Hello, this post is way overdue. I guess I wasn’t sure how to properly follow up my initial post brushing over my history with Crohns, but I have decided I will now share some of my experiences with training and illness and how each has effected the other.
I first discovered dumbbells in my uncles home, I was a child, playing with my cousin and we came across them under the stairs. I saw my uncle as the biggest guy in the family, and I knew this was how he did it. But how did these pieces of metal make him big and strong? I was always a slim child and this sparked my interest. Before we had a chance to do anything other than roll them out across the hallway, he was out and sent us off to play somewhere else, I know now he just didn’t want us to hurt ourselves. We also had family friends who had their own home gym, a few weights and cables and I thought this was the greatest thing in the world! I was allowed in to see it and was shown how to use the lat pulldown, wow! I was exposed to a gym environment again a couple years later when I was in Kilkenny with my family. There weren’t many activities for children so when I asked and asked to go see the gym my dad eventually brought me. Because I was a child, I wasn’t allowed near the weights section, so I got a treadmill looking directly across to all these machines and rows of weights, I was soaking it all in, ‘I cannot wait to be allowed go in and explore it in there’ I thought.
At 12 years old, my health, and my world came to a crashing halt when my body was literally falling apart and I was diagnosed with Crohns disease, I might share about how my diagnosis came about in a following post. It was a number of years before I began to get things even remotely ‘normal’, even today my life is far from the so called normal. When I got past the first couple of years and back to school more regularly, and seeing my friends, a lot changed and it was weird! I would lose such huge amounts of weight that sometimes I would go back and my pals would pass me on the stairs without recognising me. Several boys voices had changed or were squeaking, talk was no longer about playing football or rugby, it was girls and I knew why, the girls I knew were looking different too!
I struggled with body image, I struggled with keeping up with the other boys in school. I was also trying to make up for long periods of missed school, and trying to understand why the other boys were growing and I was being left behind. Because of a whole cocktail of drugs I was slower to grow, and I remember my younger brothers and cousins, male and female passing me out and I was still incredibly skinny. Most people were good about it but there was some bullying, and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t just some of the other kids . . . but I was surrounded by my family and friends when I needed them. My dad saw off those who myself and my friends couldn’t, and for anyone else, well my friends towered over me at this stage and they looked like personal bodyguards walking by my side. Growing up there are always a few scuffles, but I felt safe with them.
I had several good teachers, and others I didn’t care for. Luckily, the principal was previously my rugby coach for a short time in the junior school, and he also liked an older, bolder cousin of mine so he was always good to me. So were most of the other Form Masters (year heads) and they would visit me in hospital time to time, let me off when I showed up with no homework or let me leave the classroom when I needed. The school matron was also very approachable, she kept some of my medical supplies in her room for emergencies and was hugely helpful. She spoke to a senior coach and asked if he would see me in the gym. I think he just saw some small kid when I went to see him, he didn’t show me very much but being in the school gym got my head off girls and school work and focused on wanting to grow!
The first thing fitness related my parents bought me was a punch bag and gloves. I had a lot of frustrations and I let them out on this bag. It was therapy for me, I had a lot to empty out and that bag took the brunt of it. I was 17 when I got a Christmas present of a home ‘combo gym’. A multi-functional, one piece York brand machine with a load of uses including chest press, pec dec, lat pulldown, seated row, dip station, leg extension and lots more. I soon invested in some free weights and a real barbell! This was the real start. When I was in my final year in school I joined a local gym and fell even deeper in love with it. I was beginning to catch the other guys my age, my health was improving and importantly, it was steady.
