Growing up, I hated things that made me feel "different" or "not normal".

It takes me longer to get ready in the morning, so I was always cutting corners to shorten the time. I decided about half way through school that I "fit in" better with my chair than in my leg braces because the guys liked to run me around on the playground and talk about putting mag wheels and engines on my chair, so I quit walking. It was a robotic walk anyway, my braces came up to the middle of my chest and I had to use crutches. I called them canes). It didn’t feel natural and it took me longer to keep up. In grade school, the school nurse had to come get me from class a couple of times a day to help me go to the bathroom. That was another great reason for not walking…I didn’t have to fight with the braces that many times a day.

When I’d go to games or we’d have assemblies in the gymnasium, I had to sit on the floor in one of the special spots for handicapped people. And you KNOW none of the ‘cool’ people sat anywhere near any of the teachers, so they certainly weren’t close to the floor. They were up high in the stands.

I didn’t want to drive until I got a car instead of a van, because I hated waiting on the lift.

I’ve also felt that when I have anyone do anything extra to help me out that I am "in their way’" or "putting them out". I’d rather crawl up steps than have someone take my chair up. I would rather crawl up on the counter and get on my knees, than ask to have something handed down to me from the cupboard. I’d rig up just about anything to do things on my own. I’ve always had this attitude that, “I have a whole entire list of things that I CAN NOT do, don’t take away from me what I CAN do!” It sounded like a good philosophy…until it turned into “I’m going to make everything 10 times harder on myself just so I can do it on my own.”

High school was a life-saver because in middle school, there wasn't an elevator, so the teachers of all my scheduled classes on the second and third floors had to switch rooms with someone on the first floor for that class period. Talk about feeling like putting people out!

I began lifting before I decided I wanted to compete. I actually started out simply wanting to lose weight. When I started with my second trainer, I really thought I hit the jackpot. Then he moved. About a week after he moved, I went in to lift with his lifting partners that I had gotten used to spotting me. They didn’t show. No one was there. I was left to face that I couldn’t complete a workout without another body there to assist me. It was literally the first time I had ever processed that thought. I know that might sound odd or be hard to believe, but I was embarrassed and I did my damnedest to complete a workout. I ended up smashing my fingers under a 25 pound dumbbell (of all things…couldn’t have been a loaded bar or at least a plate), because it was below my waist and after I bent over to pick it up, I didn’t have any leverage to get me back to sitting upright. That happened a few more times, along with several other fairly uncomfortable situations WITH the new trainer.

Even once I decided to train to compete, I found out we use Velcro straps when we go to competitions. I didn’t want Velcro straps in training. No one else in my weight room had to use Velcro straps. I was doing just fine without them as far as I could see. My trainer asked repeatedly for straps until I finally asked my cousin to make them. I remember the first time I took them to the gym almost as well as I remember the guys not showing up to spot me. It seems weird to me now that it was that big of a deal to me, but it was.

Then I started at The Workout Center with Brian. I know I have nothing but the best things to say about Brian now, but, truth be told, I cried all the way home the first night I met him. He’d never had a lot of exposure to people in wheelchairs. And he had certainly never trained one. I’m different than your "average" wheelchair person, because I'm a whole lot more mobile and independent than people expect. He wanted to do just about everything for me. It was really hard for me and even harder to know how to handle it. I gave myself about four days or so then I called him. We spent a really long time on the phone that day but I remember saying, “You can’t set everything up as if you’re always going to be there. Because the day that I come in and you’re not there, I’m not going to handle it well at all.” He understood and agreed. I also made some adjustments in my thinking. He always asks his clients how they’re doing during their workouts and his personality is very much to want to help. So, I learned quickly that he wasn’t doing it because I was in a wheelchair. It was simply because he cared. So I let him care while I was there, all the while keeping in mind that he might not always be there for me and I needed to know how to take care of myself in the gym when that happened.

As Brian and I got to know each other, he said to me, “You know, you’re more normal than you think you are.” We talked about a lot of the insecurities I have and he said, “They’re nothing that other people don’t go through and feel…just in different ways.” Brian took to me real well and very quickly. He started adapting exercises pretty much immediately to get me to my goals. I hated it at first. I hated anything new that I didn’t know how it was going to go and made me have to dig deeper to trust someone more. He was so excited about the Velcro straps that he asked me to have my cousin make us more, and I REALLY didn’t like that.

One day he was setting up an exercise. I honestly can’t remember what it was. I went over to the set-up to get on and said, “I hate these.” Brian looked at me and said, “Do you wanna bench a house?” I said “Yeah.” He said, “Then shut up and let’s do it.” I probably knew it before then, but if there was any question anywhere in me, at that moment I knew Brian didn’t treat me any different than any of his other clients. I began to realize that any accommodations that anyone needs, he would be willing to do and it didn’t mean that he was treating me differently because he made accommodations for me. It meant he was treating me the same. He was doing whatever was needed to get me to my goal; which probably rings true for a lot more people in my life than I’ve given credit. I just hated that it "looked" different so much that I couldn’t see it before. I don’t know if he remembers this, but one time Brian said “So, is it normal for people's pants to be soaked by the time they get down a set of steps?” This was after I had crawled down to the basement on the soaking wet steps (from all the snow tracked in). Sometimes "ya gotta do what ya gotta do", but he was right because he was there to help me and I didn’t ask, and it makes me smile and stops me from doing stupid things now, more often than I’d ever admit to him.

