We all have experienced situations, circumstances, or even periods of time that we perceive to be terrible. Just absolutely, flat out, awful. Oftentimes, we allow these perceived situations to hold us back, while in reality they are the very things that can propel us forward.
The thing holding me back at this very moment, literally exists in my back. I have a herniated disc between my L5 and S1 vertebrae. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I realize that this is a byproduct of years moving incorrectly as a collegiate and professional basketball player, where abuse to joints through jarring repetitive movements, without correction, is the norm.
Truly, this is one of the most humbling obstacles I've ever dealt with. Yet, I don't embrace the vulnerability of writing this for you to feel sorry for me, quite the contrary actually. I write this because I know I'm not the only person out there who has or currently is struggling with something that feels debilitating, injury or otherwise.
The Objectivity of Pain
Pain is an interesting thing. Back in April when I hurt my back the first time, for apparently no particular reason, I became an empty shell of myself. I caught myself feeling sorry for myself as I would lie on the floor in excruciating pain, unable to stand up. Or when I would drop something on the floor and stare at it, because I knew there was really no forgiving way to bend down to pick it up. This, by the way, makes you very crafty with your toes and shimming things up walls.
At the worst points of my pain, I couldn't sleep. If you've ever experienced sciatic pain before, I am giving you a sad look through the computer, because it is NOT fun. If you've been so lucky as to not feel sciatic pain, let me describe: imagine someone takes a hot, grotesquely large knife to your butt and then slowly and continuously slices down your leg, sometimes all the way to your ankle. Great, right?
It was the simple things that we take for granted every day that became ridiculously difficult and painful. But with time, I healed. And I forgot about the pain.
I forgot what it was like to wake up every morning hunched over with hair disheveled like Golem from Lord of the Rings. I forgot what it was like to have to very carefully do a supported pistol squat into my car and hope no one heard my muffled screams of anguish as my spine temporarily bent to fit through the door. It's amazing how our minds forget. I suppose this is why women have more than one child. If childbirth was an overall positive experience, we forget the discomfort of what it's like to have a small human rip its way through our bodies into the world. I say that like I've had a kid, I have not. So kudos to all you moms, and to my own mom, thanks for doing that for me, you kind bad ass, you.
Coming fresh off my injury, I swore I would never allow myself to injure myself to that degree again, whatever it took. But a few months later, after feeling back to my "invincible" self (that is my own false confidence speaking), and repeatedly slouching lazily in my chair, squatting heavier weights than I should have been, and just generally forgetting that my back had a dormant, but angry disc just waiting to get pissed off again, it decided to remind me.
Oh Yeah, That...
Embracing a difficult circumstance or situation is not easy. What would be easy is complaining about it to any loving friend or family member who will listen, feeling sorry for oneself, making excuses, playing the victim, or allowing negative shoulder guy to tell us things will never improve, or at least not fast enough.
But what does that help?
You know as well as I do, that it helps nothing. Furthermore, people truly do not enjoy being around a whiner and complainer, unless they are stuck in the brain of a high school drama queen. And now that I think about it, I do know some energy vampires like that. I'll give you their number if you want to complain. You guys can build straw houses of negativity and banks of sadness together.
So here we are again. As I write this I have ice and e-stem on my spine, and of course I am sitting like a serial killer in my chair (you must have outstanding posture at all times if you've had a back injury).
The most interesting part about any hardship are the psychological impacts it can have. The physical pain of this injury definitely sucks, but I know at some point during the day it's going to dissipate and I'll be at least able to stand straight. It's wrestling with the mental gorillas along the way that has been challenging.
In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday writes:
Whatever we face, we have a choice: will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them? The world is constantly testing us. It asks, are you worthy? Can you get past the things that will inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you're made of?
The overall resounding point I am trying to make, is that our vulnerabilities and shortcomings can actually give us incredible strength. My vulnerability to share this glaring weak point with you, is not for you to lose confidence in my ability as a coach and trainer; but, instead to share the silver-lining of this situation in that now I can coach and connect better with people dealing with injuries, specifically to their back, better than ever before.
