Another Setback, Another Challenge...Another Path to PRs

TAGS: dealing with injury, coming back from injury, arthritis in wrists, arthritis in knees, setback for powerlifter, car accident, surgery, mental strength, Jeff Guller, arthritis

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In my last article, I was riding high. I was reaching PR after PR, and lifting as much as I ever have since I was in my 20s. This article was going to be about meet preparation. I moved up an age group recently, which means there are new world records to set or break in this new little-old-man age group. I was training for a meet in December and quite optimistic about my chances for these records. Somehow, the other shoe has to drop; life has a way of smacking you in the face. That is exactly what happened to me — literally.

A few weeks ago I was on my way home after an early training session. I was drained, not in any particular hurry, but not wanting to be late for my nap. I was traveling on a major road in our little town about 40 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. As I approached an intersection, I had a green light and proceeded through the intersection. Before I got through, a pick-up truck turned left directly into my path. I tried to swerve to the left but a collision was unavoidable. The impact was at both our right front headlights. The entire front of my SUV was damaged, as was the right side of his cab. The impact spun my SUV 180 degrees and into a car parked for a red light on the side street, damaging my right rear door. The young man driving the truck told the police officer that he thought he had the right-of-way because he had a green light. The officer asked, "Didn't you realize the other guy also had a green light?" YIKES! Don't they teach driver's education any more?


RECENT: Three Quarters of a Century and Still Getting Strong(er)


I was hurt — kind of bad. The air bag deployed and smacked me in the chest. My hands were on the steering wheel and my hands, wrists, and elbows absorbed a great deal of the impact. The force exacerbated the arthritis in my hands and wrists and a hand orthopedic specialist told me that this could be a permanent situation. Both wrists were sprained badly, as were both thumbs. I tore a ligament in my right thumb, which has to be repaired surgically. I also learned that part of my grip issue is because I lost a great deal of feeling in my right hand. Apparently carpal tunnel syndrome has reared its ugly head and also has to be repaired surgically. Surgery is to be scheduled as soon as possible and my thumb will be in a cast or splint for six weeks. I don't know how long it will take for the hand to heal. Looks like I will be eating holiday dinner left-handed; it will probably help me not to gain too much weight.

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My knees also hit the dash and before too long they looked like basketballs. Again, the arthritis in both knees was greatly exacerbated. The swelling has subsided, but my left knee—the one that has had some surgeries—continues to be a problem. How long that will last, I don't know. And last but not least, I was told that I had a concussion, albeit a minor one.

It's a pain in the ass being an adult. I would rather sit in a corner and pout, be mad, kick my feet, eat ice cream, and be depressed for a while. The reality of the situation, however, is that this is a minor setback. It's not open-heart surgery; it's not hip replacement surgery. It's a bump in the road — one we will overcome and from which we will return stronger.

A friend of mine, Ken Hancock, is a bench-only powerlifter and recently tore and shredded both of his triceps tendons. He is not a kid powerlifter, but retired from the military. His doctor told him that he could either stop powerlifting or endure the replacement of the tendons with surgery. Like a true powerlifter he said, "When is the surgery?" By the time this article is published we will both have had surgery. Enclosed below are some thoughts Ken put together. They are worth reading.

Mentality and Dealing with Injury

It started about a year and a half ago. I was competing in a meet when I finished a bench attempt and the bar started to fall back into the rack. I pulled it back into position and felt a burn in my right elbow just above the point where the triceps tie in.

But hey, I am a powerlifter and injuries happen to other guys, right? I mean, who lifts and thinks they're going to get hurt? It wasn’t too bad. I treated it with ice and went back to training. Life went on, but pretty soon the left started hurting in the same spot. At least I can ice both elbows as easily as one, right?

Life rolled on. The pain got worse but I am a powerlifter and PRs kept going up. Get tough! Suck it up, buttercup! Rolling into September I started meet prep for an October meet. Even with non-narcotic painkiller and Tylenol I just could not get into heavy weight. After doing one rep with any weight, the pain would have me racking it. Damn it, it hurt. 

I had a decent performance at the meet, but with all the painkillers and hydrocortisone I was still miserable. After a visit to a doctor and several weeks going by, I learned that I had torn tendons in both elbows. Now I'm looking at surgeries on both elbows, but the doctor will only do one at a time, with six weeks in a cast between surgeries. Then it will be time for physical therapy and starting back at the bare bar. It will be a slow climb back. For now, I'm waiting for the surgery and am no longer one of the gang hanging out at the big weight section of the gym. Yes, I am working legs and doing cardio, but to be with the big boys you've gotta be lifting the big weight.

The deal is, a lot of guys don’t make it back to competition. In my opinion, to be good at this sport you have to be able to lift fearless. I know I have to blow that weight off my chest and push it through the roof. I have friends who have been hurt and now they say, "I don’t want to lift heavy anymore” or “ I am in it for my health now." Maybe that is true, and if so, good for them. Me? I've gotta get back. The thing that scares me is being scared under the bar. To not be able to fly that weight up. To have that doubt. Time will tell, I guess. To all my brothers and sisters I would like to say, enjoy every lift and fly!


This article is not about this pissy setback; I think I'm so mad because it is such a pissy setback. This article is about how we deal with setbacks. We, as powerlifters, have chosen a sport that produces setbacks from time to time. We experience breaks, tears, sprains, heart and lung issues, joint replacements, and other sundry surgeries. We overcome, persevere, and come back stronger. At my age, my peers and I may take a little longer to heal and we may give a little more thought to coming back, both to the gym and the platform. However, unless we are forced by health or very serious surgery or injury, we come back. It has been my experience that powerlifters, as much as or more than any other athletes, demonstrate the courage, determination, fortitude, wherewithal, and pure damn grit to come back and overcome any adversity. When they tell us as powerlifters that we can't weather the storm, we reply as powerlifters, "We are the fucking storm."

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