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Stories of Hope: Part 1 – Don’t Forget Your Helmet

Let me start by saying this: There is a part of me that really, really didn’t want to publish this.

This is a lot of personal stuff that I wanted to keep to myself. But I made the decision to open up to all of you in this two part series, and I want each of you to understand why:

Every so often life throws something at you that feels insurmountable—things that shift your entire paradigm as you wonder how you’re going to come back from it. To many of us, it was the pandemic (at least, it was for me). It’s only after enough time has passed and wounds have healed, that you can look back, analyze, and discover the lessons learned. 

Being a fitness pro, most people assume things are always great—we show up to class with positivity coming out of our ears, and that dehumanizes us a little.  The thing is we’ve ALL been through shit, and some of us are actively going through it. What’s important to remember is not only did we survive—we became stronger people not in spite of it, but because of these moments.

When opening Cut Seven, Alex and I had a fair amount of challenges to overcome, never knowing that was the easy part. Keeping it open—especially these past two years—has been especially difficult (more on that in Part 2). But each of those challenges—no matter how frustrating they seemed at the time—made me increasingly grateful for this team, the community, and the three people (and one animal) waiting for me at home each day. 

A real appreciation for life comes with the hardships that make you ask, How did I get myself into this, What does my life look like without this, Is this worth it? Each experience that forces us to answer these questions brings increased resilience and confidence that, no matter what hard shit comes our way, we’ll get through it.

These are the stories I want to share with you—stories of hope. 

2002: Falling on your ass teaches you to roll into the fall

One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful. —Freud

I was drunk, I was running down the stairs, I took a stumbling-sharp turn, and busted my already damaged knee. 

That, combined with not wanting to go through surgery and physical therapy, was why I stopped playing college football. 

I never admitted that to anyone. I always just told people I hurt my knee playing football (not a lie), but I ruined it by being an idiot. At the time, that was the worst moment in my life. Up until then, football defined me and just like that, it was gone. I figured that was the most depressed I could get in life (spoiler: I was way off—more on that later). I still have lingering thoughts of shattered dreams and embarrassment when I think about it.

Fast forward to two weeks ago while filming demo videos for class, I tore my meniscus slipping on a lacrosse ball. (Those red balls have now been replaced with black—turns out red balls aren’t the best idea to have on red turf.) When it happened, I knew I tore something, I was sure it was my MCL again, but after sending a picture to a doctor friend, he guessed it was my meniscus. It was painful, still is, and it took three sleepless nights to force me into a doctor’s office. Grade 1 (out of 3) tear, I won’t need surgery unless I overdo it, and certain movements and activities are off limits.

the almost verbatim exchange I had with the doctor:

  • Doctor: So we’re looking at a 6 to 8 week recovery with very little activity. 
  • Chris: What would you tell me if I was a professional athlete?
  • Doctor: I’d say, retire. You’re 40. 
  • Chris: Seriously?
  • Doctor: With your tear, I’d say 2 to 3 weeks. But you’d have millions of dollars of physical therapy at your disposal and it would be your job to get better. 
  • Chris:

Chris’s Brain:

On the bright side, this freak accident could have been a lot worse. I am grateful for my first knee injury, otherwise I would be freaking out and sitting on my ass waiting for a doctor to clear me to play again. I’m also grateful for falling so much in life, seriously. If I hadn’t fallen on my ass seven million times, I wouldn’t know the importance of getting back up and keeping it moving. I also wouldn’t know how to roll into a fall so well. 

Look at that form! 

2010: if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for those around you

If I Only Had a Brain – Scarecrow

The headaches had been getting progressively worse, I was suffering from dizzy spells almost every day and a few episodes of fainting. I was sent to a neurologist who did a CT scan and found some swelling in my brain. While taking judo, muay-thai and krav-maga classes, I got my bell rung on more than one occasion. 

seeing stars was nothing new to me, as I had more than a handful of concussions playing football. The headaches and dizziness were coupled with memory loss and wild mood swings, which doctors summed up as post-concussion syndrome. My career in contact sports was officially over. What’s worse, I had to recognize that I suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries and the threat of CTE meant I may not have a fully functional brain without the aid of medication.

But at the time, denial was the only medication I could stomach. 

My wife was my mental and spiritual guru, and I felt like a better person when I was around her. Not until my daughter was born did I finally recognize that I was not okay and my mental and physical wellbeing directly impacts the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in my life. 

In 2017, I began taking medication for early-onset Alzheimer’s and depression. I was 35. 

A few weeks ago I went in for an evaluation, the first since before the pandemic. I was cleared to stop taking meds for pre-Alzheimer’s! Although I will continue to be monitored and evaluated for early stage dementia, it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted off my back. I have no idea when or if I will develop dementia, but I am also not going to worry about it. 

At this moment, my brain is fully functional; I have family, friends, and a team that supports me on my best days and on my worst. I’m going to live my life to the fullest, continue to push myself mentally and physically, and let whatever be, be. 

We all have shit we go through—what matters most is that we don’t go through it alone

If reading this makes you feel bad for me, please know that the last thing I want or deserve is your pity. I can sit and stew on both of these injuries, using them as crutches for why things don’t always go my way. But frankly, nothing is more harmful than self-pity and self-deprecation.

We’ve all made mistakes or done dumb shit we wish we could take back. But what could be more boring than looking back on the past? In my opinion, it’s important to honor life by not agonizing over what’s lacking. Look at all the cool shit we have: loved ones, travel, pizza. At some point we all fall, we all get hurt—both emotionally and physically, we all come to a point that feels like the end of our identity. What we need to realize is that it is not the end but only a new beginning.

Part II coming soon.