Moreover, it's vital that kids learn how to properly move and cope with adversity at a young age, and that adults unlearn bad movement patterns and relearn how to do them properly. I do not think I would be dealing with this now had I learned at a younger age how to properly brace, hinge, and work prehab and mobility exercises into my workouts.
Of course, this is a huge motivator as to why I love what I do now. Yet sometimes I cannot believe how difficult it is for young athletes, even some coaches, and adults, to buy into the weight room and to put work into their bodies. I believe we have this perception of "strength and conditioning" as lifting heavy and running sprints. Folks, it's so much more than that.
And finally, perhaps one of the most unrecognized area of strength and conditioning, is the relationship and culture building piece that good coaches weave into their workouts. We are able to create environments where athletes must overcome obstacles, are made to struggle and suffer, which naturally spurs their ability to build life skills like leadership, responsibility, developing a positive and relentless mindset, pain management of any kind, and so much more.
Conclusion: There isn't.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion (heh). Life is a cyclical process of self-discovery and growth. If we aren't challenged to step outside of our comfort zone within this process then we will never grow to greater heights. So regardless of what you're going through, injury, loss, change, whatever... you've got this.
It was December 3rd, 2017 as Nick Bassett sat in front of his computer eagerly anticipating the announcement of the Western States Endurance Run (WSER) runners.
This 100 Mile race uses a lottery selection process due to the high number of entrants every year. Out of approximately 15,000 tickets, Nick's was the first drawn.
To you and I, that's pretty awesome. But what it meant to a man who just had his 73rd birthday, could hardly be articulated in words.
For many years, the historic Western States Trail served as a direct route for the '49ers to travel between the gold camps of California and the silver mines of Nevada. With exception of a scant three miles of pavement, the race follows these trails in their natural state starting in Squaw Valley and ending in Auburn, California.
The Western States Endurance Run (WSER) climbs approximately 18,090 feet of elevation and descends another 22,970 from start to finish. On this particular summer day of 2018, temperatures would flirt with 100 degrees as racers battled their way through the rugged terrain.
WSER also follows a strict list of performance rules that each runner must abide by, including:
Ready to run the WSER for the 14th time, these rules weren't new to Nick. Yet, what was new was how his body, now nine years older than the last time he ran the race, would handle 100 miles of grueling terrain, heat, and continuous movement.
The Value of Preparation
"Wars are won in the generals tent." - S. Covey
When it comes to running 100 miles all in one go, there are two, sometimes three, ways to prepare effectively:
At 73 years old, one has to be slightly more strategic with training than say, someone 50 years younger.
Nick runs or walks a bunch of volume on his own, and our training at the gym is completely geared to enhance his ability to move for longer, faster.
We work to strengthen his entire body and improve his mobility and stability.
Passion is in the process
The obvious question you would ask any ultra runner is, "why?". It's not for the recognition, not for Nick anyway. Being the oldest finisher in WSER history earned him an overwhelming amount of publicity, but it was the first time in his racing career that so many admirers flocked his way to get a comment, shake his hand, or snap a picture.
What makes endurance runners unique is their insatiable desire to push limits--for a long time. A 20 mile training run isn't something they dread, especially not when with friends. It's a social outing, a way to connect with others, themselves, and nature.
I would imagine we can all find some way to relate. The amateur musician who practices for hours on end to play in front of the local pub crowd. The parent who reads every book they can get their hands on to raise a happy and healthy child. The researcher who works late into the night bent over a microscope looking for the next discovery.
For me, I can only relate it to playing basketball or CrossFit, and using that passion as a way to escape from the daily stresses of life and grow the physical and mental.
The point is, we can all relate to passion, and no one has to understand our passion except ourselves.
This is why the great ones separate themselves from the rest, they are willing to do things others are not.
They are willing to grind, hustle, suffer, endure, and grow.
Not through short cuts.
Not by laying around waiting for something great to happen.
