For Athletes
What Is True Strength

Above all else be strong. But what is strength?

Saturday mornings are fun. I am off from work, but I still wake up and head over to the gym. I train one of my private clients at the turf across the street before I do my own training. David is only 12, but he is one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever had. He is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. Today was like most of our other sessions, we worked on movement, body control, spatial awareness, and some mobility and stability. All of these things are masked as games and play. Of course I tell him all of these things are going to make him big and strong, which I guess when I think about it, in the end, they are.

We laugh between sets. We are a funny pair.  His religion doesn’t allow him to eat certain foods so he is always curious. He asks me what bacon and calamari taste like and I laugh so hard. I ask him about Gifilte fish and he giggles.  We tease each other. He tells me about school, basketball, and his family. He truly is a good hearted, genuinely nice boy. He asks me every time I see him when he will have a sixpack. He asks to see mine and I laugh harder. He says he wants to be strong like me. My laughs stop when it hits me that I wish I was as strong as him. I stop for a second and I tell him he is stronger than me. He laughs. He doesn’t realize I am serious. He doesn’t realize he is changing my life more than I am changing his.  He is showing me what true strength really is.

Onlookers see a boy having fun. Most passers by probably laugh at the idea of a 12 year old having a ‘trainer.’ They chalk it up to a rich family paying for things that they don’t need. Who knows. What you can’t see is that he is a cancer survivor. You can’t see the scars all over his body hidden by his clothes. Between the ages of eight and ten he was fighting Leukemia. He spent months at a time in a hospital bed. He went through treatment after treatment, doctor visit after doctor visit. He is training so he can learn to walk correctly again. He is learning to jump again. He is learning to move his body again. He wants to make the basketball team next year. He wants to train to grow so he can be the same size as his classmates. He’ll never tell you this, but you can see it in his effort. Sometimes I forget about the fight he went through not so long ago, because he is just so happy all of the time.

Recently his body started fighting against some of the cells he received from his brother in the stem cell transplant he had. The doctors are treating the situation carefully, not wanting him to lose his eye, but also not wanting to wake up the cancer. The medicine he has been on the past 2 weeks has caused him to puff up. He asks me today if we can work REALLY HARD. He asks if we can workout like I do when I’m training for juijitsu or lacrosse, and asks if today maybe I can workout with him. I tell him I’m not sure I am as tough as him. He laughs, but again, I am serious. We start training together. Air squats, split squats, pushup position holds. In between sets he tells me about his last doctors visit, and what the situation is. He tells me that his body is rejecting some of the stem cells and he could lose his eyesight.  He says if they treat it incorrectly the cancer can come back.  He makes sure to add in that I shouldn’t worry, that he is strong now and will fight it off.  Then he flexes his little arm muscle. He talks about it as if he is telling me about what he had for breakfast this morning. Zero fear. It’s all just part of his life. Part of his fight. Part of his STRENGTH.

Recently I’ve been frustrated with my own training, I’ve been in kind of a middle ground, my lacrosse playing days are long gone, and theres no weightlifting competitions or juijitsu tournaments lined up, just going through the motions with no true meaningful goals. I still train, but admittedly, it’s not the same as it used to be. But when he is watching me train with him, he thinks I am superman. He tells me he wants to be just like me. He asks to feel my muscles and I laugh. I’ve been so mad lately, that I forgot about the impact we can have on each other’s lives. You never know who you may be a role model for. You never know who might be watching you train or compete. You never know what one small statement might resonate with someone and change their life forever. You may not be the strongest or biggest guy, but you might just be some ones inspiration. Today he was mine. I was his.

I left the park after our session and made my way into the gym. Training was different. He reminded me what STRENGTH is. He made me feel strong.

Strength is not your PR Snatch, it’s not how much you deadlift, and it’s definitely now how ripped your abs are.  It’s not about winning a National Championship or anything like that at all.  True strength is something that honestly I cannot define, but I know I saw it today in Davids eyes.

Are you strong?