In 2001, just a couple of days before Christmas I was in a life-altering rollover accident. I had made one of the worst mistakes in my life by deciding to drive home after drinking. This was a troubling time in my life. I had recently left the US Naval Academy and became a bartender at the Cities of Gold Casino. I was filling a void in my life by partying .
On Christmas Eve 2001, I awoke in St. Vincent’s Intensive Care Unit. This was a huge shock to me, as the last thing I remember was leaving a party in the middle of a snowstorm a few nights before. The memory of having a catheter in me while laying in the hospital bed will never be forgotten.
Come to find out later, I had passed out at the wheel and veered off the road into a dirt median heading northbound on US 285, just north of Santa Fe. God was in my corner as this accident only involved myself and I did not face any serious criminal charges. I escaped this accident with only a concussion, C5 nerve impingement in my neck which I still feel today with numbness in my hand, and a laceration on my knee when the paramedics pulled me from the pile of metal using the jaws of life. The doctors told me that the only reason I survived was due to my strong body as a young 22-year-old. Luckily I had been consistently lifting weights and trying to add muscle like most 20 something-year-old males.
Back to School
In a few short weeks after the accident, I was at New Mexico State University for the 2002 spring semester to continue on my Mechanical Engineering studies. While attending, I was having issues with my hand and my ability to hold a pencil for taking notes. I decided to visit a neurologist in regards to my hand (C5 nerve impingement). His prognosis led him to say I should not lift any weights because it is going to cause my hand to get worse. I decided to do a little research of my own and I start on my own rehab journey. I wish YouTube was around then. I spent the next few days researching at the New Mexico State University library, using the internet, and a few local book stores to find out that exercise was good and I should do it frequently.
I ended up purchasing the Bill Phillips, “Body For Life” book, a 12-week body transformation book from the early 2000s. I also bought a composition book to use as my fitness and nutrition journal. With these two tools in my hand, I started to learn about exercise, nutrition, and how the body works. I also gave up drinking alcohol, too many close calls because of this substance. The book led me on a great journey and I started to notice strength and physical changes after a few weeks of consistency.
A few months later during Easter, I visited my mother at my childhood home on the Nambe Indian reservation. On Good Friday, there is an annual pilgrimage to El Santuario Church in Chimayo, NM. For thousands of people annually, this pilgrimage signifies sacrifice and devotion to the church. Ironically this church was only a 7.5-mile trek from my mom’s house. At the time I was not thinking of Christ or sacrifice, but something deep inside was telling me I should run there. When I arrived in about an hour’s time, I realized I beat my ride home by a few hours, so I decided to turn around and make that same trek back. Shockingly, it was around the same return time back to the house. I was starting to see how consistent training was paying off. This moment of clarity showed me with some hard work I can overcome life’s setbacks.
I finished the semester at NMSU, and I moved to San Diego to pursue a different dream. I dropped out of school for a year, so I could establish residency in California. Non-resident tuition at a community college was extremely expensive. In this year off, I started a job at a GNC in La Jolla, CA. I quickly became immersed in the exercise and sports supplement world. This was the time of ephedra, testosterone-enhancing supplements, and quick weight loss shakes, I’m sure most of you remember Hydroxycut, Androsteine, and Scan Diet. These big-ticket items were given extra incentive to sell. It’s crazy to think how much money these companies paid people to endorse their “magic pills.” For a long time, I believed they would actually work (spoiler alert, they DO NOT).
I immediately signed up for a membership at a big box gym, LA Fitness in La Jolla, CA. I became a regular gym-goer each morning. The main reason I started going in the morning was that I was homeless for my first 3 weeks living in San Diego. I slept in my car for that time with my personal belongings in the trunk and back seat. I needed to save enough money to have for the first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit. I didn’t think that one through before I moved. Luckily, the weather was great and I could go to the Navy base and park my car so that I was safe at night.
I established a good habit of working out in the morning and I met many people while training at the gym. The most notable person I met was the fitness director in charge of the personal training department. We talked frequently, and he asked me if I was interested in becoming a personal trainer. He said all I needed to do was take a weekend class they were sponsoring at the gym. I was starting to feel passionate about the industry and the changes I had made with my life. A few weeks later I became a personal trainer with a weekend-long Certified Personal Trainer certification class and got hired by the gym.
This LA Fitness gym had only been open for a few months and the training staff was very small. I worked in the mornings as a personal trainer and the afternoons and evenings at GNC. The fitness director ended up leaving, but he left me his number. I reached out to him a week later and he told me I had the potential to be a prosperous trainer. He sent me to his friend that was the Fitness Director at one of the top personal training gyms in San Diego, 24 Hour Fitness Grossmont.
At that facility, I found a home with some of the best trainers in the industry. They had a very busy personal training department and it became my home for the next 3 years. I quickly excelled at training due to the great mentors I had around me. In the meantime, when I went back to school, I decided to change my degree from Mechanical Engineering to Exercise Science. Grossmont College had a 2-year Exercise Science associate’s degree program that I completed while living in San Diego.
In 2003 I met my future wife while visiting home that September. Jennifer and I started a long-distance relationship that blossomed due to the extended time we had on the phone. I believe she came into my life at the right time and she taught me how to be a better man, a better dad, and a better person overall. I am truly happy that she and my daughters hold me accountable every day.
Christmas 2001, is a holiday I will never forget. It is a moment that set me on the trajectory that I am now living. I feel that a healthy lifestyle can truly change someone’s life. This is why I do what I do. I try to lead from the front and show that consistent exercise, healthy eating, and spending time with loved ones will make you happy. Our health should be our number one priority.
Like I tell my clients, you just have to press start! It doesn’t matter if you’re walking for 10 minutes or lifting 400 lbs. As long as you are trying to be better every day, that’s all that matters. It is you against you! Keep moving forward! Find a coach that will get you going and listen to your body to make the right choices you need.