“No matter how fucked you get, the sun will return and you come back down! The funny thing is all I ever wanted I already had. There’s glimpses of heaven in every day.” – Bring Me The Horizon (Hospital For Souls)
The weight was light, just 225. This was circuit training, a way to condition. I can rep this shit 20 times without putting it down. I should have looked at the warning signs… I should have known better. I should have listened to my own rules. On my 4th repetition, as I was picking the barbell up from the ground, I felt it happen. I felt a jolt across my entire lower back as the tear occurred… as if it was a closed mouth that just abruptly opened. I instantly dropped the bar and took a knee. I felt pain shoot through my entire nervous system as I knelt there, frozen, unable to move, and terrified as I felt all of these horrible things happening to my nervous system. People that train with me know that I am a resilient person, I can push through a lot of pain. When my coaches saw this unfold, they immediately knew something was wrong, and came over to me and asked, “Ben, are you OK?” I replied, “No… I don’t know what’s happening.” I couldn’t move from that position for several minutes.
When I awoke the next morning, I realized that I couldn’t just sit up. I had to slowly roll over and gently flop off of the bed. My dog, which is usually trying to start a football pile-on when I wake up in the morning, could tell something was off as well as she gently walked around me and helped nudge me. Shit. I thought… This is serious. I couldn’t even bend over to put my leash on my dog. I took a few days off of the gym, but the pain didn’t really subside, so I decided to go see a Chiropractor. His initial assessment was that I should be back to Squatting in 3 weeks, based on what my current max was. Over 3 weeks the pain did manage to subside to a manageable level, but I could still feel the strain. Trusting the doc, I went into the gym on my 3rd week to the day and started with just the barbell. I got up to about 30% of my max, did a squat, and then a huge, sharp pain shot up my spine. I immediately collapsed and held my back. I was back to square one. That’s when it set in… this is serious, and it’s not going to just go away. I took a couple more weeks off, went back in and tried doing a barbell complex at 75 lbs… once again reinjured myself. I was completely distraught and frustrated.
For anyone who knows me, or if you have been keeping up with this blog, you probably know that there are many intrinsic reasons as to why I train as hard as I do (https://onefootonestep.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/12-15-15-pierce-the-veil-lifting-with-demons-bryan-n-taylor-kia-4-6-06/). When I realized how badly I was injured, I was terrified. What if I could never lift, or even train and compete again? In anything? Athletics for me is a source, as is competing. I rely on it as a way to stay balanced and centered, to keep my own demons at bay. Without it I feel disarmed. It was this type of realization that made me take pause and try and reorganize and figure out what to do.
I knew a couple of things to start: I was not going to give in to this. This was not the thing that was going to end me. Also, I knew that I didn’t want to heal in a way that was not practical to how I like to live my life. I wiped the slate clean and started from the very basics. Over the first few weeks I watched a lot of lifting videos on YouTube in order to keep my kenetic eye trained and stay motivated. Everyday I went into the gym, just to be there, be around it, and would do very simple rehabilitative exercises that were given to me by my coaches (Bird Dogs, stretches, back extensions, etc). No barbell work, yet. I ate ton’s of anti-inflammatory foods, and tuned in my diet as best I could for the healing process. I did that for over a month. When I felt ready to progress a bit more, I started to focus on some gymnastics movements such as hand stand holds, hollow positions on the pull-up bar, eventually building back up to pulling movements with the upper body such as pull-ups. After several weeks of that I moved into some weighted rehabilitative exercises such as sitting kettlebell back extensions, and weighted back extensions from the GHD rig. Still being patient not to touch the barbell until I felt it was time.
It was very difficult, day in and day out, to be sitting on the side lines, watching others train hard, PR, and progress. It felt like being a caged animal. Everyday several people would come up to me and ask me how I was doing… I always just had to give them some sort of generic answer. I didn’t know how many of them felt the despair I was in, or if they’d even care. A simple nod or some small talk, and I’d get back to work. I was determined, consumed to become whole again. At this point, if it wasn’t about me getting better and back to training and competition shape… I wasn’t concerned with it.
Eventually, I started to approach the barbell. Terrified and apprehensive, I knew to take my time with this. The barbell doesn’t lie, and after months of building back up, earning the right to hold it again… I had to make this work. The barbell does not lie. I began by simply placing the barbell on the blocks at the Power Position, and starting with High Pulls. Eventually moving into Power Cleans and Power Snatches, then adding weight. I started light, at 75 lbs, and earned my way back up… when the lifts continued to feel good, I’d take a block away, and start above the knee. So on and so forth, until I felt comfortable lifting from the ground again.
The whole time I was absolutely terrified, and from that stemmed a deep respect for the barbell, and the technique to go with it. I paid more attention to my technique now more than ever. I was in-tune with the shift of balance in my feet, where my knees were, where my back was in relation to my hips and the angle, where my toes were pointing, when to initiate certain pulls, and began filming everything so I could find the chinks in my technique.
After months of those progressions I eventually earned my way back to the ground. Once again starting light, and joining back into classes with people. My classmates, teammates, and coaches began to approach me and would make comments. They told me I seemed more determined and focused now. My coaches told me that I had become a better lifter entirely. As I regained my movements and my back healed, I started hitting my former PR’s and even created some new ones. I was amazed. Matt Saeler (Coach/Weightlifter Real Fitness Sarasota) paid attention to my process and watched over me with a careful eye, and one day, when I hit my current Clean PR, came up and congratulated me. He knew the struggle I’d been through, and as a good coach was making sure I came back correctly, and took care of myself. I thanked him for all of his help, but he reminded me that it was me. That I took the time to research outside of the gym, watch the videos, read, and tediously train the technique. Thank you Matt.
It took off from there. Today I am stronger than I have ever been, and will be competing actively in USAW sanctioned events. With my earned determination, wisdom, and refined technique I continue to climb mentally, spiritually, and physically. Initially, when the injury happened, it was because I didn’t pay attention to my own rules. I didn’t warm up correctly, as I was busy talking with a friend during that time. I was over-confident; at the time I was placing in the top 3 at my gym regularly and felt myself peeking as an athlete. I didn’t respect the movements. All of that combined into a catastrophic result. To this day, whenever I approach the barbell for a lift… you’ll see me pause for a moment, while holding onto the barbell. I am thinking about what happened, and what might happen, if I don’t rebuild this lift mentally in my head for a moment. Focus. It is the Dark Orchestra.
You see, injury can be used. Like any pain in life it exists to teach you something. As athletes we place ourselves in precarious situations constantly in order to progress and achieve our goals. This is one of the defining differences between general fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Elliott Hulse once said, “If you haven’t been injured as an athlete, then you’re probably a shitty athlete.” We burn only to rise again. You have to be able to read the situation. Coming back from injury makes you a stronger athlete in many, many ways. But… you have to earn it. If you surrender, tell yourself that your peak has ended, and now you will simply deal with it, then you let the demon beat you. You have to fight back, you have to believe in yourself… even when it seems dark. Believe me, there were times I was wrought with despair. So many people want to achieve these great goals for themselves in the world of athletics, but when met with an obstacle, they retreat, or don’t fight back hard enough. Perhaps the training is difficult, physically or technically, or they are “too busy,” maybe they had a heartbreaking moment in their life… or they were injured. The barbell is waiting, silently, in the rack for you. It is the constant, providing itself to strengthen yourself… waiting patiently. It does not lie. Do not be the many that give up, that retreat when encountering a relentless enemy. Everybody wants to go to Heaven… but nobody wants to die.