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Call It A Comeback

Article written by Stephanie Garibaldi
I can’t believe that it was a year yesterday that I had experienced the worst pain, fear, and heartache of my life.  It sounded and felt like a gunshot bullet to my back.  The pain was so fierce that it dropped me to the ground instantly.  Legs immediately felt like they were being torched with flames.  The first thought that came through my mind was “am I going to be able to lift again”? 
I have not really told anyone about my story. How I injured my back, and to what extent.  Only my team, coaches, family, and close acquaintances.  It is high time that you all know my story.  You must BELIEVE that you can bounce back.  All it takes is discipline, heart, drive, and an incredible support team, oh and a lot of Seinfeld.   I am not going to sit here and tell you that it was all cupcakes and roses because it was not.  I spent many days and nights high on pills going through mass depths of depression.  Wondering if I am going to lose my massage business, am I going to be able to get back on the platform, how long.. how long… how long… Everyday tasks were almost unbearable.  Even getting up to go to the bathroom was such a task.  I remember my husband having to help me walk, because I could not lift them up off the floor.  Him saying “baby you are not strong enough to walk yet, you are just going to have to shuffle your feet for now”.  Lying in bed for endless days, doped up on morphine watching the movie “STRONG”. Cheryl Hayworth’s story really helped me get my mind free from all the cobwebs for a while. 
I was excited to go to Seattle for my first LBEB Summit.  It was the first time that we all got to meet each other and Lift Big Eat Big. I was in the middle of training for my first powerlifting competition at the time.   My numbers were really escalating quite rapidly.  I had just made the transition from Crossfit to oly/powerlifting.  I was EXTREMELY excited because it was deadlift day with my team.  I took a couple of days off prior to the summit because I knew that we were going to be lifting big in Seattle and I did not want to be sore.  My warm-up consisted of Stretches/band work, etc…  With dead lifts I like to do 5’s, triples, doubles, then singles. When I hit 300 pounds, I still felt really strong. I then jumped up to 315 pounds.  That was a PR for me. I then put 325 pounds on the bar.  That went up like butter.  Attempting 340 pounds after that was where I question myself every damn day.  I was bringing it up, got it past my knees, and then it happened. The pop, burning, the agony.  Why couldn’t I have just stayed with the double PR?  Way too big of a jump.  Especially with how heavy I was going.  I immediately went to my hotel room and got into an ice bath. That did help, but the next morning was the absolute worst.
When I returned to San Diego I did end up competing in my powerlifting competition in pain.  It was the next week upon returning.  I had spent so much time training for it.  (This is when being a young minded athlete comes into play).  My Dr. could not get me into see him until the following week.  It turns out that I ended up deadlifting, benching, and squatting with 2 disc herniations and 2 disc bulges. NOT A SMART IDEA.  All the way from L4 through S1.  Also growing between my vertebrae was a cyst about the size of a quarter. It was oddly sitting on my nerve causing pain running down my legs.  My Dr. prescribes narcotics, bed rest and sends me on my way. 

