From The Archive: My Story

I wrote this one year ago on Bell Let’s Talk Day. I’ve decided to share it again this year in hopes that it may help someone going through a dark time.

 

It was a late winter night in January of 2013.  I sat alone in my car, parked in my parents garage.  I had turned the car off and was about to go inside but something held me in my seat.  It had been a year and a half since I had surgery done on my shoulder to repair a torn labrum.  The surgery took place on May 10, 2011 and I did my best right from the get go to put on a brave face and use positive thinking to keep my fear of never getting to pitch again at bay.  The truth is, I was terrified as soon as I received the news I needed surgery.  I remember reading a quote prior to the surgery from James Andrews (who performs practically every professional pitcher’s elbow and shoulder operation) saying, “if pitchers with torn labrums were racehorses they would be shot.”  Upon reading that I fired my laptop across the room against the wall.

I sat in my car in the garage thinking about everything that had happened the past eighteen odd months.  It was past 2 a.m. and I looked in my rearview mirror, out down the driveway into the cul de sac.  It was snowing and miserably cold – a typical January night in Edmonton.  I questioned if all of this was my fault; perhaps in some sick twist of fate I had lived out a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Was the crippling fear of never pitching again that had been inside of me since the moment I woke up from the operation the very reason I was never going to get to do what I loved most again?  I had tried so hard every day since the surgery to be positive but I just could not shake the ominous feeling I would never pitch again.

So there I sat, pondering how a year earlier I had to leave Arkansas and a group of guys I had forged a lifelong bond with.  We were brothers, but I left to try and rehab with a physiotherapist back home and had to follow their season on the internet.  I thought about how I didn’t get to stand on the field on Senior Day and how I never would get to.  I thought about how when they went on an awesome playoff run I was more angry at the fact I wasn’t there, than happy for them, and what a piece of shit that made me.

I thought about how every day since surgery I did everything I was supposed to do and more.  I thought about once I came home a year earlier I did all my exercises and threw every day with my younger brother but the pain in my shoulder only worsened and how I never got close to returning.  How  day after day I’d ask him if today my arm action was better than the previous time and I could tell in his eyes he was lying to me when he each time he said, “yes” because he was trying to save me from the painful reality I wasn’t making any progress.  I remember watching video of me throwing and watching how my arm worked like a twelve year old who had never played competitive baseball.  I remember desperately attempting to persevere through all of it, and trying to convince myself that I would find a way to work through these obstacles.  The harsh reality was that with each day that passed I wasn’t getting closer to pitching again but I was realizing more and more my only choice was to give up and move on.

I became trapped in misery and drank and drank to escape it but that only made me more enraged and disheartened.  On the surface I’m sure I seemed fine; I had become good at putting up a façade.  However, inside I was I was beyond miserable.  Even when I was having fun with my friends I had no reprieve from my regret of never getting to play my senior year and the fact I had left all my teammates and friends in order to get healthy again, but that didn’t even happen.

People would tell me, “it’s just baseball” and “things could be worse, you just need to accept reality and find a new passion.”  The person who was closest to me at the time even told me that there was nothing wrong with my shoulder and it was just all in my head.  As I sat in my car on that cold, January night I thought with hatred at that comment that maybe, just maybe she was right and a bit of hope flickered in my head.  But it was quickly extinguished by how fruitless all of my efforts up until that point had been.

What haunted me the most though was the sad realization I was never going to achieve any of my lofty goals I had dreamt of my whole life.  I was never going to get drafted, never going to play in the MLB.  I felt like I was getting better each year and that if I could just get healthy at least I’d have my senior year to try and get noticed by pro scouts.  It may sound ridiculous to some but I truly believed I could do it.  I wasn’t a very talented player in high school and simply had to outwork everyone.  I had a high school coach who flat out told me I would never play college baseball.  For years I was fuelled by perceived (real or imaginary) slights from anyone and everyone.  The smallest comments of doubt from even a teammate would gnaw at me and make me work harder.  Not making an All Star team would fill me with anger unexplainable.  I burned with a desire to prove every single motherfucker wrong.

The fact that I wasn’t going to prove my doubters wrong was just way too much for me to take.  And so as I thought about all of this at 2:30 a.m. on a miserable winter night in January, 2013, a terrible idea began to take shape.  I started the car again.  I’m ashamed to say that I had driven home after a night of drinking in an effort to escape my reality.  The alcohol hadn’t helped me escape my demons, but brought them out in full force.  As I clicked the button in the car to close the garage door I thought perhaps this could be my escape.

