Cubicle to the cage Blog #8 Episode 107
By the time we’d made it to the half way point of the program many of us had truly adapted to our new lifestyle. Eating healthy, abstaining from alcohol (for the most part), training hard twice a day, these were no longer difficult choices. Clean living and hard training had simply become our new way of being. We quickly learned that the price for living any other way was too great. Skip workouts and you quickly got left behind by your harder working team mates. Eat junk food or have a night out drinking and your body would fail you during training the next day. Before starting the Cubicle to the Cage program I would have a social drink any time I wanted one. Now, on the infrequent occasions I did drink alcohol, I drank in extreme moderation and never the night before a hard training day. My diet had also changed radically.
The year before the program started I discovered I was gluten intolerant. While not having a severe reaction to wheat-based foods, I always had what I would describe as low-grade flu symptoms when I ate gluten heavy foods, which was almost every day. I made this realization after reading an article about Mark Hallman, who also suffers from gluten related issues. The article listed some of the symptoms he suffered from and I was shocked to learn that I was suffering from nearly every single one. For years I had been suffering from:
Constant headaches (especially when waking up)
Skin issues and eczema
Stomach upset (As you saw in the first few episodes, I always vomited during hard cardio sessions.)
I often complained to anyone who would listen that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Suspecting I had a similar problem to Mr. Hallman, I went to see my doctor and was tested for celiac disease. The test came back negative, but there were indicators that I perhaps had a sensitivity to gluten. So, I tried cutting wheat based foods out of my diet for a few days. The effects were astounding. In less than a week, my headaches were gone, I had much more energy, and for probably the first time in my life, my stomach wasn’t upset, not even during training. I was feeling great. But, there was a problem… I didn’t know how to maintain a gluten free diet. I thought cutting bread out of my diet was going to be enough. Wrong. The damn stuff is in everything. Pretty much every processed food contains some quantity of gluten. Obviously it is in bread, muffins, doughnuts, pizza, cake and cookies, but it’s in pasta and ketchup and just about everything that is produced in a factory and packaged in plastic. To avoid gluten entirely I would have to radically change my diet. I needed help.
I started by reading everything I could get my hands on. Fortunately, here are tons of books and websites with information on how to live gluten free. But it can take quite a bit of extra work planning and preparing meals, when you are not familiar with gluten free options. It can be a nightmare. So, I approached fellow TITAN fighter and nutrition coach Ricky Goodall. He worked with me to put together a nutrition plan that would help me avoid gluten while still giving me the food energy I needed to push my body through 5 days of intense training a week. The effect was immediate. I lost fat, had plenty of energy, and because my meals were laid out for me a week in advance, it took away the added burden of constantly trying to figure out what I should be eating and when.
It felt awesome to have my diet on track. And for the first time since the program started my family had settled into the new routine and the kids were used to me being away from home so much. Juanita and I had adjusted our expectations of each other and established some new ground rules that helped her out and still gave me the time I needed to train. And most importantly, our parents, and Juanita’s mother in particular, started spending more time with us. They live over a thousand kilometers away, so it was a huge sacrifice on their part to put their lives on hold to help us out. But they had seen what we were going through and they understood what this journey meant to me, so they were more than happy to help out with the kids, in some cases for several weeks at a time. I don’t know how we could have done this without them.
But all was not well.
Training was going completely off the rails. There were still over 20 people in the program but many of them, for one reason or another, were not able to commit to the degree that Peter felt then should if they wanted to fight. It had become painfully clear to Peter that the people in the program, myself included, were not chosen because we were well suited to be fighters. Quite the contrary, many of us had been selected because of how unlikely it was that we could ever become fighters. The premise of the experiment was never to take a group of people and find an elite fighter. We weren’t looking for a diamond in the rough. The goal was to take a group of very ordinary and unremarkable people and see how they would respond to being asked to surmount a near impossible obstacle. The general ineptitude of the group (and I mean that in the kindest sense possible), when compared to some of the elite pro fighters Peter was accustomed to working with, was starting to wear Peter down. He was growing increasingly frustrated and it was clear he wasn’t willing to go on if things didn’t change.
For peter to continue with the program, three things needed to happen 1) several cubes need to be removed from the program 2) those of us who remained need to refocus and show Peter we truly had something he could work with 3) we had to (gulp) start training full-time with the TITANS MMA pro fight team.
1) Peter announced that he wanted to meet us all individually to discuss where we felt we stood in the program and whether or not WE felt we had what it took to fight in six months. He would then give us his assessment and, based on that discussion, we could decide whether or not we wanted to continue. The couple of days between the announcement and the one-on-one meetings were probably the most nerve wracking of the whole program. I didn’t know any more about Peter’s intensions than anyone else, but cubes kept asking me over and over if I knew what he was going to say or if he was going to cut people. The cubes were shitting bricks. Like everyone else, I was extremely nervous going into the interview. When I eventually did sit and discuss things with Peter I was relieved to learn he did have some positive things to say. I’d learned more in the preceding six months than he had expected, especially on the ground. He felt my conditioning was near the top of the group and he admitted that I had the heart and determination to do much of what he wanted. I’d even improved my stand up skills a little…. very VERY little. He didn’t feel I was anywhere near ready to fight, but I wasn’t a complete lost cause either. But… and it was a big BUT…. Peter said he felt I was not showing any of the fighter spirit, the X factor, that a person must have to be a fighter. I was too nice in training and I had no natural aggression. It was impossible to tell if I could fully develop the skills I needed, because, even when pushed in hard sparing, I could never ‘flick the switch’. In short, I had no ‘killer instinct.’ When he asked me what I thought about that, I was 100% honest with him and admitted that I simply did not know if I was ever going to be able to make that transformation. I was trying… Lord knows I was trying. I could have lied to him and puffed myself with false bravado. As they say, sometimes you have to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. But he would have seen right through that. Instead, I was honest with both Peter and myself. I was working as hard as I could to learn the physical skills I needed to fight, but I was not confident I could undergo the psychological transformation required in the time we had left.
