JOSH'S Y STORY | Y Wellness Coach & LIVESTRONG at the YMCA instructor

In Josh's words:

The month of May marks 14 years. May 2003 began with a sinus infection with a fever of 104.  By the end of that month, I was in the hospital with 10-12 brain abscesses caused by a rare strep virus.  I was hurtin for certain with the trifecta of encephalitis, ventriculitis, and meningitis.  

It was then on, my life got flipped turned upside down.

I’m gonna take a few minutes, so sit right there,

 I tell you how I am an inspiration to people everywhere.  


Went a little old school there with a Fresh Prince of Bel Air Parody.   Now, for those familiar with the show, did you go back and read the last few lines with the theme song melody in your head?  It’s ok if you did. 

We know, hear, or read about inspiring people every day.  They all have a story and are inspiring for different reasons. The common thread that binds them all together is you can do… better yet, overcome anything you put your mind to.  It will take faith, hard work, and determination to make it happen.  Many would say that I fit into that category. 

“I admire your positive attitude and determination.”

“I admire you.”

“You are true inspiration.”

“Got to give you credit for not giving up when many would have.”

“You’re an inspiration to others.”

I’ve heard those and similar comments many times by family, friends, and even complete strangers.    Have to say… I’m not exactly sure how to respond.  I’m not one who prefers the spotlight, although I’m learning to just accept it.  I really can’t run away from it.  ;)  Don’t get me wrong, the comments are greatly appreciated but a simple ‘thanks’ doesn’t truly express how I really feel about it.  So, here it goes:

The #1 reason I continue to have faith, a positive attitude and the determination to not give up is not because I want to be admired nor is it to be an inspiration… even though it is a good feeling to be acknowledged for my efforts.  I’ll let you ponder that for a moment.  It’s not a misprint - you did read that correctly.  You may be in a state of shock.    I look at inspiration as a byproduct of hard work and determination.  For me it is the secondary reason.  I will elaborate more on that later.

My primary reason for having faith, a positive attitude and not giving up is because it needs to be done to overcome adversity.   You see… I know what it feels like to be healthy and strong - able to run around, jump, catch a fly ball in centerfield, or come off a screen and hit a 15-foot jump shot. (Man, I miss doing that!!!)  Those that have played ball with me know what I’m referring to.   

Within the past 14 years, I’ve experienced the other end of the spectrum.  I know what it feels like to be hospitalized on more than one occasion, undergo 7 major surgeries (5 of which were cranial), have to use a wheelchair; battle cancer (2006 – testicular), lose my hair to chemo …just to name a few. So, yeah I’ve been through the gauntlet.  I can pretty much sympathize and empathize with just about anyone based on what I’ve gone through. 

You would think getting through that nasty brain infection would be the most difficult to overcome.  Well, to top that I lost the use of my legs by the end of 2003, therefore forced to use a wheelchair.  That brain infection ended up leaving scar tissue on my spinal cord and the nerves that branch off into the legs (the cauda equina).  Good news is I don’t have nerve pain which I’m very thankful for.  Bad news is there is no surgery or medication to get rid of that scar tissue.  Have to wait and see if my body will break it down on its own.  The symptoms/side effects are similar to that of MS.  The first question I asked the neurosurgeon and neurologist was “Will I be able to walk again?”  Without actually saying it, I was told it might be possible. In other words, it is a long shot. That was a tough pill to swallow to hear I may never walk again.  My heart just sank.  To say the least, it really hit me hard.  But at the same time, I was also thinking, “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”  An MRI of my spine did reveal a small cyst pressing up against the spinal cord at C6-7. It was thought that could be a contributing factor why my legs weren’t responding.  Anyway, I did a lot of Aqua Therapy in 2004 just to keep me movin’; I had the surgery for the cyst in December 2004 with no guarantees that I would regain the use of my legs.  No significant changes in May 2005 but I started getting movement back in my toes in July 2005.  After a few months of aqua therapy and some e-stim, I started land therapy.  By the end of April 2006, I was starting to stand up and take steps with a walker. I kept working at it - my strength and endurance continued to improve.