By going out and working damn hard for it.
"Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process."
I never knew Jaz at 350lbs. The Jaz who was unmotivated and would get tired walking across the street. Who was tired of not being able to fit on theme park rides, tired of being uncomfortable, and just all around tired of being "the big girl".
The Jaz I met one morning in August of 2017, two days before she was meant to get bariatric surgery, had a fierce look of determination in her eyes.
As we sat and talked, I realized that this was a young lady on mission who was not only past contemplating change, but completely aware of and ready to embark on the arduous journey to reclaiming her health.
From 350 pounds to 216 and counting, this is Jasmine's journey.
Addicts in general, whether that is to heroine, alcohol, food, etc., must cope with issues of cravings and biochemical changes made in the brain as a result of long-standing abuse to their vice of choice.
There is often this misconception that when it comes to being overweight and/or food addiction, that that person is weak-willed, gluttonous, or lazy.
However, that is a very dated way of thinking, as it is not exclusively an emotional issue at all. In fact, it is more so a biochemical problem - like drug addiction - where hormones, taste buds, and brain chemistry are hijacked by the food industry's bombardment of junk found all over in grocery stores, social media, television and radio advertisements, and vending machines, even in hospitals!
A Cruel Irony
After all, it wasn't too long ago, 2011 to be exact, that Congress was passing a bill stating tomato sauce on pizza equated to eating a vegetable.
Dr. Mark Hyman writes in his article Beating Food Addiction, "Although personal empowerment and responsibility are important, they are usually not a strong-enough defense against the steady stream of hyperprocessed, highly palatable, intensely addictive foods that the food industry churns out to claim the biggest market share."
Furthermore, there is growing research to support the correlation between hard drugs and food. This is proven by the similarity between the way they light up pleasure centers in the brains of the addicted individuals.
Now, I'm not saying all overweight people are food addicts by any means, that would be a pretty slanderous accusation to make in the context of this article; however, according to Dr. Hyman, "If you're overweight, there is a good chance you are addicted to certain foods and don't know it."
Shoot, overweight or not, have you ever tried to cold-turkey yourself off your favorite treats or foods? I will be the first to admit it is not easy and that resisting what we desire often causes it to persist even more. I will now flat out confess I should probably join Chocoholics (and) Gum Chewers Anonymous.
Not the Easy Road
If you are one of those folks who are skeptical about bariatric surgery, and think that people should just be able to lose weight the natural way, consider skimming The Complete Guide to Bariatric Surgery.
You may be surprised to learn it's not the easy way out.
What a lot of people don't understand is that bariatric surgery is not a way out, I hear that a lot. It's more like sending an alcoholic to treatment..."
"The surgery helped me not to put a lot of food in my stomach, but it didn't help me mentally, because mentally I still wanted to eat," Jaz shares. "I feel like a baby, I'm learning how to eat all over again. Nothing was easy, it changed my whole lifestyle. If you don't have that support system it feels like it's you against the world."
Her entire family is big and wasn't exactly supportive of her getting the surgery, but she was tired of not being able to do anything and wanted change and to enjoy her twenties.
"What a lot of people don't understand is that bariatric surgery is not a way out, I hear that a lot. It's more like sending an alcoholic to treatment, you give them that boost and take them out of their environment so they can work harder on being clean and sober. And with a bariatric patient, you are giving them that extra boost by making their stomach smaller, but you still have to learn the mental part."
Now, down 134 lbs., she is happier than she has felt in a long time and excited to experience the Alaskan summer. One of her goals is to hike Flattop.
Jaz's 7 Weight Loss Tips
A Year with Jaz
Basketball was a game I loved the day I picked up a ball, and have been very fortunate that it has exposed me to many places, people, experiences, and opportunities.
However, the going was not easy, not by any measure of the word. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I look back at the days of my young ignorance and think about all the things I could have done differently to be more successful.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but this is a big reason I love what I do now! Here's a bit about my story, and five lessons learned.
