It’s 2 am when I rouse from a drug-induced sleep to absolute torture. Not just any pain: I-don’t-possess-the-vocabulary-sufficient-enough-to-describe-it pain. Knowing my wife is fully asleep in the other room, I bear down and try to tough it out.
And then I scream in agony. The pain-killers and anesthesia have long-since worn off, and although I was warned to get ahead of the pain, I hadn’t popped a few of those pills in the last couple hours, and my shoulder began to throb.
It’s September 26th, 2018, and I’ve just had my shoulder surgically repaired. I’m in excruciating pain, and I’m now screaming for my wife to sling pain pills like I’m some sort of deranged hungry-hungry hippo smacking my gums in her general direction.
And all because of fucking kickball.
Earlier in May of that year, I had joined a coed kickball team. Ya know the kind where you sling back a few beers, jog onto the field, throw a ball 10 feet to a friend and you’re warmed up and ready to play. And since I’m so jacked and tan and fit, and since coed kickball can’t possibly be competitive, I never felt the need to really get myself physically prepared.
And I was so wrong. Because when an opposing player booted a ball so hard it saw the curvature of the earth, I was left to save my team from imminent disaster.
Actually, I saved the team twice that night. Two, nearly identical, full-fucking-send kickballs went soaring into my outfield and I was able to stop both from becoming home runs and potentially saving the game.
But we lost anyway. And not only did we lose, but man my shoulder was throbbing. So a couple months pass and I’m going to physical therapy to try and rehab my busted shoulder, which at this point is so messed up I can’t really lift in the gym anymore. Just before the game, I had set a new bench press personal record, and now I couldn’t even do a pushup off the edge of a countertop.
Eventually, I found my way into an MRI machine. By the way, the worst time to learn that you’re claustrophobic is when you’re waist-deep in an MRI machine. And sure enough, I had torn my rotator cuff and seriously damaged my labrum. And, unfortunately, due to my line of work and my hobbies (lifting and getting jacked) my shoulder was too unstable to allow me to perform.
Surgery was penned into my calendar that week, and at 2 am on September 26th, I was desperate for pain relief.
Today, I am over one year out from that surgery, and happy to report that I’m doing incredibly well. You might think that I’ve since rebuilt my strength; that I’ve set new records and I’m as strong as I was back then.
But I’m not.
I’m working on it, but goals change and whatever…I’m not here to talk about my fitness. I’m here to talk about what I learned.
First things: you never appreciate what you have until you don’t have it. This was my dominant arm, making it impossible (or insanely painful) to do even the most mundane tasks, like tie my shoes, put on clothes, bathe, cook, or, ahem, take care of myself in the restroom.
(Not impossible! But FFS it was damn hard; and I’ll show some hubris and tell you that I was able to remove a toilet seat, install a new one, and did it all single-handedly)
I have a newfound appreciation for being fully physically capable and able to move at nearly 100% of my body’s abilities.
Two: perspective. While I’m a huge fan of getting very strong and building muscle, having done so had zero impact on my abilities (or lack thereof) to play kickball. Everything I had built – more than 50 lbs to my bench and 70 lbs to my squat – meant jack shit after a measly kickball tore me down. I was like the Greek hero Achilles, only if Achilles wore short-shorts, drank IPAs, and his weakness was his right shoulder and an $8 kickball from Walmart.
I love training and challenging my strength. I love how it feels to be crushed by a workout to then come back a week later and feel invincible. I also know what it’s like to lose everything in one swift moment. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll never take for granted my physical abilities.
Three: support. My wife graciously woke up at 4 am daily to dress me and tie my shoes (I’ll be one helluva crotchety old man). She helped me chop veggies and prep dinner when I couldn’t hold a knife. She washed half my body and made sure I was comfortably wedged into a pillow fort in my living room. I couldn’t imagine doing all of that alone.
And my PT, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, not only because she had her shoulder repaired (actually, she’s had both), but because she also likes to lift like a maniac, and understands my needs and goals as a trainee and coach. While she won’t take much credit, I have fully recovered and I’m not sure I could have come back nearly as well without her guidance and willingness to challenge me.
You see, this article isn’t about recovering from an injury and how my lifts were affected or whatever. There are plenty of those articles out there. And, to be sure, I’ve regained nearly all of my range of motion and I’m well on my way to being as lean, jacked, and tan as I’ve ever been. So don’t worry, training is going great and I’m all good. Instead, here’s what I’ve learned:
Movement is something to be explored, challenged, and celebrated. Whatever you’re capable of doing, do it, and appreciate every second of it, because you never know when it’ll be taken away from you.
And mostly, surround yourself with good people. For better or, more likely, worse, my identity is heavily wrapped up in my physical abilities, and when they were taken from me, I wasn’t sure I could cope. But my wife, my clients, and my PT all stepped up to help with whatever I needed. I’m never sure I’m so deserving of the love and support that I’m given, that I’ve earned it or that I’m worthy.
But I’ll take it. Because without them I couldn’t be half the man or coach I am today.