When Victor Williams was just 15 years old, he developed a pain in his back that grew gradually worse. He fought through the pain, continuing to play football on a daily basis and attend boot camp classes with his mom and sister several times a week. Eventually, however, the pain became too great, and he stopped participating in the physical activities he loved so much.
Victors’ mom, Lisa, knew how out of character this was for the scrappy teenager and took him to the doctor. After an x-ray revealed nothing unusual, they were referred to a sports doctor who ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed worse news than either of them had been prepared for: one of his vertebrae was fractured in two places in an injury the doctor called “bilateral spondylolysis.” It had most likely happened while playing football. The vertebra was in danger of slipping out of place if it didn’t heal properly; if this happened, he would need surgery.
Victor had no choice but to quit playing football and working out for several months to give the bone a chance to heal. He wore a brace to keep him from moving his back unnecessarily and wasn’t allowed to move around any more than he absolutely had to.
With his dreams of a football scholarship crushed and exercise not an option, Victor became depressed and began gaining weight. In a matter of months, the 6’3” teenager gained 30 pounds. His doctor warned him against gaining more weight, but keeping the number on the scale down seemed impossible without being able to move. Eating became entertainment and solace as he waited for his six-month follow-up to see how his back had healed.
Unfortunately, more bad news was to follow. Tests revealed that one of the fractures had healed well, but the other hadn’t – and likely never would. That meant that to protect his spine; he had to say farewell to football for good. He couldn’t run or jump, the doctor said, and he couldn’t participate in strenuous workouts such as Crossfit, which he had been looking forward to taking part in with his best friend.
He was allowed to participate in certain physical activities that didn’t jar his back, such as walking, biking, and yoga – but depression sank in, and Victor continued gaining weight, reaching 280 pounds within a year of sustaining his injury.
A Glimmer of Inspiration
As he focused on school and physical therapy and filled his free time with gaming, however, the now-16-year-old realized that he wanted pocket money – he wanted to build a computer and buy some new games, so he began searching for a job. He quickly found work at the sandwich shop two miles from his house. His mom drove him sometimes, but when she couldn’t, he walked.
As he began to walk more, something interesting happened – he noticed that his mood began to lift and he began to look forward to walking. The exercise and fresh air were therapeutic, and his body began to feel better than it had in months. On days he didn’t work, he walked anyway – alone or with his mom or sister. He also used some of the money he earned to buy a bicycle and spent plenty of time riding it around the neighborhood.
Inspired by his physical and mental improvements, and motivated by the paychecks he was now putting in the bank, Victor went on longer and longer walks and bike rides and added weight training to his routine. He focused on the back-strengthening exercises the physical therapist had given him and lifted weights each night.
Success was a snowball – the more he accomplished, the more he wanted to accomplish. He began eating smaller portions and drinking water instead of sugary beverages and continued walking and lifting most days of the week.
Now nearly 18 years old, Victor feels better than ever and weighs a healthy and fit 205 pounds. He’s seen how important exercise and fitness are to his life and plans to remain active to avoid returning to the place of depression and excess weight where he spent so much time. He’s learning to cook healthy meals, looking forward to college, and formulating new plans and goals for his life.
Fitness is freeing – what do you need to be freed from?