We all know that person who complains about working out because they had a long day at work, are tired, have to get home to the kids, or even they’re super sore from the gym the day before. Perhaps this has been you from time to time—rattling off publically your inner debate: Should I got to the gym? Stay home? Go home? Hell, should I just go to the bar or open a bottle of wine?
And there are those people. You know ‘those’ people. The ones who seem to have it so easy, make no excuses—hit the gym day in, and day out; all while making it look easy. Granted, we cannot make assumptions about anyone and his/her life. But what I can say is this; as someone battling a chronic illness, my struggle is vastly different than others.
There is no escaping the pain. The aches. The tightness. The overwhelming fatigue. It never, ever goes away. Sometimes, it gets to the point where all I want to do when the alarm clock rings in the morning is just stay in bed all day. Frankly, at this point, when presented with the opportunity to go to the gym, I’d much prefer to lay on the couch and watch TV because it will not hurt as much.
Daily when my alarm goes off, I lift my arms over my head and squeeze my fists together for that all so famous morning stretch and yawn. Reaching above my head as high as I can, my skin tight, it feels as if it is literally tearing away from my body at my shoulders. My hands are so tight that only my pinky can touch my palm; so forget making a fist. I step down on the floor, my knees ache, and my lips and mouth so taut, as I try to stretch my mouth apart to get the morning yawn in. As I think about my day ahead the last thing on my mind is a workout at the gym—I am just trying to get out of bed!
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Arielle and I decided to try out a new Crossfit gym in the neighborhood. So, with much trepidation we embarked on the 5-minute drive down to Angeleno Crossfit. My mind was racing, worrying about the impeding WOD and how I would manage. My hands were already stiff and inflamed with a band-aid neatly wrapped around my right index finger that housed a 6-week-old digital ulcer. We arrived at the box and headed in for the workout. After the warm up, the coach give us the rundown; 30 air squats, 19 power cleans, 7 strict pull-ups and a 400M run. The prescription (Rx) called for 6 times in a 38-minute block. Having not taken a Crossfit class in about 2 years, nor performing power cleans since college (almost 20 years ago), I scaled back on weight and had a go.
Four rounds in I was crushing it! While my hands and forearms were fatiguing, I was determined to push through. I looked over at my cute wife covered in white chalk and I thought, I cannot let her see me give up. I am her knight in shining armor, her hero, her MAN.
Then came round five and I was about 10 power cleans in when something just did not feel right with the inside of my thumbs on both hands. I kept going and got my 19 reps—woo freaking hoo. As I transitioned to do my pull ups on the rig, I glanced down at my thumbs and to my shock, I saw the skin ripped clear off. The top layer of my skin separated on both sides, revealing raw skin about the size of a dime. If you have ever ripped your skin at the top layer, or had a blister open up prematurely to expose young, fresh new skin, “OUCH.” The pain is then magnified 10 fold once you run them under water with soap. Needless to say, after five sets I had to call it quits. While I was not going to Rx the workout based on prescribed weight, I was on track to complete all 6 rounds in under the 38-minute time marker.
Let’s fast-forward a week.
I am at my new job as a Group Fitness Manager for Equinox in Palos Verdes. A main benefit of my job, I get to wear workout gear all day long. Wait, that is not really the main benefit. The true perk is that I can workout everyday if I wanted and do not really have an excuse why I can’t or shouldn’t. I have a free membership and a plethora of fitness equipment at my disposal. I put my new wireless Beats headphones on, had a sick new playlist ready to go and had my comfy sneakers on, so I got my butt up from my desk chair and headed to the treadmill. I decided to run for 12 minutes and do some weight lifting. Halfway through my cardio session, my toes were numb because I was slightly chilled, thank you Raynaud’s Syndrome.
My knees started to ache and I just felt tight all over. Cardiovascular-wsie, I was great but still I felt horrid and pushed through before heading to the weight floor.
I decided to do a circuit of bench press, push-ups and burpees. Albeit, since I have not been lifting much my strength has decreased. But that was not the main issue. I was having trouble hoisting the weight above my chest because my shoulders and elbows were screaming with fatigue and my forearms were yelling at me with their tightness. Best of all, I got to the push-ups and burpees and my fingers were crying in agony because the texture of the weight room floor felt like I was pressing down on pins and needles.
I completed 3 sets and then did one more exercise and struggled. I texted my wife almost in tears because I felt defeated; yet at the same time victorious because I moved my body, I lifted some weight, and I ran and mile and a half. While my workout only last 35 minutes, it was not a defeat. It was glorious and most of all educational. It taught me the importance of daily movement. About persevering through the obstacle of “OUCH.” Now, we are not talking ouch as in a broken wrist ouch, but rather those ouches of aches and pains that are not going to cause us a major injury. The schooling I received was that the more I work—the more I condition my body and the response it is going to have those stimuli. I realized I had not been true to the importance of self-care and exercise, because honestly I have not been consistently working out in months.
That workout, which would be considered embarrassing to my fellow fitness brethren, was three days ago. What has happened since is more of an awakening. Arielle and I have joined a Crossfit near our house (Studio City Crossfit). It was nothing against Angeleno, which was a great experience, it was just not for us. Furthermore, I have committed to going 2 days a week, one cardio WOD and one Crossfit WOD. Wait, there is more.
This morning an amazing trainer at Equinox Palos Verdes, Rob Decker and I did a 45-minute out on the strength floor after I taught a cycling class. My hands and fingers wrestled to wrap completely around the barbell, my forearms were tight and other joints ached; but I did not let Scleroderma define what I would accomplish today. I decided what I was going to accomplish and I WON. No sad text message followed to my wife, instead an Instagram post, relishing in my daily championship.
So my friends, our struggle is real and no one should ever sugar coat what you feel and how you feel when it comes to your chronic illness, disease or whatever life may throw at you. However, our lives become richer when we are able to live each day to the fullest and possibly even feel better in our skin (both literally and figuratively), if we commit to movement. It may feel like a constant uphill battle, but if you push through the “ouch,” day-by-day, you will feel better and your body will thank you for it. The minute you decide to stay in bed or on the couch, that’s the moment you lose and I want you to always be win
Great writing Greg. It’s really powerful to hear your story. Thanks for sharing! xx
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