It’s common for people to start out their lives believing what will happen to them, and more importantly what they are capable of, is outside of their individual control.
This fatalistic view of life leads to self-victimization. This paralyzing paradigm relies on luck and so much to go in a person’s favor that it becomes nearly impossible to achieve success and accomplishing one’s own dreams.
I used to believe the same myself. Then in 2010, at the ripe age of twenty-eight, my life changed in profound ways due to a devastating sports injury. Yet, from the fallout of that injury I learned and evolved. Now I experience a different way of thinking and being. I now know I control my own life. I have realized I am in charge of my own destiny and success. For better or worse, I alone hold all the power within my life to succeed or to fail.
The following is my story of transitioning from that previous dogma to my current position of understanding that what will happen to and for me comes from my own actions and beliefs. This is where it all began.
This story is incredibly personal to me. I hope readers will enjoy what I have decided to share. I also hope others will be inspired to take another look at losses and failures in their own lives. Once reflecting upon them, I expect they can reach a sense of empowerment that they have never felt before.
This piece is called “Where Discipline is Born”. It’s the tale of when I started moving on upwards.
One of the things I remember hearing consistently throughout my life is how a young person’s metabolism slows down as they age. I hear children and teenagers told by their family members and older peers that the foods they eat and their lifestyles will catch up with them when they become adults. Children are told this as a response the activities they partake in and their diets as witnessed by their elder contemporaries.
Ironically, I was a husky boy and young man. I was not blessed with the same youthful high metabolic rate of my fellows. As that chubby boy I played inside a lot.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I did play outside often. I played sports like football, soccer, and inline hockey. I also used to ride my bicycle on adventures with the other kids from my suburban cul-de-sac community.
However, I often chose my toys, video games, or the TV over going outside on a nice day. I was more interested in these types of entertainment than I was in playing outdoors and being active.
I can remember the 1990’s X-MEN cartoon on Fox on Saturday mornings. That cartoon was so dope. In hindsight, that statement turned out to be literal. I got hooked on the show.
I loved the X-MEN show. I had a bunch of the action figures. Archangel, Wolverine, and Apocalypse were some of my favorites. I knew I had to be in front of my TV at 10 AM every Saturday to catch it.
Again this was the 90’s, so there was no On-Demand. There was no YouTube. They didn’t even replay the episodes during the week after school. If I missed the show Saturday, I missed that episode entirely.
I consistently wanted to follow the story arc from the week prior. I undoubtedly needed to know what happened with Jean Grey when she sacrificed herself and became the Phoenix. I had to see if Wolverine and Storm were going to save the future by traveling into the past. I absolutely needed the conclusions and inevitable cliffhangers that accompanied them, and roused my youthful fanboy viewership for the following week.
My recreation soccer games were played on Saturdays as well. I loved playing soccer. I enjoyed the spirited, often intensely physical competition. I became pretty good at the game too.
I can distinctly remember one Saturday morning where I decided that X-MEN was more important than my soccer game. I choose to stay behind and watch. At that young age I didn’t recognize how much I was letting my team and my coach down. I certainly didn’t recognize how much I would be letting myself down.
This and similar behaviors and actions would define much of the next two decades of my life.
Jumping forward to 2009, I was still living a similar lifestyle to that of my childhood.
I played a lot of video games…a lot. I read a lot of comic books. I also read a lot of fiction novels. I consumed an immense variety of anime, television shows and movies as well.
All these activities were fun, sure. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have invested so much time into them.
I was indeed blessed to be able to spend my time this way. However, at the same time, I wasn’t taking care of my body. Those awesome experiences of nerd, geek, and dork were plentiful, but I wasn’t prioritizing physical well-being and fitness.
I had only gone into a rec center a couple of times in my one year in college. I had a nice bicycle I used to ride all over Boulder, Colorado, where I lived at the time. I stopped riding the bike altogether after I purchased a car. Slowly my physical activities gave way to more media consumption.
I worked and made money. I had the car, so I could get to live concerts and the movie theater. Frequent trips were made to my favorite stores. I would feed my addiction to video games, DVDs, and CDs.
I did hike a few times and snowboarded semi-frequently, but aside from a modest amount of walking there was minimal physical activity going on within my life. I wasn’t active and I didn’t see much of a need to be.
Years later I would find out the devastating extent my lack of prioritizing physical well-being would inflict on my life.
In the early spring of 2010, I was making one of my increasingly more infrequent trips up to snowboard at Keystone Resort. I headed up with my brother-in-law and some friends.
I do not recall how many runs into the day it was when I had my blunder. Yet I can clearly remember the moments leading up to the incident.
I sat on the snow above one of the large table-top jumps at the top of the terrain park. My friend Ron sat beside me as I assessed the jump. My brother, Alix, and his girlfriend, Keila, had already wisely determined they would not be attempting this mammoth stunt. They had already ridden past.