Not a moment goes by now that I’m not incredibly grateful I stopped the car and got out.  It took me another six months to overcome my deep depression but this night in January was certainly the lowest point.  It makes me so sad to think of the 22 year old me who was ashamed to seek help and in turn came very close to causing so much pain to all the people I love so dearly.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You have people that care about you, and I promise it gets better.  We need to end the stigma around mental illness.  It’s not weak to talk about what is eating at you inside.  I wish I hadn’t been so scared to talk about what I was going through.

Fight the darkness with light
Fight the despair with hope

The 4 Biggest Lessons I Learned in 2017

2017 was a wild rollercoaster of a year, to say the least.  I achieved a long held goal of pitching again, I moved back to Canada, entered into a relationship with a truly wonderful person, observed my mother endure literal hell as she battled through six rounds of chemotherapy, lived back at home for a while as a twenty-seven year old and worked at GoodLife for next to nothing while coaching through the summer, and opened my own business in November.

My hope is that perhaps someone who reads this may be able to heed some of the lessons  I learned the past year.

1. The Stoics had it right.  Stoicism is defined as, “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.”

While 2017 held some great and long sought after triumphs for me personally, there were greater lows.  My mother’s cancer coming back and sitting up with her at nights in the midst of her treatment needs no further description.

The way the season transpired for our team, and my inability to continue to pitch well and to stay healthy to help us, was the biggest letdown of my life.  Driving back to Canada after things ended up so differently than I had envisioned (literally) and worked for, for both myself, but more importantly for the team was and still is, nearly impossible to swallow.

Dwelling on the past is pointless.  The stoics would tell me what has happened is reality and I may not have been able to control it, but I could certainly control my reaction.  I could wish for the past back or I could get off my ass, establish new goals to strive for, and move on from what happened.  I could either wallow in my own self-misery about the unfairness of what happened to my mother, or I could try my best to make sure, and continue to make sure she knows what she means to me and enjoy all the little moments moving forward.  It really isn’t any different than how we should try to act with everyone we care about, illness or not.  Almost on a daily basis I read this quote from the book ‘The Way of the Peaceful Warrior’ by Dan Millman.

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness – if you had little time left to live – you’d waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you…you do have a terminal illness: it’s called birth.  You don’t have more than a few years left.  No one does.  So be happy now, without reason – or you never will be at all.”

To be clear, I’m not close to perfect at this.  I had, and still have my moments of living in the past or wishing things ended differently, and questioning why this had to happen to my mother.  However, I just try to consistently remind myself that the choice of how to react is mine.

2. Time is fleeting.

I was so painfully aware how quickly the spring was going to go by, but even this heightened awareness and conscious effort to enjoy every little thing about playing college baseball again couldn’t slow it down, and here we are over half a year since the end of it already.  I am constantly trying to get better at being where my feet are and enjoying the present, without yearning for the past or looking too far ahead.

3. Tell those that you care about what they mean to you.  I’ve made a much more conscious effort to both verbalize and put into writing how I feel about those that are close to me.  If you’ve never had a dog this will probably sound silly to you, but the death of Ryder while I was in another country along with my mother’s battle with cancer both impacted me to try and do a much better job of this.  Guys tend to be bad at this with each other but I’m trying to improve in this regard.

4. Lifting is the best medicine.

I truly believe anyone can benefit from the therapy the iron provides.  I’m lucky in that I often get to lift in an empty gym, with whatever music I decide.  Henry Rollins said it best, “The iron is the best anti-depressant I have ever found.  There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength.”

 

Creatine: Everything You Need to Know

There are a lot of rumours about creatine that simply aren’t true.  I hear them often when I recommend an athlete consider supplementing creatine.

This post will dispel some of these rumours and explain why creatine is probably a very beneficial supplement to take.  It is in fact the most popular (legal) sports performance enhancing supplement for a reason.

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What is Creatine?

Creatine is a high energy molecule that is produced by the body.  It can rapidly produce ATP (energy) that cells need to function.  Phosphocreatine is broken down to release energy when the body is under stress (like during training).

Creatine is found in some meats, eggs, and fish.

Why Supplement With It?

In layman’s terms, by supplementing with creatine prior to exercise, your cells will have more readily available to help produce ATP.  Phosphocreatine is used for ATP production up until 8-10 seconds of high intensity exercise.  Therefore, supplementing with creatine will be highly beneficial for any type of power, speed, and maximal strength work.

Creatine and Water Retention

One of my favourite rumours regarding creatine is that it creates false strength ‘gains’ because your body just retains water.  This is bro science at its finest.  While it’s true that in very high doses, a small amount of water retention can occur, research has shown conclusively that prolonged supplementation results in an increased rate of muscle growth.

