by Joel Sward
It was a hot and humid July day in the year of 1987. I had just graduated from high school and soon would head off to the University of North Dakota on a full ride football scholarship. I was heavy into my training in preparation for the upcoming season.
Back then I was fanatical about training. I still train hard and have always trained hard. But back then, in my brash younger years, I was nuts. There is no other way to explain it. I had that invincible spirit that comes from youth. I felt indestructible and that nothing could stop me from getting what I wanted. On this day, I wanted 3 sets of 15 in the squat at 405 lbs.
Somehow I had it in my head that I was going to do 3 sets of 15 in the squat at 405 lbs and I was going to do it in the much more difficult Olympic Style with the bar high on my back and my feet close together. And I was going to go rock bottom on each rep, with my butt all the way to the floor.
At this time in my training, this was going to be quite an accomplishment. I knew going into it that it was going to be one tough undertaking. But back then; when I had something in my head, I was going to do it -- NO MATTER WHAT!
It was one hot mother that day. It was one of those dog days of summer with the temperature over 100 degrees, and man was it humid. The gym I trained at didn't have air conditioning. Come to think of it, I don't even think it had a fan, and there were no windows. I think you get the idea -- it was hot!
Maybe not drinking enough water had something to do with what was going to happen, but mostly it was just the monumental task itself. These were going to be 3 tough sets and it was do or die time!
There were a handful of other guys in the gym that day, including my high school strength coach, who was still helping me train. He was all fired up about what I was attempting and as I marched into the gym to do battle, he was yelling out tons of vocal encouragement, helping me fuel the fire within.
The first set was incredibly tough. Each rep felt like a max lift by itself, but I dug down and grinded them out, rep after slow rep. After that first set, I already knew something was wrong. I was having a lot of trouble catching my breath. I felt light headed and the room was spinning. I was already seeing stars but I pushed the fear out of my mind and told the guys to crank the stereo. As Judas Priest belted out "You Got Another Thing Coming", I geared up for the second set.
Right when I took the bar off the rack I knew I was in trouble. I felt like I was going to pass out right there and I stumbled as I stepped back into position for my assault on 15 more reps. Each rep was absolute torture. Everyone in the gym was screaming over the stereo, "Come on Joel, you can do it! Explode out of the hole. Come on Joel. UP, UP, keep going. Come on, come on, you can do it!"
There was a point when every single cell in my body was telling me to quit. My body was pleading with me to just stop and rack the weight, but my brain said, "NO WAY! YOU WILL DO THIS!"
After I barely made it up for the last rep and racked the weight someone helped me stumble for a chair. The room was really spinning now. Around and around everything raced in my mind. I could hear my inner voice saying, "You are in trouble buddy!" Fear was closing in.
I don't even remember saying it, but the guy next to me told me later that I whispered to him, "If I pass out, roll me on my side so I don't choke on my own puke." This was the point when everything went black and I don't remember anything after this. I was informed later that I hunched over, puked my guts out and totally collapsed forward onto the floor. I was out cold!
The guys then rolled me over, and they said my eyes were open but they were totally white, and rolled back in my head. Then, I started to go into convulsions. They said they had to hold me down to stop the shaking and I started foaming at the mouth. I think you get the idea -- I was pretty messed up.
My strength coach ran for a phone and called an ambulance. He later said that the 5 minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive were the scariest minutes of his life. He actually thought I wasn't going to make it. The emergency crew strapped me into a stretcher, put me in the ambulance and rushed me to the hospital.
This is when I came to. I remember waking up in the ambulance and saying, "What the hell happened?" They told me I had passed out and was on the way to the hospital. At this point I didn't feel bad at all. I was just kind of numb. A weightless ethereal feeling overtook my body and I think I was actually smiling.
If you have ever passed out, you may know what I am talking about. I am not sure where I went when I passed out, but it wasn't a bad place. I think it was actually a good, pleasant place and I felt very calm.
At the hospital they rushed me into the emergency room and laid me down on a bed. They hooked all kinds of attachments to my body. I guess they were doing an EKG on my heart or some damn thing. I was still kind of out of it so I just kicked back and let them do their thing. The doctor informed me that he thought the bar pinched off oxygen to my brain causing me to pass out. He said I was going to be OK, but they wanted me to stay a while to monitor me.
That wasn't going to happen. Before he could even finish giving me his assessment of my condition, I was already pulling the attachments and cords off my body. He stared at me in disbelief as I proceeded to get up and walk out of the room. He and the nurses were pleading with me to get back into bed, but I wasn't listening. I was in a zone all my own and with a blank stare on my face I walked out into the waiting room.
