Below is an awesome article from my friend Paul Stewart. This guy knows what it is like to overcome obstacles.
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Two steps forward, one step back. To say this has been the story of my life and athletic career since 2009 would be an understatement. I have had great successes, but I have also faced what has seemed to be merciless struggle and frustration. This article, however, is not about my struggle, but rather what I have learned from it and hope to pass on. Some of you may have gone through or are currently going through a situation similar to what I am about to share with you, and if this article can help even one person to reconnect to the motivational fire burning inside them, then it is worth it.
Growing up in a neighborhood full of kids my age, I was constantly outside and active. As a child I can remember trying every sport imaginable until finding my niche as a lacrosse player and swimmer. From that point forward I took pride in being in the best shape I could possibly be in to be the best athlete that I could be. This passion for health and fitness lead my through a very successful high school career, ending with two New York State records in swimming, and the chance to continue my lacrosse career at the collegiate level at Stevenson University in Baltimore, Maryland.
After a year at Stevenson, I had a burning desire to do something different, to be a part of something much bigger than myself. In January of 2009 I enlisted in the US Navy. By the time I left for basic training I was in the best shape of my life…or so I thought. While I was in great physical condition, I was completely unaware that my health was about to take a drastic change. Shortly into my training, I began noticing experiencing health issues that I had never experienced before. Whereas I typically had an outrageous appetite, I was finding it extremely difficult to stomach any food. In fact, for almost a week straight, it hurt just to even swallow food and water! I saw countless doctors whom all wrote it off as simple heartburn and indigestion. No big deal…I’ll just down some Pepto and get back to training as hard as usual. The problem was, I was losing weight drastically off of my already extremely lean frame.
After training was over I arrived at my first duty station. The issues I was experiencing in training had subsided and I was anxious to get back to working out. I began training at a local CrossFit gym with a co-worker of mine. Having played team sports my entire life, I immediately fell in love with this form of training. It was something that I could constantly work at to improve myself both physically and mentally. Things were going well and I was once again in great shape…until the health issues returned, this time seemingly with a vengeance.
Everything I ate or drank seemed to go right through me. In fact, it almost seemed like as soon as I even tasted food I had to immediately sprint to the bathroom. I had no clue what was going on and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I just did what any other Tommy-tough-nuts military guy would do…I sucked it up and went back to work. After weeks of trying not to eat before each twelve hour shift so that I wouldn’t have to race to the bathroom, I was losing weight at a drastic weight. This eventually led a co-worker of mine to force me to leave work one night to go to the emergency room.
In January 2010, I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohns Disease, characterized by hundreds of painful ulcers forming along the lining of the large intestine. I’ll spare you of all the graphic details of the symptoms that occur when a person has a flare up of this disease. What I will tell you, however, that there is currently no cure for Ulcerative Colitis or Crohns aside from surgically removing the affected area, which comes with it’s own set of complications. There is medication to treat the symptoms of colitis flares, but in my experience, severe flares still occur even on medication and often require extended stays at a hospital in order to regain control.
In August of 2011 I was medically retired from the Navy for this condition. However, I was not going to let this condition beat me. The day after I was discharged from the Navy I was sitting in a classroom at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania ready to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Sport Management. I also made the decision to once again play collegiate lacrosse for the school’s varsity program. My colitis was under control up until that point, and I was once again in very good physical shape. It felt great to be in school working on my education as well as to be out on the lacrosse field mixing it up again with my teammates. I did not know at the time that this would be that beginning of a very difficult “two steps forward, one step back”.
My first semester at school, and I ended up in the hospital for a flare-up. In just two short weeks I had lost more than twenty pounds. After about eleven days at the hospital I returned to school and to lacrosse practice weak, tired, and frustrated. All that hard work that I had put in during the off-season was gone in such a short amount of time. I had to get it all back.
I got my diet in check, trained hard, and got back into shape within a few months. I can remember thinking to myself that regardless of the setback, I was going to get in better shape than I was before. I did just that. Things were going well. Then another flare up happened, this time worse than before, stripping my 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds frame down to a sickly 170 pounds. I was angry, but I was not going to give up. I would get back in shape. I would gain the weight back one way or another.
This process repeated itself seven times during the three year period it took for me to finish my degree. Was it frustrating? Yes! Were there times where I thought all hope was lost? I would be lying to you if I said no. But the bottom line is, I got through it. I graduated from college. I continued to play the sport that I love. I continued to live, and still continue to live a life dedicated to health and fitness.
Everyone in life has struggles. Everyone has setbacks. The setbacks that I have had in my life are miniscule compared to what so many others out there are going through. My struggle is small compared to what many of YOU may be going through right now, whether it be in your athletic career, work, or life. What I am here to tell you is that we are capable of greatness, despite adversity. To this day I continue to deal with ulcerative colitis, though I have learned how to control and manage it much better over the years. I continue to go to the gym every day to train to be the best athlete I can be. I continue to coach to help get others to be the best that THEY can be. A positive mental attitude is a powerful thing. Keeping a positive mental attitude through difficult times is key. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress. It may not always be as fast as you want it to be, but keep pushing forward. Set goals and work hard to attain them. When you get knocked down, start crawling. When you don’t think you can crawl anymore, reach your arms out as far as you can in front of you and draw a line in the dirt. Force yourself to pull yourself forward until you reach that line, and when you get there, draw another line and keep going. Surround yourself with people who make you better, and push yourself to help make others better. Together we are strong. Together we persevere.