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How A Back Injury Changed My Life Forever

February 2nd has a special meaning for me.  No, I don’t celebrate Groundhog Day and it’s not even my birthday.  Nope.  February 2nd is when really bad stuff happens to me.  Come to think about it, it’s like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Thursday, February 2nd 1995, I fell on my tailbone slipping on a piece of ice.  I missed my basketball game and the next two days of school.  I was supposed to start that game and I lost my opportunity.  It crushed me.  As I’m typing this in BAM bookstore, I’m actually holding in tears.  I guess it still crushes me.

Fast forward 5 years later to February 2nd 2000 and I’m a private in the Marine Corps. We’re at Camp Geiger, North Carolina during School of Infantry training.  I almost died from hypothermia after passing out in 14 degree weather.  Supposedly, my temperature dropped so low that I was actually airlifted out.  I remember bits and pieces of it but supposedly it was a bad sight. 

Then February 2nd 2010 happened.  It totally altered my life.  A few days before, I started getting some severe glute pain in my left side.  I thought I was a know it all back then and I diagnosed myself with piriformis syndrome.  GOOGLE and my personal training books backed my findings.  My friend Selina, who’s a chiropractor, said it was coming from my back and that I needed to be careful.  Well, I didn’t take her advice.  That Tuesday, while training in Brazilian Jui Jitsu, I got caught in a body lock and instead of tapping, I held off until the round ended.  When the instructor let go of the body lock, my whole left side went numb.  I was lying on the ground and couldn’t move.  Luckily, a physical therapist was next door and he wheeled me to my car.  The problem was, the BJJ gym was an 75 minutes away.  If you ever had back pain, you know sitting in the car is the definitely the wrong thing to do!  It was the worst ride of my life.

 It turns out after getting X-Rays, I had two blown disks in my lower back at L4-L5 and L5-S1.  What I also found out was that I was probably walking around with a blown disks for quite some time.  It turned out that the fall 15 years earlier did more damage than I thought.  My back always hurt after that but honestly, I thought it was normal.  I always heard people complaining about back problems so I never said anything.

To say I was devastated is an understatement.  My whole life revolved around working out, being active, and I loved training BJJ.  Oh yeah, I also was making a living training people and here I can’t stand.  I remember doing a whole session lying on my stomach one day.  I needed help getting dressed and tying my shoes wasn’t even an option.  To make matters worse, we were about to get 2 blizzards that would dump about 3.5 feet of snow in the next two weeks.

I left a ton of stuff out but what I just told you were the worst parts. Little did I know, it was a start to a really good thing that is still in the making today.  This injury led to a series of events that I know only came by the work of God.  A couple of months after my injury, myself and a couple of other coaches were invited to a Strength & Conditioning Seminar at Villanova.  I remember Coach Jay Wright speaking.  My boss at the time, Eric Mitchell (who was the first person that showed me the difference between being a trainer and a coach) won a DVD series called Functional Strength Coach 3 (FSC3).  I borrowed it and spent the next few days watching it and re-watching it.  It totally changed the way I worked with people.  At that time, I didn’t know that crunches and sit ups weren’t only a waste of time, BUT WERE ALSO POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS!  I didn’t know that you could get back pain from having tight hips & t-spine and limited ankle mobility, and This DVD series also led me to people like Mike Boyle, Charlie Weingroff, Stu McGIll, Joe Sansalone, Gray Cook, and Pavel Tsatsouline.  Speaking of Charlie Weingroff, another DVD series that stumbled across to me around that time was Training Equal Rehab, Rehab Equals Training.  Like FSC3, this DVD series was a game changer to me but made me realize that I better start forming relationships with the medical people. 

Here we are today, January 31st and I’m using the same tactics that I learned 10 years ago not only for myself but our members at First Capital Gym.  I went from not being able to walk to now being able to deadlift close to 600 pounds and do things that I was never able to do.  I developed a good program along with Physical Therapists that helped people with bad back pain or just coming off surgery.  That back injury was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.  It made me who I am today.  If it wasn’t for that, I’d either be out of the fitness world or worse, I’d be still doing bootcamp classes.

Why am I telling you this? I think a lot of people look at trainers as people who are invincible. I can’t speak for them but I can tell you that I am not.  I can be broken down too.   I need to follow the same rules as everyone else.  With the 10 year anniversary of my injury coming up, I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous.  I’m actually scheduled to do a squat and deadlift workout that day with one of my old BJJ training buddies, Phil Lopez.  Here’s to a good Groundhog Day of 2020!

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