The Imperfectly Perfect Journey
High school: Kodiak, Alaska
College: The University of Alaska Anchorage
I was fortunate to get picked up by my home state college, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), who at the time was (and still is) a Division II powerhouse.
I soon learned that the jump from high school to college was substantial. Every practice felt like trying to scramble up that super steep wall on America Ninja Warrior.
For two years the top of that wall was unattainable, and some days it felt like my coaches were at the top pointing and laughing, telling me to just give up already.
I slowly began to believe that maybe that was the best option, that the weight and dread I felt with the mere thought of going to practice was stronger than my love for the game and desire to represent my hometown.
It was a merciless, daily battle. No one cared if you were sick, unless it was highly contagious.
No one cared if you were hurt, I specifically remember our coaches telling us we were not to go to the training room unless something was torn or broken.
And no one cared why you didn't do something the way it was asked of you, if it wasn't done right, you were getting yelled at.
I was put in my place real quick, ultimately spending that first year as a redshirt, meaning I was able to practice with the team, but not play in games and still have four years of eligibility.
It was not pretty, as oftentimes things worth fighting for aren't, and a lesson in what collegiate athleticism and expectation looked like and would cost to attain.
The Fuel That Sparked The Rise
At the end of my (second) freshman year, the assistant coach who had made my life hell for the last two years blatantly looked me in the eye and said "Alysa, you stay where you are right now and you're not going to play more than 5 minutes next year."
I was crushed.
I had worked every day as hard as I could in practice, spent extra time, usually at 6am or 10pm (the only time the gym was free), and did everything that was asked of me without complaint and silent anguish, oftentimes surfacing alone in tears of frustration.
As I drove to my dorm after hearing the most blunt, honest, and what felt unfair words I'd heard in my life, I became increasingly angry.
I took 3 days off. Enough time to pack up my stuff to head home for the summer and let that brutal statement really sink in.
Then it was time to get to work.
I ordered a weighted basketball and started googling drills to improve my athleticism and skills.
For that entire summer I was obsessed with improving, and more importantly, still angry. It was my fuel.
Everyday I didn't want to wake up to go play with a bunch of guys at 6am, I remembered what my coach had said, and got out of bed.
Everyday I felt too sore to get in another workout, I remembered how crappy it felt to sit at the end of the bench, and went to the gym.
Everyday I wanted to go to a party with my boyfriend and friends, I remembered getting last in sprints, and went to bed so I could wake up early for a track workout instead. I'm not exaggerating, I was as all in as a player in a high stakes game of poker. It was so important to me I was willing to sacrifice things other people were not, and if it didn't work out this time, it wasn't meant to be. #NoSocialLife
A Diamond Cannot Be Made Without A Little Pressure
The next year was completely different. Suddenly I found myself starting, scoring more points in my first game than I had the entire last season combined.
I had finally made it to the top of that seemingly impossible Ninja wall.
Yet, this wasn't even close to the start of a happy ending as I would soon learn that when a person "becomes successful" a host of new adversities and challenges arise.
My junior year I didn't know how to handle the pressure of suddenly being a go-to player and I found myself at risk of losing my starting spot to a junior college transfer and literally made myself sick with stress, missing our first road trip because I was stuck in the Emergency Room with painful abdominal cramping. I was ashamed and shocked that my body had quit on me.
I never reclaimed my starting spot that entire year, but it didn't matter, WE were a great team and went on to Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament.
Adversity Strikes Again
Another high led to another low, and soon after our NCAA Tournament run we found out that our coach had been up to some shady things and was forcibly resigning.
The immediate disappointment shook all of us, so much so that many of the better players didn't return and we had NO recruiting class going into my senior year.
The stress was starting to come back, but this time I was thankfully more prepared.
Our new coach, who remains as the current coach for the UAA women's team, had to go to intramural games to find us a couple more players so we could even practice 5 on 5.
Expectations were drastically different than the year prior to preform, as we were so young and undermanned that if either the Point Guard or myself had a bad game, we would not win, and that's not to sound cocky at all, it was the unfortunate truth.
