Once again, I no longer wanted to live. The embarrassment and immobility of life at that weight creates an imprisoned soul, desperately screaming for release. Beyond the everyday struggles, my long-term health obviously took a hit, as well. I suffered from recurring staph infections in my left leg. Eleven times from 2005 to 2014, a simple red dot on my calf would, within hours, explode to encompass the entirety of my lower leg. Eventually, that red hue would morph to blue, then purple, then black. My temperature would skyrocket from normal to over 104 degrees. I would spend between six and eight days in the hospital, receiving IV antibiotic treatment to calm the bacterial infection.
These episodes became regular due to immobility coupled with extreme morbid obesity. This combination caused lymph fluid to pool in my legs, which, in turn, caused them to swell to over three times their normal size. During one hospital visit, my left leg alone weighed 125 pounds.
The final infection brought me to the hospital on December 28, 2013. It was the third infection I had experienced in a three-month period. One week in October…one week in November…and now there I was again. I rang in the New Year alone, in a dark, quiet hospital room. It was at that point that I realized that either I had to make significant changes, or I was going to die a slow, painful death.
I chose life.
With the help of the same extensive network of family and friends that had done so much to help build up the success story I was going to be earlier in life, I began to make small changes. Each day, I walked a tenth of a mile. Because I could not complete that distance without stopping, I brought along a metal folding chair with me. That first day, I had to stop four times to sit down. But I stuck with it. Eventually, I could walk 1/10 of a mile and only stop three times, then twice, and so on. Soon enough, I joined a local gym, where I continue to work out to this day.
In just over five years, I have lost 367 pounds.
Not only have I survived mental illness and morbid obesity, I have taken full advantage of the second chance I have been given. I am married to a beautiful woman, we have an adorable two-year old daughter and I am gainfully employed at Zebra, a company that recognizes my unique perspective, embracing my quirks and my never-say-die attitude. I share my story with everyone from elementary schools to corporate groups as a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As a history buff, I have had the amazing opportunity to lecture during a local AP European History class on the French Revolution, as well as the honor to interview local veterans of the Vietnam War, sharing their stories in an anthology volume that will hit the shelves in September.
Of all the wonderful successes I’ve proudly achieved with my recovery from nearly certain doom, however, one stands out above the rest.
When I began to lose weight, the long-term dream I had in mind was to play hockey again. After I had lost about 250 pounds, I sojourned to our local outdoor rink, exploring the feasibility of that goal. The early returns were not encouraging. After a decade without touching my skates, I started by leaning up against the boards, and walking around the outside edge of the rink. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to start pushing off, and soon thereafter, I could let go of the boards. Over the course of two winters, I taught myself how to play the game again from scratch.
Today, I am the captain of the Chiefs, a local Men’s League team here in Appleton.
Participating in the rough and tumble sport of fire on ice is more than a passion for me. The dream of playing hockey, the camaraderie of guys with shared passions, goals and love for each other, working as a team toward a common goal, kept my hopes and spirits raised as I endured the excruciatingly painful process of recovery and weight loss.
Hockey saved my life.
I am a firm believer that courage is not the absence of fear, but the acknowledgement of fear, and going forward anyway. In hockey, and in life, we will all experience loss and setback. Mental toughness and courage drive us to continue standing up when life knocks us down.
And that’s what living the rugged life is all about.