Sunday, September 11, 2016

How Being Born with One Leg Gives Me Strength

When I first met Jen Sinkler in person a few months ago and she told me she was in the process of rebranding to “Unapologetically Strong,” I thought, "Wait, I like Thrive as the Fittest!”

But as I reflected more on the meaning of her new mantra, “Unapologetically Strong,” it quickly began to resonate with me. Perhaps it does with you, too.

I’ve had the cards stacked against me ever since birth. In fact, when I was born there was a pretty good chance I would never walk, attend a regular school, join a swim team, or deadlift 175 pounds.

Yet, one by one, I accomplished each of those feats. While they might not seem like much without context, you can probably imagine what a big deal they would be for a guy who was born missing a leg.

“Unapologetically Strong?” To me, this motto means being strong not just physically, but also emotionally -- and not being afraid to show it.

That's me.

Like Spiderman, having one leg is both my curse and my blessing. Although it’s a bit paradoxical, being born an amputee has made me a stronger person in a number of ways.

For example, I’ve found that overcoming obstacles early in life prepared me to overcome them later. Basically, I’ve made overcoming obstacles my habit since birth, all the way from walking with my first makeshift prosthesis at the age of one, to swimming on my college team, to doing my first strict bar muscle-up. (Now I can do 8!)

Last spring, however, I was confronted with a new obstacle: a life-threatening flare-up of ulcerative colitis (an autoimmune disease that affects the large intestine). My only choice was to undergo surgery to remove my entire colon and rectum.

Although I was scared shitless (pun intended), I was able to hearken back to my past perseverance and remind myself that I had the physical and emotional strength to get through this next obstacle. I also managed to muster up the courage to share my story on my blog, which turned out to be both cathartic and helpful for others battling the disease. I even received cool replacement parts from my friends!

There were some dark times post-operatively, though. After spending ten days in the hospital following surgery, I could barely stand up, let alone walk unassisted. Of course, I’d learned from an early age not to let a lousy set of circumstances drag me down. I knew that in order to return to the active lifestyle I wanted, I needed to regain my physical strength.

I resolved to look at the post-op period as an opportunity to step into the shoes of many of my personal training clients -- to feel what it’s like to resume exercise after a long layoff. Instead of dwelling on all of the things I couldn’t do (like lift anything over 10 pounds), I embraced the things I could do, like walk with crutches up and down the block, shoulder raise soup cans, and veg out on the interwebz.

As I alluded to, as an amputee this positive mindset was nothing new for me. And it made all the difference. Gradually, I regained my old form (and then some).

You see, everyone has their struggles, their challenges, their shortcomings. How we look at them is the key. Every one of us has the opportunity to cherish our strengths and to view our weaknesses as opportunities for self-improvement and creative problem-solving.

So what if I can’t walk long distances, ride a regular bike, deadlift bilaterally, or dance?* I can traverse great distances on my Razor scooter (sure, it’s a little small for a 27-year-old, but I don't weigh much), ride a hand-cycle, and deadlift on one leg. In terms of gym exercises, there are actually tons of exercises I can perform with my prosthesis on, too, like glute bridges, back extensions, and good mornings.

The more I reflected on the meaning of "unapologetically strong," the more I fell in love with the idea. To me, being unapologetically strong means not having to downplay your strengths, your accomplishments, or even your challenges. Heck, I’ll shout mine from the rooftops! After all, you never know whom you just might inspire.

If I can do it -- the guy with no leg and now no colon -- then anyone can.

*Perhaps the reason I can’t dance has more to do with my utter lack of rhythm than my prosthetic leg, so I shouldn’t use that as a crutch -- at least not in the figurative sense!

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