No Pain, No Gain…

I received a comment the other day from a women who was  hit by a car while jogging 3 years ago.  You can read about her accident and her comments in the reply section of John’s Story.  In short, she wanted to know how I managed to get myself back into the gym when I was dealing with so much pain?  The short answer is very slowly and with many set backs.  As I continue to train to run the Warrior Dash on June 17th, it is easy for even me to forget what it was like the first year I started back at the gym…

This is what I looked like 14 weeks after the accident…

155 lbs

When I arrived at Pinnacle to begin rehab I was down to 155 lbs from my pre-accident weight of 185.  While living in Manor Care Nursing Home I tried to maintain as much upper body strength as I could by having “stretchy bands” tied to the rails of my bed and doing upper body exercises every day.  I thought I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life and I wanted to be strong enough to roll myself around when I went home.  I didn’t want my wife and kids having to push me.  The thought of that was too much.  I guess I really started “working out” a few weeks after arriving at the nursing home.  It turned out that because I still had some upper body strength I was able to “fake walk” almost immediately upon arriving at the rehab center.  When I was between two parallel bars or later, on a walker, I could hold my body weight up without really touching my feet to the ground.  This is also how I first learned to get up steps.  I couldn’t go home to my family until I could manage steps.  I guess some form of exercise was part of my recovery from almost the beginning…

This is was me a year later… Yes, that is a lizard sitting on my belly!

185 lbs. Not much of it muscle...

Honestly, at this point I was just happy to be alive and walking with a cane.  I had begun to accept the “new me”.  I hadn’t started having the really bad leg issues yet and the large amounts of narcotics I was taking helped me manage the pain.  Sleeping pills allowed me to get more than a few hours of sleep most nights.  We built an addition on our house so that I would have a first floor office where I could work when I wasn’t feeling well enough to go to work.

Two years after the accident I looked like this.  I got off the narcotics and found my appetite.  Sitting on my butt, eating and drinking wine, was going to be my new hobby.  I stopped going to rehab and was content to not get any better…

210 lbs

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what a high calorie diet and little to no physical activity leads too.  Within a year I was up 25 lbs.  Truth was I didn’t care.  It wasn’t like I was planning to take my shirt off at the pool so that everyone could see my scares!  Sure it was even harder to get around weighing 200+ lbs.  I never really re-built my cardio strength from my lung collapsing and it was now actually starting to get worse.  My issues with the vein damage from the blood clots were just starting and the likeliness that I would ever run again was now almost zero.  “So what if I am fatter than I had ever been in my life.  Just trying to move around is painful enough. There was no way I can exercise.”  This was about as out-of-shape as I got.  A few months after this photo my daughter told me something that changed my way of thinking, and in many ways created another life changing event…

One day in early October of 2009, my than 10-year-old daughter Katie, who was in the front yard dribbling a soccer ball, came to me while I was sitting in my office at home.  She was crying.  “I miss my old daddy.  The one who would practice soccer with me outside every day.  The one who was fun,” she said through her tears.  She didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but she broke my heart.  She crawled up on my lap and laid her head on my shoulder.  I was so sad and so angry that I just shook.  Tears rolled down my cheeks and onto her hair.  All I could think was, “I am ruining the childhood of my kids. They have to continue to suffer because of me.”

That was probably an irrational way of thinking about it, but at that time in my recovery, I had concluded that God let me live so that my kids would have a dad.  Anything short of being a “great” dad was a huge failure.  At that moment, I felt like the biggest failure in the world. As Katie sat on my lap we talked about the idea that it was time for daddy to start “training”.  She understood very well what that meant.  Since she was 3 years old we would go into the back yard almost every night and “train”.  We would work on her running form.  We would run laps around the house.  We would run through soccer drills until it was dark.  She continued to train even after I could no longer train with her.  She did it because that is what I had taught her to do.  Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much it upset her to do it without me.  It was time to take the next step in my recovery.

The next day I walked into Carlisle YMCA.  It hurt to sit in a chair.  How was I ever going to be able to workout?  As I struggled to get though just one circuit of the weight machines set at the lowest setting, I thought I would pass out, either from shortness of breath or pain, or a combination of both.  It was not a good experience and I had no intention of going back when I left the gym 30 minutes after arriving.

