Saturday February 13th 2016 at 09:30 my life changed forever! While driving to work that morning, I was sat still in my car, at a red light, when out of nowhere a ferocious pain consumed my entire head and neck in an instant.
I became light headed, claustrophobic and even suffered an anxiety attack. My fight or flight reflex was screaming at me to abandon the car and run, but the pain was so severe I could not move… so what did I do? Went to work and trained my clients, the show must go on, right?!
I didn’t know at the time, but sometime before this freak incident I had suffered a double slipped disc in my neck. Sometimes these injuries can happen unbeknownst to us, and we may not suffer any ill effects immediately. Then one day, sneeze and you’re f*cked! I didn’t even move that morning, but the discs eventually moved enough of their own accord, to damage and obstruct a nerve and send pain so acutely into my head and neck, that passing out felt like a welcome option.
Fast forward two weeks, filled with morphine shots, muscle relaxers, anti inflammatory tablets, ice packs and rest… and I actually felt fine! What was all the drama?! So on Monday February 29th 2016, I returned to work feeling refreshed after my two week hiatus. That is until I tried to demonstrate a Dumbbell Bench Press for a new client. To paint the picture, 3 weeks earlier I was benching 120kg for reps. My new client was an older lady, with little to no experience in any form of training her entire life. So as a demonstration I used 4kg (not 120kg) to teach her correct technique, and I failed! I simply couldn’t press the weight up over my chest. The left side of my body was rendered almost completely powerless. Queue panic attack number two, as reality set in that something was drastically wrong! Somewhat luckily for me, I had no restriction of movement and pain was only acute during activity, at rest I was fine. However at the same time, I couldn’t even support my bodyweight with my arms, never mind perform as simple an exercise as a press-up. Physically, I had hit rock bottom. Mentally the worst was yet to come…
As I sought out expert after expert, from every medical profession you can think of, I either received no advice and no hope of recovery. Or whoever was brave enough to throw their hat in the ring gave me contradictory advice to the last doctor or consultant. Everything I tried was a dead end. And the next consultant would send me in the opposite direction, only for the same outcome. For a man who’s whole life from an early age has revolved around training, and has now made a career from training and helping others – to be unable to do either was one of the hardest psychological battles I had ever faced. Or so I thought at the time.
Over the next three and a half years, I took control of my own rehabilitation. Reading and researching every day, icing, stretching and training with 1kg dumbbells, just to keep some form of sanity. I spent a lot of time treating myself with inversion therapy – simply put, hanging upside down and allowing the spine to lengthen and damaged discs to rehydrate. Simple things I had taken for granted all my life, were now impossible – running being one of them. If I wanted to run up the stairs, or in from the rain, pain would shoot through my neck and send me into a dizzy spell. I couldn’t lift weights, I couldn’t run… but I couldn’t give up!
I stayed focused, and every week I seem to eek out 1 more repetition of an exercise, or move from the 1kg dumbbells to the 2kg ones, and so on. Just as I thought I was finally beginning to make some progress, I woke on Tuesday January 1st 2019 with pneumonia. Now the pain in my neck, was replaced with screaming lungs and an aching body from climbing a stairs. What could possibly go wrong next?!
2016, 2017 & 2018 were horrific years for me… but they were my own physical & psychological issues. Not being able to train had sent me into the depths of depression, surrounded by people, I felt the loneliest person on the planet. But once I was able to see some tiny amounts of minimal progress in training, the voice in my head kept telling me I couldn’t give up. 2019 however, my family and I, were struck with an even more challenging blow. My Dad began to suffer with signs of Dementia!
Dad had been displaying some signs of the earlier stages of dementia over the previous years, but in 2019 it became all too apparent. A man who had made a career and provided for us all as a courier, creating his own freight empire of staff, trucks, vans, bikes and nationwide deliveries now had his drivers’ licence revoked. Much like me, losing the ability to train, Dad losing the ability to drive not only limited our opportunities, but changed our identities and sense of belonging and importance. On top of this memory issues were becoming more and more frequent. A conversation on Monday would have to be repeated on Tuesday. Dad’s independence was taken, and he now has to rely more and more on my Mom and the rest of the family every day.
There are numerous forms of dementia and many sufferers show different signs and characteristics. Some of the more common symptoms include memory loss, behavioural changes, loss of interest or motivation to do anything, aggression, confusion and many, many more. Dementia tends to rob someone of their day to day lives, and memories. I bought a new car last year, well over 6 years after previously buying from the same garage. Dad was able to give a detailed description of where in Charleville it was located. But he couldn’t tell me right now what he ate for breakfast this morning… and he eats the same breakfast 7 days a week!
Dementia is an illness that affects everyone connected to the person suffering. My Mom especially has seen her whole life change. She has gone from a wife to a carer, cleaner, cook & chauffeur. If you know someone suffering, you will understand when I say the whole dynamic of your relationship with them changes. Whether they are your grandparent, parent, partner, sibling or other you feel as though you have “lost” that person, that relationship. Even though they might be sat next to you, you are already grieving the loss of that loved one, and the understanding and connection you once had with them.
As dementia sets in, a sufferer’s life tends close in around them. As someone’s support circle and lifestyle become narrower, so too does their ability to stimulate the brain and the body, and slow any progression of the illness. It is impossible to reverse the illness, it can only be slowed and maintained to ensure quality of life does not deteriorate significantly. The work of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland to provide support and care, both to sufferers and to affected family members is imperative to ensure some form of normalcy. They provide social clubs, The Alzheimer’s Cafe, home care, respite care and much more. The A.S.I undertakes research projects and continuously updates the advice and support provided to sufferers and carers alike. Without this, the future becomes a very dark and lonely place for all of those involved.
So why tell you my story, as well as my Dad’s? To show you that anything is possible with the right support, dedication and most importantly, mindset! I have been physically, emotionally and mentally knocked back to zero more times than I like to admit. But this year as I celebrate 5 years in business, owning and operating Coach’s Fitness Centre, I take on my biggest challenge yet… the #StriveForFive
From a near broken neck and broken will, being unable to train for over three and a half years, this year I will attempt to complete 5 road races, each increasing in distance and finishing with a Marathon. Plus climb 5 mountains, the highest peaks North & South of the border, as well as in England, Wales & finishing with the highest in Scotland – Ben Nevis. The last race I ever entered was the egg & spoon in sixth class, and I have no formal training or experience in mountaineering, other than wandering off with the lads.
Even though my life has changed completely since my injury, part of me is doing this to show that anyone can overcome adversity and meet new challenges head on! Even if like me, you are starting from scratch, overcoming a setback, dealing with injury or depression as I have, you can bounce back and achieve what you once thought impossible. I invite you all to lace up your runners, or hiking boots and join me at any point throughout this year as I #StriveForFive
I’m not raising money for me. I’m not raising money for my Dad. I’m hoping to raise money, but also awareness for the great work carried out by all those involved in the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, and throughout the medical community. Their vision is an Ireland where people on the journey of dementia are valued and supported. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland works across the country in the heart of local communities providing dementia specific services and supports and advocating for the rights and needs of all people living with dementia and their carers. Growing old is never easy. Losing your identity & independence is never easy. Combine them all with struggling to remember and understand your everyday life must be nothing short of torturous. So let us #RememberThoseWhoCannot and help them to live out their lives with the dignity, respect, support and freedom they deserve!