Creatine and Kidney Problems

Another common myth around creatine is that it can lead to kidney problems.  This is because creatinine (note the difference) is a waste product of the kidneys after creatine has been processed.  Elevated levels of creatinine in the urine are a marker for assessing kidney damage.  However, levels of creatinine mirror those of creatine, and therefore creatine supplementation will simply create higher levels of its waste product. Interpreting this increase in creatinine in the urine as kidney damage is an observational error.

All research to date has shown that in people with healthy kidneys, creatine supplementation causes ZERO problems to the kidneys.  If someone has a kidney disorder already, they must consult their doctor before supplementing with creatine.

Supplementation

Taking 5g of creatine monohydrate 30 minutes prior to exercise would be my recommendation.  Some individuals believe in loading protocols with it, but the research hasn’t shown that this is a better method.

There are other types of creatine out there as well (such as creatine nitrate), but all current research shows that creatine monohydrate is superior.  Some supplements contain other ingredients in addition to creatine (glutamine, BCAA’s, etc.) which can be beneficial too.

In Conclusion

I must add that there is no magic pill to gaining strength and adding muscle.  Creatine is simply going to make the hard work that you do more beneficial for you.  Lastly, supplements are useless if your diet isn’t on point.  If you aren’t eating enough calories and don’t eat any green vegetables, focus on that and install those habits before you spend $100 or more a month on supplements.  Same thing goes for sleep.  Going to bed earlier is going to give you a far greater ROI than any supplement you buy!

 

 

 

It’s the Road, Not the Inn

In Don Quixote, Cervantes states, “it’s the road, not the inn”.  This short phrase is something that I have tried to – never mind remind myself consistently, but ingrain into how I live.

Have you ever achieved something incredible, something worth striving for?  I mean something really worth striving for: something you wanted so badly and sacrificed for and battled through adversity for and found away to accomplish it.  This could be an individual goal, a championship on a team you played for, getting that big promotion, just to name a few examples.

It was amazing, but you come to find soon after the feelings of euphoria, jubilation, pure happiness and pride in your accomplishment are fleeting.  You simply cannot hold onto that feeling.  Time slips on and it’s sad really, but accomplishment alone cannot sustain happiness.

I’m not in any way saying we as human beings shouldn’t set lofty goals and work tirelessly to get there.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m incredibly goal oriented.  What I am saying, however, is to avoid falling into the trap of believing that once you achieve a goal you’ll be happy.

It’s a trap almost everyone falls into.  Once I get that promotion I’ll be happy.  Once I just get done university and get a career I’ll be happy.   Once I get that house I’ll be happy.  It’s never-ending.  An old Haitian proverb says it best, “Beyond mountains there are mountains.”

No, being happy lies in fulfillment, not achievement.  It’s about understanding that happiness exists here on the road, in all the little ordinary, tedious moments.

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I stumbled across this photo the other day.  It’s now been six months since I moved back to Canada from Warrensburg after returning from UCM.  I’m not sure exactly when it was taken but at the time it was just another day, either before or after a workout in the indoor.  Upon reflection it becomes clear that moments like these were anything but tedious and ordinary.  Time will press incessantly on and this photo will move further into the past.

“It’s the road, not the inn.”

The Power of Gratitude

For almost two years now I’ve started my day off the same way.  I write down three things I’m grateful for.  I’ve found it to be incredibly powerful in shifting my attitude to being positive first thing in the morning and I find I am more likely to stay that way throughout the day.

With the passing of Canadian Thanksgiving, and reflecting on all that I’m thankful for, I felt like sharing this daily practice that has impacted my life in a big way since I implemented it.

I was definitely skeptical of it at first, but at the advice of a friend I committed to doing it every day for three weeks and I haven’t stopped since.  It is so easy to take things (and people) for granted and so actively shifting myself into a mindset of gratitude helps to remind me of all the good in my life and how lucky I am; even when things don’t always go how I hope.  Most often my list is comprised of friends and family, but sometimes it’s small things: the bacon I’m going to eat later that morning or even having some time alone at the start of my day, as just two examples.

Since I started doing this a lot of incredible things have happened in my life.  It hasn’t been all good – life is never short on its disappointments, and its trials and tribulations, but I have found that beginning each morning by choosing an attitude of gratitude has allowed me to roll with the punches and find the positive in negative situations far easier.

 

 

Squat to Squat Better

Our bodies are meant to move.  We were never meant to be sedentary beings, and sitting at a desk and in a car for the vast majority of your day creates a number of different problems.  For thousands of years human beings were nomadic; constantly on the move hunting and gathering in order to survive.  The body is capable of being incredibly resilient, but having become civilized in a modern world we have devolved to the opposite end of the spectrum.  We are fragile. 

