(*This article originally published on August 9th, 2010. It is republished here with some minor editing*)
"I just broke my leg.”
“You probably just bruised the bone.”
“Nope. Broke my leg.”
Just 30 seconds earlier I had felt the crack of bone on bone. One bone had to give; it was my tibial plateau.
I jumped up praying that I was OK. It felt like there was a six inch gap in my body just below my knee. I knew right then and there that I’d broken my leg. Fuck.
The guys on my flag football team gathered around. Some were EMT’s and thought they knew what they were talking about. I knew the truth. My comeback was over. My season was over. I had broken my leg playing flag football.
I lay there. My life had already changed. This very moment in time my life would never be the same. A series of events had now been set into motion; almost like a butterfly effect. My world was about to become a different world. The changes would take some time, but it all started at this moment.
Charlene (my 1st wife) told me not to play flag football that night; I didn't listen... but should have.
In October of 2005 I competed in the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii and finished an astounding 7th place in my age group. To me, at the time, it was the tip of the iceberg. I was bound for triathlon greatness. I was on the way up. I was going to do great things.
In August of 2005 I moved to Florida and started a paint contracting business. I wasn't a perfect businessman but I was doing fine. I made enough money to go on racing trips to Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco and Maui in 2006. Despite a flat tire at Xterra Worlds that year I did well. Life was good.
In late 2006, early 2007 we all know what happened to housing and construction in Central Florida. One day I had two crews out on job sites the next day I couldn't find work for one person. I made some bad decisions, had some bad luck and got royally screwed by a guy named Robert Checkow of Ebb Tide Construction.
I lost everything and then some.
It was an awful, awful time. At almost the same time I was losing everything Charlene and I became foster parents to her two granddaughters.
When it became time to start training for triathlon season in early 2007 I was getting up in the middle of the night feeding a four month old infant. Mornings were spent getting the two girls and my 7 year old son off to school and day care. Days were spent working and the nights were spent looking for work.
There would be no triathlon season in 2007.
By early spring I’d lost my business. It was over. We lost our house. I had mountains of debt. We lost the girls back to their mother and I was out of shape and in financial ruin.
This is why I started working at the YMCA.
Ironically I left fitness to be a contractor and make money; if I could only have that one back. No mulligan’s in life. I took my lumps like a man.
Now it was time to rebuild our lives slowly. I worked part time at the YMCA to try and make ends meet. The debt was so massive and the mortgage so high that life became a massive day to day struggle. I had some time to train now but I couldn't afford to compete or even buy running shoes. These were dark days for sure.
I started having some success at the YMCA. I was gaining some momentum there. I was getting more clients and building a good reputation. I was making a difference and I was happy again.
In January of 2008 I became Wellness Director at the YMCA. I am so glad I stuck it out. Through all the challenges we were facing Charlene wanted me to quit the Y and get a “job” somewhere to earn a real paycheck. I just couldn't do it. I stuck it out and got the dream job for a guy like me.
I had been running quite a bit and a comeback was looking good. I found a sponsor and I was getting is great shape. By March I was registered for the “Duathlon National Championships”. I was ready to compete again.
On Friday night I ran a great time at the little off road 5k that I’d been putting on at the Hidden Waters Preserve. It was one of my best times. On Saturday I won a Track Shack road race in Orlando. On Sunday I rode my bike 3 hours then ran 5 miles in 29:30. I was feeling great and ready to return to action. Besides 2007 I’d never missed a year of racing since 1987. I was ready to rock.
On Thursday I was trying to block a pass in a stupid flag football practice on a night that my wife didn’t want me to even play. It happened March 3rd, 2008.
As I lay there on the ground I tried to accept what had happened. I tried and I've claimed for years now that I began to accept my fate right then and there. I did not and I would not for a very long time. Truth is I was changed. I was changed and the result is what it is. For better or worse it changed my life forever.
A chain of events were set into motion.
I had surgery on Friday.
On Saturday I did 5 push-ups on my knees cause that’s all I could do.