I got a job after leaving school, and moved into a house with 2 friends when I was 19. This was a real ‘lads pad’. The living room had a tv and couch in one end, and in the other was my new Power Rack, dumbbell rack, weights bench, olympic plates and bars. By 22 I was carrying more weight, and had caught up and even passed out a few friends. I felt I looked better, I was stronger, and I wanted more! I was never a powerlifter and never will be, I wanted the look of a bodybuilder. But I could bench press 115kg when I weighed 68-70kg and 130kg on the plate loaded machine in the gym. I continued to grow and younger lads would approach me in the gym and ask ‘how do I get arms like yours?’ or ‘how do I get a back like that?’. Even a huge foreign guy, who still trains in the same gym as me approached me between sets to ask for dietary advice and I remember thinking ‘you’re the giant, I want to look like you!’.
There were always good times and bad times, and my health started causing problems again, it was affecting my work, it was affecting my body and my head. When the recession hit I took redundancy and when my health began to improve again I packed my meds and a large bag of clothes and took the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world. But my health took a knock once again and everything came undone. My weight fell -again, my joints were sore and bones were sticking out all over again. My meds were changed for the hundredth time, I was 23 years old and felt I had lost everything I worked so hard for. But I knew I fought back several times before and this would be no different. Each time I started over there were always barriers I had to crush. Returning to the gym and lifting a fraction of what you used before and struggling is a challenge in itself, but when other gym users think you look familiar and ask ‘do you have a brother who used to workout here?’ and you tell them no, that was me and they reply with ‘no no, the big guy’.
I took a look around my gym and I looked at the 25kg plates, the racks, the large dumbbells. I struggled to understand how this could keep happening. I took pictures and began selling some discs and bars online. Why did I ever buy such large amounts of big discs?? I could hardly pick them up on their own. One buyer arrived to collect some 5&10kg discs, as we were bringing them out to his car he looked at me and asked if they used to belong to my brother. I just said yes and off he went. Years kicking my ass in a gym to grow and this guy thought I would hardly lift these 10’s.. . . . Crohns was winning this tug-of-war life and that lit a fire under my ass.
That was it, Crohns would not win! No more selling equipment, the rack was taken offline and I got my ass in gear once more.
By the time I reached my 25th birthday, I was not only back to what I considered my previous best but blew past it. I now had over half a lifetime of ups and downs behind me, I was after learning the fastest, most efficient and best ways to regain muscle. I now owned a substantial amount of gym equipment and I would go to bodybuiding shows and made the decision I wanted to compete. I would go each year to the local NABBA show and saw the lineup get more competitive each year. This was something I felt I wanted to do, if for no other reason but to prove to myself and everyone else that I would never be beaten by my disease. I would not be shaped by it. Just how small and insignificant would Crohns feel if I was on stage in the best shape of my life after all it put me through?
As history tends to do, it repeated itself by tearing my body apart yet again. Yup, all of it, gone. More drug changes, more hospital procedures, more bones and the physical and mental games that accompany it. I was now 26 year old and was the same size I was at 17. From being close to 30kg heavier then my girlfriend, we were now within 2kg of each other. Mental blow, absolutely – but fuel for the fire!
The second I started to swing things back in my favor I was in the gym! I would force feed myself when I had to, I’d blare my music to drown out the comments, I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see them stare, concentrating on pumping as much blood into those muscle cells until they felt they were about to explode, they would scream, they would burn, they would shake uncontrollably, they would fail, I would throw up and go for another set! I was angry. I was so angry at myself . I made some huge progress all over again, closing the gap with my 25 year old self. Every time I walked into that gym I was at war with my body, every time I sat down to a meal I was at war with my body. I regained all the lost weight and I continue to push on. Now 29 I’m doing well, and I’m aiming high.
This story isn’t over, not by a long shot. I’ve a lot further to go, and who knows, maybe I will get on that stage. I know the possibility of losing it all again is very high, but I’ve given it hell at every turn and I will always fight back!
I now have a pretty decent gym setup which I make my living from, and plan to expand and grow it.
People ask where my drive comes from, you may understand some of it now, but there is a lot more behind the scenes I’ve not even mentioned. I’ve enough fuel to keep this fire burning a long, long time. It’s me versus my body. My life will be lived my way.