Outside I noticed in my peripheral vision that my mother, my girlfriend and my strength coach were in the waiting room. I didn't even acknowledge them as I walked by them and headed for the exit. My strength coach yelled out, "Joel, where are you going?" I slowly turned to face them and calmly said, "I've got one more set."
It took a while for my assertion to sink in for them. They couldn't believe I was actually going to return to the gym to finish my third and final set.
Once it registered as to what I was really saying, my strength coach responded, "Now that's what I'm talking about. Let's go!" My mom and girlfriend were in disbelief that I actually intended to return to the gym. But after a few moments they began to understand that there was no talking to me at that point. I wasn't going to listen to anyone or anything besides my inner voice driving me forward.
Looking back, this was a defining moment in my life -- a real turning point. From this point forward I was going to be a great athlete and nothing, I MEAN NOTHING, was going to stop me from reaching my goals.
Right now, I am smiling as I write this. I am proud of that moment and have an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for those glory days of my youth. What a feeling -- to be young, strong, invincible and filled with passion for something that was more important than life itself. With that said, I don't live my life in the past. I use the memories of my past to fuel my pursuits of today. I am still fighting the good fight and I still attack each and every workout as if it might be my last.
When we got back to the gym everyone was gone. My strength coach unlocked the door, turned on the lights and we entered the total silence that filled the gym. The puke stain was still on the floor next to the fallen chair. I calmly stepped over it and entered the rack. My strength coach asked if he should turn on the stereo. I told him I didn't need it.
I think my strength coach was mesmerized at this point. We both knew we were doing something special and noise would just ruin it. It was as if the gym had transformed into some kind of sacred temple. I felt like there was a glow of light all around me. I hardly even remember doing the reps. My strength coach, who was usually very vocal screaming and yelling, just stared at me in amazement as I grinded out the 15 reps of the third and final set.
I usually grunt and scream when I squat, but I didn't make any noise at all. I simply executed rep after perfect rep. I am not really sure how I got that final set of 15 reps. I can't explain why, but it was as if I had been filled with a burst of strength from deep within myself. This was my destiny. All I had to do was get out of the way and let it happen.
I didn't tell you this story to impress you. I told it to impress upon you what is truly possible if you set your mind to something. Don't listen to the doubters, the naysayers and those filled with negativity trying to bring you down. We all have dreams. Even if we don't admit them to others or even to ourselves, we all have them.
I encourage you to make your dreams come true. Think big, work hard and go for it. Your destiny awaits you. All you have to do is get out of the way and let it happen. Now, don't you have something you should go and do right now? I think you do. I think you've got -- one more set.
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This incredible motivational story by Joel has generated some great feedback and encouraged many House Of Muscle followers and customers. Here are some of the things those "In The House" have said about Joel's inspiring story:
I just read "One More Set". I gotta say man you are/were totally nuts, but definitely in a good way. I have to admit that I don't have a tenth of the drive that you have. That is really the main reason I ordered these products. I haven't been real happy about the person I have been over the past few years since high school. I am lazy and lack motivation, mostly because I just don't have any energy anymore. When I played sports in high school, I was loaded with energy, but now I'm 23 and feel like I'm forty. Logging onto your site and ordering your products was probably one of the best things I could ever do, and in time, I know I will regain the motivation and energy that I once had. Thanks so much. -- DJ
"One More Set", was a good inspirational story. We are our biggest enemy and that just shed some light my way. I don't have anyone to lift with and these stories I read from real no bullshit people is what fuels my fire and doesn't let me forget who I am. Thank You. -- Nick
Dear Joel, That was a really great story. Thanks for the reminder of what it is all about. -- Vincent
One of the greatest stories ever told. -- Michael
Hey Joel, that's a pretty impressive story. When I read stories like yours, it encourages me to press on, that I'm not the only one out there busting my balls to achieve a goal. I now stand 6'3, 204lbs and still have the mindset to be the strongest of my kind. I hit the gym every morning I can from 04:45 till 06:15 before morning formation/PT. There's still a lot of guys there bigger and stronger than me, but Hey, I'm there!! Your product is slowly but surely helping me reach my goals, but there is still a lot of hard work and time to be put in. Thanks for the motovation! -- Sgt. Norris / USMC
I look at you as an inspiration Joel. "One More Set" was amazing. I will always have your wise thougts in my head as I train. Thanks for making all this possible Joel. -- Sarah
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