Imagine waking up every day terrified that someone was going to make fun of you because of the way you look. I'm not talking about a bad hair day or because your shirt is on backward—I'm talking about being born noticeably different and being self-conscious about it every second of the day.
That was me.
Being born with two fingers on my left hand and a shorter left arm was rough on me as a kid, physically and emotionally. From bullying to being left out of some activities like monkey bars, it was hard understanding that I was different. Depression, anxiety, and anger filled my head and led me down bad paths of drugs and drinking. Adding to the problem, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 19. As I sat in the hospital bed as the nurse was standing over me explaining to me how my life was going to permanently change, I couldn't stop thinking, Disabled and diabetic? Is this a joke? There has to be a reason for this.
I decided that I needed to help people in order to help myself stay on track, switching my major from political science and law to exercise science and health promotion. Over the last seven years, I've built a variety of successful fitness training programs and businesses, helping hundreds of people lose thousands of pounds. I now run a very successful online training business and travel the country as a keynote speaker, youth speaker, and overall inspirational speaker.
Here are five ways fitness saved my life:
I can't lie, my first day in the gym was miserable. But it was the best decision I've ever made. My confidence was at an all-time low when I first started going to the gym, and I told myself I wouldn't be able to work out because I'm disabled, and I worried about people judging me. But the problem wasn't the gym or other people—the problem was me.
Once I got over myself and my self-sabotaging thoughts, I found myself adapting and working out without limits. I started becoming confident in my abilities. As I made the gym a priority, I started becoming more confident in my potential. Over time, I've built a body that people aspire to build even with my "disability," and my confidence has gone through the roof—not because I have abs (and that is awesome) but because I have proven to myself that I can do it.
2. Fitness helped me learn to fail forward.
The best lesson learned from the gym is that failing is not all that bad. When I first started going to the gym, I couldn't lift heavy weights at all and started blaming it on how I was born. Over time, I started failing less and getting stronger. As I grew in size, I definitely grew mentally, understanding that with failure comes lessons, lessons that provide an opportunity to succeed. The only way to fail is to give up. Now, each failure in the gym or in life is just a stepping stone to future success.
3. No limits.
How can a guy like me do pullups or dead lifts? As an adaptive person, I needed to adapt so that I could work out and build the body I wanted. I found lifting hooks that I attached to my arm so that I could do all the exercises other people could do. I took it past ability and currently hold four state records in powerlifting, deadlifting 630 pounds while missing a left hand. I learned that all limitations are self-imposed. There are truly no limits in your ability to win; it may just take a little adapting. The hopeless thoughts disappeared as I realized I can do anything I put my mind to.
4. Improve; don't impress.
Before getting into fitness, everything I did revolved around the way people viewed me. The way I dressed, the way I acted—even the way I lived reflected my desire to impress other people. I was a prisoner to my own perception of myself based on how I thought other people saw me (crazy, right?). As I began to see progress in my body and my mindset, I started living for myself, focusing on improving myself, not impressing other people. The anxiety of being different disappeared as I fell in love with progress in the gym. Improving myself in the gym helped me accept how I was born and understand that anyone willing to judge me probably has problems far worse than mine.
5. Obstacles turned into opportunities.
Day one in the gym makes you realize you are pretty far from being a record-holding powerlifter or aesthetic physique model. One of the toughest obstacles to tackle is understanding where you are now does not limit where you can be. With time, consistency, and dedication, you will overcome every hardship thrown your way.
It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.
I struggled. I quit. I doubted myself. But I kept going. I watch my body change and my strength increase to levels I thought were impossible. Come on—a disabled diabetic deadlifting 630 pounds and benching 330 pounds, balancing it on his missing hand? No way. But it happened. I'm living it.
Getting into fitness helped me turn my setback into an opportunity to inspire people around the world. I am who I am today because of how I took a seemingly negative situation and made the most out of it.
Do what you can with what you have. All limitations are self-imposed, and I really mean that. I spent so much time convincing myself why I couldn't, when, in reality, redirecting that energy to adapting and succeeding is all I needed to do. Lifting weights did much more than improve my muscle mass—it taught me how to overcome adversity, one rep at a time.