To those facing an unknown future,
I was in so much pain and on so many pain killers, drugs and IVs that I just knew that I could not live that way any longer. While I didn’t know what life was going to be like, the agony of the situation far outweighed the fear of the unknown.
However, there were a lot of unknowns accompanied by a significant amount of fear.
I was an athlete my whole life, winning several state championship titles in track and field in high school before receiving a college scholarship to Kent State. Later in life, twice, I ranked top ten in the world in professional bodybuilding.
During my third year as a bodybuilder, I started experiencing symptoms that were affecting my training: sensitivity, numbness and discomfort. But it wasn’t until about 11 months later, Christmas Eve 2015, that my foot was so uncomfortable and so swollen that I could not wear normal shoes. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Compartment Syndrome, which is chronic internal inflammation that only occurs in either the calf muscles or the forearms. Then, after enduring multiple procedures I was also diagnosed with Peripheral Vascular disease, which means that I did not have normal blood flow to my peripheries.
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After my 21st procedure in February of 2016, I just had a moment of clarity and said, “I’ve had enough.”
That is when I decided to amputate the lower half of my leg.
I assumed that my competitive bodybuilding career was over.
After my amputation, I wasn’t competing but I stayed close to the sport.
While I was at an event one of the judges said to me, “So when are you getting back on stage?”
At that moment I thought, “Okay, they don’t see me any differently. They still expect me to participate.”
I decided to go ahead and try to return to competitive bodybuilding. Little did I know that it is not enough just to be ambitious, courageous and committed, I still faced limitations. I had to learn how to train differently and be psychologically strong enough to recognize that I wasn’t the same person now, even if I am still the same person inside.
From walking in the park with my husband to getting into shape, I had struggles that I never had before.
My desire to return to competitive bodybuilding destroyed and built up my confidence all at once. It was embarrassing for me to go into the gym because I was not nearly as strong as I used to be. I wasn’t built the same and I wasn’t shaped the same. All of the traits that made me feel confident in the gym were gone. But eventually, I rebuilt my self-esteem.
Here is how.
First, I had to end my pity party.
Shortly after I got my prosthetic leg, I was pulling out of my garage and I was waiting for this pedestrian to walk by and I happened to notice that he was missing a hand.
I thought, “Wow, okay. That’s ironic. I don’t often see amputees.”
Then, a day or two later I saw him again. It turned out he was dating my neighbor, who was two doors down in my apartment building. He told me that before he lost his hand he had a scholarship to go to art school. That summer before art school he and his friends were playing with dynamite and it blew off his hand, his dominant hand that he used to draw. So, he learned how to draw with his opposite hand and he still went on to art school. That’s not all. He also became an international record holder for rock climbing, even though he doesn’t have a prosthetic hand and he became a champion BMX rider.
I was like, “Okay, Michael, if he can do all that, you can return to bodybuilding.”
What you must realize is that rarely has anyone in today’s world invented a new crisis. No matter what you’re going through, someone else has gone through it. You, too, need to find those stories. You need to find those people. You need to recognize that you’re not going through this alone and someone else went through it and thrived.
With that in mind, I got back in the gym but I struggled to find a way to do cardio. I can’t do anything standing because of my circulatory issues. My human leg fails before my prosthetic leg. From cross trainers to the Stairmaster, I tried everything.
Frustration set in but ultimately I learned to adapt by using a hand ergometer, a hand bike, or battle ropes from a seated position nonstop for 20 to 30 minutes.
Patience has served me very well throughout this entire process. You, like me, probably want to return to “normal,” immediately. But if you can just be patient, it’s so much easier to bear the challenges you are facing in the moment. Be patient with yourself and be patient with others. That’s been gold for me.
Eventually, I made it back on stage. While there were nerves coupled with excitement as I prepared to compete in a sport that’s about perfection with what many might perceive as an imperfect or even incomplete body, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t matter if I win, lose, place or if I come in last place, just remember there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.”
When I got on stage, it felt right and I said to myself, “Yeah, this is home. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Unlike in the past, when I was aiming for titles and rankings, just making it up there was a huge accomplishment.
For a moment, I forgot all about my leg. Getting back to competition made me realize that you can always find a way to have a piece of the life you used to if you are willing to adapt, redefine success and go after it.
I am truly proud of myself, as I have become confident and self-assured in the person I am today and the body in which I live. That’s why I insist on wearing shorts at the gym, showing everyone my prosthetic. It’s a symbol of how far I have come. It’s a reminder of the adversity I faced. Above all else, it’s proof for you, someone who is facing the unknown, that the strength you can and you will discover within yourself is far greater than any struggle you might fear at this moment.
The possibilities are endless,