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Taking The Guesswork Out of Fitness and Performance Enhancement
Evolution of a Passion Part 2:Successes, Roadblocks, and Shifting Gears
December 5, 2012Posted by on
Yesterday, I posted Part 1 of a 2 part series Evolution of a Passion. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it by clicking on the link. Also, please enter your email to the right to subscribe, as you’ll be notified by email when new blog posts are up!
By the time I was a junior I was 4th in the state and a guy that the younger guys really seemed to look up to. They would want to do whatever it was that Dom and I were doing because we were continuing to get better, and the guys that followed our lead kept improving faster than those that didn’t train in the offseason with us. More guys were coming to the gym I worked at after the season and were getting bigger and stronger. Dom and I were wrestling at every summer tournament we could find, as well as lifting hard and attending the college wrestling club to train with the best guys in the area. The more we worked out with the college guys, the more we improved.. We also learned how to break into the college wrestling room, which we may or may not have done regularly late at night after the janitors left to get some extra work in.
By my senior year, I was supposed to win a state championship. By the start of the season, though, I didn’t feel right. I was constantly run down and battling a sickness of some kind. I hadn’t stopped training for 6 or 7 years, which had become increasingly intense as the years progressed, and hadn’t played any other sports since middle school. Mentally and physically I was struggling. I got really sick early that season, which now I realize was serious overtraining. I battled through it, and I reeled off pretty convincing wins in my first 7 or 8 matches of the year.
On a Friday night shortly before Christmas, at the very end of practice, my right knee just crumbled under me. It hurt-bad. I knew non contact injuries were usually not a good thing and when they took me to the orthopedic surgeon, he told us that I had a broken patella, torn MCL, LCL, and PCL. I was going to be done for the year and would need surgery. Fuck that, I thought. It was my last year, and I had something to prove. I bypassed surgery, rode the shit out of a stationary bike, continued hitting the weight room at 530 am before school to get my upper body work in with Dom and came back the week before the state qualifier. My knee was a mess still but I limped through the qualifier and onto the state tournament where I lost in the finals.
I trained like a maniac after that season ended. I had to take a little break from wrestling, but I was so angry about losing in the state finals that I lifted like a maniac. I vowed to never be unprepared ever again, even if the lack of preparation had been out of my control. That fall, entering college, I tore the labrum in my shoulder that did require surgery, though. It was my first extended break from wrestling ever, and, being my freshman year in college, I ate too many burgers and drank too many beers, and I got fat. I blew up to about 220 pounds, well over my weight class of 165. During the rehab for my shoulder, I was having severe headaches, and they found that I had a golf ball sized tumor in my head. It turned out not to be cancer luckily, but the tests were coming back inconclusive and they were going to have to operate to get the damn thing out of my head, and then figure out what it was. The morning after the Patriots beat the Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl, I went under the knife again, and 8 or 9 hours later, the tumor was gone. I have a 13 inch scar that runs from a few inches above my right ear down to the side of my neck, but all things considered, I was lucky.
Now it was time to get the weight off and get back. I cleaned up my eating and got back in the weight room. I trained with reckless abandon. I rode the bike or ran hill sprints every morning, lifted in the early afternoon, and got on the wrestling mats every evening wearing a protective mask. Dom, Ben, and former WEC lightweight champion Mike Brown were my constant training partners. I transferred the next fall and got a fresh start, and was wrestling better than ever early in the season. I was still reading everything I could about training and nutrition but the constant contradictions in the material was confusing the shit out of me. Wrestling is a weight class based sport, and I became absolutely neurotic about my nutrition, which started my downfall. I lost too much muscle and got weaker and weaker as the year went on. I kept the weights light during the season because that’s what the “experts” I read told me to do in order to maintain my strength, but I wasn’t maintaining shit. I was wearing down, and just kept getting weaker. Nagging little overuse injuries got worse and worse. By the time the most important part of the season, the NCAA’s, were coming up I just wanted the season to be over. I had never felt that way before mentally, and it was miserable. I had a terrible ending to the season, felt awful all the time, and ended on a serious down note.
I took a few weeks off after that season, and my training partner Abi and I hit the gym hard. It was back to bodypart splits, but we were lifting HEAVY. I was getting stronger than ever. I was logging lots of miles jogging though, as I thought this would be better in the offseason to maintain my weight instead of the sprinting that I had done in years past. It just seemed like that’s what I was supposed to do, as that’s what everyone else was doing. My knee was acting up again, and when I got it checked out, it was even more of a mess. The surgeon ended up having to go in to repair all the damage I had done to it previously, compounded by the pounding it had taken over the last few years.
