In high school my good friend Emily met a guy from a rival school, and the two began to date. Everyone in our “click” hated that every time we tried to make plans, she was off with her boyfriend from “that school.” Although none of us knew Nick, we all disliked him because once the relationship began, Emily was never around. We constantly spoke poorly of Nick and often encouraged Emily to break it off whenever the topic came up. Like most high school relationships, the couple did break it off. Shortly after the young love’s demise, I ended up finally meeting Nick at a house party. He was tall, rugged looking and wildly energetic and outgoing. I could see why people liked him, and as much as I hated to admit it, I liked him too. We became fast friends and got into all sorts of trouble over the next few years, Nick especially. When most young adults are heading off to college or starting their careers, Nick seemed a bit lost. As a kid, Nick seemed to always have a knack for anything he put his mind to, but the problem seemed to be just that: He wasn’t putting his talents to use.
That’s when he dropped a bomb on me: He was going to join the military. He told me about the Air Force’s special operations unit the “PJs”. I read a little bit about the program online, and it seemed extremely hardcore. Similar to the Navy Seals in training, the PJs often act as extraction units in hostile or otherwise dangerous situations. Although I had several friends who had opted for military service, I didn’t know anyone that had applied to anything this elite. But if there was anyone I thought who could do it, it was Nick. Who better to jump out of airplanes for a living than a guy who climbed light posts and back flipped off of them for fun?
Over the next few years I didn’t see much of Nick as he went through basic training and then the PJ training pipeline. I would catch up with him when he was home for holidays, or get filled in from his family about what was going on. Eventually Nick was deployed to Afghanistan. At this time we were a decade post 9/11. Although there was constant conflict in the Middle East, war certainly wasn’t on the forefront of many American minds. I’d had friends who had done multiple tours and returned without much to say about their time overseas. I was proud of Nick for making it through the brutal PJ training, and expected his time in the service to be much like everyone else I knew. Punch your time card. Come home. That’s when I heard the news: Nick had been shot.
At first it was difficult to get information about what had happened. His family wasn’t even completely in the loop yet. All I knew was that he was alive. Shortly I found out that he would be returning stateside and coming home for his initial recovery. Although Nick and I had been good friends, I had barely spoken to him over the last few years as he was constantly training at one place or another in preparation for his time deployed. As such I had waited to reach out to get an update or even possibly see him. I knew his family likely needed time to process what had happened. That’s when I got a phone call.
“Hey Tony, it’s Nick. I just started physical therapy. It sucks. I need you to train me. The therapists aren’t pushing me enough, and they’re taking things too slow.” I had worked with people who were post-op or recovering from an injury. But I had never worked with anyone recovering from a bullet wound. Although I wasn’t sure I was qualified to handle the job, I couldn’t say no to my good friend. We agreed to meet to talk about his injuries and come up with a game plan. Little did I know that I was in for a big surprise regarding his injuries, which turned out to be far more devastating than I had imagined.
A Wounded Warrior
Nick had been attached to a marine unit serving as their combat medic, when a team of soldiers were sent out on a night mission to clear a building and secure a weapons cache. The night vision the team wore helped with the low light conditions of the building. Unfortunately it did not work with large amounts of dust that would get kicked up as a result of many of the buildings not having true flooring. Upon entering a room, Nick sustained 4-5 gun shots from a high powered rifle. His femur was instantly shattered, another bullet went through his hand. He told me he didn’t really remember much about it because his adrenaline was so high.
Nick was on crutches, couldn’t use one of his legs, and could barely grip with one of his hands. This meant that there were a lot of exercises we simply could not do. Despite this he showed up every Tuesday and Thursday night and I would take him through every movement I could think of. This period of time really challenged me as a coach to think outside of the box and get creative. Nick’s work ethic was unbelievable, and he never complained about anything. As he began to regain some range of motion in his injured leg, you could visibly see the pain and discomfort he was experiencing as he pushed himself to do more and more.
Between sessions Nick and I began spending a lot of time together again. We caught up with old friends who had also served, and I would sit back and just listen as they swapped stories about their time in the military. I was constantly in awe not only of how insane his training had been, but how well he was handling his injuries. One night when we went to go meet an old pal for dinner, he picked me up in his brand new Porsche. “When you get shot the government pays you by the bullet!” He said laughingly. To this day I’m not sure if he was joking or not.
When Nick was fit enough to get off of his crutches, he told me he wanted to go for a hike. So we planned a trip for Mount Major. To this day it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. He smoked me up the mountain (and this was long before my heart issues). What I remember best about that day was constantly apologizing for slowing him down. The Airforce PJs are on another level in terms of endurance and mental strength.
Eventually Nick was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Florida to prepare him to return to his unit. It was a big feather in my cap when he called to tell me about this world class facility with the best personnel in the industry, and his training program looked much like the one I had put him on. I felt like I was on the right path as a coach. This was long before Arkitect was even an idea, and I was working as an employee at a small 800sqft facility. Years later when I opened the doors of Arkitect I would use the lessons learned from training Nick, and look back on that time with great pride and nostalgia.