Sunday I walked down the street. I made it to my neighbor’s neighbor’s house before I turned around.
I went back to work on Monday.
I did pull ups incessantly. I did push-ups. I did whatever I could do. I did that silly arm machine that the old people use at the gym. I worked out as much as I could.
I went a little crazy. I lost my mind a little and I lost my heart.
By early May I could walk again. Walk I did. At the YMCA I had started the Mount Everest Challenge. Climb 29,035 vertical feet on the treadmill in the month. I did it in 11 days. I walked and walked. I couldn't run or bike but I could walk and I did.
I tried my best to occupy my time by working out and walking. It just wasn't the same. I couldn't run and I couldn't bike. As the summer went on I slipped further and further into a depression.
Yes I admit it. Between June and September of 2008 I was very depressed. There were days that I just slept walked through. It was a struggle to be me. It was a hard, hard time for me.
In late September I started to run again. The more I ran the better I felt. My depression was gone within a few weeks. On November 9th I ran a half marathon in 1:25. I was back. On Thanksgiving Day I ran 16:45 for 5k and had completed my physical comeback.
I was me again. I was a runner. I started biking and swimming again soon after.
Not competing and especially not biking and swimming for almost two years was tough to contend with in 2009. I raced a full season and did OK. I qualified for and competed in Maui again. Things didn't go well. Perhaps I needed a year to just train.
2010 was a different story. With a year of training under my belt I was rolling and feeling great. I completed the Ironman on August 29th, 2010.
The chain of events that started in 2008 finally ended my marriage. I am OK with that now. I lost my business. I am OK with that. I broke my leg but I fought like hell and I beat that. I was depressed and I pulled myself out of that hole. I have faced adversary time and time again but in the end I am OK.
I am OK. (REMEMBER this was written in 2010. Obviously my life is a lot different now)
I share this story because many of you have similar stories. I fought through it all and come out the other side.
Am I better off for what I went through?
Am I better off for what I went through?
Does it matter?
The point is that you have had adversity. You WILL have more. How are you going to face it? Are you going to whine and complain that life isn't fair? Are you going to give up? What if I had given up?
My life is a little uncertain these days. It’s been a challenge for sure. My story is not that unique these days, is it?
Why did I pick now to share this personal story?
Well, I was looking back on all that I've written in the last 7 years and I hardly found a mention of my broken leg or my loss of my business. These are events that are now part of my being but yet I ignored them; seems strange to me now.
In an effort to be more whole and better myself I have decided to share more. It is my hope that I can touch people in some way shape or form. I hope that I can even have one person say, “If he can do it then I can too!”
That’s what I hope for.
I’ll leave you today with this:
I was talking to a friend last night. For some reason I got all riled up. I was talking about 300 pounders. In the course of 10 plus years in fitness I have spoken to many, many 300 + pound people. Heck, many in the last few months. Each and every one had a long, sad story about why they were that heavy. All involved injuries and depression. These are hard things to overcome. Yes, they are. Now you know. I have been there.
I spend many hours of every week trying to figure out what to say to these people. It’s hard. I only hope that by reading what I just wrote, people that have a long road to hoe can see that it can be done.
It can be done.
If you are one of the ones that have a long road with a light at the end, that you can’t see, all I can tell you is that the light is there. It’s hard but the trip is worth it.
It is worth it.
A lot has happened in my life sinse the "dark days" of my life. Things are so much better now. I only hope NOW (4 years later after I wrote this) that people with understand that we all have struggles. It's not the struggles that define us but HOW WE DEAL with those struggles. It took me YEARS to pull myself out of the life rut that I was in back then. Was it worth it.
When I wake up each day and see my beuatiful wife see the people that we are helping it is SO WORTH IT.
If you are struggling PLEASE stick it out and....
the rewards for you are coming. Trust me, I know.
Did you get value out of my personal strory? Someone out there needs this message so PLEASE share and help them to stick it out.
Thank you for reading!
Rick Copley, Your Best Fitness Coach
"Empowering YOU to be a champion"