Snowboarders and a few skiers, much younger than I, careened past and glided leisurely over the jump. They sailed through the air to the back side of the kicker where I could no longer see them.
I was in my head-space. Part of me told myself, “I can do this!” Another part yelled, “Look at the size of that thing. What are you thinking?”
Ron looked over to me. He understood the gravity of the moment. It was clear in his eyes. He told me empathetically and very matter of fact, “You don’t have to do this.”
“I know, but I want to.” I responded.
Ron verbalized what my subconscious was telling me internally. I was always a stubborn person. I didn’t listen to either of them. I got up and proceeded down the hill toward the launch of the jump.
I gained speed quickly. Instantly I became aware that I was going too fast for comfort. In that moment, I recognized that if I hit the jump with too much speed I would overshoot the landing. That would mean disaster.
Going that fast would mean I would fall from up above the height of the jump all the way to the ground behind the jump. Not only would I fall the height of the jump plus whatever air I got, but I would be adding the additional height of the run going downhill. There was sure to be devastating consequences if I didn’t pull back a bit.
I performed a slight speed check. In snowboarding this is accomplished by carving the board slightly to one side. It equated to a slight turn followed by re-correcting my trajectory toward the upward ramp at the front of the table-top.
It also signified my punking out of the jump. I just hadn’t accepted it yet.
I do not know for sure if I hadn’t speed checked if I would have cleared the jump. What I do know was that I was in my head with negative thoughts. I didn’t believe in myself or my capabilities. This has always been a recipe for failure in my life.
I did not have the clarity of mind or core strength and physical ability to be attempting such a feat. I definitely did not have the presence or fitness to get my body to do what it needed to to successfully complete the attempt either. What happened in the next few seconds felt like an eternity. It forever changed the course of my life.
I went up the ramp and entered the air.
I went up and up and up some more, but I wasn’t going forward enough. I knew at the apex of my jump that I would not clear the top of the table. I would be landing on the flat. It was just hard packed snow at the top. It would be as solid as ice.
Time stopped at the peak of my vertical.
My mind shut down. It was freaking out at the same time. My arms flailed uncontrollably. Then gravity began to pull me back down towards Earth. I landed hard on the flat top of the jump, just before its down-slope. Snowboarders call this “casing the jump.”
When my board hit the top of the jump I was upright. I was lucky at that, because if I had started rotating or flipping in the air I could have landed on my head, neck or spine. I could have ended up in far worse shape than I did.
Conversely, I wasn’t fortunate enough to come away unscathed.
When I hit the flat of the jump I landed with straight legs. My left leg impacted first. A sharp pain shot through my entire body for a brief and intense moment as my leg and body absorbed the shock. I felt a pain I had never felt before. I attempted to ride off the top of the jump and down the back side slope toward the bottom of the mountain.
As I got about halfway down the jump’s end another immense pain shot up through my body. I had not realized the severity of my injury due to the adrenaline still coursing through my nervous system. This pain was different from the one a second before. It was blunter. Something in my leg was grievously wrong.
I buckled over and fell to the snow in the grips of my agony. I laid down on cold frozen white.
I lingered there for a bit before unstrapping from my bindings and attempting to stand. I favored my right leg and tried to walk. As soon as the weight went onto my injured leg that pain returned. Only this time it wasn’t dulled by my adrenaline. It was blinding.
I fell back down onto the cold dismal snow.
What seemed like a very long time indeed probably took less than a minute. Alix and Keila were nearby. They knew something was wrong from the way I landed. They stood in shock. They told me they heard a pop. I did not.
Ron had come around the jump with the expectation of riding off, as we normally do after any stunt in the park. He was obviously unaware of the extent of my pain and injury. He reminded me of my lack of common-sense while I was stunned in my state of agony. He stated that other skiers and snowboarders will be coming over the jump and they cannot see me. It was unsafe to remain lying there.
The details are hazy after that.
Alix and Keila helped me limp out of harms way. Someone grabbed my snowboard . They brought it over to where I had collapsed on the side of the trail. A passing bystander notified ski patrol about my injury.
Ski Patrol arrived. I was taken down to the triage hospital at the resort’s base laying on a tobaggan.
I expected the sled ride down to be much more shameful. I had witnessed others taking that embarrassingly awful journey a handful of times previously. Yet in that instance my emotions and thoughts were not on my pride.
I thought about the pain. I thought about that jump I should have never hit. I wondered if I would ever snowboard again. I pondered if I had done permanent damage. I reflected on how stupid I had been.
At the clinic at the base of the mountain I waited to be seen. The medical practitioner checked me out and asked a few questions about what had transpired and how I felt.
“Does this hurt?”
“How about this?”
“What happens when you try to stand?”