Thus, with every game came a family reunion of pressure and adversity, because winning was and will always be more important - regardless of who you are or if you actually think this - than individual success or accolades.
Against all odds, we somehow managed to have a winning season (17-10), which was a record I felt more proud of than any year previous because it required excellence on every level from many people. A true team effort, and perhaps another story for another time!
Professional Career: Germany and Australia
Finally, after years of dreaming, setting goals, and working relentlessly towards them, I was fortunate enough to finally live my ultimate dream of playing professional basketball.
My journey after college took me overseas to Germany, where I played one year for a club called TSV Viernheim and then returned the following year to play for another club, the GiroLive Panthers of Osnabrück.
After nine months abroad my second year, I immediately flew 16 hours from Germany to Australia and played out the last four months of my career for the Logan Thunder in Brisbane.
Five Key Lessons Learned
This is one of thousands of student athlete experiences in one sport, and it is my only wish by sharing my story that it helps young student athletes overcome their own Ninja Warrior walls in sports and in life.
I will tell you right now, those experiences were hard at the time, but have had immense impact on how I handle things in my now, daily "adulting" life.
Remember, it's never easy to hear those types of things. After all, the saying "the truth hurts" exists for a reason, but it will ultimately make you better.
No matter how much or how little success you are having at this moment, do not stop working. You have to believe in your ability to reach your goals and that hard work will pay off, it always does.
Now, there is a massive difference between believing in yourself and being entitled to an outcome because you think you've worked hard for it. This goes back to having solid people you trust to be honest with you.
Here's the kicker though, you must be receptive to what they say and at all costs avoid shooting the messenger!
You are enlisting the help of someone to give you a different perception than your own, which is absolutely critical for your growth as a player and person.
Have Selective Hearing
The one voice you need to be listening to, even if you are not religious, is the voice of faith. Faith, or believing in yourself, is the voice that will tell the critiques and fans to be silent, because they don't know your process.
They don't know the sweat, blood, and tears that you put in; they don't know what you are working towards; and really, they don't know you.
Trust the Process
If you haven't noticed already, the four lessons before this are all interwoven in some way.
Ultimately, these all constitute your process, and when you are confident that you are doing things the right way, which is in accordance with your values and vision, then you must trust that with persistent action and work, you will get to where you want to go.
There will undoubtedly be times you are tested on this, and your tests may come at times when you aren't ready for them, that's why it is so important to have good people in your circle you can lean on and to help you through.
They are there not only to tell you what you need to hear, but to be positive with you when you are having a hard time doing that for yourself.
"Excuse me sir, I think you forgot your shorts in the locker-room," a passerby said to Nick as he climbed the stairs up to the YMCA weight room.
His shorts were their normal length, well of course, by Nick standards, but his shirt was a little longer than normal so it hung past the bottoms of his shorts giving off the appearance that he did indeed leave his shorts behind.
On that particular day, Nick was trying his hand at resistance training for the first time. I had been training his long-term (of 15 years) girlfriend, Barb, for the past year, and the addition of weight training had really improved her running, so Nick decided it was time to join the party.
So you want to be a bad ass
When Barb first called me up last January inquiring about personal training, I knew from that first conversation that we were going to get along great.
I asked her what her goals and expectations were from hiring a trainer, and though I don't quite remember her response, I do remember saying in return "so you want to be a bad ass."
Of course this was a slightly superfluous comment, because little did I know, she already was.
For Barb, "running ultra-marathons is kind of like life, you know there are going to be times that you feel good, times that are hard, times that you just have to put your head down and keep going, and times you feel like you could run forever."
She knows within the first mile of a race if that particular day is going to be rough or not and admits, "there's no guarantee, regardless of your training, of what you're going to feel like once you get to the start line."
For Nick, who probably has more miles on his odometer than a well traveled car (by the way, at 73, Nick still runs like a new car), says, "usually you start out and think 'I feel well, I've trained well' and for whatever reason your body is just in sync, but somedays it's just off. You could be 20-30 miles into a race and just know, this isn't going to be pretty."
