London, England – 2008. Two weeks ago, as I sat there watching the Chargers face-off against the Saints in Wembley Stadium, I remembered a part of my personal history I don’t often think about. There, with my eyes on the field watching two of my favorite teams, I couldn’t help thinking of the last time I was in Europe and how, in one game, my life changed forever. Suddenly, it was thirteen years ago and I was on a football field in France. I don’t typically replay that particular tape, and I rarely tell the story with any depth or detail, but it is hard to escape the fact that injury can and does change lives from one day to the next. It changed mine.
Aix-en-Provence, France – March 1996. As I lay on the football field unable to move, I tried to sort out what had just happened. Quarterback for one of Europe’s professional teams, I had just performed a “hook slide” to avoid getting hit by two linebackers. After scrambling for a first down, it was a helmet to my back that left me motionless on the field for what seemed like twenty minutes. With assistance from some trainers and teammates, I finally made it off the field. My injury felt different from any other I had experienced; this time it felt serious. Imagine my relief later that day when I was diagnosed with a deep muscle bruise and “lower back injury,” I remember feeling thankful that we had a “bye” coming up and I would have two full weeks to heal.
For the next two weeks, I did everything possible to rehab my back: massage, muscle stimulation, chiropractic, ice, ultrasound, rest. Heck, I even went to a world-class resort to soak in hot tubs, and get a variety of “European treatments” to fix my back. Fourteen days later, even though I didn’t practice for two weeks, the team doctor declared me fit to suit up and play the next game. He “shot me up” with painkillers and I was better than ever. As a matter of fact, I hardly got hit all game; I threw for two TD’s, and ran for another. It was this game – a defining moment – that changed my life forever.
The painkillers wore off two hours after the game. This occurred while I was in a restaurant with my Mom, my sister Patti and a friend, “Salad Bar,” all visiting from the states. Suddenly, my back locked up and I needed to go to my condo as quickly as possible. I made it home but had never felt so much pain in my life. My body was basically “locked” and shuddering in pain. I could not sit up, I could not walk, I could hardly move at all. I remember being up all night moaning. I was in serious trouble. I was scared. I was fighting off panic. The team doctor came over in the morning and started to administer painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Together, they hardly put a dent in the pain I was feeling and I stared up at the ceiling wondering how the heck I was going to get out of this mess.
Nothing improved once we got to the hospital for X-rays and MRIs. Bad news. The tests revealed three major herniated discs, major degenerative back disease, and spinal stenosis. The “slap-foot” that I was experiencing signified major neurological problems and they said it was a 90% chance that I needed surgery. I remember looking at my Mom after the doctor told me my career was over. I had a flashback to when I a boy in Pop Warner and she would do my laundry after every practice. I gave her a hug and thanked her for all she had ever done. I felt like I was saying good-bye to something special.
For weeks, I did nothing but lay in my condo unable to go anywhere. A nurse would come to see me twice a day to shoot me up with painkillers. On top of the shots, I layered a prescription of Vicodin to help manage the pain, and I just read, read and read. I read books on pain, books on life and books of the Bible; I listened to French TV and again, wondered how the heck I was going to get out of this mess. I couldn’t yet walk, let alone sit up. I wasn’t going anywhere quickly.
After a month in this state, I was able to begin using crutches to get around my 600 square foot condo located just blocks from the beach in Cannes. I began by “crutching” over to the physical therapist’s office a few blocks away. Everyday, I would go for hours of treatment to escape the depression of sitting in my place all day, everyday. Every therapy appointment was a chance to connect with people, get out to breathe fresh air and move a step closer to being able to fly home to the U.S.
For two months, I rehabbed intensely and had the chance to meet many great people. The osteopath and “physio” I worked with took me under their wings, as I was very interested in the techniques they were using. They not only treated me, but they taught me a lot about the body, about healing and their “secret” techniques to aid in the process. Although I don’t remember their names today, they were key to my recovery and their techniques and philosophies I still employ thirteen years later.
With an attitude of “one day at a time,” I got better and better until the day arrived when I could fly home and continue healing closer to family and friends. I said good-bye to my team and thanked my rehab buddies for the last time. I attended the Cannes Film Festival and then boarded the plane to return home.
Upon my return to the U.S., I was still using Vicodin to manage the pain and get through the toughest days. While I was determined to avoid surgery, there were a lot of uncertainties that left me confused and fearful – filled with questions about my ability to recover completely. As months continued to pass, I still needed two pills a day to manage the pain and the uncertainty of how I was going to completely get out of this situation without surgery was uncertain. My whole mindset at this time was do everything possible to avoid needing surgery. Despite having the best back surgeons in the States, I was committed to trying all viable traditional and alternative methods of healing.
