Win Over Your Fears
Exactly today 22 years ago, the last thing I remembered was getting on my scooter to deliver that pizza. When I woke up, it felt like a dream. My family was surrounding me. I remember holding my cousin’s hand. I was lying down in bed and everything around me was white. It only took about 2 minutes until I blacked out again. It was about a day or two before I finally woke up. I was in a different room now, covered in white, with tubes attached to almost every part of my body. My parents were sitting beside me. My mom with a scared look on her face and my dad seemed serious and upset. It took me a few more minutes, but when I finally regained complete consciousness, I asked: “What’s going on?”. My dad said: “you’ve been through a serious accident. It’s best if you’ll rest.” I started to probe around my body, trying to understand what was hurt. My left arm was casted, I thought “ok…”. Then I noticed my legs were feeling funny. I couldn’t get them closer to one another. As if something was in the way. Looking down at the blanket I noticed it was not resting comfortably on my legs, it seemed like there was something sharp lying under it. I lifted the covers, only to discover the horror. Both my shins were completely crashed from the accident. And that wasn’t everything, after speaking with the doctor he explained to me that due to a strong hit my right leg suffered, they had to remove part of the bones and so my leg is now 2.5 cm shorter. I was just 16, barely 17, at the time, discovering that I might not be able to walk or even stand again. I was devastated. From running through the fields of my village, to not even being able to stand.
It was hard. But as an optimistic kid, I wasn’t willing to give up on myself. I was determined to be able to walk again! After spending a month and a half at the hospital, my parents brought me back home. The house was modified to fit my new situation. Getting around in a wheelchair and crawling up and down the stairs was my new lifestyle (and workout routine).
A couple of months passed. Doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, nurses, and even my high school teachers (since I was in my senior year in school, I received private lessons at home in order to finish high school on time), came in to check up on me, replacing my bondages, and helping me recover. I felt optimistic and always knew I would get back on my feet again.
After about 5 months, it was time to check up on my legs. The cast was removed from my left arm by now and my wrist was working pretty well, considering quite a few bones that were shattered there. But this day was all about my legs. I came into the doctor’s room, he seemed pleased with my recovery. “Stand”, the doctor said. I looked at him puzzled, asking: “what??”. “Stand.”, he said again, “it’s time”. Shocked by his demand, I started moving uncomfortably in my chair. In the past 5 months, I was either lying down on my back or moving on a wheelchair. But now it was time to stand. I felt like a baby. Using both the doctor and my mom as support, the doctor counted to 3, and I was up on my legs. I was standing. They both seemed so short. Or I might just have grown a bit during recovery. It felt amazing! I always knew I would get there! Now that I could stand, the next step was literally taking the next step. It took some time until I was actually stepping and I had to use crutches for that. I can tell you, it all felt so strange: standing and learning how to walk all over again, just like a toddler.
About a year and a half passed. I became pretty good at walking. I didn’t even need my crutches anymore. But I was still in a pretty wrecked shape. I began doing some upper body exercises after my cast was removed from my left arm. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it felt good. But as for my legs, walking and standing still considered a wild activity at the time. Once I finished high school, it was my duty to join the army, just like every other 18-year-old in Israel. The peak of my service was completing bootcamp. There is a tough fitness test you have to complete that involves several exercises, one of them was a 2000 meter run. I was still in a terrible shape when it came to my legs. The heavy leather army boots kept bugging me in my shins (where the bolts used to be from the operation) and they were so heavy on my legs because of muscles deterioration. Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge. The sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups went ok for the fitness level I had. But I was so scared for the run, I feared I might break my legs again. The sergeant screamed “on your marks, get set, GO.”, and I started running, or should I say: passing one foot in front of the other in a slightly faster rhythm than normal. My officers were all encouraging: “Come on, move it!”, they shouted, “Never give up,” I heard them saying. And the first kilometer was already behind me. I was in between jogging and walking pace all the way to the end. It felt terrible and I wanted to quit so many times. But the end drew closer, just 500 meters left. The sensation of the boots rubbing against my skin was unbearable. Yet, I didn’t give up, I knew I can do this, just a bit longer. Close to the end, I felt my shins hurting, probably due to all the effort I’ve put into this run. Almost there, a few more steps, but I simply couldn’t, the pain in my legs was too much and I had to walk. It took me another 5 minutes to cross the last 150 meters, but I didn’t care! I’ve made it. I collapsed on the floor with zero energy, touching my legs making sure everything is still in place. I couldn’t have been happier. The run took me overall a little over 20 minutes. A passing score for this test would be a maximum of 12 minutes, but because of the crazy recovery I went through, nobody really asked me to redo this test.
Years have passed since I’ve finished my military service and one thing remained an important factor in my life: staying fit and eating healthy. In 2009, after graduating computer science studies and finding a full-time job in software, I decided to turn my hobby into a career, and so I turned to study how to become a physical trainer coach. Once completed, it motivated me so much that I decided to dedicate my life to helping people move to a healthier lifestyle.
Even though I went through a physical trainer’s certification, understanding the importance of training my body as a whole, I still feared for my legs. Therefore, running or training my legs was a minor activity in my life. Until one day a visit to the orthopedic doctor changed my life completely. I went because of a sharp pain I felt in my elbow. As part of the procedure, he asked me some questions about the condition of my legs. I told him I still feel pain when standing for long periods and that I go weekly on a 3 km run, but I avoid any resistance exercises on my legs. I’ve explained that I fear I might injure my legs, due to my old (12 years ago) accident. His reply was so blunt: “Why so little? If you can walk you can run. And to get your leg injuries safe, it’s best if you’ll do resistance training with them”. And then it hit me, I was so scared of training my legs that I didn’t give any thought to the fact that training my legs will actually make them stronger and more resistant to future injuries. That was the point at which my workout regime changed tremendously!
