In this article, I want to share with you my journey to become the health and fitness professional. For those of you who may not know me super well, this is perhaps a more inside look into who I am, and what led me to become a trainer and therapist. This is a reflection on the key life experiences that I feel have shaped me and allowed me to grow and develop my philosophy when it comes to movement. This is a curriculum vitae of my life in relation to my movement practice, my training philosophy, my journey to heal, and to strengthen and build resiliency within my body. More than anything, this is my story of how the pursuit of better movement gave me my confidence and my livelihood back. It is my hope that my story helps give you hope that you too can overcome your injuries, your trauma, and ultimately the narrative that you are holding into that is preventing you from living the life you want to live.
My Introduction to Movement
I grew up being a pretty active kid; my initial movement journey began early. I tried playing soccer and was not any good at it. I played a couple seasons of hockey and I didn’t really like it. I gave karate a go and got a yellow belt before I petered out. Growing up in southern California, surfing and skating really were a big part of my movement repertoire. I dabbled in a lot of things, but no sports really seemed to stick. However, when I was introduced to basketball at a young age, I fell in love. I naturally took to the game, and I seemed to have a knack for it. Having a father who was a big Lakers fan, it was only a matter of time before I too became a huge Lakers fan. I remember watching games even as early as 5 or 6 years old. Before Kobe. Before Shaq. I’m talking Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Cedric Ceballos, Elden Campbell, Vlade Divac. When Kobe got drafted in 96, it was over. He quickly became my favorite player and was for the next 20 years. I always tried to emulate Kobe in my driveway and when I played with my friends. My parents signed me up for my first league at age 7, and it seemed apparent that basketball was my sport. I would spend countless hours in the driveway shooting hoops, probably to the incredible annoyance of our neighbors.
Even though basketball was my major physical outlet, I still enjoyed many other activities. I skateboarded. I surfed. I rode my bike all over the neighborhood. I climbed trees. I remember many elementary school recesses playing handball, tag, capture the flag, climbing the jungle gym. There was no shortage of physical activity growing up as a kid. For this I am forever grateful. It helped forge a solid background and confidence in my ability to use my body in a variety of ways. I’m not sure kids today are growing up in as movement-rich environments as I did (thanks technology).
That said, growing up as a 90s kid, the internet was beginning to take form, and video games had been around for awhile. In contrast to all of the physical and outdoors activities I loved, I also loved video games. Nintendo 64 was the epitome of my video gaming experiences. There’s something magically nostalgic about being a gamer in the 90s. If you wanted to play with your friends, you had to all get together at someone’s house for a sleepover and take turns sharing only 4 controllers. There was no online gaming the way there is now. Many of us love books or movies to transport us to another world and let our imaginations take us new places, and to temporarily break away from the harsh realities of the real world (although truth be told, there aren’t many harsh realities when you’re that young). Video games did that for me.
I remember growing up that it was often hard to find a balance and form a clear identity for myself. I was friends with everyone. I loved sports and physical activity, but I also loved video games, trading card games, and anime. I was a jock and nerd. Instead of feeling like I fit in everywhere, I tended to feel like I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. This was always a struggle for me as a kid. I feel like this feeling of not belonging lingered with me throughout a large portion of my life. Not having a strong sense of identity or confidence in you who are starts at an early age, and it is very common for most of us. You’ll see how this idea plays out as my story unfolds.
I remember when I was young, that at some point my dad started to let himself go a bit, and made a conscious decision to change that. We got more home gym equipment and started going on walks as a family. From that point forward, I looked at my dad as an example of commitment and self-discipline when it came to taking care of himself. He lost weight, got stronger, and never strayed too far from maintaining these good habits. As a kid, I did not commit fully to exercise and fitness the way my dad did. Kids don’t need that kind of meticulous structure when it comes to physical fitness; I think kids just need to play and explore. Regardless of my lack of participation in recreational fitness at that time, my dad was a good example for me to look back on years later as I started to develop my own fitness identity.
Movement Derailed: Injuries & the Journey to Regained Function
When it came to sports, I continued to play basketball throughout my childhood, and I had a lot of success with it. But the continued identity confusion of whether or not I was an athlete or a nerd stuck with me. I actually got to a point where I shifted a bit more toward my nerd hobbies and let my athletic endeavors take more of a backseat. I can’t pinpoint the reason, but my confidence in myself and my abilities was lacking. I guess every pre-teen is incredibly insecure, and I was at that stage where I really did not know who I was.
Once I got to high school, I ended up just going to regular PE class, and opted for the basketball option. My PE teacher immediately recognized that I knew how to play, and that I should instead be putting my efforts towards playing organized high school basketball. I joined the team, and that was my introduction to lifting weights in order to improve athletic ability. This also became my first major experience of dealing with chronic pain. When I was playing basketball in high school, I really started to experience a lot of discomfort and pain in my lower back, particularly on the right side of my pelvis and SI joint area. I did not have a strength coach or mentor to educate me, and to teach me how to strength train properly and how to build resiliency in my body for the purpose of athletic performance. I did not have a well-educated therapist to guide me in my journey to eliminate pain and reduce injury risk.
I got hurt squatting in my high school weight room. I had to sit out many games due to lower back issues. Just as my lower back pain began to subside and I was able to get some momentum playing again, I broke my wrist during basketball practice. It was a bummer because at that point I was just starting to feel as though I was making strides again as a basketball player. I was starting to once again gain some sense of identity and confidence through the game of basketball. I ended up having to sit out the entire season.
Then in the middle of my sophomore-junior year summer, I moved to Hawaii. Once again, I had to rediscover my confidence in myself. New place. New people. Vastly different culture. I was unsure of wanting to continue to try and give basketball a go. I dislocated my shoulder swimming in the ocean, which again impaired my ability to play basketball and other physical activities I enjoyed. My body just did not have the capacity to handle as much as I wanted it to, and it started to make me feel fragile and withdraw from wanting to partake in physical activities. My understanding of what I needed to do in order to manage my physical body was severely lacking. Particularly considering the amount of physical activities I enjoyed. At this point in my life, so much of my confidence in myself was tied to my ability to basketball and to weight train. My confidence in my body and its abilities were at a low point in many ways. Chronic low back pain, broken wrist, dislocated shoulder, hypermobile joints. It felt like my body was betraying me.
In order to not make this exhaustively long, stay tuned for part 2.