It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
Ok ok ok. This isn’t Charles Dickens’s “Tale of Two Cities”, but this IS a story of two business lines that grew in one particular city during the most chaotic time of my life. On the one hand, life seemed to be working in my favor. My publication was out, my online platform was making me dollars, and I had just rebranded business to do private and semi private training with seriously strong athletes in the Greater City if Pittsburgh. On the other hand, the studio I had just moved in to was on the verge of sheer collapse, and with a number of long standing financial problems that started to show their colors, I was forced to make a tough call, take a BIG risk, and do so not just for the sake of my business, but for the sake of my own mental health.
This is the story I never shared publicly. . . until now.
Today, I want to talk to you about obstacles. I want to talk to you about the dark, murky waters I had to face for an unrelenting year and a half of my life. Today, I want to talk to you about crossing the finish line, but NOT going at it alone because sometimes you can’t, nor should you. Today, I want to talk to you about brute strength, endurance, and lifting others up out of their own murky waters when they just don’t think they can keep on going. Today, I would like to tell you a story about heartache, trauma, and finding your sense of purpose again, finding your strength again, and finding out how to trust people again.
Today’s post is the story of the ultimate test of my faith, and how God redirected my paths to a powerful new place: freedom from fear. This story is about me. This story may even be about you.
I have alluded to this subject on a number of podcasts to date now, but I never fully came to surface about the very big obstacle that I was faced with, the obstacle I am am still working through, but the one that I am leaving behind in the dust every step I take forward. I wish there was some easy way to say this, to sugar coat it, to tell you that is isn’t as horrifying as it sounds. . . but it is.
It’s time to say a difficult thing, to talk about the bitterness, and come to terms with the fact that that my own life had been uprooted in the worst of ways, worse than you may be able to imagine.
October 3rd, 2015: the day that would change my life forever. It was the day my strength was tested, and the day my own physical strength ultimately could not save me. It was the day my life was placed in grave danger. It was the day I had to fight and flee, but I couldn’t. It was entirely too late.
Having returned to my hotel from a fitness seminar in Dallas Texas, I decided to check some emails on my phone, call my family, and review my new fitness manual from the seminar I attended down in the lobby at the hotel bar. Nothing out of the ordinary for me really, until it was. You’d think you’d be safe hanging out in a hotel, casually talking to some sappy older gentlemen that were in town for a bachelor’s party. True, I can strike a conversation with anyone really, and I thought conversations were not an open opportunity for abuse.
As civilized as we like to think we are in this 21st century world we live in, there exists an ever growing level of barbarism. I will never understand it.
So many questions still flood my mind as I remember the details of the morning after.
What was I saying?
What was I wearing?
What on earth did I do to deserve this?
NO DAMNITT! NO!
October 4th, 2015: I wake up to the scene of a crime.
I am the victim.
What would transpire over the next 24 hours would involve hysterical phone calls back home to my closest friends, calling the state police in both Texas and Pennsylvania, and calling the national sexual assault hotline to set up immediate medical care once I hopped off the plane from Dallas and landed back in Pittsburgh.
That was the longest 3 hour flight of my life, and of course we hit turbulence. Little did I know that the turbulent flight was only just beginning of the mental turbulence I was about to face. As soon as I landed, I was off to the hospital.
Forensic Kits (God how invasive!)
Listening closely to the Emergency Room doctors about what my risks were for Hepatitis and HIV (WHAT?!?!)
And prayer after prayer after prayer while I held the hand of one of my best friends from Pittsburgh, who stayed with me through the entire process at UPMC, Magee Women’s Hospital (God bless you, Beth! You are an angel!).
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I flat out denied it until I couldn’t deny it anymore.
Evidence doesn’t lie.
Drug facilitated sexual assault. Welcome to the fiery pits of hell!
Fast forward to January 15th 2016. My business partner calls me to let me know that the floor of our studio was running the risk of a collapse due to structural damage, and that he was moving down the street without me tagging along to preserve his own business entity. I had 3 weeks to find a new location.
Bring on more turbulence.
