The following is the story of how two unlikely individuals provided for a massive shift in perspective on my part and for that I will always be grateful…
On March 4th of this year I had surgery on my right shoulder and biceps. My rotator cuff had multiple tears and my biceps tendon was on the verge of rupturing. This has turned out to be the most challenging physical experience I’ve ever gone through in my life. If I was not an athlete who regularly trains in the gym 5-6 days a week, it wouldn’t have been nearly as big a deal beyond the inconvenience of not having the use of my right arm for the first six weeks post surgery as I was restricted to wearing a sling.
The truth is that I’m a very driven athlete and was back in the gym one week after surgery (don’t tell my doctor). Oh, I wasn’t lifting with my right arm, but I faithfully did my rehab movements without exception. Further, the rest of my body worked just fine and I gave my 100% best effort never missing a workout right to the point of writing this post. Most would say I went far beyond the norm in my efforts to rehab my shoulder and arm all while striving to get back to full strength and for the most part that would be true.
Training only 75% of my body was initially very difficult for two reasons. The instant atrophy in my right shoulder and arm was rather demoralizing. And then to think I would have to wait another 12 weeks minimum before starting strength training left me feeling pretty low. Fortunately I learned to focus on progression with the rest of my training and it helped to block out the fact that my right arm was basically shrinking day by day.
The second challenge was the fear of the stress of training around my shoulder and arm actually messing up my surgery. There were several occasions where I was completely convinced that I had torn apart what my doctor had repaired and would be facing a “re-do”. Google it and you will see that the facts are not encouraging regarding rotator cuff surgery done a second time. Needless to say, I lived on an emotional roller coaster for pretty much the first 7-8 months post surgery.
With that background I will now share my experience with two individuals that humbled me so greatly that I’m almost ashamed to tell you the following stories. Ashamed because my surgery and the period that followed was nothing more than an inconvenience and blip on the time line of my life…God willing. These two however are living with conditions that will never change and I honestly don’t know if I would have the guts to conduct myself as they do in the same circumstances.
The first occurred at the gym which made it all the more impactful for me. I was working chest and back when this young guy came into the area close to me. He was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, athletic shoes, and carried along a water bottle…with his good hand. You see, his left arm was normal, while his right arm and especially his forearm and hand were deformed. The same was true for his left and right legs…left normal…right deformed.
It really took my breath away when I first took in the enormity of his appearance. When he walked, his right foot would not plant fully on the ground. He basically walked normal on his left and up on his right toes. My mind was racing with questions about what he could possibly do in his condition and he promptly showed me by doing a combination of several different exercises.
While he worked one arm at a time, he did a pretty complete upper body workout of back rows, chest presses, shoulder presses, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. I’m guessing it helps with his coordination to do one arm at time. Now granted, he couldn’t hold more than a 5 lb dumbbell in his right hand…but that didn’t stop him from doing the work.
This really struck a nerve with me because after my doctor released me to lift, I started with a 3 lb dumbbell working my way back week after week until now I’m close to full strength 9 months post surgery. This guy will be stuck with the 5 lb dumbbell for the rest of his life because his gnarled little hand can’t hold any more weight. I thought I was mentally tough to do what I did knowing that it was only temporary and that my full strength would return. I can’t imagine how he must feel to know he can never do any more than he was doing.
Like violence displayed on the news, its easy to become desensitized to people with handicaps unless you have someone directly impacting your life. Watching this little guy struggle through his workout left me feeling deeply convicted for any and every complaint I’ve ever voiced about anything in my life. The experience gave me a massive shot of perspective when I compared his condition with my own. It’s so easy to take for granted the ways we are blessed until you have some outside force wake you up with a jolt of an alternate reality.
I’ve been lifting for more than 30 years and while my Faith comes first as THE FOUNDATION of my life, my love for the gym and working out is of huge importance. It is a passion I can’t imagine doing without and yet as I shared here, there is more to life than having big muscles. The point to me is that we all have things we’re passionate for in life that we may take for granted when others maybe less fortunate would give anything to possess our skills and abilities.
While I haven’t seen him since that one morning, his image and example will be with me forever. Never again will I complain about something as insignificant as a bad workout or bad day at work or any other negative circumstance which in the big scheme of things is nothing compared to going through life handicapped. I have been blessed with abundant good health and athletic ability and it’s my goal to never take these gifts for granted because I know they can be taken away in a heartbeat.
The second experience occurred when I was introduced to a new sales rep at one of the dealers I support in my role as a manufacturer rep. From his outer appearance, he looked completely normal until I extended my right hand to introduce myself. He shook my hand with his right and with his left brought a small Electrolarynx to his throat so that he could speak.
The largely electric voice that was produced really shocked me. I’ve never known anyone with his condition and still have no idea what actually happened. I do know from one of his coworkers that the condition is permanent. He was a super nice guy and we chatted for several minutes before parting ways. I couldn’t help but feel similar to my experience with the little guy in gym. It was a humbling and sober reminder of how blessed I’ve been to have good health.
My job requires me to speak to people daily one on one, in small groups, and sometimes in large gatherings when I do CEU presentations. This guy is in sales as well so he’s out in the public just like me interacting with other people. I just don’t know if I could do my job with his condition. His strength of character must simply be off the charts to have the intestinal fortitude to suck it up each day and do what he must to make a living. I applaud his efforts as truly remarkable.
It’s so easy to be self focused with all the responsibilities and challenges we have in today’s world. And it’s so critically important to maintain a spirit of gratitude for the good things we have rather than whining about the things we don’t. One of my favorite quotes from my mentor, Andy Andrews, says:
“It is impossible for the seeds of depression to take root in a grateful heart.”
I work hard to maintain a positive attitude because I know happiness comes from within. It should not be based on outside circumstances. You should live your life like a thermostat and not a thermometer. A thermometer reacts to the environment while a thermostat dictates the environment. And yet this is sometimes easier said than done. None of us are bullet proof to the “sucker punches” that life often throws and sometimes it can be hard to get back up.
The examples I described above were and are great reminders for me for how much I have been blessed. Further, they motivate me all the more to live with a servant’s heart towards others…and especially those less fortunate. And finally, they remove any and all excuses that I might have in dealing with the daily responsibilities in all areas of my life.
Closing thoughts for me readers:
One of my life verses that has helped me through many difficult trials is:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
If you ever find yourself feeling down for whatever reason, I have a great suggestion for how to raise your spirits. First take out a piece of paper and physically write out at least 100 things you have to be grateful for. This will lift your spirits…guaranteed. Second, go find someone who’s struggling in life more than you and serve them in some way. You can’t possibly go through these two exercises without feeling immeasurably better about yourself.