Malibu, CA—December 1996. It was now about 9 months after the injury and my life was about to change forever again. At this point in time, I was living in Malibu, CA, and working for the television producer, Michael King from KingWorld Productions. Based on a recommendation from my sister Patti to take a hands-on workshop from a man named Dub Liegh, I decided to give it a shot as a “last attempt” to exhaust all options of rehabilitation. Dub was an interesting older, gruff yet compassionate man whom I immediately knew was unique and different then anyone I have ever met. He took me under his wing and introduced me to the world of “ZenBodyTherapy, ” which combined Rolfing, Feldenkrais and energy work. This series of deep tissue fascial work was done in a series of 10 laser-focused sessions. Each session had a unique set of goals and addressed the ever-critical fascial system of the body from feet to fingertips. After session #4, I knew we were onto something. I had a strong “detox” that brought on vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms for over three weeks. When session #6 was complete, I was off the Vicodin and “pain-free” for the first time in almost a year. With Dub Leigh’s introduction to these amazing therapies, I successfully escaped the cycle of pain and medication and found my professional focus. I was off my Vicodin and feeling great!
San Diego, California – 2008. I look back on what was nearly a year of time for me to get out of the pain caused by my back injury. Almost thirteen years have passed, and as strong as I feel today, intensely focused on fitness and wellness, my back still guides me. I am thankful that I was able to turn this experience around, enjoy complete recovery and learn many of my most valued life lessons. Here are some of the major lessons I learned, all of which continue to guide me:
- Seek out experts who can help you.
- Stop fighting the pain. Welcome the pain and let it guide your healing. I believe when I shifted my mindset from fighting my back pain to accepting it as part of a life lesson, my whole experience shifted.
- Let pain be your barometer to other areas of your life. For me, my back is now my barometer to stress. My back let’s me know when I need to restore balance – mind, body and life.
Include “pre-habilitation” as part of your exercise program; strength training for your core is essential so be sure to include lower back exercises at least two times per week.
- Emphasize flexibility in your routine. Men rarely do enough stretching. I believe that Pilates and yoga-type exercises are outstanding means for men and women to prevent injury, increase strength, and improve flexibility all at the same time.
- Include massage/bodywork as part of your routine before a problem exists. Bodywork is what really helped me to get off Vicodin and restore my health. Massage and bodywork were and are essential to staying pain free and optimizing soft-tissue release and balance in the body.
- Stay humble. Regardless of how high a mountain you may be on today, you never know what tomorrow brings. Stay humble.
- Stay hungry. You may be down and out today, but never lose hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Unfortunately, pain can often rob you of hope, creating fear and anxiety. Likewise, fear and anxiety create pain. This nasty “pain-fear” cycle must be broken, and I believe it is your spirit and hunger for a return to joy in daily living that will get you through the difficult times.
- Remember that it could always be worse. Sometimes, when we are in pain, we think the world stops, and it’s all about ”my back” or “my neck” or whatever is hurting. While it is critical to slow down in order to hear the messages sent by your body, realize that your injury or your pain could always be worse.
- Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself. Your attitude is something you can control. While I remember days when I was confused, scared and fearful for the future, I never felt sorry for myself. As a matter of fact, when I shifted my mentality to gratitude towards my injury, everything in my life seemed to shift. I was ready to begin my journey to start helping others.
- Be grateful for your health. When you are feeling good, be thankful for that. It takes time and effort to improve your fitness, your nutrition, and your health and you never want to take it for granted. It could all change so quickly! Stay present in the moment and reap the rewards.
Back at Wembley Stadium, with world-class athlete clients competing against each other, I beamed with pride at how my journey has taken me full circle and returned me to Europe under such extraordinary circumstances. A lot has happened to me personally and professionally since lying motionless on a field fearing for my career. It felt great to be back in Europe in a whole different role as a trainer, massage therapist, business owner, and representative of Under Armour – a first-class performance sports apparel company.
Although I might be the protagonist of this particular story, my hope and my message are for you. Wherever your path has taken you or will take you in the future, remember there will be times when you get knocked down and maybe even knocked out. What people remember is not how many times you were knocked down, but how many times you get back up. No matter if injury strikes your health, your fitness, your business, your personal life, your spiritual journey, your relationships, or anything else – never accept defeat. Get back up and create the life that you desire. It may take you a month, it may take you three months, it may take you a year, it may take thirteen years or longer. But the bottom line is that your journey continues to unfold and you’re in the driver’s seat. You create the peace, harmony and happiness you desire. Get up now and get started!
Todd Durkin is a 2 Time Personal Trainer of the Year and Founder of Fitness Quest 10 & Todd Durkin Enterprises in San Diego, CA. He trains people from all walks of life, but is best known for the work he does with over 25 NFL Superstars. He trains the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Alex Smith, and Donnie Edwards amongst others. His expert staff of 30 trainers, coaches, and massage therapist/bodyworkers perform over 400 weekly sessions and help educate, motivate, and inspire the world to greater levels of health & fitness. Todd has 17 DVD’s on fitness & sports performance and has been featured in many national magazines and media outlets. His ezine newsletter “TD Times” is his way of connecting clients, trainers, coaches, colleagues, and friends from all over the world. He can best be reached via his websites ToddDurkin.com, FitnessQuest10.com, or by using the contact form below: [easy-contact]