You’ll have no time for therapy when you are meeting with investors, coaching clients, searching high and low for a new studio location, putting the finishing touches on the a lifting publication promoted by one of the industry’s top powerlifters, training for your level 2 Kettlebell certification alongside a powerlifting competition, and answering phone calls from a major television network who wants you on American Ninja Warrior.
Everything all at once! I believed the lie that because I was physically strong, I could muscle through everything and keep my life afloat. I often wonder if my own busyness was what would eventually lead me to sheer madness.
It’s hard to make sense of anything when 10 million things are happening at once. I was working over 100 hours a week trying to save what I could on my business, and I realized a bit too late that moving my entire facility wasn’t in my best interest after all. I had reached the place in my career where I could operate my private line entirely online, while keeping just a small handful of top end private clients under my very own private entity. I spent a lot of money, and lost nearly all of it. I lost a lot of sleep, which did nothing but make the Post Traumatic Stress worse.
Enough was enough!
I couldn’t take it any more .
I decided to take a HUGE risk and shut down all small group training soon after it was relaunched. The level of work I had taken on was officially too much, and I decided it was in my best interest to focus on one line of work that was truly working in my favor before I lost my mind.
The thing is though is that I did lose my mind. I can still hear the words of a friend who visited me in Pittsburgh the week before I cut ties with my location in the South Side.
“Promise me you won’t go jumping off any bridges. I’m worried about you”
“We’ve been trying to call you for months!” said the Dallas City Detective. “Your case is still open.”
It was October 26th, 2016. It was just over a year from the date of the assault. I received a phone call from the Dallas City Sexual Assault Department with what I thought would be good news.
“We have enough evidence to pursue the perpetrator in court, but the problem is we do not have a DNA match of the assailant in our registry. Under the law, we cannot infringe upon the rights of others unless there is a clear match in our criminal registry. I am so sorry for you, I really really am. No one should have to go through this, but please find peace in this. Your case will remain open indefinitely. We are committed to keeping your case open indefinitely. In the State of Texas, a crime is a crime forever.”
6 out of every 1,000 criminals will be reprimanded for sexual assault, and of those 6, you can expect them to be REPEAT offenders. First timers? You may be walking away scot-free.
WHAT KIND OF FUCKED UP WORLD IS THIS?!?!?
Anger. Fear. Remorse. Regret. Frustration. Paranoia. Grief. I was drowning in a murky sea of a dangerous depression. It was a depression that was so severe that I said a lot of things I never thought I would say, and I did a lot of things that I thought I would never do. Bad things. Stupid things. Scary things. Deadly things.
I simply didn’t want to live anymore.
I sat in my apartment one morning staring at a publication my friend sent me: “Obstacle Racing” by Margaret Schlachter. My friend happens to be one of the top racers in the Obstacle World, and she had coerced me to come to Canada for the X Man race. As a gift, she sent me this book to gear up for races, should I intend to train for competitive events. The timing of this gift was so impeccable, I considered it to be a supernatural gift from God himself. It just so happened to be the morning of that Spartan Sprint in Pittsburgh. I had signed up for the thing on a whim as another friend who races told me he thought I was strong enough to tackle the sport. “This is the kind of thing that tests every level of your strength. You need to be here!”
This new life I have started with a prayer, but not a prayer for strength. This was a prayer for endurance.
“God, I don’t know where I am going anymore, but you are leading me down a new path with unfamiliar terrain. Give me the endurance to get through this event, and show me how awesome my life can be as I press on with your guidance. “
Prayer answered. God sent angels straight to me to lift me up.
I desperately needed a community of people that knew what it was like to overcome obstacles, and I found a friend on the race track that day who truly understood what it was like to live through the harder parts of life. One sprint lead to another hang out which would eventually lead to one hell of an accountability partner who showed me the entire obstacle racing community here in Pittsburgh. I don’t know what it is about this sport of obstacle racing, but it seems to attract people who have had traumatic experiences in their lives. I have met with trauma victims, ex military members, and former drug addicts that fully understand the fiery hell of Post Traumatic Stress. Even more, these very people have spent an enormous amount of time rekindling their burning desire to live through the sport of Obstacle Racing. I call these people friends now, and I am forever in debt to the level of love they shared with me at the darkest moments of my life.
