Push Through The Ouch

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

I Am Not Invincible

For many years people that have known me have always asked me, “how do you do it?” Friends and students who have taken and continue to take my fitness classes and even my wife, Arielle, were always mystified and awed by my energy level. They were totally perplexed that I could wake up at 5am, teach a fitness class and get home at 11pm after 10-12 hours of running a restaurant only to do it again day in and day out. People would always inquire, they wanted to know if they could have some of whatever it was I was taking.

To everyone’s dismay, I was not on some form of narcotic or 5-hour energy drink. This was who I had always been for the last 13-14 years. Aside from having an underactive thyroid, which I was diagnosed with at the age of 20, I was an all-natural person, functioning on what my body could do. The only medication I had ever really take to help improve my energy level was the synthroid that was prescribed for me. I completely understand that living a life of burning the candle from morning till night is probably not the healthiest choice one could make, but what the hell it was not like I was doing coke or drinking excessively.

Whenever I had down time I was tired and always found myself lying around and or sleeping. I figured it was a by-product of my underactive thyroid and just my intense schedule of fitness classes and restaurant work. As time progressed and I found myself entering my mid-twenties, then my early thirties and finally around 35-36 my body started to catch up with the inevitable. While I could still push myself, my body started to ache, my joints felt stiff and I became less motivated to hit the gym and I was even more tired.

TeachingGlendale4Then one day in the summer of 2014 when I was driving to Santa Monica at 7:30am on a Saturday to teach an early morning cycling class, my right hand went numb. My fingers swelled and it felt as if my hand was the size of a balloon. Freaking out I immediately went to urgent care at Cedars-Sinai that afternoon. The doctor on call told me I had bi-lateral carpel tunnel syndrome. WHAT!? That makes absolutely no sense, as I do not do a job that keeps me at a computer all day typing, nor am I in the service industry doing things like massage therapy. Oh, and in case you did not know, bi-lateral carpel tunnel usually affects pregnant women. In this instance, one thing is certain; I am a man so I am unable to procreate in my own body, so let’s cross this off the list. Later, I saw a neurologist that suggested I get a very painful electrode test to see if I were a candidate for surgery. Once again a big fat NO. Finally, I landed in the Rheumatologist office of Dr. Lillian Szydlo to ensure I did not have Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus.

While my antibodies for autoimmune issues (ANA number) came back high, she was confident that I did not have these severe diseases. Instead she diagnosed me with Hoshimotos Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that is related to my already diagnosed underactive thyroid. Dr. Szydlo told me I should come back in 3-6 months to follow up. She also briefly mentioned to me that sometimes individuals with one autoimmune condition could also develop others, so she wanted to monitor my progress.

Upon leaving her office, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ok, this is not a big deal as I have been dealing with my thyroid for sometime now. Superman Greg lives on. So I kept going at the same rate. Being a stubborn, macho man and an invincible one at that, I never did follow up with Dr. Szydlo in the prescribed recommend time frame. Instead, I kept on trucking.

Dealing and coping with my fatigue, joint tightness, numbness, and so on were just part of my daily life. That is until about a year ago when I started having issues with my fingers. I kept getting these little sores on the middle finger and pinky of my left hand. Thinking I had an infected cut, I decided to try and home remedy the problem. My thought process: soak the finger, apply Neosporin and other medicated products with Band-Aids, and that would certainly do the trick. However, these supposed fixes did not do a thing to solve the problem. I mean I am a fitness instructor, I have to do push ups and be on my hands when I do burpees. Imagine going down to the floor left hand in a fist, right hand palm flat on the floor to do a push up. What a weird fitness professional right!? The pain was unbearable every time the tip of my finger would come into contact quickly with a surface. While trying to self-fix the problem to no avail, my wife commented constantly on my excessive Band-Aids covering my fingers and hounded me to see a doctor. Reluctantly, I called and made a new appointment with Dr. Szydlo.

By this time, 2 years had passed since my original appointment in her office. Arielle accompanied me to the appointment, but we drove separately. Arielle called me from the car complaining about traffic and I could sense she felt bitter and inconvenienced. So being the nice person I am, and a bit upset I told her to turn around and stay home. She said no, and finally showed up just as I was taken into the examination room. Then the doctor came in, insert music here – dun, dun duuuuuuu.

The doctor asked me a whole barrage of questions, conducted a clinical exam, listened to my heart, touched my abdomen, looked at the white and purple digits on my fingers and toes (oh I forgot to tell you, now I also have Raynaud’s Syndrome), and then finally took a hand magnifying glass to my fingertips. Dr. Szydlo stepped back, had a seat on her chair, my wife sitting on another chair next to me as I was on the exam table and without any uncertainty in her voice said “I am diagnosing you with Limited Systemic Sclerosis.” Me, totally bewildered and caught a glimpse of Arielle, then I turned my attention back to my medical professional. She was upset and angry with me for waiting so long to come back to her office. She proceeded to tell me that my disease is an autoimmune condition in a family called Scleroderma and my diagnosis is the second most serious kind and could be life threatening as it could affect my kidneys, heart and lungs.

At this point my heart sank. The doctor left the room for a moment and all that happened were tears. They streamed from my face and my wife hugged me. All I could say to her is “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to leave you.” In my mind the reality of my mortality rushed to the forefront of my thoughts and there I was saying to myself “I AM NOT INVINCIBLE.”