There was that second, blunter pain again.
They took my x-rays. I was informed that nothing had gotten broken. They told me I had probably tore something, but I would need an MRI and further evaluation to verify what I had damaged and to what extent. They said they would not be able to anything more than that due to the limitations of their facility.
The time spent in the clinic was immediately followed by a quiet and somber drive back to Boulder down I-70. I can recall the haze of pain and worry. Ron had to drive my car. It was a stick shift and my leg could not possibly depress the clutch.
I rendezvoused with my wife and had to explain to her what had transpired. She drove me to the hospital where I had my first, and thankfully only, experience with an MRI machine. A doctor at the hospital saw me afterwards. He informed me what the MRI indicated to him. I had completely torn my ACL. I also severely damaged both menisci in my left knee.
After a bad feeling about the first doctor I sought out a second opinion. I found an orthopedic surgeon in Boulder that specialized in sports injuries. This doctor displayed the images on my knee’s MRI.
A healthy ACL looks like long taut strands of rope or a small Twizzler Pull & Peel. Mine resembled the ends of two mop heads rubbing against each other.
After comparing my knee to that of a healthy knee she presented the prognosis of my situation. The doctor laid out the perspective methods for repairing my damaged knee. She recommended the option of using part of my quadriceps muscle to replace the ACL. She told me there was no true way to definitively repair the meniscus, but she would do what she could. I felt much more confident in my experience with this second surgeon than I did with the first. I trusted her judgement and accepted her recommendations.
In the time leading up to the surgery my doctor had told me I would need to adjust my diet to allow my body its optimal recovery. I would have to eliminate sweets and any other foods that would cause any additional inflammation in my newly repaired knee. With the help of my supportive wife and other family members I was able to do exactly that. My sweet tooth was curbed. My coffee intake was all but eliminated as well.
After consenting to the second doctor’s recommendations I was caning around for a few weeks. I wore a knee brace while I awaited my surgery date. The day of my operation finally arrived and my wife drove me to the hospital for the surgery.
Aside from general anesthetic the operation also required a nerve block. This was by far the scariest part of my operation. Written consent was needed to put me under. I was informed that there was a chance that I would never come out from under the anesthesia.
That was some seriously scary shit. I had never considered death a serious possibility until that moment. I put those dark thoughts out my mind as I reminded myself surgeries are completed successfully every day. At the time death didn’t seem as scary as being crippled for the rest of my hopefully long life on Earth.
I was given a sharpie and was told to mark the damaged knee with an ‘X’ The surgeon and staff needed the assurance that the correct knee would be operated on. Immediately after I was given my nerve block shot. Mere minutes later I slipped into a deep state of unconsciousness.
An hour or so later I was awakened by a nurse. She gave me a can of Sprite to hydrate or replenish my body’s sugar. Honestly, I’m not that familiar with anatomy or how my body works, so I’m not certain. It was just a memorable first moment after my brush with the other side. My wife was brought in to see me shortly after.
We quickly got the hint that they wanted to clear me out of the recovery room. I was basically rolled out into the parking lot and told to kick rocks. I wasn’t sure I should be leaving so quickly, but in hindsight there wasn’t anything more for them to do for me that day. Outpatient surgery sure has some interesting protocols.
I spent the next few days on a strong opioid called Percocet. The drug was prescribed to me to relieve my pain in my first days of recovery. Those round white pills certainly minimized the pain and discomfort, but they also always inevitably wore off.
While on that strong narcotic I couldn’t defecate. I ate prunes, but even those dried plums did not help my situation. It was a thoroughly uncomfortable run of days.
On the third day I recognized that I was growing overly dependent on the Percocet. I determined to stop using them and switch to Tylenol. I would need to eventually anyway. Additionally, the uncomfortable side effects and the likelihood I was becoming addicted outweighed the pain relief I received from those pills.
I spent much of the next couple of weeks in bed or on the couch whenever I felt up for crutching over to it. Using crutches was complicated and painful. I didn’t have any motion in my left leg yet. All I had was pain.
After a check-up with my surgeon I received the all-clear to begin physical therapy. I went to the PT my surgeon recommended, across town in South Boulder. My physical therapist was kind and patient. She quickly gathered that I was determined to overcome my injury. I had the strong desire to get back to the mobility and physical capabilities I had prior to the incident.
I was taught various exercises to strengthen my muscles and to regain my range of motion. I was informed that if I did not take my rehabilitation seriously, then I would never get back to where I was, let alone get back on a snowboard. I was also warned about not overdoing it.
The rehab exercises were not easy. They hurt as well, but my resolve was stronger than the reasons not to do the prescribed work-outs. I needed to get better.
I voraciously performed the exercises multiple times per day. I watched a lot of television while I worked out to distract my mind from both the pain and my depressing inability. Little by little my knee started to bend. My leg eventually became able to bear some weight.
