by Joel Sward
On July 6, 2004 I injured my back during training. The injury was bad enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, who I normally avoid like the plague. After examining the MRI the doctor looked me in the eyes and said, "You will NEVER lift a heavy weight again."
I had four bulging discs between my L2 to L5 vertebrae. My back was locked up so tight I was confined to bed for 2 days. The pain, combined with the doctor's diagnosis, sent me into a deep depression and I almost hung up my strength athletics career for good.
What pulled me out of bed and back into the gym? Mostly it was that I wanted to end it on my own terms. If I ever quit strength training and strength related athletics, it is going to be because I want to, not because someone told me I had to.
The first few trips to the gym were very discouraging. I experienced extreme pain just from squatting and dead lifting the bar! But gradually the back started to loosen up and the strength starting coming back little by little.
Regular training that emphasized core stabilizing exercises and stretches (and lots and lots of ice), gradually began to pay off and the comeback was on.
A major impetus was the North American Strongman Society National Championships that were to be held in early October 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. I had put a lot of work into qualifying for this event, which I did back in May, and I really wanted to compete. The chance to compete in a field of over 40 of the best amateur heavyweight strongmen in the nation was too good to pass up.
Needless to say my back injury had put a major crimp in my training, but I still felt like I could get back into shape and be able to compete at Nationals.
On October 8, 9 and 10 I did just that. I competed in the North American Strongman Society Heavyweight National Championships in Atlanta, Georgia. It was held in conjunction with the GNC Show of Strength, a huge strength, bodybuilding, and fitness expo.
Only 3 months after my doctor's assertion that "You will NEVER lift a heavy weight again", I slugged it out with over 40 of the best amateur heavyweight strongmen in the nation.
Although I did not perform as well as I had hoped, (I had to pull out of the competition, due to my back injury, after 2 of the 3 days, finishing 3 of 5 events.), I was proud of the fact that I was at least able to compete and give it a try. If I heeded my doctor's warning, I would always be wondering "What if?" Now at least I know.
Before I had to pull out of the competition, I squatted and dead lifted a truck!
"I will NEVER lift a heavy weight again." Huh!
I didn't tell you all this to impress you. I told you to impress upon you that great things are possible if you set your mind to it. Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do. You decide for yourself what is possible and then go for it! Avoid negative people and naysayers and surround yourself with people who support and encourage you to become more than you are.
Imagine yourself lying on your deathbed. You have shriveled up to a fraction of your normal weight. You are nothing more than skin and bones. You are literally heaving and fighting for each breath, which you know could be your last. A team of doctors stands over you and tells you that you only have a 20% chance of survival due to cancer that has spread like wildfire throughout your body.
What would you do? How would you react? Would you give up? Prepare to die? Relinquish yourself to fate? This exact situation faced Lance Armstrong back in 1996. What was his reaction? He told his friends and family not to worry. He announced that he would not only survive, but would come back and win arguably the most grueling endurance sporting event on the planet, an event he had never even been close to winning before he had cancer.
We all know he pulled it off. Only three years after receiving his death sentence Lance stood on the victory stand after winning the 1999 Tour de France. We also know he went on to win it 6 more times consecutively. But what we don't know, or find hard to believe, is how he did it.
Many people, due to a protracted doping scandal which resulted in Armstrong being stripped of all those victories in 2012, probably think that he pulled off this miraculous comeback solely because of his use of performance enhancing drugs. I think this is too simplistic of an answer.
Other people probably believe Lance Armstrong was born with some special trait, has some secret or is just plain lucky. How else could he pull off such a miracle?
I don't believe any of those reasons are true. I believe what Lance did reveals something that is inside all of us. I believe everyone has the ability to accomplish incredible things, even if the "experts" say it is not possible. Lance simply would not take "No" for an answer. He decided his fate and he willed himself to health and then to victory.
Although Lance's career ended controversially and many don't condone his use of drugs, or the way the he treated people who tried to discredit him, I still believe his triumph over a terminal illness is inspiring.
Not all of us are "lucky" enough to have a near death experience to spur us on to greater things. (Yes, I think Lance Armstrong was "lucky" to get cancer and he has often said it was the best thing that ever happened to him.)
But why wait? We all know we are going to die. Some sooner, some later, but it is inevitable. Why not live each day like it could be your last? Seize every opportunity. Make your own luck. Get in the arena and fulfill YOUR destiny! Time is wasting. . .
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