How the fire in my joints fueled my purpose

To: Pain

From: Mike Lee (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Pain,

Before I met you, I was 12-0, an undefeated professional boxer. I was featured in national Super Bowl commercials. My fights were in some of the world’s most famous arenas, including Madison Square Garden, Cowboys Stadium and MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I had fans and I had fame, which made me feel invincible.

Mike Lee was an undefeated boxer before his diagnosis.

Then, in 2012 you came into my life. I was getting ready for my first fight on an HBO undercard. During a media workout, I had to run to the bathroom because I thought I was going to pass out.

You, pain, were all over: my joints, my back and my head.

It wasn’t after a fight or a blow to the head, so I knew you weren’t from boxing. But other than that, I was clueless about your cause.

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I spent two years in and out of hospitals and removed from fighting just trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Doctors performed surgeries I did not need. At one point, I was on eight different medications.


Mike Lee spent two years in and out of hospitals trying to find the source of his pain.

My rock bottom moment was when I spent 12 days in a hospital in Chicago. I had a full-blown anxiety attack and you overwhelmed my body. Doctors were testing me, prodding me, poking me, putting drugs in me, trying to break your cycle, the cycle of pain.

Several medical experts told me my boxing career was over.

I felt hopeless. I felt depressed. I felt like this would be the rest of my life.

I became damn near suicidal.

Even though doctors eventually diagnosed me with an autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is a form of arthritis, knowing what was wrong only identified the problem as opposed to solving it.

Finally, I decided I would either take an entire bottle of pills or I would figure out how to get better, but nothing in between.

During my visits to the hospital, I began to read books, which influenced me to stop trying to beat you with medicine and instead attempt to overpower you with my mind.

I consumed myself with positivity, shifting my attitude. Instead of depending on pills and prescriptions, I searched for alternative options where my body could heal itself. Meditation, acupuncture, breathing exercises and a good diet all became part of my routine.

I began to read books, which influenced me to stop trying to beat you with medicine and instead attempt to overpower you with my mind.

While my disease is chronic, my new mindset made it manageable.

Despite doctors saying it would never happen, Mike Lee returned to the ring.

But even more important than managing you, I began to find meaning from you.

Some of the greatest people who ever walked this planet have experienced you. Top athletes, businessmen, life coaches and entrepreneurs came out of the hurt you caused them because they used you as a lesson and as a tool.

You put a chip on my shoulder and gave me the motivation to get back in the ring, which I did despite some medical experts saying it would never happen. I just fought for a world title in front of millions of people. And even though I got handed the first loss of my professional career, you taught me to use that disappointment to drive me and to grow.

You taught me life is about getting knocked down seven times and getting back up eight times.

Lee says pain taught him empathy.

You taught me failure isn’t hitting the canvas but refusing to get back up.

That’s not all.

Until I faced you, I didn’t know true empathy or gratitude.

Before I encountered you, my life was about me, me and me. I wanted to win titles, watch myself on TV and make money. You took away my egocentric mindset and gave me an unshakeable desire to devout the rest of my life to helping others defeat you.

I became an entrepreneur, creating a Cannabinoid (CBD) company, which helps me and others cope with you. I speak publicly, motivating people to fight through their rock bottom moments. I meet face-to-face with children who are suffering.

Family Reach is a foundation helping families impacted by cancer. Recently I worked with them to send a child, who is now in hospice, to Disneyland.

Mike Lee says pain taught him empathy.

Also, I share my story every chance that I get to show others they can thrive despite you.

A few months ago, parents approached me at an event, explaining their daughter went through a similar experience. She was a collegiate athlete and became very depressed. With tears in their eyes, these parents told me my story gave their daughter hope.

That moment was better than any knockout inside the ropes.

While I am guiding others, I still have my struggles, as flare-ups remain a part of my life.

There are days I wake up and feel like I am 80 years old, grabbing the railing to come down the stairs and putting heat packs on to manage the aches and discomfort you cause me.

Even so, I still see you, pain, as a gift in my life. My empathy and desire to help people would have never happened without you.

While others curse you, I say thank you.

You brought me from selfish to selfless. And as bad as you make feel in my joints you will never compare to the way my new-found passion for giving makes me feel in my heart.

Stronger than ever,

Mike Lee
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