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Must be Italian.

“Exercise isn’t something you do to fix a problem; it is something you must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems.” — Mark Rippetoe

Mark Rippetoe hits the nail on the head with the above quote.  His words can be applied not only to injury prevention, but to injury rehabilitation as well.  I was listening to Chris Duffin’s podcast recently and he had Dr. Craig Liebenson, a highly sought after chiropractor in the Los Angeles area, on as a guest and he spoke about ‘The Rehab Purgatory.”  Essentially, he was slamming the obsession with corrective exercise in both the physiotherapy and strength and conditioning spheres of human health and performance that is so prevalent today.

The fact of the matter, is CORRECT EXERCISE IS CORRECTIVE.  A properly performed squat is going to improve your hip flexion, ankle dorsiflexion, and your core’s ability to brace under load – to name just a few of a host of benefits from squatting.  The problem is that far too many professionals are way too quick to contraindicate exercises.  The reality is that for 99% of the population, if their form is pretty good on a particular exercise, and that movement doesn’t cause pain, adding load will be beneficial to improving function.  Only elite athletes, powerlifters and olympic lifters need to chase perfection on their form, and they make up a minuscule fraction of the population.

A perfect example follows.  Joe Smith is six months out of meniscus surgery.  He went to physio for four weeks and then was cleared to return to work.  Months later his knee has started acting up again so he returns to physio.  The quad of his injured knee has signs of atrophy and so the physiotherapist puts him on a program to gain muscle size and strength in his quads.  He has him do light leg extensions and other isolation exercises.  Quad strengthening exercises are certainly the right course of action, however, Joe would be far better served to be assessed through his squat movement and if and when no pain was present, be prescribed and monitored a progression of squat variations over the next few months.  After all, if lack of strength and size in the quad is what is causing Joe knee pain, wouldn’t prescribing the squat (a far superior exercise to building muscle) be a much better plan?

It’s important to state that exercises do need to be contraindicated at times.  There are times when non-aggressive, isolation exercises are in fact the best course of action.  You do not want to load dysfunction.  However, it’s paramount to understand there is a lot of room between dysfunction and perfection.  If you waited for someone to have perfect squat form in order to get under a bar, almost nobody would ever squat, and they’d be missing out on the very best thing to get them better at it!

Lift something heavy, do yoga, go for walks, do something – but you need to move every day in order to keep your body from becoming fragile.  If you’re injured, understand the body needs stress in order to adapt, so once your past the acute phase, you need to begin applying stress to invoke the recovery process.

 

 

 

 

You Reap What You Sow; Except You Don’t

I haven’t written a single word about the year I got to play college baseball again.  Quite frankly, I’m still not ready to – I’m too afraid of what I’ll type.  As I continue to transition back into ‘reality’ I’ve set and begun the process of working towards many big goals ahead.  However, I’ve put one of them off – until now.  A major goal of mine is to improve my skills and to establish myself as a writer, and so, I suppose it’s time to actually write something again.

This is going to be my avenue I use to write about my two favourite things: lifting and baseball.  I’ve settled on “Strength, Baseball, and Life” as the headline on the website because in my experience only the game of baseball, and the weight room will humble you and knock you to your knees like life inevitably will.  Both the iron and the game will kick your ass if you’re not prepared for them.  They’re both great equalizers and just like life, you’ll only get from them what you put in.

Except for the fact that last sentence just isn’t true a lot of the time.  Sometimes you’ll get what you put in.  But the harsh reality is quite simply that life isn’t fair.  People are going to let you down.  You can put in all the work and get injured.  You might not get the job you deserve.  But there in lies the catch: life doesn’t owe you a thing, and neither does the game, and certainly a bunch of metal plates and bars don’t owe you shit.  You owe yourself, and those people closest to you.  So, understand this fact and stop being naive and wallowing in self-misery every time something unfair happens to you.

This might sound incredibly negative and pessimistic, but being realistic and learning to adapt to the harshness of life that eventually meets everyone is important so that you can roll with it.  Because guess what, people close to you are going to get sick and die – and wait for it … so will you.  This may sound morbid but it’s better to have this understanding and live accordingly with the fact that we, and everyone we love have an expiry date, that could come at any time.

As human beings we have a remarkably incredible affinity for taking things for granted, and so reminding yourself that this all ends is vital to eliminating regret.  Failure isn’t misery but temporary.  Regret is fucking misery.  So don’t play the game of baseball timid.  Ask the waitress for her number.  Get off your phone and be present with your friends because it’s the moments of tedium with the boys that are the best of all.  Tell those close to you what they mean to you, and above that – show it!  Most importantly, live life on your terms, not small but boldly in all that you do.

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