In 2011 and 2012, I trained my ass off to be best bodybuilder that I could be. Then I hit the wall and life changed forever...again.

Life was pretty good back in the second grade. I liked school, I liked my friends, and I had the best teacher, Mrs. Challas. Sometime in early 2002, I contracted strep throat, which quickly subsided in a matter of days. A week or so later, I started having horrible pains in my hands and feet. The pain was easily a nine on a ten-point scale. The pain was sharp, sudden, and incessant. It occurred in all settings: on the bus ride home, at restaurants with my family, and when I was doing homework. I cried each time.

My parents thought that I was either trying to get attention or trying to get out of doing work when I came home, and I don’t blame them for thinking that. The pain continued for a few more weeks and then suddenly stopped. On February 2, I rolled out of bed. That’s it. I rolled on to the ground and wasn't able to get up. I crawled to my parent’s room and cried to them, “What’s happening to me?”

They took me to see a doctor, but he didn’t know what was wrong. I went to the hospital, and after receiving a spinal tap, the doctors confirmed that I had Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS). It took me ten months to go from a wheelchair to a walker (like people in their 90s use) and then to walking normally.

Fast forward ten and a half years to the day I moved into my dorm. I was at the highest point in my fitness. I had been bodybuilding for a little over a year, and my gains had been astounding for the little amount of experience that I had. It was because my nutrition was flawless, my sleep was consistently adequate, and I trained smart and hard seven days a week. That night, though, everything started to go downhill.

On the very first night of college, my roommate told me about a party at a school close to ours. This is what college is all about, I thought to myself. We pre-gamed in our room among friends and soon, I was drunk. It was the precursor to many nights ahead. During the many times that I drank my first semester, I always beat myself up inside over how unhealthy I was being. I knew that alcohol was bad for me. It interrupted my sleep, it caused me to be hungry and eat a shit ton of junk (not to mention the weight gaining effects it has on its own), it inhibited my ability to add muscle, it made me feel like shit the next day, and worst of all, it lowered my immune system. I soon made Saturday my off day to allow myself to drink more. Once I started going out on Saturdays as well, I started skipping Sunday’s workouts (I didn’t like legs at the time, anyway. Or so I told myself).

Fast forward once more to October 14. I’d had a sore throat for two weeks (which was determined not to be Group A Strep), and on this particular morning, I woke up with excruciating pain in my feet, which was sharp, sudden, and incessant. I went to the emergency room, fearing the worst. Around this time of year, it was beginning to be a bit chilly in Boston, so the doctors dismissed me with, “It’s a form of arthritis brought on by the cold.” I’m not sure why I believed them. The pain continued for about a week or so but was lessened by NSAIDs, so I didn’t worry. Those NSAIDs also masked the fevers that I started to get.

On October 27, I was pretty upset and confused. The right side of my back and shoulder had been strangely weak, and the artist who I was supposed to meet for a tattoo consultation had cancelled at the last minute. I decided to get happy and drink with friends once I got back to campus, but my plans didn't go through. I didn’t end up leaving my room and just went to bed because I felt too tired and weak.

The next day, October 28, 445 days after I began bodybuilding, I woke up even weaker than before. Now it had spread to my right bicep. I couldn’t even lift a gallon of milk. Suddenly, everything clicked. I had the deepest sinking feeling in my gut as I called my dad in a panic, asking him what to do. "Go to the hospital," he said.

As I was on my way to the hospital, I felt my legs get weaker by the minute. By the time I entered the front doors of the emergency room, I was barely able to walk. I was placed in a bed until they found me a room. They didn’t waste any time and gave me a spinal tap that evening. I knew deep down that I had GBS again, but the doctors wouldn’t treat me for it until they knew for sure.

After a plethora of blood tests, a CT scan, and an electromyogram test, I was finally given immunoglobulin treatment, just as I had been ten and a half years before. A team of blood doctors entered my room and told me that on top of GBS, I also had mononucleosis, which was most likely the cause all along. As I lay in my hospital bed with my parents at my side, I thought about how this would affect my lifting in the future. Will I make a full recovery? Will I ever be able to train again? At this point, I was hardly able to lift a fork, and when I did, I was too wiped to continue feeding myself.

I stayed in the hospital for a week, with large amounts of pain emanating from whatever body part touched my bed. Fevers came and went, some reaching up to 104 degrees. Toward the end of my stay, I was relearning how to walk and function, itching to get home and recover. After being released, I stayed at my home in New Jersey for another month. I started to do physical therapy at home with a kind gentleman named John. Three times per week, John helped me through grueling exercises like pedaling with my arms or legs, doing Supermans on the floor and raising my arms up, or simply taking a walk with him down the street. Most of the time I became tired before we had reached the first intersection, but with time, I was able to make it back home without stopping to rest. I practiced balance, performed stabilization exercises, and worked on walking by touching heel to toe. When I wasn’t doing in-house physical therapy, I was researching a newfound interest: powerlifting.

I had heard of powerlifting and elitefts™ before I had fallen ill, but only after I had lost all my strength did I really become interested in the sport of strength itself. Go figure. I spent hours a day reading the helpful advice of Dave Tate, Jeremy Frey, Jim Wendler, Dave Kirschen, and the rest of the elitefts™ staff. I read about how they, too, had battled through adversity. Everyone had a different story and almost everyone had sustained one type of injury or another. Learning about the resolve that each of the members had, as well as the experience and patience they exhibit really motivated me to start my own journey in powerlifting.

I continued reading and watched seminars as well as interviews, UGSS, and series such as “So You Think You Can Squat” and “So You Think You Can Bench.” Each of these, along with the Q&A and training log sections on elitefts™, gave me enough motivation and knowledge to point myself in the right direction toward reaching my goals.

Since returning to school in November, I've gone from limping around the streets of Boston to consistently training for strength. I now have a total of 550 pounds. It may not seem like a lot, but it does to me. Today alone, I accomplished a 20-pound PR in my deadlift. I’m 25 pounds away from breaking my 275-pound record that I set before I became ill. This summer, I plan on training at a local powerlifting gym where I will finally have the opportunity to meet stronger, smarter individuals that can help me reach my goals. Next semester, I'm joining the Northeastern University powerlifting team. In October, almost one full year after I hit the wall, I will be participating in my first ever meet, on my birthday.

Guillain Barré Syndrome, the disease that caused me to lose all my strength, has been the biggest test of inner strength that I have ever known. Battling against this form of adversity has been the only reason I became interested in powerlifting and for that, I'm thankful. Here’s to constantly working hard, overcoming adversity, and setting PRs.