Finding a Healthy Competitive Pattern

Yes, it has been awhile. A reasonable answer as to why would be I busy was surviving my first New York winter. Hibernating until midsummer or letting other parts of life consume me and throw in the ‘busy’ word. When we make time for what matters, and sharing did not matter when frankly I felt like I got to a point where I did not know what I was doing. Parts of me still do not know but looking too far into the future, or how it used to be can hinder where you are.

Currently I am preparing for my second full powerlifting meet back right at a year post surgery. Competing again does not mean I am satisfied with how my back has healed. Some experiences just change you physically and mentally. They change how you approach where you distribute your efforts. I can do what I love again because of how on time it takes to make sure my body is firing and working like it is supposed to. It is manageable, but I miss the way I used to always be ready to go and hop under a bar or bust out an early run without even rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. Now its this precise evaluation about what is smart for that day. It forces me to be honest with myself and think about what I am feeling. When to me the weightroom is supposed to be a place where you take the emotion out.

This journey has been anything but emotionless. Despite of the questions and unsolicited feedback the world has thrown in my face, I have hit and perused goals. My comeback meet happened seven months post surgery where I added 80lbs to my previous total (345/225/365). There is more to that story as to why I rushed to compete so soon. Regardless, that was a great day and one I will always remember. I was able to prove I am not broken and I can follow through anything. In addition to the first full meet I competed in a Deadlift only fundraiser in November. I finished with 390 that. My numbers were solid in each and strength was returning, but I still had questions about my progress. because the nerve pain was unpredictable no matter how I tried to manage it.

80 lb added to total 935, 7 months post surgery. Learning I’m not broken!

The following visit is why I only waited seven months to compete and prepared with only 5-6 weeks for the meet. In December after a few neurologist appointments and an MRI, I found myself sitting in an office in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. I was going over scheduling with a neurosurgeon at Mt. Sinai. Signing up for back surgery round three. I was confused and angry. Because I thought this had already been done and the whole process I would have to repeat, and the year had already been exhausting enough.

Post 5/17 surgery. Still not pretty.

L4/L5 still appeared to be in the spinal canal and compressing nerve roots. The NYC doctor made a convincing argument that because my last surgery was an emergency the one who had performed it in Huntington, West Virginia did not know who he was operating on. An athlete that needed full function back. He explained the ER surgeon on call that night was conservative and fixed just enough for me to return to function for daily life. The resemblance between my pre and post surgery MRIS had me worried. The neurosurgeon is going to be confident in his skills and ability and advocate for surgery. There was doubt, but I wanted whatever I decided to be done right, so I scheduled a redo discectomy two months out. The ability to choose which day for a procedure gave me control this time and an opportunity to seek out the best opinions in the meantime. It felt like the right call, because no one was able to explain why I was feeling like I was.
My nerve pain was returning as things got heavy, but I was warned this may happen. Happen regardless If I had exercised zero times from surgery or repped out 315 on my back. Nerves after trauma can feel dead and as time passes they regenerate which is a good thing but bringing anything back to life takes you through pain. This timeline was coincidence or was it from heavier loads, because I could not answer where the pain was coming from. More still did not necessarily mean it was directly from activity or if it was just residual pain. The visual of the MRI stuck in my mind to where I was scared I was one lift away from making the pain and loss of function be as debilitating as it was last year. The thing about an MRI on a spine though is many people have herniations and are pain free or they feel pain from another issue with the spine such as bone bruising, instability, or the calcification process. The disc injury is only a symptom and not always the cause of pain.
As I took all this in I decided that the work I had put in was not going to go uncredited before a potential third surgery. Hence the sign up for my first meet back and second meet ever. My coach was completely understanding with each decision which I am grateful for. Many people were probably like has not she learned her lesson. Completing meets and then immediate surgery is not a healthy pattern. I was confident with this choice and in how I had zero regrets in how I had taken on my rehab. I would not have done it any different or any less aggressive. I poured everything I had into it. That plan would not have changed what was or was not surgically fixed in the previous surgery.
The meet was 1-27-2018 and the surgery was scheduled 2-23-2018. In those three weeks something life changing happened. I was asking and searching anyone that had knowledge or experience on back injuries. I have been reading Dr. Stuart McGill’s work for nearly ten years and he has been teaching and researching health of the spine for over thirty years. I recently read his newest book The Gift of Injury and felt inclined to have to try and get Dr. Stuart McGill’s opinion. I had emailed before, but he is an extremely busy man and he cannot get back to everyone. Sometimes timing can be a magical thing and this time I heard back.

We skyped and he reviewed my MRI films. Dr. Mcgill pointed out the herniations at L4/L5, L5/S1, L2/L3 as had the surgeons, but he also identified bone bruising and stenosis at multiple levels that also could be playing a part in my symptoms. These contributors needed to be given a chance to heal and reduce inflammation throughout my spine. This could then allow a more efficient recovery from the previously operated on disc and nerve roots. During the skype I was assessed through pain triggering movements and given relieving alternative positions. Very similar to what is outlined in his previous book The Back Mechanic. The session led back to me needing to take a higher responsibility in my movement patterns to remove the cause and not merely treat the symptoms.

The book and some humor of how detailed it is and areas of rehab i haven’t gotten around to explore 🙄

Concluding the call, I felt I had direction and was given answers surgeons failed to directly answer. My MRI will never be a pretty, before and after transformation picture. I had an intradural herniation (rare only 0.3% all herniations) this created alarming risks and questions of calcification in the future, but nothing about my story is textbook. I may be one of the youngest to have this specific type of herniation and I am healthy/active, so the normal timeline does not apply. Once cut open there is no going back and when things are manageable and clearly better than last year I should wait to see what all I can keep accomplish conservatively with patience and behavior change. Essentially, the damage that has already been done and there is no timeline. I canceled the surgery.

Present day I am able to prep for a meet without looming epidurals or surgeries. I can just train! It is such a relief to not have to think about aftermath of a meet. Finally, after years I feel like an athlete again and not surviving one event. Barely holding on and upset as each day as the meet gets closer knowing I will be shut down after. It is a privilege to feel committed to goals for the long haul. My thought process is similar to when I would undergo a NPC figure prep being that the show day was the best I have ever been, but I knew that one show was the worst of what I was yet to be. The numbers are the same way, because the sun will come up the next day and I will keep putting work in. This is how it is supposed to feel. This is a healthy pattern and allows an impatient perfectionist to just trust the process.

I feel I need to share what resources and individuals helped me make informed decisions. Many athletes, coaches of athletes, and fellow coaches for themselves have reached out for similar guidance. I would not be here without receiving the help I have, and I want people to know it always works out and is okay. You may have to work hard or be confused awhile, but brutal experiences are how we grow strong.

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