I was introduced to the gym right around the time I was introduced to Unsung Hero. Looking back on things now, I laugh at the reasoning that motivated me to head down to my local gym in the first place: I’m a big fan of live music, of the heavy variety, and attending these events as a 6’2” 19 year old weighing in at a mean 170lbs with no previous athletic experience, I wasn’t much of a force to be reckoned with. I’d buy my ticket in advance, arrive early, and park myself right in front of the main stage, only to get muscled out mere minutes after the first band began to play. I wanted to be immovable; I wanted to be the one doing the pushing and shoving. This desire is what prompted my first noble effort at designing a training program. I would show up every other day in my Claude Giroux Hustle #28 Unsung Hero t-shirt, and hit the machines numbered one through nine. I was able to do over 100lbs on the adductor and abductor machines (otherwise known as the “hip” machines found in most commercial gyms) – I was unstoppable! To ensure that I gained valuable lean muscle mass, I ate a diet comprised entirely of lean protein and vegetables with very little carbs, which I would later learn put me at a caloric deficit. Unsurprisingly, I got no results.
Enter my Unsung Hero: Pete. Pete was the first person to get me out of my comfort zone and take me to the highly intimidating “second floor” (he also gave me the #28 Giroux shirt for my birthday). This was the area filled with real bodybuilders and athletes. I felt as if I didn’t belong, but Pete took me under his wing, and I was safe. Over the next few months I learned the all-important movements such as the Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Decline Bench Press, Shoulder Press, and Preacher Curls (not even close to a complete program… but it was better than what I was initially doing). I was making good progress, as I could almost bench 135lbs! Pete was benching 315lbs for triples, which certainly helped for motivation, but may have attributed to my overzealousness.
Then came my first injury.
I tried to get the 135lb monkey off my back with a single triumphant rep. It didn’t go well, I think I was stapled for a good 4 or 5 seconds before Pete finally saved me. After we racked the bar, I was left with an odd sensation in my shoulder – it started to go numb, then became immobile. I didn’t know what it was yet, but that evening I became very acquainted. I was up all night with my arm in a homemade sling until I could head over to my local walk-in clinic the next morning. The doctor provided an ‘expert’ analysis (which included such things as poking me in the shoulder and asking if I could move it), and upon hearing that I injured it in the gym, simply resigned me to surgery and put me in contact with an specialist at the Ottawa Hospital. Something in the back of my mind told me this wasn’t right (no quit mentality) and I went directly from the clinic to my gym. I walked up to the largest, most muscular individual I had ever seen (who turned out to be the current manager of the gym), and he was able to assess me on the spot. He diagnosed me with a severe kyphosis, upper and lower crossed syndrome, and an impingement of both shoulders. It turned out I had experienced a partial dislocation of my left shoulder. This led to a nine-month rehabilitative program where I worked with this individual, allowing me to entirely avoid surgery and fix my respective issues. It was here that I learned about proper program design, began to incorporate multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts, and truly began to train properly. I decided that I would fix my body in such a way that this kind of injury could never happen again. My goals became serious, and I made them real. I never missed a workout. School, work, walking to the gym in -30 winters, nothing stopped me. I no longer felt uncomfortable or afraid because I had a drive within me that nothing could touch. I truly embraced the “All Hustle” mentality (I can’t tell you how many times I started my day with the “Rise and Grind” video).
I would train 5 days a week, and I was able to do any lifts that I wanted without issue. My shoulder was finally stabilized and has not bothered me since. While I felt good focusing on my successes, I couldn’t help but notice that all my peers were stronger than I was and progressed much faster – it always felt like I was lagging behind. I would spend hours and hours between workouts, travel, and meal preparation, only to have people be surprised when they learned I trained. Nonetheless, I would rise and grind every day and keep up the hard work. All the while I had been seeing my chiropractor and physiotherapist to fix a myriad of issues related to the mild scoliosis in my upper back, as well as additional postural issues. All was going well until the spring of 2013 when my back went out. 3 Vertebrae in my middle back T3, T4, and T5 came out of place entirely, leaving me in extreme pain and immobile. It happened because I twisted and reached behind myself to grab my bag in a weird way. No heavy lifting for 3-4 months. All my hard work, all my progress was out the window. It was extremely frustrating and very difficult, because everyone around me considered me weak, fragile, and frail because I “put my back out”. They didn’t know about my 315lb squats, or my 350lb deadlifts, they just wondered how I could spend all that time in the gym and still get hurt. In the end, it was a result of the way my spine and back musculature had deviated due to previous injuries and postural issues. There was nothing I could have done. That was a tough spring, but I got through it. I spent every day of my recovery researching, self-educating, and preparing for my triumphant return. When I did finally get back, I vowed to never be sidelined again. Fast forward to today, I’ve run my kneecap off track, suffered nerve impingement due to my Atlas (C1) being out of alignment, and dislocated a rib. That being said, I will not suffer these injuries ever again. My unwavering desire for success has led me to turn my weaknesses into strengths. I rehabilitated my injuries with such attention to detail that they are now some of my strongest areas. To this day I have never been reinjured.
I am now an accomplished personal trainer who works with people from all walks of life, using my wealth of experience every day to help others. I have helped people to lose weight, increase strength, improve their athletic ability, relieve chronic pain, and stay motivated. Fitness can be an amazing catalyst in a person’s life, as it has been in mine. I have had my fair share of difficulties to overcome, but when you take the NO QUIT, ALL HUSTLE mentality to heart, you’ll always have the drive it takes to succeed.
The inspiration for this piece was the “Hard Work beats Hard Luck” shirt from Unsung Hero. To me, this sums up the entirety of my life in the gym up to this point. There were many times I could have given up, times that would have caused many others to throw in the towel, but I didn’t. I never got any easy wins, I had to fight and claw my way to every ounce of progress. Other guys out there had it easy, but I didn’t. I had to make up for what I lacked in hard work and persistence, which nothing can stop. With hard work you’ll always prevail, because when you put in the time, you make your own luck.