In 2013, I was still working in software and part-time training individuals. But I decided it’s time for a change, and a very extreme one, to be honest. Being torn between the two worlds of IT and fitness, I decided to quit my work in IT. And for 9 months I explored some of the most beautiful countries in the world! The last one was Amsterdam and there I decided to establish my life and my fitness coaching business.
Funny story, when I was on the plane, heading towards my new home in Amsterdam, I met a fellow-runner enthusiast who encouraged me to sign up for the annual Amsterdam half marathon. As I wasn’t very familiar with running back then, he told me all about the different races and ways to train for it. Believe it or not, I signed up for the Amsterdam half marathon on the spot, which actually took place about a month later. Just a quick note: half a marathon is 21 km, my longest running distance at that time was 9 km, and I wasn’t even too fast. But I was determined to succeed and for the next month I was busting my a&# off training for this marathon, clocking my last run before the marathon at 20 km. This race was in the pocket (or so I thought).
Little did I know, there’s a huge difference between training for a race and actually running it. My struggle was huge, especially since I was aiming so high, and even more so on my first ever organized race. Though I had heard stories, I did not expect it to be such a fun experience: the other runners around you in different costumes, the desire to stick to a certain time, the crowd that pushes you with their cheering, all of it keeps you going no matter what. The last 3 km were not a walk in the park, I remember thinking that I cannot do this anymore and that I should quit and walk the remaining distance, but I told myself to take it a bit easier and it’s only another 3 km to go, and then 2, and then 1. I was pushing myself beyond my limits. The last 500 meters were the hardest. I was having a hard time breathing, the side of my stomach was hurting with every breath I took. I tried holding my breath, but it made things even harder. At this point I had to slow down a bit, but I kept running, only 100 meters to go, just a couple of seconds. And it was over. I felt empty, I could barely walk. But I did it. My first personal best was 1 hour and 54 minutes. The following years I went on several other half marathons, in Berlin and Paris, side by side with my running team that I met in Amsterdam. But my biggest challenge was still completing a full 42.2 km marathon.
In 2016 my personal training business was still growing (and still is today). Owning a fitness studio, giving personal training and group classes alongside to 8 other personal trainers I work with, but I felt it’s time to complete a personal goal I set to myself a long time ago. Conquering a full marathon.
Together with two runner friends, Paulo and Oscar, I started training for the race. Eventually, Paulo also signed up with me for the 2017 marathon in Tel Aviv. The excitement was huge and so was the training regimen. In the eyes of most people it seems that running is the hardest part of a marathon, but actually running a marathon is more of a mental thing, if you can complete about 30-32 km of the run, the rest is just convincing yourself that soon it will be over. The hardest and most time-consuming is training towards the marathon. Tempo, interval, and long distance run almost on a daily basis, not mentioning the concluding weekend very long distance run. On top of the hard training schedule, I also needed to maneuver between building up my business, maintaining my clients – keeping their gains on track, and let’s not forget, having some personal life. I felt overwhelmed. There were many moments which I’ve reached a point of simply calling it quits and dropping out from the race. But I was determined and had enough people around me to motivate me. On the day of the marathon, I woke up at 5:30, extremely excited. I ate a few walnuts and one date, the previous night my friend and I were feasting on a huge bowl of pasta. I had a pack of 4 energy gels, which I planned to take every 10-15 km. The announcer counted backward, 10..9..8.. we were so ready to go already! 2..1 and we were off. The first 12 km were a breeze. I even remember sharing some photos on social media while running. Then we noticed the 20 km sign… At this point, I felt it’s getting a bit heavy, almost half marathon distance. Hitting the 30 km mark, my pace has gotten a bit slower, and running has gotten a lot heavier. The heat and a surprise run uphill were hitting us hard. The end started feeling much closer by now. It was all about keeping the same pace without looking back. My body was signaling that I should slow down, even my back was hurting at this point, having one leg somewhat shorter than the other wasn’t exactly an advantage. So I reduced my tempo just to feel a bit less pain. I took another energy gel pack, regaining some power to my legs and kept pushing hard. My friend and I got separated at this point, but I knew that I’ll see him at the finish line, we were both training hard towards this marathon and no one planned to quit. I noticed the 40 km sign and then 41. Only 1.2 km to go. And that was the point I needed all of the mental energy I could obtain. In my head I visualised that teenager in the wheelchair with the metal bolts screwed into his shins shouting and motivating me: “Come on, move it, you have two working legs, use them and go!”. And then, just like I knew back then I will be able to walk again, I knew I owned this marathon. My legs just kept on going by themselves. Every step I took felt like I was falling from a tall building when the impact hit the soul of my feet. Finally, the finish line was around the corner, 500 meters to go. I could barely breathe or move my legs, it all felt very automatic. Pain and excitement all at the same time! And I was DONE! More thrilled than ever! I did it! In almost 4 hours I ran a 42 km distance, conquering a full marathon!
I dragged my legs towards the stands where you can get some fruit and water, it all felt like a feast in my mouth. Paolo and my family came to meet me at the finish line a bit later. Shemer, an old friend from college, joined me there as well and took this awesome finisher photo which will forever remind me of this magical moment. For me, completing this marathon meant I won my recovery.
And so can you, win over your fears.