I have decided to make this into a two part blog. Part 1 gives you some background on my decision. Part 2 will go more in depth in how I was able to transition.
Last summer I was ready to do something different. I was weighing around 330 lbs, recovering from multiple injuries, and ready to make a difference in my health and lifestyle. To give you a clearer picture, I was a competitive powerlifter. I have been lifting weights and competing in sports for the majority of my life. When I was going back to college, I got the competitive itch again and thrust myself into training for competition. Unlike other sports, I really did not have to worry about doing too much cardio or even eating too healthy. Hell, if I wanted to eat a pizza with pie and ice-cream I would! I enjoyed the training and the competition. I became “addicted” to getting bigger and stronger like most everyone else in that sport. I put my best foot forward and had no idea where that would take me.
To be honest with myself, the allure of powerlifting to me was that it was an easier alternative than bodybuilding. I really did not have to watch too closely what I ate (so I thought) and did not have to worry about doing too much cardio. I set out to become the best that I could be in that sport. I would sometimes travel hours to train with a stronger group of people. I became a sponge and did my best to learn and apply different methods and ideas to my training so that I could get bigger and stronger and for a while there it was very effective until December 9th, 2014. After my last competition, I qualified to compete in the XPC at the Arnold Sports Festival. I had just recently moved to Illinois and started training with Team Lilliebridge.
That Tuesday was a day that would forever change my life and I did not realize it at the time. I was starting my competition cycle and was benching (I never really bench on Mondays). The weight was flying up. 365 paused. 405 paused. 435 paused. 455 paused. All too easy. So I decided to throw 500 on the bar and roll with it. (Two weeks prior I handled 575 with a slingshot). As I was un-racking the weight and bringing it out . . . POP! That was the sound and the feel of my right triceps tendon tearing off of the bone. December 18th, I have surgery to reattach my tendon to the bone. My hopes of competing in the XPC were crushed but I was bound and determined not to give up. Two days later I was squatting in a cast on my arm.
Now to fast forward some, I made a full recovery in record time but only to fall victim to more injuries. To where I was once looking at breaking a 2000 lb total, I was frequently side lined not being able to lift. One of my trainees still jokes with my about being a walking injury. From the triceps tendon tear to a strained pec to an impinged shoulder to strained and pulled spinal erectors to finally strained it-bands, I was done. These injuries completely frustrated and discouraged me. I was doing everything right (so I thought). After the it-band injury, I decided to take a break and just lift for fun for a while. This led me on a different direction.
So over the course of suffering injuries that year it really wasn’t until June 2014 that I really made the decision and took action to do something different. At this moment in time these were some of my stats:
Blood Pressure Average: 170/90
Resting Heart Rate: 85 bpm
BF %: ~ 20%
My feet and my ankles were also swelling from edema. Yeah, that is a sign and symptom of congenital heart failure. The sport that I devoted my life to was killing me. Not only was I a walking injury but my family was afraid that I would just fall over and die any minute. Getting more honest, walking up and down stairs was exhausting and hell even walking would hurt my back and I would have to sit down. I hated going to the grocery store with my wife because my back would cramp up and I would have to waddle behind the shopping cart. I can laugh about it now but during this time, it really sucked.
So at the behest of my mother and wife (they ganged up on me) I decided to take a break from powerlifting and do something different. I knew that I needed to do something fun because I hate being on a bike or treadmill doing cardio for hours. I wanted to do something that would get me into great shape and still have fun at the same time. We have a heavy bag at the gym I train at so I thought that maybe I would go into boxing or something like that. I mean I love to fight. I have been fighting my whole life and getting my butt kicked my whole life as well. So I had to have an honest conversation with myself because I was 32 and in horrible shape. The thought of getting into the ring at my age is crazy and I had doubts.
In Nas’ famous diss to Jay-Z “Ether” there is this quote:
“I still whip your ass, you thirty-six in a karate class. You Tae-bo hoe” – Nas
Despite my initial misgivings, I asked my buddy Google about age and combat sports and found some hope. There have been guys like Randy Couture who started and competed in MMA later in life. Yeah probably won’t be the next Randy Couture but the fact that he was able to compete at such a high level in his 30’s and 40’s gave me some hope about getting involved in combat sports. I figured that I could at least give it a shot, lose weight, have some fun and possibly compete at an amateur level. So I made a decision to try kickboxing. Then I researched gyms and chose Neutral Ground as the location that I would try. (They offered a free trial week!)
So my first day going there, I made it 30 feet from the building, felt stupid and embarrassed and left. As I left I hoped that no one saw me. So feeling like a moron, I went home and decided that okay I will try it again. The following Tuesday, I showed up a little early for kickboxing. They were having a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu beginner class. I am not knowledgeable about martial arts but as I was observing the class, I thought to myself that this is just like wrestling. I remember signing a waiver that night and as I was reading it there were disclaimers about breaking bones and tearing tendons . . . I was like oh hell here we go again. So why did I stay? Well I stayed mainly because everyone was so friendly and nice. I immediately got this vibe that this was more than a dojo but I could not place my finger on it exactly. Kickboxing was cancelled that night to my dismay but I was invited to try BJJ the following day. So I came back the next day and gave it a shot. That was the absolute best decision that I have made about my health and life in quite a while.
Since that day, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Neutral Ground has changed my life. My first class, I could not even make it through the warm-ups. I was so poorly conditioned. When I tried to do the somersaults, I got so dizzy in addition to not being able to catch my breath my running that I had to sit down. Make no mistake, training for BJJ is not easy and it is not for the faint of heart. As the new guy there, I was a choking dummy (still am sometimes to this day) and practice toy. Sure having size and strength helped me some but I really did not know how to use it in those early days. Sometimes I do not know how to properly use it now. The point is though that since that first day my health has improved drastically. My body weight is down to 280 lbs and my blood pressure is in the 120’s now. These are great benefits for me.
As it has only been a few months since I have started training at Neutral Ground, I know that I still have so much to learn and have a very long road ahead of me. You know what? That is okay because I feel like I have finally found a home. To me Neutral Ground is more than just a training facility. To me it has become more like a brotherhood. I look forward to each training session. I look forward to rolling and learning. It doesn’t matter that I am now 33 years old and wear a Gi because everyone else is wearing Gi’s too and some of them are a lot older than me!