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5 Ways Fitness Saved My Life as a Person With a Disability and Diabetes

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Imagine waking up every day terrified that someone was going to make fun of you because of the way you look. I’m not talking about a bad hair day or because your shirt is on backwards. I’m talking about being born noticeably different and being self-conscious about it every second of the day.

That was me.

Being born with two fingers on my left hand and a shorter left arm was rough on me as a kid, physically and emotionally. From bullying to being left out of some activities like the monkey bars, it was hard understanding I was different. Depression, anxiety and anger filled my head and led me down some bad paths of drugs and drinking. Adding to the problems, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 19. As I sat in the hospital bed, a nurse explained to me how my life was going to permanently change. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Disabled and diabetic? There has to be a reason for this.”

I decided I needed to help people in order to help myself stay on track and switched my major from political science and law to exercise science and health promotion. Over the last seven years, I’ve built a variety of successful fitness training programs and businesses, helping hundreds of people lose thousands of pounds. I now run a successful online training business and travel the country as a keynote speaker, youth speaker and overall inspirational speaker.

Here are five ways fitness saved my life:

1. Confidence.

Stepping into a gym on day one was miserable — I won’t lie. But it was the best decision I’ve ever made. My confidence was at an all-time low when I first started going to the gym, and I told myself I wouldn’t be able to work out because I’m disabled and was worried about people judging me. The problem wasn’t the gym or other people.

The problem was me.

Once I got over myself and my self-sabotaging thoughts, I found myself adapting and working out without limits. I started being confident in my abilities. As I made the gym a priority, I started being more confident in my potential. Over time, I’ve built a body that people aspire to build even with my “disability,” and my confidence has gone through the roof because I proved to myself that I can do it.

2. Learning to fail forward.

The best lesson I learned from the gym is that failing is not all that bad. When I first started going to the gym, I couldn’t lift heavy weights at all and started blaming it on how I was born. Over time, I started failing less and getting stronger. As I grew in size, I definitely grew mentally, understanding that with failure comes lessons — lessons that provide an opportunity to succeed. The only way to fail is to give up. Now, each failure in the gym or in life is just a stepping stone to future success.

3. No limits.

How can a guy with no hand do pull-ups or deadlifts? As an adaptive person, I needed to adapt so I could work out and build the body I wanted to. I found lifting hooks that I attached to my arm, so I could do all the exercises other people could do. I took it past ability and currently hold four state records in powerlifting, deadlifting 630 pounds missing a left hand. I learned all limitations are self-imposed. There are truly no limits in your ability to win; it may just take a little adapting. The hopeless thoughts disappeared as I realized I can do anything I put my mind to.

4. Improve, not impress.

Before getting into fitness, everything I did revolved around other people’s view of me. The way I dressed, the way I acted — even the way I lived reflected my desire to impress other people. I was a prisoner to my own perception of myself based on how I thought other people saw me. As I began to see progress in my body and my mindset, I started living for myself and focused on improving myself instead of impressing other people. The anxiety of being different disappeared as I fell in love with progress in the gym. Improving myself in the gym helped me accept how I was born and understand that anyone willing to judge me probably has problems far worse than mine.

5. Obstacles to opportunities.

Day one in the gym makes you realize you are pretty far from being a record-holding powerlifter or aesthetic physique model. One of the toughest obstacles to tackle is understanding where you are now does not limit where you can be. With time, consistency and dedication, you will overcome every hardship thrown your way.

It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.

I struggled. I quit. I doubted myself. But I kept going. I watch my body change and my strength increase to levels I thought were impossible. Come on, a person with diabetes and a disability deadlifting 630 pounds and benching 330 pounds, balancing it on his missing hand? No way. But it happened. I’m living it.

Getting into fitness helped me turn my mindset back into an opportunity to inspire people around the world. I am who I am today because of how I took a seemingly negative situation and made the most out of it.

Do what you can with what you have. All limitations are self-imposed and I really mean that. I spent so much time convincing myself why I couldn’t when, in reality, redirecting that energy to adapting and succeeding is all I needed to do. Lifting weights did much more than improve my muscle mass — it taught me how to overcome adversity, one rep at a time.

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Originally published: November 9, 2016
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