"Running ultra-marathons is kind of like life, you know there are going to be times that you feel good, times that are hard, times that you just have to put your head down and keep going, and times you feel like you could run forever." - Barb Elias
But, when that last 30 miles hit, his body no longer wanted to keep the "red-line" pace and he began throwing up the rest of the way.
Can you imagine, at this very moment you start throwing up, and someone tells you to go run 30 miles?! That is resolve people, in the most raw, pure form possible!
Barb's resolve is just as impressive as Nick's, as she has her share of horror stories as well. One in particular will leave you wondering how no one has noticed the Wonder Woman suit under her scrubs (she is a Physician's Assistant).
There is a 135 mile, yes.. 135 mile.. race from Death Valley up to Mt. Whitney, CA called Badwater (or) The World's Toughest Race.
This particular race covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet up and a 6,100 feet down. Go big, or go home.
Anyway, you can only imagine the bad mental monkey that starts talking when you are even contemplating signing up for such a race (mine is laughing right now), let alone showing up and running the thing.
Alternatively, there is a mental muscle unbeknownst to most people that allows one to come back from the dead mid-race and keep going. About 40 miles in, Barb was essentially crawling through the desert because she was so cramped up from dehydration that she couldn't walk.
She looked, and (though she would never admit it) felt like a zombie. Like Nick, she was throwing up more than she ever had in her life, combined.
One of the race aides gave her a liter of Oral Rehydration Solution, which she drank up like a sponge. Nick was amazed to see the life start returning to her and asked the aide what Barb was drinking.
"Try a sip," he said. Nick took a sip and immediately almost threw up due the extreme salt content, containing twice the amount as sea water if you can imagine that!
Two liters of double strength sea water magic potion later, Barb started to feel human again and looked Nick in the eye and asked, "Can you run?"
He looked back at her with bewilderment thinking "Uh, yeah.. I wasn't the one who was just throwing up an hour ago," and they trotted off for Barb to finish the remaining 95 miles, which as I type this is almost comical.
The amount of toughness that would take is completely mind boggling. "Most people don't think I'm my age, which is fun," says Barb, while casually sipping wine and laughing about these intense experiences like they were nothing.
"Can you run?"
Never too late to start
At 39 years old, Nick ran his first 50 mile race on a dare. Within that same year, he ran his first 100 mile race, the Western States, and never looked back.
His goal was to beat his buddy, a fellow Wyoming native, who claimed to have the fastest time in the state. Now, 34 years later, Nick has raced the Western States 14 times and is the oldest finisher in the history of the race.
After nearly being intimidated off the course by his own fear the day before the race, Nick ran into a 67 year old who also would be running the following day.
Convincingly, the "older man" told him that with the training he had put in, he was more than capable of finishing. He returned the next day to not only finish, but to beat his buddy's time.
During the interview, it came to light that this ultra-couple had won several races in the Master's division, with Barb coming in as a top female runner multiple times.
Alas, you would never know. Even talking about it, they shrugged off the accomplishments and laughed at how the trophies were still packed in moving boxes.
It has been an honor to get to train these two incredible people who define good health, resilience, strong character, and so many other beautiful qualities.
When asked what advice they would give to someone considering running an ultra, or even a normal marathon, they said "get off your butt and do it (laugh)."
Still going strong
Clearly their sense of humor is one reason we get along so well, but on a serious note they advise that if you're considering it, just do it, because that one experience and accomplishment will be something you remember the rest of your life!
Even if you're not the running type (like myself), Barb summed up the importance of being active better than I've ever heard, "Your health is not a right, it's a privilege and you have to work at it. It's what you put into it, you can't just expect to be healthy, you have to do the work. It's like being fit, there's no magic pill, you just have to do the work."
"Your health is not a right, it's a privilege and you have to work it. It's what you put into it, you can't just expect to be healthy, you have to do the work. It's like being fit, there's no magic pill, you just have to do the work."