The First Blind CrossFit Games Athlete

December 8, 2022

Kelley Laxton

Kevin Maijer lost his vision from multiple sclerosis in 2020. Two years later, he became the first blind athlete to compete at the CrossFit Games. 

"I was hitting one PR after another. I was learning how to do bar muscle-ups. I was super motivated," Kevin Maijer said in a YouTube video in 2020. "My ultimate goal was to compete in CrossFit. Not at the highest level. I'm not even close to that." 

This video was filmed just months after Maijer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), causing him to go blind. He was listing off everything he had lost since his vision suddenly disappeared. 

But in 2022, Maijer not only qualified for the highest level of CrossFit competition but also became the first blind CrossFit Games athlete. 

Maijer at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games

Photo by Joy Silva

Living With Multiple Sclerosis

It all started with pain in his left eye. Maijer said it felt like something was stuck in it. Just as a formality, he went to the eye doctor to check it out in January 2020. By March, he had lost most of the vision in his left eye and some in his right. 

Maijer was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with MS, a disease of the brain and spinal cord that can affect the optic nerve. The pain behind his eyes became unbearable, and his vision deteriorated even more. Today, Maijer can only see about 5% out of his right eye and 10% out of his left, at best. He also suffers from neuropathy in his legs.   

But as his body temperature rises, he can become completely blind. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society explains this by saying, “an elevated temperature further impairs the ability of a demyelinated nerve to conduct electrical impulses.” That means that most of the time Maijer is doing CrossFit, he cannot see anything. 

"The moment my body temperature rises, then both the vision gets worse (and) the numbness in my legs gets worse," Maijer said. "I can overcome (the numbness), but when you can't see anything at all, that's not something you can just ignore."

Once his vision is fully gone, it takes up to 30 minutes to return after lowering his body temperature. 


A post shared by Kevin Maijer (@kmaijer)

Therefore, returning to his CrossFit box, CrossFit Bunschoten, after the diagnosis was daunting. Even walking outside was difficult. How could he jump on a pull-up bar and lift a barbell over his head if he couldn't even walk comfortably in his own neighborhood?

But Martin Koelewijn, Maijer's coach since he started CrossFit in 2018, helped him adapt the workouts. Koelewijn had never coached an adaptive athlete before and was learning alongside Maijer.   

Chrome barbells blended into the gray of the gym floors, so Koelewijn bought a red barbell that was easier for Maijer to spot. He taped the pull-up bar with colored tape so Maijer could jump onto the rig without missing. Koelewijn adapted his coaching style to focus on verbal queues, notifying Maijer of the start of a new set or how far he had biked on the erg. 

Koelewijn also coached Maijer to run again with the help of a guide, using a green band to hold them together. Through verbal cues, the guide piloted Maijer across different terrain and through changes in direction.

"Together, we made a program that works for him and for us," Koelewijn said. 

The First Blind Games Athlete

As registration opened for the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games Open, Maijer was itching to get back into competition. But he had no goals heading into the Open. He just wanted to have fun and see what he could do. 

Maijer tied for ninth place in the Neuromuscular division, qualifying for the 2022 Adaptive Semifinal, which he finished in a tie for fifth. By June, he had received an invitation to compete at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, the highest level of CrossFit competition there is and an achievement he never expected to accomplish. 

"Before the Games, I was in serious doubt that I even wanted to go because of my vision," Maijer said. "But then my coach told me, ‘Hey, you qualified. What's the worst that could happen?’"


A post shared by Kevin Maijer (@kmaijer)

The CrossFit Games Sport team did everything in its power to adapt the competition, allowing Maijer to compete safely.

"(Adaptive Head Judges) Kevin (Ogar) and Alec (Zirkenbach) … went out of their way to make it possible," Maijer said. "This is a whole new experience for me just as much as it is for them."

Once Maijer accepted his invitation, he received a questionnaire from the CrossFit Sport team, asking which movements he could and couldn't do and what equipment was needed during the workouts. Maijer listed that if running was involved, he would need a guide. 

Shortly after, Maijer received an email from Accessibility and Adaptive Sport Specialist Zirkenbach agreeing to let Maijer's coach guide him at the Games in the event that running was programmed.

Maijer trained in guided running at least once a week with his coach leading up to the Games. He said one of the most important aspects was that the guide was conditioned enough to speak to him throughout the run so he could talk him through the course.

"If he's out of breath after the first round, I have a problem because he needs to guide me all the way through," Maijer said.

So that meant Koelewijn had to train just as hard to keep up with Maijer. 

The Games

Six weeks before the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, Maijer was admitted to the hospital for an entire week with an MS flare-up, describing the excruciating pain as a feeling of his eyes "getting burned out." But by Aug. 1, he was entering the Alliant Energy Center, gym bag and walking stick in hand, ready to show the world that he could compete among the fittest on Earth, blind. 

"The moment I arrived at the Games was scary," Maijer said. "Going into the athlete warm-up area and not being able to see what was going on and where everything (was) was kind of scary at first."

His biggest fear was being ignored. He was at a competition, after all, expecting his competitors to be deep in focus and oblivious to the blind athlete beside them. 

"But that never happened," Maijer said. "Everyone was going out of their way so I could pass. … It gave me some confidence on the (competition) floor as well." 


A post shared by Kevin Maijer (@kmaijer)

On Thursday, Aug. 4, Maijer woke up to an 80-degree sunny day in Madison, Wisconsin. The first day of competition was upon him, and the very first workout Maijer would compete in at his Games debut would be a long, grueling running workout. Three Ways Down included 1,400-m, 1,200-m, 800-m, and 400-m runs separated by a series of rope climbs and dumbbell shoulder-to-overheads. It was 30 minutes of pure grunt work. 

Maijer and his coach were given a rope to hold on to and Koelewijn was told to never run in front of Maijer to keep the playing field level. As they returned to the arena after every round, the coach was instructed to stand in front of the ropes. Maijer had to continue on alone until he was ready to run again. 

The duo agreed to start slow, learning how the sun would affect Maijer's eyes before picking up the pace. Maijer made fast work of the rope climbs and dumbbell shoulder-to-overheads before heading back out to the course. 

As Maijer entered the arena after the final 400-m run, Koelewijn walked alongside the field to the finish line. When Maijer finished his final reps on the dumbbells, he dropped the 50-lb weights and ran toward the only thing he could recognize: his coach's silhouette. 

Kevin and His Coach During Event 1

Photo by Charlotte Foerschler 

"That's one thing that comes with bad vision. You don't really know what's going on around you all the time," Maijer said with a chuckle. 

All he could do was focus on the reps he had to complete and cross the finish line. 

Throughout the remainder of the week, Maijer experienced a different competition than most athletes. He was worried about tripping on the black step up to the parallel bars in Event 4 so his coach was allowed to sit by the mat to tell him where to step. He couldn't read the calories on the Echo bike in Event 8, and unable to pace, had to keep going until the judge told him to stop. Through it all, Maijer trudged on. 

At the close of the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, Maijer became the Neuromuscular division’s fifth-fittest man on Earth. 

"I wasn't going with the intention of winning," Maijer said. "I just want to overcome (my condition) and just show the world that I'm still able to compete at this level."

Note: The Neuromuscular division has been reclassified to the "Multi Extremity" division for the 2023 season. Learn more about updates to the adaptive divisions for the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games season HERE

Cover photo by Charlotte Foerschler