Geraldine

From being a young man who was told he was going ‘Nowhere’ by doctors, to becoming an inspirational body-builder.

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I met Steve and his lovely, bubbly partner, Mandy, by a pool when I was on a recent holiday in Cancun.

On first sight on the sun lounger, he looked a man in his forties, fit and toned, and his well-developed biceps indicated that he spent a lot of time in the gym. Later, when he walked towards the pool, I was surprised to notice the very careful way he held himself as he walked along. I commented to Mike that he looked like he had serious trouble with his back. We weren’t strangers to this, as Mike had just had disc surgery six months before.

Later, we all got chatting around the bar pool, and discovered we were in the resort apartment right next door to them! Over the days as we got more friendly, Steve told us that he was actually 54 years old and had worked from the age of 16 in the Yorkshire mines.

He told us about having had severe back problems for many years and how the sun helped, then he and Mike got into the usual chat about pain relief and the various therapies. It quickly emerged that Steve’s problem was not as run-of-the-mill as Mike’s, and 30 years earlier he had been told that he could expect to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

“During the miners’ strike of 1983,” he went on to explain, “when I was about 21, I was under the bonnet of a car. I twisted around to reach something, and I suddenly felt a strange twinge in the bottom of my back. I went on to a Union Meeting upstairs, and, when the meeting was over, as I went to rise from the chair, and I found I could hardly move. I thought it was something like sciatica or a trapped nerve that would disappear as quick as it came. I somehow managed to get out of the meeting and home, but as the night wore on, it showed no signs of disappearing.”

Steve described how he put up with it for over a month, but when it got increasingly worse, he went to his local GP. “I was put on anti-inflammatory medication and advised to go for physiotherapy — but neither worked.

I was still in constant pain. and I realised I had started to walk with a stoop to lessen the pain. I then decided to try a range of treatments, most of which were not available on the NHS. I paid privately for more physio, acupuncture and for visits to a chiropractor. To be honest, I would have paid anything I could afford just to get my old, active life back.

Again, after a certain length of time, I realized nothing had helped. By this time, I knew I was walking with a definite stoop and was feeling more self-conscious as people had begun to comment on it. The GP sent me to a consultant who said very little, and just told me he was booking me in for a specialised scan.

On the day of the scan, I was given a Radiation Injection and sent home for 2 hours on the instruction I was not to go near any children or pregnant women. Two weeks after the scan I had to go back to the consultant for the results. I was expecting him to tell me that I needed an operation or some kind of treatment to sort me out.

He told me to me to sit down and then he lifted his notes. “You have Ankylosing Spondylitis.”

I looked at him, waiting for more information. There was silence. “So … where do we go from here?” I asked.

He shrugged — a cold, disinterested look on his face. “Nowhere. It will get much worse and you will be in a wheelchair in the next few years.”

I stared at him in complete shock, waiting for something more. Some kind of hope. But there was nothing. He just turned away, looking down at the next person’s notes.

As I came out of the office, I was still in shock and trying to take in what he had just told me. I said to the receptionist, “That is the coldest, most unfeeling doctor I have ever met.”

She nodded and said, “If you had been a private patient and paid £85, you would have found him a totally different man.”

I looked at her in disbelief. This was one of the few free NHS treatments I had received, but I would have gladly paid any amount for a kinder word from him.

I went home and tried to take in what having Ankylosing Spondylitis meant. For the first few weeks I kept on the medication and tried to live a normal life, still going to work and doing everything as I usually did. Then, I went to see a friend who had a professional gym. I told him about my condition and he checked it out and came back with a programme of exercises which he said he reckoned would help to strengthen my back. “What have you to lose?”

I thought about what the doctor had said. “Absolutely nothing!” I decided from now on, I was going to ‘hit the gym’!

I went to the gym 5 days a week, doing stretching exercises — hanging from bars etc., — and rested it for the other two days as advised. Within a short while I felt my back had definitely improved. I could see I was walking straighter and I looked better than I had before. The other members in the gym commented on the difference in me, and that gave me the incentive to carry on working on my back and building up my arms and chest.

I also went to the library and read up on the whole business of body-building and the sort of diet and health-regime that would help me. The longer it went on, what was a hobby to me almost became an obsession. I challenged myself further and further, working with other lads in the gym, helping each other develop different parts of the body. It completely took my mind off my life-altering and painful condition, and turned a total negative into a positive for me.

I pushed myself further and further, and was amazed at the results. I went from a man who was self-conscious with the problems with my back, to one who was proud of the new physique I had developed. People began to noticed me now for my small waist, broad chest and bulging biceps.

My back condition had definitely eased due to all the exercise, and I continued to work in the mines for another decade and more. After that, I then went into several other businesses which I made a good success of. My condition has limited me in many ways, and over the years it has naturally progressed.

I have to take seriously strong painkillers every day — but it is nothing like the wheelchair-ridden life that the heartless doctor predicted. Throughout it all, I kept working and determined to live as normal a life as I possibly could. I eventually retired at 50 — my own choice — and am now enjoying my leisure time relaxing and having holidays in the sun.

‘Hitting the gym’ gave me a better, healthier way of living and a whole new dimension to my life. It has also given me has given me another 30-plus years out of a wheelchair, and I’m determined to keep that going as long as possible.”

As the days of our holiday flew by, we saw Steve and Mandy enjoying themselves day and night. In and out of the pools, relaxing on the beach and living it up in the bars and restaurants in the evenings. Steve was making sure he got the most out of his sunshine trip — and the most out of his life. When it was time to say our goodbyes, Steve and Mandy were full of plans for their next holiday abroad.

For a man who was told he was going ‘nowhere’, Steve has travelled further than most people — and has proved what self-belief and determination can achieve!

Written by

Two takes on the same theme. Joint motivational blog for success at work and home by author Geraldine O’Neill and HR Consultant Anne Scally.

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