Now being an athlete going from lifting every day, to being basically bedridden is depressing already. Throw in morphine, Vicodin, and any other narcotic that you can think of and that was the deep hole that I was trapped in.  After about 4 weeks of bed rest and realizing that this is going to get me no where I called up S10 Fitness.  Mr. Christopher Daly and Mr. David Stein.  These gentleman brought me back to life.  I remember hobbling through their doors in so much pain.  They really focused on strengthening my core as well as treating my body as a whole. That’s just what I needed.  They emphasized a lot on my core.  Bridging, side planks. At first I could not even get down on the ground so I had to use the bench.  CRAZY. Planks with my elbows against the wall.  After about 2 weeks of therapy I started noticing a HUGE difference in my strength and flexibility. Along with weaning off of the narcotics.  I started to see the light at the end of my tunnel of haze.  The both of them together worked on my gate, balance, and overall attitude.  I owe you both so much. Thank you.
After having therapy with S10 for about a good 3 months, 3xs a week, 60 min sessions. I figured I was strong enough to go see the master of Olympic Weightlifting.  Mr. David R Miller, owner of Crossfit Fortius in San Diego Ca.   I was kind of skeptical at first.  My Dr. had basically said “your lifting career is over, bed rest and these pills is what I am prescribing you.  If you do decide to go back into weightlifting you will be sorry and it will bite you in the ass”.  Hmmm……  So with that I make the call to Dave.  He instantly says “Get off of that couch and get in my gym and let’s start moving you around. Your muscles will atrophy and you will lose your strength if you wait any longer”.   That’s all I needed to hear. I figure if I’m up and able to move around now. I should just go and see what he has to say.  BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE.  I hand him all of my MRI papers, we go over all my injuries, what happened. How my therapy is going. Everything that a coach needs to know to be able to coach an athlete back from a serious injury.
 You know that saying “If you can’t fix it with squats or fish oil then you are probably going to die” (You better it’s an LBEB shirt).  Throw RDLS into that mix as well.  Squats and RDLS were the only two lifts that I did for about 4 to 6 weeks.  Along with consuming an enormous amount of fish oil. With the amount that I consumed I’m surprised that I don’t have gills.   The set/rep scheme was easy at first. Bodyweight everything.  I then advanced to PVC pipe, then bar, etc.  My mobility was so extremely crucial while getting back under the bar.  I would spend countless hours of really working on my core, stretching my hamstrings, calves, and my gluteal muscles so that they don’t pull down on my back.  The foam roller took the place of my husband for a while. It was cool, he understood. PVC work was crucial as well. Keeping my pectorals and shoulders open so I didn’t have forward head posture and place any unwanted tightness on my back.  No extra tightness or tension was key in my recovery. 
 While all of this recovery delightful progress was going on.   I get a call from my Spine Dr.  telling me that he wants to go ahead and do surgery to get the cyst out of my back.  DAMNIT!!! I’m getting stronger why do they need to do this?  I prayed about it and my family was praying for me.  I just talked to god and asked is this necessary?  Do you even want me to lift anymore?  What does all of this mean?  Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.  I am in your hands.  After the phone call was over I called coach and broke the news to him. He said “we shall just continue to work hard, make progress, and get you the strongest that you can be before surgery.   That’s just what we did for about another 4 to 6 weeks.  The Dr. could not get me in until then.  Thank goodness, because in those 4 to 6 weeks the cyst had dissolved and it was gone.  Praise God!  When I had went in for my checkup my spine dr. had this look of amazement on his face. He had asked if I was doing yoga.  I said “nope squats, RDLS, and a handful of fish oil”.  LBEB style.
Just recently about 3 to 4 months ago I had decided to start training for the Army and Navy weightlifting championships here in San Diego.  Coach and I both thought I was strong enough and my numbers were rapidly increasing.  Then another nightmare reared its ugly head. I went to see my chiropractor for a routine maintenance check and ended up in a wheelchair at the ER.  The chiropractor had re ruptured my disc.  I was out of commission for a good 2 months.  I had to miss my first competition that I was going to compete in. I took the exact same steps as my first back injury. Therapy, time, squats RDLS, and fish oil. It worked, and here I am writing my story today. 
Lift Big Eat Big saved me during the times of my injuries. Eating big is the only way that I kept up my strength and size while I was not lifting.  I remember sometimes not having an appetite at all because of all the medication I was on.  I just had to force myself to eat.  I knew that this would aide in my recovery and it did.  I did keep my strength and it showed on the platform when I made my return under the bar. Thank you Brandon for such an amazing concept.  I am a true believer.
I’m not sharing my story for pity. I am telling you to motivate, drive, and inspire. If there are any lifters out there that are reading this and are going through a serious injury.  Take time to heal, and know that this too shall pass.  Listen to your therapists, specialists, coaches and have an excellent support team.  Surround yourself with positive people that motivate, inspire, and believe in you.  You will always have good days and bad days, painful ones, not so painful ones.  Complete your regimen and do what your specialists tell you to do.  They are there to help, and aide you in your recovery.
In closing I would like to thank all of you for your motivation and inspiring messages I have received during my injuries. You know who you areJ. To my coaches, therapists, and specialists.  May we continue to work together to make this body even stronger.  You will never know how much you all mean too me.   I will be competing in my second weightlifting competition this Saturday because of you.  I will continue to get stronger, keep sticking to my regimen, and never look back.  There is never a day that I don’t think about my back injuries.  Every time I am under that bar on my platform its tucked away in the back of my head. The trick is to keep it there and not let it rear its ugly face again.   STAY STRONG LIFTERS. LBEB FOR LIFE.

