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Part 1: How the Mighty Fall: Pride Comes First

Part 2: How the Mighty Fall: The Fall

Part 3: How the Mighty Fall: Limbo

When I left you last, I'd only just taken my first step out of Hell proper, and on to the muddy shores of Acheron.

Unlike Dante, on his journey through the Inferno, I had no Virgil to guide me, only some vague restrictions from a surgeon and a thirst for redemption that would not be easily slaked.

For six weeks after the surgery, I was not allowed to lift or hold anything over five pounds. For about the first two weeks that was easy to follow. I came home to homemade cupcakes and a refrigerator full of meals my clients had made for me. I didn't take any pain killers after I left the hospital, but for awhile those cupcakes were my new opiate. I would eat them, sleep, and then repeat.

I had to take corticosteroids the first two weeks I was home. These were not as strong as the IV steroids I was on in the hospital, but without the painkillers I noticed they really made me feel like shit.

Once I was back a Keyhole Barbell, I was ready to start improving. At this point I could stand for about 30 minutes at a clip and be seated for about the same. In order to make it through sessions, coaching my lifters, I would have to rotate standing, then sitting, then standing for as long as I was able, and I would lay down flat on my back, for naps, between clients.

There was no choice but to schedule sessions with an hour break between them, because I needed that much time to lay down and recover after standing for so long.

This is what it's like to be old and weak, I thought.

That life was not for me. I still looked huge and strong, but you could've pushed me over with a feather and I was not okay with feeling that way.

The doctor told me I couldn't lift more than five pounds, and I was not really into the idea of ending up back in the hospital, so I was prepared to follow orders. After the first two weeks I started doing what I could with a five-pound dumbbell. I'd lay on my stomach, on a bench and do 100 rear lateral raises with each arm and then 100 shrugs and 100 rows, 100 curls 100 presses. I tried anything and everything I could to get the blood flowing into my muscles and make them feel like they were being used. I hoped that I would not lose as much in the weeks to come if I kept doing this.

It's hard for to say for sure if performing this routine daily helped me to maintain muscle in the early stages of recovery, but I believe it did. It absolutely helped prevent me from going completely insane. After a couple of more weeks, I added in some body weight squats, starting with five sets of ten reps. By the fifth week, I'd begun walking around the track.

At first, I could only handle one lap around the 1.1 mile track, which circles a beautiful lake, at a park in my area. For me to even make it around one lap took several rounds of stopping and resting, as my back would start to get numb or feel like it was itching under the skin.


This is one of the pieces they had to cut from my spine.

By the time I went back for my six-week follow up visit at the surgeon's office, I was doing two miles of walking at a time with no breaks and right about to push it to three.

This visit I did not see the surgeon himself, only one of his PAs. The one I saw on this visit was more senior in age than the PA from the hospital, and not nearly as pretty. He wore a white coat with his name on it: Patrick something. He was very well mannered and laid back, but knowledgable and had a gentle demeanor. I remember that part of his face was paralyzed, maybe from some type of palsy.

Patrick explained that it was still far too soon for me to do any type of axial loading of the spine, so I really couldn't pick anything up. He moved my restriction to 20 pounds.

Okay, this meant 20 pound squats, 20 pound rows, rear laterals, curls, etc. He also told me to focus on cardio, so I moved up the frequency of my walks.

Marisa, the girl who had reached out to me when I was in the hospital, really made an effort to keep in touch, even stopping by Keyhole Barbell a few times to sit with me in my kitchen and talk as I drank coffee.

She told me a lot about her life and what she'd been through, what she was still going through. Some of it made me feel like a pussy for struggling with the issues I had, and still was, emotionally. It definitely gave me some perspective.

By week ten I was pushing the rules a little bit, benching the bar for sets of twenty. I couldn't set myself up correctly yet, but I could press with my feet up. I had my final visit with the surgeon and he was very happy with my progress. He said I'd done well with my rehab to that point, reiterated the risks involved with me returning to the platform and pleaded with me to give it 18 months before using very heavy weight on squat or deadlift due to the axial load on my compromised disc and vertebrae. Instead he told me to work on building up the supportive muscles involved in those lifts, and pointed out that I didn't need very heavy weights to do that. When you're right, you're right. I told him I was going to be bench pressing, though, because he didn't have a decent argument against that.

I promised not to drop the bar again.

This guy really gave it some thought. I explained the positions I would need to be in to bench and he said that benching with an arch and keeping my spine in extension would actually be protective to the injury. He was okay with it, but told me to use good judgement and take it slow at first.

On my way out of his office he reminded me to get video to him, if I did compete in bench press at RUM. He also mentioned that the vertebrae I had shaved could fuse, but that might not be a bad thing.

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The months after that day ran away quickly. At first, the weight did not struggle in my web. It had no presentiment of fearful things I'd do to it. It would shoot no web of its own to the ceiling, nor try to escape.

It had no respect for me at all, and didn't want to move the way it used to. It bided its time, but I was not ready to stop throwing punches.

I began to throw them harder and faster. Soon, my training took off like a sea gull and shit all over everyone with negative things to say.

And there are always those. "He's finished, he will never hit the numbers he used to," or "he's going to get hurt again," but the fact of the matter was that there were still more punches to be thrown. I was thinking clearly and not doing dumb shit. I followed the doctors orders and called on over a decade of my own experience working with clients, post surgery. The bench kept creeping back up.

My heart beat was a war drum again, and as long as I was breathing, I would move toward the conflict.