The following morning a strange thing happened.  I woke up after a decent night’s sleep and the first thing that popped in my head was, “Damn, my shoulders hurt!”  For the first time in over two years the first thought I had upon waking wasn’t the chronic pain in my pelvis, abdomen or my back, it wasn’t the nerve damage in my left leg.  This feeling was my sore muscles from lifting the day before.  I was still in pain, but now I also had “new pain” and at that moment, it hurt more!  The best part was that I understood why I had it and it was my own fault.  No one else did this to me, I did it to myself.

That day I went back to the gym.  I needed to try to recreate the same experience from the day before. I wanted to keep waking up with sore muscles.   I needed to take control of my pain and it turned out that causing myself more pain was a great way to deal with the chronic pain.  I am sure that if I was still seeing a psychologist at the time, she would have told me hurting myself was not “normal”.  Causing yourself physical pain to block out emotional pain is bad, even I know that.  But I was using physical pain to block out physical pain.  The difference was I could control one of the pains…

One year after starting back at the gym. 185lbs

A lot has been written about what happened next.  Men’s Fitness featured me in a story. Local magazines and news papers have written many articles about my transformation from broke and dying to strong and muscular.  What is often overlooked is how long it took and what I had to do to myself, to get to the point I am at today.  As I got stronger it got harder to make myself sore from lifting weights.  I started trying to lift heavier and heavier weights.  I started eating tons of protein rich foods to build bigger muscles.  By April of 2011 I was 217 lbs  and 15% body fat.  I was really strong considering I was missing one-third of my abdominal muscles.

217 lbs of mostly muscle.

I continued pushing myself to lift heavier and heavier weights until the beginning of 2012.  (On Sept 14, 2011 I benched 315 lbs.  It was my 40th birthday.)  Everything changed again when I had surgery on the veins in my left leg in Oct of 2011.  Finally, I could run again.  Not very far and certainly not very fast, but I could run.  Now I had a new way to inflict pain.

Out of this “mess” of pushing myself to run farther and lift heavier weights came a new goal, completing the Warrior Dash.  Now when I lift, I am doing some sets with 30 reps and other sets of 3-4 reps with heavy weights.   Three times a week I run 2-4 miles.  Sometimes I carry two 20 lb dumbbells while I run the first mile.  Some of the workouts I have put myself thru over the past 12 weeks have been a little crazy.  But in the end, I am back to waking up to thoughts of aching muscles, instead of chronic pain, more days than not.  I have lost 19 lbs and 7% more body fat since the beginning of the year.  Changing up my workout every few months has become the best way to make sure that I continue to make progress and it also insures that my body does not get so use to a particular workout that my muscles stop getting sore.  I am currently 4 weeks into a new 8 week workout plan. With 5 more weeks to go to the race, I hope to make even more progress to better my chances of finishing…

198 lbs and running...

So this is how I found myself living the life of a gym rat.  I was able to get back to working out after the accident because working out caused me more pain.  Not just pain, but controlled pain.  Pain I inflicted on me, not pain someone or something else had caused.  This may sound sadomasochistic, but it is how I deal with my pain without drugs.  The additional benefits of being able to walk without a cane, having more energy and being able to take the trash out far out way the negatives.

OK readers….. Let the psychoanalysis begin….


No Pain, No Gain… — 8 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful story. I don’t know you but I went to school with your Mother. I also live in the Carlisle area. Thank you so much for sharing your progess, I am so proud of you. lol

    • Sharon, if you want it, and stick to the plan, it will happen. It doesn’t happen over-night. a little bit of progress every week will turn into major change over time!

  2. Thank you for sharing such a great story. Change is not fast nor does it remain in one place. JUST KEEP MOVING!

    • Thank Theresa! I always like to look back at where I was 6 months or a year ago. Then I can see progress. Progress comes in small increments, but they eventually add up to big changes!

  3. Awesome story John, so inspiring. The best part is how you explain that the sore muscles are only temporary. It is all worth it in the end when you see the results. You are going to crush that race!

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