First published in 2010

"Chest Up." "Chest Up." "Head Up." "Head Up."

These are some of the verbal commands I've heard in the weightroom and meets for over 25 years now.  I can't even begin to count the number of times these commands have been driven into my head from coaches, training partners and competitors. They've been instrumental to increasing strength and breaking records ever since I can remember.

A couple years ago I was emailed the original idea for the strong(er) concept. I really didn't like it, but there was something about it that felt right...but I wasn't sure what it was. I just wasn't "getting it." We shelved it for some time and then revisited it and defined the (er) as "extraordinary resolve." The concept began to take on more meaning with me because now it meant taking that one extra step most others don't. It meant having resolve, while most others fail. In short it meant going for PRs (personal records).

I "got" it now. It was about breaking person records, breaking world records and kicking ass in the gym. It meant going to the gym when you didn't feel like it and it meant doing that extra rep you didn't think you could do. It meant lifting five more pounds than before. NO, it meant training for and striving for those five extra pounds nobody has done before. It meant standing out from the rest and being more than normal. It meant being great. It meant never giving up and doing what it takes to get those records. Sacrifice, determination, discipline, desire, strength, will, and courage - all equaled (er).


I was wrong, that was not it.

I thought I "got it," but time passes and things change. We moved onto other campaigns, but never let this one go. There was just something about it I couldn't put my finger on, so we kept it going. Over time I would get an email or letter in the mail using the term strong(er) to describe things that at first I did not see as "extraordinary resolve," at least not in the way I had described it or thought it was. We were getting requests for shirts to be sent to injured vets home from the war, women fighting breast cancer and children with terminal illnesses. I was getting e-mails from teachers, doctors and therapists all asking where they could get these and what an impact they could have.

Many of these stories I keep saved in a file because they're some of the most inspirational stories I've ever read. Some are simple thank you's, while others are very personal cancer diaries, but they all describe "extraordinary resolve" in a way I just didn't "get."

I can't get it out of my head.

One story I just can't get out of my head, involves a man who had a butterfly stroke. Those who aren't aware, this may be the worst type of stroke you can have. These can lead to locked-in syndrome, where the person is awake and totally aware, but can't move or communicate due to complete paralysis. He went to sleep one night just as normal as any other...and woke up the next day to find himself in the hospital ER. At the time he had no idea what had happened or how he got there.

Over the next few days, his family was told everything from the doctors had no idea what happened, to he had a major stroke, to he may never walk or speak again, etc. In one night, his life totally did his family's. Over the next few days, the hospital care didn't help matters. After loosing his ability to move his body and speak, they also took his dignity by letting him soil himself multiple times per day. They left the soiled laundry in the room and didn't clean, as a syringe needle was found lying on the floor next to the bed, nor did they seem to care one way or another. They wouldn't answer the family's request for help regardless of how pissed they got, they lost his dentures, and he wasn't moved on a regular basis even though he was fully aware of everything that was going on. Take a minute and think about this, as it took some time to really sink in for me. You totally know what's going on, nobody has any answers, you can't move or say what you want and you're soiling the bed and nobody knows, cares or even checks. You're alive, but for how long? I guess the only thing you know for sure is you have a choice to make. Fight to live or try to die. In this state what would YOU choose? Certainty an extraordinary decision.

Extraordinary Resolve

Over the next few days his speech improved, yet the prognosis wasn't good. There was still doubt to how much brain damage was done, or if there'd be any use of the right side of his body (Shortly after the family was told he would never walk again). Yet, when he did mumble he never bitched and only wanted to know how everyone else was doing.

After escaping death, no use of his right side, and horrible hospital care - he survived, even when many thought he wouldn't make it past the first day. His speech improved when the family was told it might not come back, his memory started coming back when the doctors were uncertain, his left side got stronger and some movement started to come back to his right hip. He was ready to move out of the hospital and into a stroke rehab center. Stripped of his dignity and all he used to be, he was ready to move on. The story of his resolve and what he endured is a testament to his character as a fighter and a man.

While in rehab and after, he was settled in the real issues of his hospital stay began to emerge. Bacterial infections, dentures with mold and overall general lack of care. Not a word, not a bitch, he just wanted to start working on getting "fixed."

Today I watched a man with a stronger shirt on with the slogan (er) and the words "extraordinary resolve" on his back get to his feet with help and walk 20 - 30 steps with a walker and support with very little use of his right leg and no use of his right arm. Not once did he quit, bitch or stop. It was at this point I finally "got it."

The entire time he made this walk I heard those words again...

"Chest Up." "Chest Up." "Head Up." "Head Up."

...coming from the physical therapist. These words are SO ingrained in my head that it only took moments before I was saying them as well. You see this is what you say to cue somebody to  walk again, to retake their life back and to live, to have extraordinary resolve.

My Dad listened.

PSA: The hospital spoken about in this article is #4 on this list. If you happen to be near any hospital that falls on a list like this be prepared to scream,  fight, bitch and do whatever it takes to get basic care. Your life or the life of your loved ones will depend on it because they seriously don't care one way or another. This is not just the bitching of a family member but a caution to others to know what you're getting into. If the facility makes a list like this, that's a very good sign to GET OUT as fast as you can.