The Art of Personal Sacrifice: Seeking Pain

In 2017 I showed up to the gym with Jesse Bradley, our crew was one short that morning when I walked in at 5:10 a.m. but I was as motivated and inspired as could be, as per usual. Jesse had arrived 15 minutes prior and began the work out in anticipation of me. With 315 pounds on the dead-lift bar, I walked up to it jokingly and began my lift — no warm up, no stretch, no pre-cardio work up…I just went for it. The bar raised halfway between my ankle and knee before my back blew out, I immediately hit the floor and realized I slipped a disc and pinched a nerve. Usually in these situations I can ice it and still carry on the day, but the severity by which it had started to overcome me was alarming and I realized how stupid I was to try and start the day by dragging 315 pounds off the floor. I ended my workout within 5 minutes of the incident and was already having trouble getting into my Jeep.

Arriving home where I lived in a spare bedroom at my close friend Tyler’s house, I was unable to lay in the bed. When I tried to get up, a paralyzing pain shot down my back and into my thighs, I was literally unable to move my upper body. Unaccepting of my situation I tried several variations of wiggling and movement to get myself out of the bed before falling down and crawling to the bathroom where my plan was to attempt to shower and relax. Realizing I was unable to do anything but lay motionless I made the call to my friend Tyler who was at work and pleaded for him to come grab me to take me to the emergency room at the Veterans Hospital in Buffalo. Upon arrival the doctor gave me intravenous medication as well as muscle relaxers to last a couple days, and within a couple hours, I was good to go and on my way. I took the day off from the gym but was back at it the next morning at 5a.m. doing a light workout and taking my time.

How bad do you remember wanting to play college football? Not many of you share my sentiment, but maybe for another objective — how badly did you want that job? that promotion? the sale to that prominent customer, or the competition to be ruled in your favor? The fleeting emotion of time slipping away while your only choice to get closer to your objectives is to simply run faster than time itself towards them, is a painstaking ideology to take part in.

It is debatable whether or not my injury was significant enough to play any role impacting my future determination, as there were several high-profile moments that can better be attributed to my unsatiable quest for self-fulfillment, but it does not mean that these nickel and dime moments of taking the pain, getting back up, and continuing to move forward do not help in building a stronger foundation for our character.

As 2017 turned to 2018 I began my journey as a walk-on at then Bluefield College. Despite my best efforts of training, working, moving, and countless hours in the gym and meeting all dietary requirements — I found myself in unimaginably excruciating pain, the likes of which can hardly be characterized in the English language. During my first two weeks of 2018 fall camp, my body swelled comparable to the blueberry from Willy Wonka, from my toes to my neck and everywhere in between, I was quite literally in tears and crying as I attempted to get up each and every day. If we had to be at breakfast no later than 7:30a.m. then I would be forced to get myself up between 5:45a.m. and 6:00a.m. because it would take a full hour to put on my socks, shorts, shirt, and brush my teeth. It would then take anywhere from 7–12 minutes to walk down my stairs to the driveway. The trainers at the time truly believed I had undiagnosed Rheumatoid arthritis and they wanted the opinion of a medical professional. Every join, finger, and toe was taped. Every joint iced after each practice, and both knees wrapped to assist with a level of tendonitis I did not know was possible for the human body.

My suffering was witnessed by many on my team who saw me as an indestructible force for good which came from their perception of my time in the Army. This bearing witness to my suffering forced me to have to mask it at every opportunity I had and smile directly at it so as not to show the slightest amount of weakness or feeble attitude towards the sport which was consuming my body worse than the military could have ever dreamed. During this period, I was forced to reckon with the questions any man in my position might reckon with, being that I wasn’t sure the torment my body was experiencing was worth the dream which was much differently romanticized in my mind; still yet, I was never able to question it much deeper than a superficial thought. I knew that in my heart, this had to be done, not for the love of the game though the love was real, but rather as a matter of personal renaissance to my life as a whole as well as to heal the deeper wounds unseen from the military in combination with the desire to prove to other veterans that their disability was only such if they believed it was.

