When I was a freshman in high school I was an all-conference baseball player, played football, and led the freshman basketball team in scoring. Sports, for me, were a pathway to acceptance in a social sense which at that age is of the upmost importance. It was also a focused outlet for my energy and competitiveness. After that year, I decided I was going to do everything I could to be the best athlete I could be—I lifted weights five days every week, I ran, I rode my bike instead of driving, and I played in summer leagues. One goal I had set for myself was to improve my ‘max-out’ lifts for football by fifty pounds—at the beginning of football season all of the players had to lift as much as they could in four major lifts to demonstrate how much improvement and work they had put in since the previous year. I knew if I made that much of a jump and practiced well, I’d have a shot at varsity.
When the time came, I surpassed my goal in bench press, dead lift and power clean, and I had only the squat, my best lift, to go. As a freshman I had done just under 400 pounds, and I was well beyond that. I started with 465 pounds on and I did it with relative ease, I was pumped up, my muscles were firing off and I felt good. I could do more. I added 20 pounds, 485. After a few minutes of recovery from the first attempt, I got myself psyched up to try it. I wrapped my knees, I put on a safety belt, and I had three spotters around me as I stepped under the bar. I felt it on my shoulders, some people used a pad, but I had to feel it to know how heavy this really was. I picked up the weight and felt the metal bar sag from the heft of it. A deep breath, focus, determination—I started to lower myself, I felt like I had it, the toughest part of the lift is coming back up–once you get upward momentum it’s just extending your legs. I was about half way there—and then it happened. My back gave out. I crumpled. My back screamed in pain, there was a loud popping sound and I knew it wasn’t good. I couldn’t stand up straight at first and I was shaking from the pain. I was in shock because I knew it was serious, I could tell–this wasn’t a muscle cramp, it was serious.
Three weeks later I had season ending surgery to repair the two disks I had just herniated in my lower back. I was devastated. All those early morning workouts, the sweat, the constant soreness—was for nothing. I couldn’t work out for 4 months, I lost all of the strength I had gained and then some, I was as weak as I had been in 8th grade. How would I ever get back to strength? Would my back be able to take the contact? For about almost a month I could barely get out of bed, I thought, so much for being an athlete.
The doctors said I had a chance to be ready for basketball season—and so that became my first goal—and I made it. I was slow, out of shape and not nearly as effective as the year before—but I played. I kept working. And by the time football rolled around again I was almost as strong as I had been the year before, but not quite. I was faster though and a little taller. A guy ahead of me got hurt and I started both ways the first game. I never looked back. I started on both offense and defense every game junior and senior year, and was all-conference and all-area at defensive end as a senior. I think, because of the back injury, I was able to play through a lot of minor injuries to my ankles and left shoulder. It made me tougher, it made me work harder than everyone else. And I overcame because I persevered. There was a time where I thought I would fail, but I didn’t because I made myself believe that I wouldn’t.