Many other cubes were disappointed to learn Peter did not feel felt they would be ready to fight in the time we had left to train. Whether it was Peter’s feedback or one of a hundred other reasons, several cubes stopped training ; Steve Macleod (Long Haired Steve as we called him) started a rock band and dedicated his time to that, James stepped away and took time off work to travel in South America, Colin sustained a nasty concussion and never returned, Megan decided she much preferred weight-lifting and tending to the small zoo she kept in her house, Luke (Jock Hiltz’s comedic partner in crime) found the pressures of raising two small kids and running his own company too much to handle, likewise, Jerome (Kid) Wilson, grew increasingly busy with work and trained only sporadically, Jerome’s brother Sonny sustained a neck injury and was forced to pull out of the program, Craig Prideaux, someone I was sure was going to go all the way, grew increasingly frustrated with work obligations that kept him from training as much as he wanted (he eventually took a leave from work and moved to Thailand for 3 months), and perhaps most regrettably, Jannette D’entremont and her husband Mike Kent moved to Alberta when Mike was offered a promotion. A couple of weeks after the interviews with Peter, we were down to about a dozen cubes. Just what Peter wanted.
2) Keep watching the series to see who rises to the challenge and who gets chewed up in the Martell fighter making machine.
3) We’d had plenty of opportunities to watch the pro fighters train. And on occasion we rolled in and did technique with them. But being thrown into the pro fight classes was as shocking a change as anything we’d faced to this point in the program. As Jock Hiltz said, after joining the pro fight team the learning curve was near vertical. The months of conditioning, skills training and sparring experience proved near useless when standing in front of or rolling on the ground with the ‘elite’ TITANS fighters. We had a frustrating, baffling, and disheartening few weeks ahead of us until we hardened into this new level of training. Perhaps shocking for grown men to admit, but several of us have since admitted that we would sit in our cars nearly (and in some cases more than nearly) in tears before class. I would personally have accident fantasies where I would imagine crashing my car into a telephone pole or a bus so I could sustain a program-ending injury. (Spoiler alert: Watch what you wish for!) Having a broken leg seemed like a very appealing alternative to the repeated and severe beatings we were dealt on a daily basis.
THE injury: Peter was aware that I was dealing with some shoulder issues. I’d been having severe shoulder pain for several weeks and the more and harder I trained the more painful it was becoming. Then it got a lot worse… fast. In sparring I threw a hard right hand that my sparring partner slipped. When my arm reached full extension I felt a searing pain in the back of my shoulder. It felt as if someone had thrown boiling water over my shoulder, across my upper back and down my arm. Unlike the sharp stabbing pains I’d been having before, this pain didn’t fade. We were close enough to the end of class that I felt I could finish, but I was in absolutely blinding pain on the drive home. I was forced to leave my arm hanging in my lap as I attempted to steer and change gears in my manual transmission car all the way home. I packed my shoulder in ice and took as much Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medication as I could. Sleep did not come. So, I eventually broke out a bottle of Scotch and eventually drank myself to sleep. I now have a deep and somber sympathy for any professional athlete who succumbs to prescription pain medication. Nuff said.
When I woke up the next morning I realized something was horribly horribly wrong. My right arm felt like it was frozen to my side. I could reach forward a little, but with some discomfort. However, it was incredibly painful to reach behind my back. And worst of all, if I tried raising my arm out to the side, my arm simply didn’t move at all and a sharp pain shot through my shoulder and down my arm. This was bad. This was really, really bad. The small and annoying injuries I’d been racking up had become simply a fact of life. I hardly even noticed them anymore. But it was clear to me that this was something different. And when I went back to the gym that night, I realized that my ability to continue in the program was now in serious jeopardy. I seriously thought this could be the end of my journey.
An ace up my sleeve.
Having worked in the healthcare industry for over a decade, I counted several physicians as friends. So, I made a few phone calls and within a couple of days had first and second opinions as well as a referral to an orthopedic specialist. The consensus was not great. In all likelihood I’d at least partially torn my rotator cuff. FUCK!
I explained the situation to the orthopedic specialist. He was a very down to earth, level headed guy. While he didn’t approve of what I was doing (aka training to fight mixed martial arts in my 40s), he understood my desire to continue with the program. He said it was unlikely the muscle was completely torn, so a cortisone shot might reduce the swelling enough that I could at least train with less pain. The flip side of having a cortisone shot was it would simply mask the injury and increase the chances that I would continue tearing the tendon until it was completely severed. If that happened, my journey would be over for sure.
None the less, the decision was remarkably simple. I was NOT quitting. So, I got the cortisone shot right there and then in the orthopedic surgeon’s office. I just hoped like hell that I would be able to train around the injury and give it time to heal .