For those of you that don’t know, the Invictus games are an Olympics-style showcase competition for wounded, injured, or sick servicemen and women.
Athletes come from over 15 countries around the world, each of them united in their strive for greatness, fighting to represent their countries and a better version of themselves.
Debilitating injuries, years of rehabilitation, waking up every day without the advantages you and I were born with: it can break a person. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, these men and women reforge themselves both physically and mentally to become stronger than they ever were.
They don’t do it for fame or money; there are no world records set, no fancy advertisement deals or sponsorship money to support them.
Who among us can say they have dealt with a similar struggle?
I used to find all sorts of excuses to avoid conflict or challenges. I made up excuses for why I couldn’t do any number of things and told myself lies like, “I didn’t really want to be on the varsity team anyways”.
This went on for years until I had my first major physical injury in 2009.
Training for Spec Ops recruitment while serving in the US Navy, I was in the midst of an ill-advised CrossFit workout when I heard a loud pop in my knee. Ignoring the pain, the mentality of ,“Well, it’s not going to get worse” pushed me to complete my workout regardless of how it felt.
After a frustrating back and forth with the Navy doctors, I finally got an MRI…9 months later.
The result? A torn ACL and severely torn meniscus. Ouch.
This absolutely crushed me.
I didn’t know what to do, I felt hopeless and depressed.
A couple of months later I was on my way in for knee surgery, completely alone. It didn’t help that I was stationed in Japan, thousands of miles away from friends and family.
As I lay on the operating table, the nurses engaged in small talk, attempting to lift my spirits, but I wasn’t really there and just nodded absently as they spoke.
I was thinking about the months ahead that awaited me: months without using my leg, months without being able to go to the gym.
As my thoughts drifted, the anesthesia kicked in and my self-inflicted pity turned into blackness…
I awoke sometime later, feeling mildly euphoric.
That was until I looked at my bandaged knee and remembered the reason I was there. While checking out of the hospital, the doctors asked if I needed a ride back to my lodging. Stubborn and angry, I politely refused and began to crutch my way back.
In the first few months of my recovery, I slipped deeper into self-pity and depression. I loathed my situation and cursed the universe for what happened.
My only consolations were painkillers and alcohol (NOT a good mix). They were the only things that could drive the pain away at the time.
I’m not exactly sure what was different that day, but one morning I woke up and knew something had to change.
That morning I went to they gym. Just to look around and feel it out again, to rediscover the place that was once my sanctuary. Without intending to, I began to workout. It wasn’t anything crazy. Just some light upper body work.
A little bench press, some lat pull downs, and of course, bicep curls because, obviously, you need to do curls!
Something changed in me that day.
As I was crutching from exercise to exercise, I started to feel alive again. I felt like I could beat this injury and was once again the master of my fate.
From that day forward, I started working out 3 times a week. I focused on upper body and single leg work and vowed to train harder than all the two-leggers around me. I would perform weighted chin-ups, set the weight down, and crutch on over to one of the benches for dome DB presses.
I did everything my body allowed me and even went swimming a couple days a week. Then a funny thing happened: all of a sudden my recovery process accelerated. I was blowing through my projected recovery milestones; I was gaining back the mobility in my leg faster than anyone thought possible.
Sure, I had setbacks. Some days absolutely sucked. But the important thing was that I knew, deep down in my head, that I was strong enough to beat this.
And beat it, I did.
Now I’m not trying to compare what happened to me to servicemen and women who were wounded in combat. I can’t event begin to imagine how hard it must be for them.
It gave me the fortitude to carry on through my recovery. It gave me hope when I thought there were none.
As my physical strength grew, so did my inner spirit and will power. I became a better, stronger person, both physically and mentally.
I imagine it’s a similar road for the Invictus warriors. While their wounds are more grievous than mine, they also use strength training as an anchor to help them recover.
Even more than that, training transforms them into a better version of themselves. They become mentally stronger, which in turn allows them to overcome physical challenges that would normally destroy a person.
Their head is bloody but unbowed. They truly become masters of their fate and will not listen to anyone telling them what they can or cannot accomplish. They know, through their trial by fire, that they can accomplish anything they want.
Strength training and going to the gym is not just about looking good naked (although it is a plus :). Even though aesthetics may be your main motivation to train, there’s always something more to it.
Strength training teaches you the mental fortitude you need to overcome the obstacles and challenges that life will inevitably throw at you. It trains your mind to remain strong as you power through to the finish line.
It’s up to you to take control of your life. Become the captain of your soul and do not let anyone or anything control your fate. Let strength training be your vessel to a life worth living and one you can be proud of.