You Don’t Really Know How Good You Have It
One of the biggest advantages of training at a gym like Arkitect Fitness is that you are on your own program. There is no group program. That means if you can’t use your knees, we will plan ahead for that. If you have a wrist or hand injury and can’t grab any training implements, we will work around that. There are certainly times when it may be appropriate to completely skip the gym (you’re sick being one of them), but injury, often is not. Occasionally it will be weeks or months before we see a client and they’ll tell us “oh I hurt my (insert body part).”
Well…what about the rest of you? If there were one takeaway from Nick’s story, it would be that it was his consistency and effort that lead to his quick recovery over everything else. Yes, he was a freak athlete, yes he had been trained by the greatest fighting force in the world to be a cut above the rest, but when it boils down to it, Nick simply put the effort in. Right now there are people with unbelievable challenges who are still finding ways to stay active, and improve their situation. Would you tell someone in a wheel chair that they should never exercise ever again? So why are you skipping the gym because your knee hurts?
Getting to the gym while injured isn’t just about continuing to exercise, it’s also about maintaining healthy habits. We all know how easy it is to “fall off the wagon” so maintaining your gym schedule even when you can’t fully workout the way you want to will go a long way to keeping you on track until you’re back to 100%. What’s more, is that research has shown that training a healthy limb will help maintain strength and muscle on an injured limb.
The coaches at Arkitect are here to help you in whatever way we can. The entire purpose of individualized programming is to work with special cases. No other gym in Concord does that. We’ve had clients with arms in slings, legs in casts, and of course, my own special circumstance of living with a pacemaker, which means I’ll have severe exercise restrictions for the rest of my life. Despite that I’ve still be able to maintain the weight loss of over 50lbs that I achieved in 2017. You would be surprised how creative we can get when the need comes. It’s also what we love to do. We love to flex our coaching muscles. Easy clients are just that…easy. When a client comes in with a special circumstance we love to dive into MacGyver mode and figure out the solution to the puzzle.
Sometimes we simply want to make an excuse for ourselves. We have all been in that situation where we tell ourselves a story of why we can’t do something, or why it won’t work, or why it’s not worth it. But it’s always worth it. Nick could have thrown in the towel, ended his military career before it had even started, cashed out and cruised home. But he knew he had to get back to his guys as soon as he could. He knew it would be worth it. And while you and I may not be training to fight terrorists or have someone’s back in combat, you are training to save someone’s life: Yours.
It only takes a modest amount of exercise to maintain a healthy life style. I know that maybe you want to have those six pack abs or that “bikini body,” but that’s not what real health looks like. Real health is maintaining an active lifestyle. Having normal blood pressure. Staving off cancer, heart disease, diabetes, all of which statistically you are very likely to get if you don’t exercise. Let go of the “all or nothing” mentality and build those healthy habits, so when you can go full blast, you’re ready for it. Don’t be sitting on the couch five years from now, looking around wishing you had stuck with it. Doing it at 40 is harder than 30, doing it at 50 is harder than 40 and so on…Just do it now, because it only ever gets harder, not easier.
Where Are They Now?
Now that I’m done berating you about skipping the gym, you’re probably wondering what the latest on Nick is. Although I briefly discussed his recovery, it actually was a very long process before he was able to return to active duty in the PJs. In the next few years Nick settled down a bit and got married (having a life alerting event really helps to put things into perspective). The wedding was a blast and I finally got to meet many of the brave men and women that Nick served with. I usually will hear from him around the time of his anniversary when he and his wife sit down to watch the small wedding video I made for them.
Note: When I had trained Nick, I had done it for free with the permission of my employer to use the gym I worked at under one condition: We were able to film the workouts to be used to promote the gym (an idea I wasn’t all too thrilled about). Somewhere I had hours of tape of Nick hobbling around the gym on crutches, doing all kinds of strange or modified exercises. I wanted to pull those up for this article…and I couldn’t find them. After hours of scouring every place I could think of, I remembered they would likely be on an old laptop. When I dug the laptop out of the closet it wouldn’t boot up. Dejected I sat at my computer and wondered if writing an article like this would be worth it without any pictures or videos. Then I remembered I had an external hard drive for to back up the laptop in the event that the computer crashed! After another hour digging through boxes I finally found the hard drive! It was dead. These videos were filmed long before “the cloud” was a viable option. Unfortunately there are also no pictures of Nick and I causing trouble in our younger days as cell phone cameras weren’t exactly a thing yet either. To be honest, that’s probably for the best.
I was much younger when I helped my friend rehab, and it seemed crazy to me then, but nearly a decade later with a lot more experience under my belt, I can fully appreciate just how nuts the whole thing was, but more than that, it’s inspiring. I know every time I don’t feel like heading to the gym for a workout, I just think about all the people who would love to be able to train at a gym like Arkitect, but don’t have the means to. Every time I feel like skipping a workout, I think about all the people who have much bigger battles to fight than I do. Whenever I feel like being lazy, I think about how I should be a little more like Nick.