By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Stroke survivor Tim Leary

(Photo courtesy of Tim Leary)

Tim Leary often finds himself face-down in mud below wires with electrical currents, pulling himself up a wall or jumping off platforms.

But even when the athlete competes in obstacle course races like the Spartan, Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder, he can’t hear the competition, or the crowd. That’s because Leary, 57, is deaf.

The Phoenix resident began gaining weight after high school and eventually suffered two transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes.

“There was so much activity for us in high school,” Leary recalled of his days at Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, Vermont. “I weighed 180 pounds when I went to college, and quickly ballooned to 250. I got married, had kids, drank socially and ate everything in sight.”

Tim Leary before his weight loss. (Photo courtesy of Tim Leary)

Tim Leary before his weight loss. (Photo courtesy of Tim Leary)

Leary had his first TIA in October 2008, walking back from lunch — and into a wall. He drove himself to the emergency room 18 miles away.

“They knew right away I’d had a stroke,” he said. In early 2010, he had a second one. Two and a half years later, Leary, who lost his dad and sister to heart attacks, was ready to make a change. He weighed 327 pounds at the time.

“I woke up and said I’d had enough of carrying all this weight for 35 years and not feeling good. I could fall asleep just standing. I work on my feet eight hours a day, and I was crashing when I got home.”

Six months later, Leary had lost 80 pounds. He started walking an hour-plus every day.

“I walked for 167 days before I took a break. I was doing about 7 miles per day. It was amazing. I started to feel 180 degrees better.”

From there, Leary took up CrossFit and running, influenced by his wife, Barbara Jean Gervase-Leary, who runs a 5K each year. She now participates in the obstacle course races with her husband.

“I was very scared about my husband’s conditions,” Gervase-Leary said. “I am very happy with this new lifestyle. We do a lot more together, like hiking, swimming and hanging out with friends.”

But it hasn’t always been easy.

Tim Leary during race

(Photo courtesy of Tim Leary)

“The very first OCR I did, I wanted so bad to quit at the second mile,” Leary said. “No amount of pre-workout I did was a match for this course.”

But he didn’t quit, instead joining a race group called The Hop Along Gang.

“What people don’t know until they meet face-to-face at the races is that I am deaf,” Leary said. “Everyone makes sure I understand them. Racing on the courses is no problem, but I do look over my shoulders to make sure I’m not holding others up. I can’t run with my hearing aids, and often, I have to point to my ears to let people know I can’t hear them.”

Leary said it’s good to feel energetic after years of neglecting himself. “I am living the life I should have years ago,” he said. “I may not hear the excitement or the sound of the music at the finish line,” he said. “But I do feel it — in my heart.”