I was working out with the singular purpose of getting my knee strength back. Yet I was gaining in other ways that I was unaware of at the time. I was creating discipline within myself. I was forging habits of exercise and healthy eating that did not exist prior to the injury.
This newly found discipline had never previously existed in my life.
It felt great to become stronger. I had begun to love the sweat from my efforts. The gains were tangible.
I was relieved to go from two crutches to one, and from there to just a cane. Eventually I left the cane behind as well.
I can clearly remember when my physical therapist was testing my strength and capabilities near the end of my time with her. She had me jump for height. I was leaping stronger and higher than I ever had before. She had me running on a tread mill. I had never even done that seriously before the rehab process. I was running faster than I had ever been before. This all felt so amazing!
It was almost a year before I got back on my snowboard at Copper Mountain resort. I needed a knee brace then. I would still favor my right knee for a long time to come. I ended up having the best day of riding I ever had.
After the surgery and subsequent rehabilitation, when I cut, or changed direction quickly while running or walking, I would be sent a painful reminder from my left knee. My body told me in those moments that my knee definitely wasn’t the same. However, I was still eating a healthier diet, I was still exercising, and I was still driving to become stronger, faster, and generally more athletic.
Throughout the next years I carried forward my newfound discipline and positive habits. I continued adjusting my diet and exercising regularly. I participated in multiple competitive foot races and obstacle courses. I ran upwards of thirteen miles. My previous personal best was two. I even participated in boot camp-like high interval training and hand to hand combat training as well.
I love myself now in a way I couldn’t have imagined when I was that kid skipping his soccer game to watch a half hour X-MEN cartoon. I like how I look in the mirror. I feel confident in my body and now know that I am hot (at least kind of).
I ended up shedding forty pounds. I had to get rid of all of the clothes that didn’t fit. I replaced them with sizes I didn’t imagine I would ever squeeze into. I even posted a photo on Instagram showing off the six pack on my abdomen.
I revel in my newly established athletic abilities. I regularly attend a traditional Chinese Kung Fu class that forces me way out of my comfort zones. Not only do I perform amazing and ridiculous physical feats of flexibility and agility, but I also compete in sparring and I can hold my own.
These newly found activities and desires are derived from changes in my body that are the direct result of my injury and post-operation recovery. This transformation has pushed me to adjust mentally, emotionally, and socially as well.
Knowing I’ve changed my life as much as I have has pushed me to look at the other areas I can improve myself in as well.
I now start my day with meditation. I believe clearing my mind of the excess clutter of thoughts begins a meaningful path toward success within my day. I have become more organized through the regular use of actionable to-do lists. I have adopted the personal philosophy of following through on all of my commitments. I have become intent on doing what I say I will do.
I used to be a smart-ass know-it-all. Now, as I continue grow as a person, I have accepted the fact that I actually know next to nothing. Additionally, I listen more often and more efficiently. I gain through interactions where I no longer just import my own stories and comparisons. I feel I am giving more to others in my life in ways that actually matter to them. I take much more away from these engagements.
All of these changes and habits come from the discipline I developed as a result of my injury. In truth, I can directly correlate my current fulfillment and success in life from attempting and failing that huge snowboard jump which I had no business going for in the first place. I was not healthy or in good shape for my entire life leading up to that fateful day. I definitely needed that wake up call.
My current determined path towards becoming a professional writer was born from those same ashes of my former self, now long past. The only question remains is how much untapped potential discipline can I find within myself. I know within my heart, soul, and mind what I need to do to achieve. I must write a lot and often. I have to outwork my competition to guarantee myself success. Quality and quantity will dictate my outcome.
Similarly, I still have not reached the pinnacle of my physical abilities. I have not seen my body’s full potential to date. I remain curious about my potential on my snowboard, running trails, and on my Kung Fu school’s floor, as well as where I can take my body from here.
I still struggle with my discipline surrounding eating and exercise. I succumb to my tendencies to overeat, and to my sweet tooth, despite my desire to be more lean and cut. Attempts at setting boundaries to get my food habits under control continue to fall by the wayside.
This morning I decided to win my fight against sweets. Even taking into consideration my previous changes of perception, paradigms, and habits, this seems like an insurmountable task. However, I plan to drastically reduce my sugary food intake. If possible, I will eliminate it altogether.
I believe in me. I have done so much so far already. Improvement is a long and arduous road. Perfection will always be unattainable and becoming my best sure seems improbable. However, what I believe, and do, will determine my making the improbable tangible and likely.
My hope is that sharing this story will inspire others to go for their goals and desires as well. I intend that they don’t wait for a devastating accident or injury to become the catalyst for change within themselves. I want others to reflect on my journey, and other stories like it. I’d like to see it give them the push they need to become their best versions of themselves.