I had to sit out the next full season after the knee surgery, and I worked at a little mom and pop gym at the front desk. When noone was around, which was always, I trained members for free, trying out all the stuff I had learned by doing the opposite. It was great to help people maneuver through the throngs of bullshit gimmicks that they were constantly bombarded with and help them just get a little stronger and feel a little better. I also got a construction job for the summer. To make a long story a bit shorter, I was involved in a bad accident where a water main that I was working on exploded, severing all 4 of the fingers on my right hand. I was airlifted to Boston, as the doctors in Maine wouldn’t replant the fingers. My mom argued with the doctors in Maine to send me somewhere where I could get the best care, and they finally obliged. I realized then that sometimes you have to fight to get what you deem right. During the first surgery, on my right hand, the blood pressure cuff crushed the nerves in my left arm, paralyzing it. For the first 10 months after the first surgery, I couldn’t lift my arm or extend my wrist or fingers on my left side, and my right hand was a fragile mess with the newly replanted fingers. Over the next 3 years, I had 10 reconstructive surgeries on my right hand. I was in treatment for about 6 or 7 hours each day over those 3 years, working my ass off to get my hand and arm to work again. I had nurses that had to come to my house and shower me, brush my teeth, and feed me. It was the most frustrating thing I ever have had to deal with. My body wasn’t doing what I wanted or needed it to do, and no amount of work seemed to make it better.
Luckily, my left arm started to come along after the first 10 months and slowly came back to function at about 90% of what it had been. They were able to replant and repair my index, middle, and ring finger on my right hand, but my pinky couldn’t be fixed. They still don’t move much, but as a unit they can make a fist and the strength is good. I can do anything up to about 315 pounds now before I have to start using straps, so I can’t complain. I am incredibly lucky to have had great doctors and physical therapists, as well as a supportive group of family and friends. Without the right people around me, I certainly wouldn’t have had the will to keep working as hard as I had to in order to get through that rehab process.
I decided to transfer schools again and actually study in college what I spent all my time doing anyway, which was learning how to be build a bigger, stronger, more efficient, and durable athlete. I had no more eligibility left to wrestle, but luckily I didn’t know that during the 3 years of operations and rehab, and it had been my driving force to recovery. I couldn’t wait to get back on the mats and finally do things the right way to be successful. Unfortunately, my competitive career was done.
I had transferred to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, just outside of Virginia Beach. The exercise science curriculum looked great on paper, with cool sounding courses like Strength and Conditioning Leadership and Biomechanics but in reality, outside of my anatomy and physiology and physics courses, it was dogshit. All of the doctors in the department were busy doing research so the grad students, almost all of which were younger than me and had only studied in academia but never actually trained or coached anyone in their lives, were left to teach us. It was the blind leading the blind. I got a job personal training in a local commercial gym and really started to use the internet to seek out the best information I could find. I found articles by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, Jason Ferruggia, Pavel and Dan John. I started to put their lessons into practice with my clients, and, not shockingly, they got stronger, had more success losing bodyfat, and weren’t in daily pain anymore. The better results they got, the more I needed to learn. Randomly, shortly after graduation, I ran into Anthony Morando, who was in Virginia Beach on vacation. We had a mutual buddy, and over a few beers we talked about what we did. He told me he worked at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning near Boston. I couldn’t believe my ears. How could I get in there? How many toilets would I have to scrub? He told me he could get me an internship, and shortly after, I was moved back here, got the internship at MBSC, and not too long after, was hired as a strength coach at the best facility in the country. Rubbing elbows with such talented coaches every day at MBSC has made me improve as a coach one million percent, and has given me the platform to have a positive impact on hundreds, if not thousands of athletes in the few short years I’ve been here.
The reason I wrote out my life story here is because ALL of these events, have led me to where I am today, living my passion-coaching athletes and people who want to succeed. Some people who just want to feel good and strong and go through their day without pain. Athletes who want to excel and be the best they can possibly be. People who don’t want to just survive life but to dominate it. Through my experiences, I’ve learned so much, but simply put, hard work will take you a long way, but you have to be smart as well. A lot of the injuries I endured had to do with bad training done to an excessive level of intensity, all the time, and it’s driven me to seek out better ways to do things so others don’t make the same mistakes. There’s such a plethora of conflicting information and gimmicks that it can lead people down unproductive paths at best, injuries and pain at worst. It can cause paralysis by analysis by even the most well meaning of people. I want to help people learn the lessons that I learned about hard work and perseverance without the injuries and set backs. I want to help as many people reach their goals and dreams as I possibly can. Middle school wrestling began to teach me about hard work and being part of a team and gave me confidence to walk around with my head up. Looking back, I can see that that confidence allowed me to ask questions in class that I may not have otherwise, and undoubtedly led to me getting more out of my education. It allowed me to stick up for a kid who was getting picked on as I didn’t worry about what the bullies thought of me. As I got older I could see the direct correlation between my sacrifices and hard work and success. The more high school parties I missed and more weight room sessions I got in, the more I won and the better I felt. With all my injuries, perseverance and hard work got me better and back on the mats faster, which is where I loved to be. I love to coach because these are lessons that can be learned in the weight room and on the practice field that transcend these arenas to all other aspects of life. These are things that I strive to instill in my athletes and clients. Sound training programs help to avoid injuries and can enhance performance, while hard work sets you up for wins and losses both on and off the field. This is why I love the foam rolling portion of our workouts, when I can talk to my clients and athletes about their day, what’s going on with them, how they’re feeling, how school is going or how their kids are doing. I can be a sounding board for all of their stresses, and give them a place to learn some skills that will help them deal with them, even though they don’t even know it.
If you read this far, I really appreciate it. If there’s one message that you take out of this, I hope that it’s that it’s not all about just the sets and reps. They are just a means to an end, and the end is getting what you want out of your life.