A Strong First kettlebell instructor who I did my level 2 certification with told me to hire a coach and train for one of the toughest courses in the Spartan Realm: Killington, Vermont. Up and down one massive mountain that will test the toughest of athletes out there. “You’ve been through too much! Do this for you! Find your strength again!” So I did just that.
“I want to train for Killington” I told my new hired coach, who just so happened to be a Spartan SGX level 2 Coach. “I want to prove everyone wrong!”
“You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, you just have to believe your life is worth living. Do this for you, and pay it forward to everyone that helped you through this horrible time in your life. Obstacle racing is life, and this life you now have is your second chance at living out your dreams. Keep going! Pay it forward. You may think you are no match for Killington now, but in due time, Killington will be no match for YOU!”
Post traumatic stress is very real and very debilitating. I cannot tell you how many sleepless nights I have had, how many times I’d wake up paranoid in my own apartment when there was no immanent threat of danger. I cannot tell you of the horrifying nightmares I had, reliving the very trauma I experienced night after night after night. There were so many times I had to splash water on my face to convince myself that yes, I am in Pittsburgh and no, I am not in Dallas. I’ve had panic attacks when people were walking too close behind me, feeling the hair stand on the back of my neck as I try to quiet my thoughts from thinking “something bad might happen again.” Logic will escape even the most rational person post trauma, but if there is one thing I have learned over time having done lots of hard work in my therapy sessions now, it’s this.
I don’t have to be the victim. Every day, I choose to be the victor.
I am alive. I am growing a brand new line of business. I have been given HUGE opportunities since moving to a new city, and have made the commitment to pay it forward to the very people who lifted me up during the darkest, murkiest moments of my life.
I never thought I would be this happy again.
But I am.
At Age 4, my best friend back home had a near death experience due to a boating accident. A huge wave had come over her and her family while out on what was supposed to be a leisure day. Being thrown from the boat at that age was terrifying as she had no idea how to swim. She has a very real fear of drowning because she herself almost drowned at a young age. Trauma is triggered by events that appear similar to the very first traumatic experience, and there she was, panic-stricken at the dunk wall of the Ohio Spartan Beast Race. There was a solid 4-5 foot drop underneath the wooden wall, which seemed unusually deep to all the racers there that day. The water was black, murky, muddy as you can imagine. While I had gotten myself out from under the wall of the obstacle, my friend was still on the opposite side, in tears, reliving the very traumatic experience she had as a child.
“I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I seriously don’t want to drown!”
Pay it forward.
I don’t know what came over me right then and there, but I dove right back into the water to pull her out from under the obstacle. My head was barely above the water as I reached under the wall to grab my friends hand on the other side.
“On a count of 3, follow my lead! Trust me! I got you! “
Hand in hand.
Together, resurfacing from the murky waters of our own fears.
Finding my strength again has taken almost 2 years of my life, and it took a hell of a lot of endurance to keep pressing on. I am here, the victor, crossing the finish line with the very people who lead me through the murky waters of my own depression. I am eating a lot smarter, training a lot harder, and enjoying my life so much more now as God put the right people at the right time into my life to help me keep going. I have been given a second chance to thrive. I have new friends, a new apartment, a new book deal, and new fitness journeys to gear up for as I continue to learn from the best of the best in the industry. Obstacle racing taught me just how strong I can be under the exceeding demands of life’s most random and challenges. I have learned the most valuable lesson of my life from this sport, a lesson fully centered on the endurance of your faith.
If you dare to press on through your fears, you inevitably will cross the finish line in your life in victory, being cheered on by everyone who lead you along the way.
Like this post. Share it with your friends. Tell people that you love them daily.
Life is too damn short to feel powerless post trauma. Reach out! Get help! Keep going! Pray!
YOU are the victor! Remember that! Always!
And when you find yourself surrounded by the very people who encourage you no matter what, who lift you up no matter what, who love you for who you are no matter what, pay it forward!
Let nothing stand in your way!