One night in October, as Tarra and I came out from a play in the city, I saw several missed calls on my phone from my good friend Rachel. I called her back while Tarra drove, and moments later I let out the unmistakable sound of loss.


Marisa wasn't with us anymore. She had died in the hospital, about an hour earlier.

I went to the funeral alone and didn't know anyone aside from Rachel. Marisa had apparently mentioned me to her parents. They were very kind.

I would make peace with all this later, but I was not ready to process it yet. The sight of a young girl in a coffin is not the sort of thing you skate right over. I already had some experience with this, so I knew.

The drum beat on. It's hard to feel sorry for yourself after something like that.

By the time I started my peaking cycle for RUM, I was already extremely fatigued. I'd let the clock run without a Deload for 10 cycles (90 days), and I was redlining. I hit 410 pounds for 9 reps on the 5thSet of my final microcycle, before the peaking cycle.

Now it was time to finish the last bit of work.

The first week of my peaking cycle I took a fatigued training max for bench, and 500 pounds sailed like a yacht. I was back over 500 already, and all ready for the wind-down to commence.

Tarra and Alisa were both doing RUM with me, and they were just as ready as I was. When the day came to fly out, the three of us set off on the trip together. My father almost killed us on the way to the airport, driving over a median in the snow at one point, doing about 45 mph.


Once aboard the plane, we squeezed our oversized bodies into our tiny seats. Tarra and I could see Alisa hanging half way out into the aisle about four rows up from us. She was seated with a family who didn't speak English, with a child seated on the mother's lap. This meant for most of the flight the child was crawling on to Alisa's lap. This was not something she was happy about.

Day one at RUM, Alisa was going to be lifting in the morning session, and I would be in the afternoon. She was doing bench-only also, because she had a back injury of her own, incurred while on a hiatus from Keyhole Barbell and under the expert tutelage of some 22 year old kid she was dating. He fancied himself a trainer, said she had too many weak points, and apparently thought the solution was to warm her up for stiff leg deadlifts with 90% of her conventional 1RM, for reps. That adventure was short lived and essentially ended her powerlifting career.

For her warm-ups on meet day, I was 100% on autopilot. My friend Dan Green, who I rarely get to see, was warming up one of his lifters on the bench across from us, and for some reason it didn't even click that he was right there until he came over and said hello. In my head, I was visualizing myself on the platform, and any number of things which could ruin my plans.

I stuck to the script as I usually do. It's never failed me in the past and that day was no exception. She went three for three and made me proud at what was her first time on the RUM platform, and what would be her last meet in powerlifting.

The afternoon dragged on. They kept rescheduling the time my flight would start.

First it was three, then it was four, then as we were warming up to be ready for four, they moved it closer because the flight before us went faster than planned. As a result a few of us had to rush our warm-ups and I had to either take an 80 pound jump to my opener or pass on my first attempt.

My first meet back, I could not afford to pass, so I took the jump. Everything that could go wrong with my opener already had, in my mind, but I stepped on the platform as a god. I had a supreme confidence. Up and out of the rack it went, then down, then the press command, and I fired it up.

It was very easy, and I jumped up feeling great. That was, until I saw I had two reds.

I queried the side judge about her decision and she explained that I'd used excessive sinking, which I'd never been called on in the past, and I was under the impression was allowed in this meet. When I asked the head judge what made him throw a red, he said "up and down," because the uprights were set to low and I had to press it up before I started the lift, after my hand out.

My mind was racing. The bull was loose.

I stopped, pulled myself to the side and stepped off, alone.  Two judges lighted the lift, I must've fucked up.

I wanted to jump to 530 to make a point.


No, no, no, no, no. That was not a good idea. What would I tell one of my lifters? 500. I would say take 500 for the second.

I got myself together, quickly and told them I wanted whatever 502 point something equalled in kilos.

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. Everything inside of me wanted to change it to 530. It took all I had to fight it.

When they said I was on deck, Tarra chalked my back, because I was really starting to sweat. Her and Alisa tried to talk to me, but I wasn't there.

I chalked my hands. They were shaking. There was so much anger about missing my opener, but I had to let it go. My only recourse was to be a complete asshole and bring the bar down slow and barely let it touch my chest. So, I did that. I set up perfectly and once it was out of the rack, I performed the most technically perfect 502-pound bench press in history. Three whites. I could feel the beat of the war drum in my throat.

That was what I needed. But, how much could I press like that? I didn't know. I had to ask myself if I was going to be able to sleep if I left there with a 502 pound bench press, and the answer was no, so I could not risk 530.

What could I handle? 515 was a happy medium and I could deal with it, all things considered.

I put in my third attempt as the equivalent of 515, in euros.

It shot up just as easy as the 502 did and I wanted to kick myself for not taking 527 (or whatever). As I got up from the bench, I could honestly say I was proud of myself. I thought about the five-pound dumbbell, and needing to take naps after standing for 30 minutes; I thought about the young girl who was more concerned with comforting me than her own well being.

All at once, I was so grateful for everything.

Tarra and Alisa both ran over and hugged me, as well as some other girl whose name I can't remember. It was not my best performance, not at all. But I'd never been more proud. I ended up silver medaling at RUM, ten months after a serious spine surgery. I'll take that.

The next day, Tarra won for her class, as well as champion of champions for the superclass. We all went to Disney, and it wasn't the worst weekend I can remember.

Nowadays, I identify as a coach more than an athlete, but I'll always have the bull in there. I'm not done competing, and I'm not done with full power, either. Not nearly.

2016 I will do a full power meet, one way or another.