The vision I had for myself outweighed the pain I was experiencing, and in reflection I began to realize that people quit most readily when the vision they have for themselves is lesser than the pain they’re experiencing, or willing to experience. I realized that even with the torment I was putting myself through, that for the moment, I was entirely indestructible because my vision was so clear and set that any pain experienced still coward in comparison. I experienced similar feelings in the Army, I experienced similar feelings in football in high school, and I was experiencing it yet again in that moment. I was oddly emotional during those months not because of the pain I was experiencing but rather it was solely because of the vision I had for myself, it being so clear, that the sacrifice needed during those days seemed almost humorous because the sacrifice could have asked me to lay down every single bit of myself and I would have without question, instead it only asked me to endure.

By the time the deed was done and my recovery began to take place, I was only left with the thought of why more was not asked of me, why the sacrifice (if it was an entity) didn’t want more of me, why it didn’t want to find out if it could push me over the edge further than I believed it to have done already. I realized that the only test I had actually passed is the one where I did absolutely everything asked of me, even when it hurt or was emotionally painful to do so, and therefor there was nothing else. If the objective was different but the passion was the same, any such sacrifice would have been met in the same way as it was on the field of battle between the goal posts at Mitchell Stadium.

Pain, after those months, meant something wildly different to me than they did before. It is as though the year build up to camp, and then camp itself had formed a hardened concrete mentality that literally anything was possible. I began to look for those things which could push me further to the edge if it was at all possible, and I began to separate myself further from people whose vision for themselves did not exceed the pain they were willing to endure. In this way, you could have made anything out of me and I was confident I could still drum up a way to make it out — through pain, through sacrifice, I literally became unafraid.

Calloused to the world around me, I wanted only to hear from those who were able to push themselves beyond the measure of commonality by living authentically and attacking their objectives rather than simply arriving at them. I became more wildly unimpressed with mediocrity than ever before and found solace in those who were unafraid of their objectives and the immense sacrifice it takes to achieve them consistently. I became deaf to a world where quitters rage at their insignificance to the greater picture that is the universe and was able to see and hear one which demanded the greater picture be drawn in their image.

A realization dawned on me as to exactly how dangerous it is for us to continue to grow as humans and meet time face to face without ever challenging it to accomplish our goals without it slipping away. I realized the inherent dangers in becoming an adult whose self-image is less than the pain one is willing to endure, and the strain it puts on the rest of society whether in complacency, attitude towards life, or disregard for it entirely. In this way, I realized the greatest risk was in never taking one, that ultimately — suffering requested rather than suffering delayed was not suffering at all, but instead simply a moment in time where you had a chance to open your own book and define your own chapter. Similarly, suffering delayed — I realized, was true suffering, a living hell that was only escapable by asking for more of it while creating an authentic path. I realized that those who sought only to live in comfort missed out on the opportunity to figure out who the hell they are.

The art of personal sacrifice is in realizing the beautiful ambiguity towards the fact that it is not even sacrifice when the vision you’re holding is greater than your present circumstance — instead, you’re trading one illusion in your current reality, for the preferred illusion you’re willing to endure for until it is realized and becomes your new reality. On the other hand, when we do not seek pain, we live in an unattainable fantasy world dictated by materialism, and worst of all — Nihilism. Nothing needs to matter to an individual masking their inability to face the music, instead it is easier to rationalize that literally nothing has a purpose and nothing matters because why would it need to when an individual’s self-image and vision for themself is less than they’re willing to endure; yet still, this is the greatest suffering someone can endure. To believe nothing matters to vindicate ones complacency is to live without purpose, while bearing the full pain of humanity in the most unproductive of ways. To suffer voluntarily for purpose and vision is to be enlightened by the extent one’s mind can reach across the boundaries of illusion set by those who can’t bear to see anyone cross them without being offended at their own inability to face themselves fully. The art of personal sacrifice is endurance.

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there” — Vince Lombardi.

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The Grind

U.S Army / OEF Vet, College Football Player, Small Business Start-Up Owner, Student