeries later, Heath decided to have an amputation.
But physical limitations, near-death experiences never slowed Heath down — he was still doing walking lunges and carrying 315 pounds on his shoulders after his third surgery.
As a gay former Marine, John Edward Heath will forever carry an even heavier burden - the daily pain of watching two of the people closest to him, both his partner and his best friend, commit suicide, eh all too common epidemic that afflicts the military community. Both tragedies have motivated him to do more as a mental health advocate. "It's not a title, it's a mission," says the motivational speaker about his role as an advocate.
To gain the support of fellow military veterans and himself, Heath joined Merging Veterans and Players — or MVP — an organization founded in 2015 by Bellator MMA and NFL with Fox analyst Jay Glazer and former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer was founded. MVP's mission was to help both combat veterans and ex-athletes adjust to post-duty life and sport by “connecting them after the uniform is removed; To provide them with a new team that will support them in the transition, encourage their personal development and show them that they are never alone.”
Courtesy of MVP
MVP started in Los Angeles and has expanded to seven US cities, with two more stores about to open. According to Boyer, in just six years, MVP has worked with more than 3,000 athletes and veterans while impacting nearly 10,000 lives. w the group has partnered with healthcare giant GNC under CEO Josh Burris, which has already donated $1 million for expansion and improvement. According to Heath, this is a great start for a peer-based support group that many veterans, including himself, are still reluctant to take advantage of, despite recent statistics showing nearly 17 veterans die by suicide every day.
"We don't talk about it as men — it's frowned upon for a man to cry," says Heath. "Because we were raised and wired to believe that men shouldn't feel anything. w a lot of people are seeing the negative result of that mentality.”
Courtesy of MVP
FOR JOHN EDWARD HEATH, IT'S A TEAM EFFORT
Boyer spent 10 years as a US Army Green Beret, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He then went to the University of Texas, where he became the team's long snapper before briefly playing with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. So if anyone could make a case for post-sport and post-military adaptation, they had both sides covered. What sets MVP apart from other groups is that it focuses on compassion, solutions, and accountability of its team and members.
"I want people to be real with me in a rough environment," says Boyer. "If I do something stupid or say something stupid, I want people to hold me accountable. That's something MVP has, at least in my experience, nobody else really does. It's a feeling like I'm behind you and you behind me."
As Boyer puts it, an MVP meeting is where the physical meets the emotional to create a social safe space for vets and athletes to share feelings and sweat it out on the MMA mats. From the typical brotherhood to pushing the boundaries during practice, after a sweat, emotions open up as the group gathers to share feelings and find solutions to problems during this time.
"They know how I'm feeling because they've actually experienced it," says Boyer. "It's our peer-to-peer support element. We're not licensed therapists as we sit in this room, but that's not always what you need. If someone is in this room and just nods their head, it is because they have seen and experienced what you are about to do. You know exactly how that feels.”
It is this support system that led Burris, who was named CEO of GNC in 2021, to support MVP. In addition to working with Glazer on its Unbreakable line of products, GNC has been actively involved in supporting veterans and has had 88 stores on military bases, as well as many other stores run by veterans across the country.
There was still more work to be done as GNC initially donated $1M which went towards opening more MVP chapters in Phoenix and Pittsburgh. Among the needs that MVP was able to provide was an increase in staff - hiring licensed clinical staff to help in exceptional situations, as well as securing additional fitness rooms for his meetings.
"I can't speak for how veterans feel," says Burris, "but I've had the pleasure of getting involved and being on the board of MVP, and I've attended a few meetings of multiple chapters. From the outside, I would say the most common theme is people looking for a brotherhood or a sense of belonging to something outside of themselves.”
Courtesy of MVP
John Edward Heath is doing reasonably well with a newly fitted carbon fiber prosthetic leg - hence his social media name @Carbonfiber_john - and snowboarding as he trains to become a member of the US Paralympic Snowboarding Team and qualify for the 2024 Games to qualify. It's a change of course for the powerlifter after the International Olympic Committee's decision to remove weightlifting from the 2028 Games wiped out his chance of making it onto that team. And there's more to master, he says.
"If you're asking where I am right now, I really try to take advantage of every opportunity that people give me," says Heath. “I want to go back to skydiving as an amputee, I want to compete, I want to swim, maybe not compete, but I need to go back to the pool. It's like I've been reborn.”
Heath is a powerlifter, snowboarder, adaptive athlete with dreams of Olympic and Paralympic gold, a comeback story for the ages for a foster child with a childhood that's anything but fairytale, he admits.
As an athlete, mental health advocate, and motivational speaker, Heath keeps pushing forward, which is one of the reasons he became interested in MVP. One of the difficulties Heath sees with support groups is their tendency to become preoccupied with past events. "I think the veteran community has a flaw in falling into the victim mentality," he says. “Many people live in the past and instead of redefining themselves and developing a new version of themselves after service, they are still living in the past. And that's not healthy."
After struggling with acceptance issues in the military because of his homosexuality, his introduction to MVP was met with little or no fanfare, which was a welcome relief. "I tried to let go of the military anger about what happened to me," he says. When I told my story to MVP, no one blinked or cared, which I've never seen in the military."
One of his biggest supporters now is Glazer, who put Heath in touch with Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, who came out as gay in June 2021. There was no pressure or constraints, says Heath, just an open invitation at the moment. Heath felt comfortable telling his story.
"[Jay] It took me about 25 minutes to speak to myself while waiting for him, and I really didn't know him," he says. "Nate has also become a really good friend. I just think MVP is different.”
For other veterans, however, stepping through the door for the first time to seek help remains a debilitating struggle. That's why Boyer is still inspired every time a new face attends an MVP meeting.
"It's still cool to see someone walk through that door — maybe a newbie who's never been here — and not know what to expect," says Boyer. “And they develop the level of comfort where it was nowhere near what they expected. We are all here to support each other, we have just gone through something that is physically challenging. But no one left anyone behind, we made it together.”
Even Heath initially had doubts about joining. w he encourages anyone struggling emotionally to give it a try.
"If you're looking for actual character development, you need to join MVP," he says. "It's not just the character, anyone who's really struggling and needs to heal has to deal with MVP."
Follow John Edward Heath on Instagram @carbonfiber_john_.