At the beginning of August 2009 I contracted a disease called Invasive Streptococcal Group A (GAS). Invasive GAS infections occur when the bacteria get past the defenses of the person infected. The chance of contracting a disease like this is the same as winning the lottery.
All my major organs shut down. To keep me alive, I was placed on life support and put in a medically induced coma. The doctors informed my family and girlfriend my chances of survival were at best 30%. On the third night my condition had deteriorated so much my family and girlfriend were called in to say goodbye to me. They were told I would not make it through the night.
I believe the reason I survived that night was the fitness levels I had built up from 20 years of training.
I was in a coma for just under a month. When I came out I was a shell of the man I had been before I was ill, both physically and mentally.
I had lost over two stone of muscle, about 28 pounds. In fact, I had lost so much muscle I was no longer able to walk. Every day I was helped onto a support frame that supported some of my weight to allow me to stand to build up my leg muscles again. In the past I squatted 180kg (397 lbs) for six reps so I am used to hard work, but I can honestly say that was nothing compared to standing 10 seconds in the support frame. I looked like someone had thrown a bucket of water over me at the end I sweated so much. I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Then I experienced a setback.
I suffered a massive internal bleed. The doctors never pinpointed the exact location or the cause of the bleed. I don't mind admitting that in the coming months I lived in constant fear of the bleed reoccurring, especially as anything I did physically put massive strain on my body.
I decided to not let this fear beat me. This was when having goals became so important to me. I needed to be able to stand and walk at least a few steps as the first thing I did when I came out of my coma was ask my girlfriend to marry me. I had a friend who worked in the wedding industry and he had one date in his schedule left for that year. The date was in four months’ time.
Gradually over the days I built up enough strength to be able to stand long enough for a shower. This was the toughest time mentally, and when the reality of what I had been through hit home. No one till now knows this but I looked at myself in the mirror and cried and cried and cried. I must have wept for at least 20 minutes.
I never told anyone I was so upset that day. I had already put my family and loved ones through so much that I did not want to upset them anymore because I was feeling sorry for myself. I still remember having to look twice at myself. I didn't recognize what was staring back at me in the mirror. I can remember telling myself, "This is not me; this is not me."
I wouldn't accept it at first. My hair had started to fall out from the massive amounts of antibiotics I’d been given to save my life. I was a grayish color, and virtually all the muscle that had taken me years to build up was lost in just two months. This couldn't happen in real life, I said to myself. This just did not happen.
After three months in the hospital I was told I was ready to go home. It was time to work toward my goal for my wedding, now only two months away.
My plan was to walk to the first lamppost outside my house on day one. Day two I would walk to the next lamppost and so on. Some days I couldn’t go to the next lamppost, but I never went any less than the one I had walked to the previous day. I never went backwards. I kept going. My loved ones came with me to support me.
I achieved my first goal of being able to stand for my wedding.
Building my fitness was limited to walking. I built up to being able to walk for an hour without stopping but my weight had ballooned to 17 and half stone (245 lbs). A photo of me was the motivating factor in trying to regain my fitness to the levels it was before I was ill.
At the time, the doctors advised me against any kind of exercise other than walking as they said it was too soon after my illness and I was not ready. I thought long and hard about what they said but I decided not to listen to their advice. I felt that I needed to get on the road back to fitness, both from a physical and mental point of view. I knew I was ready.
I found it mentally hard going from being fit before my illness, to only being able to do so little. So I decided to introduce rowing since I enjoyed this as a means of exercising and had achieved good results from it before. I completed 10 minutes of rowing, but I was in so much pain. In hindsight I realize I was not ready for rowing; it was too big a step up from walking. I was trying to regain my fitness too quickly. I needed another method of exercising and another plan that would improve my fitness but at the same time would be less taxing on my body.
I considered how to step up my exercise levels from walking. Even though I had not been a massive fan of running as a means of exercising before it seemed like a natural progression to me from walking and a way I could increase my fitness levels without placing any undue strain on my body. So I decided to follow the same plan I did for walking since I had some great results there; I would run to the first lamp post on day one, the second lamp post on day two, and so on.
I had no reaction. Three and half years later, I am still running and my fitness levels have improved dramatically. This is one of the many positives to come from my illness. The experience of running has injected so much quality and enjoyment into my life I never experienced before I was ill as this was not my preferred means of exercising. A lesson of always keeping an open mind was learned.
It took a long time, about two years, to break through the 5k barrier. The illness had left me with virtually no recovery capabilities. I could only manage to run twice a week, so it was a long slow road back. But in all that time I never missed a workout. No matter what I needed to do, I would go running when I had planned to. I ran in the rain, snow, on holiday, even at 2 a.m. in the mornings when I could not run in the day, but I would not miss a workout. It was not even an option as I knew this would help me reach my goal of returning to fitness.
Three and half years after my illness, and I still have not missed a workout. As a result I can now run 10 miles without stopping. I am extremely happy to be able to run this far, especially considering where I came from. It gives so much self-confidence being able to achieve not only something you did not think you could, but also to do so from such a setback. Never set limits, lesson two.
After two years I decided to focus on my nutrition. I had lost weight from the running but improving my nutrition would not only have the added benefit of faster weight lost but would also improve my fitness levels and allow me to run further.
I did not limit anything too much at first. I made sure I was consuming adequate levels of protein and fats, and I modified the amount of carbs I was consuming to suit my daily activity levels. Coming from a bodybuilding background this is how I would diet for competitions.
Over the next year I built up my running distances. Progress was extremely slow, but I kept saying to myself, at least it’s progress, even if I only went a step further each run. I was still moving forward.
At the end of three years I was able to add a third workout so I decided to add some weights to gain some muscle tone again. I now weigh 14 stone, 5 lbs (201 lbs).
I am still on my journey back. My journey is not complete till I have lost another stone by four years from when I started. Then I will start another journey in fitness with new goals.
Bottom line is that fitness not only saved my life but gave my life back to me as well. Listen to your body, make a plan, and follow it through. It's as simple as that. The journey and results are more than worth it.