Three back surgeries convinced me to fire my personal trainer: me (Part 1)

Posted by Al Boyle
On September 3, 2023

“Revvin’ up your engine

Listen to her howlin’ roar

Metal under tension

Beggin’ you to touch and go

Highway to the Danger Zone

Ride into the Danger Zone”

Danger Zone

Kenny Loggins

Top Gun (1986)

Before we get into back surgeries and the pitfalls associated with improper training…

Earlier this week, Bob Barker died of natural causes at age 99, just a few months shy of centenarian status.

First – nobody likes a quitter, Bob. (Kidding!)

As entertainers go, Bob’s career was Top Gun-caliber.

Though I haven’t read his autobiography to know what habits might’ve contributed to his longevity, a few things stand out to me from my faux-intensive, three-minute internet search:

Way to shatter conventional thinking without shattering bones, Bob and Adam!

Okay, time to talk about back pain.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about their back pain over the years. Many spoke about it in ways suggesting their back woes were beyond their control. Many also admitted they’d done little to remedy it, but they should.

As someone who’s dealt with back issues for years, I’ve always found that mindset baffling. Now, I understand there are back issues you can manage but not fix–I have those. I also understand some conditions are easier to manage than others.

I just wonder how someone can dismiss self-care given the long-term consequences. If your home was structurally unsound, your municipality would condemn it and you’d have to vacate because occupying it would pose a threat to your safety. You probably wouldn’t want to stay, either, because you prefer your roof over your head rather than on it. You’re not a cartoon character who can just pop back into form after something heavy flattens you.

A structurally compromised spine can inhibit or prohibit your mobility, lay waste to your lifestyle, and diminish your overall health.

You don’t have to ask me how I know because I’m going to lay it out for you.

The year was 1987. I was young, invincible, and clueless. I worked for a subcontractor delivering and installing major appliances – refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, you name it. As best I can remember, I was around 165 pounds at the time. I’m six foot one. Strapping, huh?

Despite my lean frame, I was strong for my size. I built some endurance for the job’s physicality, too: I’d lift weights with a friend after some of my shifts!

Back the ominous tale…

We’re delivering a big furniture set, and I grab a heavy wooden tabletop the size of my wingspan from the back of the truck. I had to step over a railroad tie onto gravel. As I set my foot, it slid a bit, and I twisted my upper body to balance.

I feel a zing in my lower back. I don’t think much of it until…

1989. Getting ready to go out dancing. Feeling stiff, I decide to stretch. Sitting on the bed with my legs spread as far apart as they’d go. I wanted a deeper stretch for my lower back, so I grab the edge of the bed and pull myself forward… rounding my lumbar spine to reach further.

I’m cringing just remembering this.

I feel a pop in my lumbar region. Don’t think much of that, either. I go out dancing, feeling discomfort and stiffness.

Pain came later. The excruciating part, a short time after that.

An orthopedic doctor puts me in traction. Doesn’t help. My spine is contorting to avoid the pain, so I’m hunched forward and to the side. I don’t look anatomically possible.

I do look as miserable as I feel.

In desperation, I visit my parent’s chiropractor: I have herniated discs at L4/L5 and L5/S1. I get treatments several times a week for six months before I started showing signs of improvement.

I refer to 1989 as my lost year. I felt helpless and hopeless, waging an epic battle for my body, mind, and spirit because my mental health took a beating. But I didn’t give up, and six months later, I started the martial arts training that’d earn me a black belt in taekwondo. I also learned effective core work must involve more than the rectus abdominis.

I took precautions with my training and enjoyed smooth sailing until the summer of 2009. Because with back surgery, you’re never 100% again, and my personal trainer (whom I outed in my headline as me) still didn’t have their act together.

“Iceberg, right ahead!”

Lookout Frederick Fleet, upon spotting the iceberg that’d sink the ship

Titanic (1997)

Part two next week!



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