13 thoughts on “Call It A Comeback

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am dealing with an injury now and this is just the motivation I need to stay focused and push through. As you said, this too shall pass.

  2. I have two herniated/degenerating discs between C4-C5 and C5-C6. I am active duty military and the idea of a military doctor performing the surgery I need is not very appealing. I try to work through the pain, numbness and whatnot, but my lifts have suffered. I still don’t know how I originally got the injury, but it just keeps getting worse and worse. Thank you for sharing your story!

  3. Congratulations Stephanie! I don’t pity you, but I do admire for you not letting anything stop you. Inspiring read.

  4. What do you think it was that caused the injury? I say this because as a lifter stories like these sometimes enter my mind when i throw 20-30 pounds over what i normally do to try and “push it to the next level”. Nobody has ever gotten to their next PR without attempting a heavier weight, and if you had made the lift it would have been the best day of your life, as opposed to how it turned out.

    What do you think it was that caused the injury? Overtraining? Form?

  5. You’ve done me a great service as I just recently injured my lower back. I cried that first morning after the injury. I had only just begun lifting a dozen weeks prior and I was worried I had lost it all. I am getting better and currently working on strengthening the injured area. I will persevere. Thank you for showing me I can.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing!!! I am struggling with a back injury, 30 days out from my first competition and this was a great encouragement to be patient because this too will pass and I’ll get the next competition like a boss. And to take more fish oil 🙂

  7. Your all very welcome. I hope this all helps you and makes you realize that there is hope on the other side:-) Keep striving and work on getting stronger. If you want it bad enough you will succeed. What caused my injury was waaayyyyy to high of a jump. Going from 325 to 340 pounds after all the reps before (including warmup). I felt super strong in all the previous reps. It was just to much for my back. Im not going to tell you that my form was perfect. Whos is after that many reps and then jumping to 340. It was the weight. I should have tried 330 335. I learned my lesson the hard way. Its called being a young athlete and learning from my mistakes. Ill tell ya 1 thing, Im not jumping that far ahead again. I have started doing deadlifts again. Im using the trap door method instead. I pulled 255 for 3 last weekend. I feel that that method of deads is easier on my back. Since I am an Oly Lifter I incorporate clean deads as well. From the box. Like I said I always think about it. MUST BE CAUTIOUS.

  8. I had a similar injury almost 3 years ago. I had been pushing my squat and DL maxes for several weeks. I don’t remember a specific point of injury in my lifting, but one night as I was sitting in my patrol car (I’m a cop) I developed an excruciating pain across my left quad. I went home, unable to stand or walk. Chiropractor refused to work on me and I ended up in the ER. They gave me muscle relaxers and after orthopedist visits, X-Rays, and MRI’s, I found myself talking to a spinal surgeon. L 3 herniated disc. He opted not to cut on me (in retrospect, I’m eternally thankful for that), but said I’d never squat again. His words- “you’re old now. Its sucks getting old.” I was 33 y/o and my mantra that day became “F*ck You!”

    I don’t have a coach, trainer, etc. I researched treatments on my own, but ended up with a similar approach. As much Omega 3’s as I could afford and starting from scratch in the gym. I had no strength in my left leg and at first could not squat with the bar. Had to leave the ego at the door and press on, slowly building back from nothing. I omitted DL for a couple of years, but squats, improvised reverse hypers, and other core work were my bread and butter. It took almost a year to get back to where I was before. Now, I’m significantly stronger than I ever was pre-injury.

    Caution above all. Set your sights on the horizon and drive on. It can be done!

  9. more of the same, dealing with coming back from a serious knee surgery. THANK YOU FOR YOUR STORY!

  10. Very inspiring read. Thanks for sharing your story (and also for the booty shot). I’m a fan.

  11. the MRI above does not show any herniated disks, i guess its not yours lol

  12. disregard i see it at l5-1 and the cyst

  13. Dealing with a pretty serious L5/S1 bulge/herniation issue myself… Its been going on since April, but I read this article frequently and it gives me hope that maybe someday I will get back to my active lifestyle and be pain free… doing everything possible to avoid surgery in the meantime! Thanks for your story!! 🙂

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