I wrote Clint Darden before my first able-bodied competition about being nervous and he said, “The bar is always just the bar. The bench is just a bench. It doesn’t matter if you are in your living room or on the Moon (well, it may be easier to press on the moon).” More recently he said to me, “I am nothing more than exactly who I am and I never will be.” It kind of reminded me of the saying, “It is what it is.”

I’ve always been set on proving to anyone and everyone that I could do anything and everything. I grew up thinking that meant being completely independent of any assistance or adaptation, but a lot of the times the adaptations are what's needed to make me the most independent that I can be. The longer I’m in the weight room, the more I realize that. The more I let there be things and people and equipment that can help me, the more things I can do that are just like everyone else. Some of my favorite exercises now are the ones that require the most assistance. I realized that it’s the only way I can do what everyone else can do. And everyone is so excited that I am doing the exercises they do, that they barely pay attention to the assistance that is required for me to do it! It’s all in how you look at things, my friends. I began to look at my straps no differently than someone that wears knee wraps for squatting. Or no different than someone who needs glasses to read. Then, I began to realize the same thing about my hand controls in my car and carried it over into the "real world." It’s quite a process, considering I have 28 years of insecurities under my belt. But, I’ll get there.

Since I wrote my last article, Brian has come up with quite a few improved accommodations:
Now when I do skull-crushers, dumbbell bench, incline or anything on my back on a bench, instead of trying to tuck my legs underneath the bench, he puts wood blocks under them so they feel as if they’re touching the floor. It sounds odd that it would matter, but it helps tremendously.

When I do cambered bar rows or dumbbell rows, not only are there three straps around me, he now kneels down on my back. We’ve been playing around with it to get the right stabilization. It helps a bit more when he puts his knees wider, but it really helps when he puts his entire shin on my back and his knee is just below my shoulder blade. I can pick up my chest, but his weight acts as the force I need to keep the rest of me on the bench while I’m pulling my arms backwards. I LOVE this. It has helped me so much. It looks hilarious when you walk down the steps and round the corner to see him stacked up on my back. But it makes the exercise absolutely amazing for me.

To make life a little easier for him, he started having me do Y, T’s and Spider Curls while I’m on the t-bar row. It saves a lot of time instead of moving me from one thing to the next! (wink.)

The next thing we’ve adjusted are pushups on the TRX. Instead of the box between my legs, Brian just puts a strap around my waist and when I start to go off to one side or the other, he just yanks the opposite side a little to straighten me out. Kind of like working a puppet! Haha. Just call us Mr. Geppetto & Pinnochio! Except, I never, ever lie to him.

For any kind of floor presses Brian has begun throwing about two (or more) sets of chains on my waist to keep me from pulling my hips up. It helps a GREAT deal with stability. We get a whole lot of comments. But, it gets the job done and has improved my ability to work the exercise. It makes me smile.

My personal greatest achievement since my last article is that I finally reached the top of the ropes! Yay! I got about ¾ of the way up, and slipped…so we chalked my hands and that seemed to do the trick! I hung there for a second and Brian said “Oh, that’s kinda cool, you’d be about 4’6’’ if you could stand up.” I laughed and slid back down to the ground.

This is the stuff that makes me who I am. It has molded and formed me. It’s what makes me different and the same all in one. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s a little of both. But at the end of the day, the bar is the bar, the bench is the bench, and we all put our pants on one leg at a time, right? (Wink.) It’s amazing to me what I have learned “Under the Bar” (as Dave Tate would say). There’s a lot of crap to deal with in life, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to take the good for granted by focusing on the crap. I may have to do things differently or take a little longer than others or need extra assistance. But, at least I have the abilities to get it accomplished…someway, somehow. What do they say? Where there’s a will…there’s a way.

There’s a country song (I know, I know…BOOOO country in powerlifting) that says “And now I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

That lyric is true so true to me. I’m real glad I didn’t know ahead of time what I would face and I’m glad I don’t know what’s to come in the future. But, even now that I know this much of my life…if I had it all to do over again, I’d want it to be the same. I’ve really never seen a trial in someone else’s life that I’d RATHER deal with, over not having leg use. I love the gym and the experiences and the people that I’ve met along the way. If I had been born with the use of my legs, I probably wouldn’t even know Brian or have discovered The Workout Center. I would have missed out on a lot of great times with my National Team. And I wouldn’t be writing these articles to all of you and forming new connections to help people become the best they can be.