 I was excited about the progress and thinking I’m on my way to a full recovery.  Then a bombshell hit in late September 2006 – I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer.  Are you serious!!!???  What more do I need to go through!?!  I actually just took the news in stride and kept my faith in God to guide me through.  I took time off from PT to recover from surgery and 1 round of chemo. (FYI – I’m now 10+ years cancer free) and then continued on with my rehab.  I was discharged from formal physical therapy in July 2007 and have been working on it on my own ever since.  With faith, hard work, and determination I no longer use a wheelchair.  I stopped using it in May 2009 and by 2011 was down to using 1 forearm crutch.  Granted, I still need assistance via crutch or two to walk, but walking nonetheless. It’s a great accomplishment. However, I’m not satisfied with that.  I want to be able to walk unassisted all the time.  I hate to say this - I know that I will probably never be at 100%.  But that is no excuse to quit.  Instead, I want to get as close to it as I can.  The truth of the matter is if I don’t continue to do everything I can to get stronger or at the very least maintain what I got, I will end up back in the wheelchair.  That is something I want to avoid at all cost.  If that’s not enough motivation to keep going, I don’t know what is.  

We can’t overcome adversity by having a negative attitude. It is counterproductive.  It’s wasted energy.  We have no control over when bad things happen. However, we can control our own attitude in response to them.   It comes down to the following two options:

Option 1:  Have a negative attitude, be angry, discouraged and feeling overwhelmed because of the circumstances, and as a result give up. In other words suffer from “Why Me Syndrome.”

Option 2: Do your best to stay positive, have faith, and be determined to work hard at overcoming the adversity or obstacle you face. 

Option 2 is not easy and it never will be.  We all want positive things to happen right away. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way.  We are all guilty of being impatient but hard work and determination do payoff in the long run. I’m proof of that.    You just got do the best that you can to keep going no matter how difficult it is….especially when progress seems to be at a snail’s pace and it feels like you’re climbing a mountain. It truly is 90% mental, 10% physical.   It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.  If you stay down, well you just guaranteed yourself not getting anywhere.   Always remember, anything worthwhile is never done without hard work.  Most importantly, put your trust in God and never underestimate the power of prayer. 

Overall, I’m doing well.  Although, there are times when I’m down.  The frustration level can be through the roof. The most frustrating part is just when I think I’m about to reach my goal, I hit a setback of some sort.  Something of which was out of my control.  It seems the detour gets longer and longer. Ever since my last setback in June 2015 (shunt repair), I haven’t been able to get back to using the 1 crutch, I’m just not there yet. I’m still working on it though.   My mind says I can do it, my body says I can’t. It’s a tug-o-war that goes on daily.  By the end of the day I’m physically and mentally exhausted.  It takes a lot out of me concentrating to retrain my body to get that walking motor pattern back in my legs.  But I get some rest and go at it again the next day.   Now, I do have days where I’m feeling good and cruising along.   My mind and body are on the same page.  My workouts are evident of that.  It provides a glimmer of hope that I’m on the right track and about to turn the corner.  So I try to focus more on that as oppose to those bad days.  The important thing is to have faith in God and pray for strength and perseverance to keep going.  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13) 

Being an inspiration is the secondary reason why I don’t give up.  Knowing that my actions inspire others, motivates me even more. It adds more fuel to the fire. Many have said I should write a book or be a motivational speaker.  I’m not sure on the book.  I’m not closing the chapter (pun intended ;)) on that possibility. But as of now I don’t see it happening.   Motivational speaker???  Remember, I’m one who doesn’t prefer to be in the spotlight.  Well, I’m not one to get up in front of big group and talk.  I do better in a small group or 1 on 1 setting.  I do it in my own subtle way.  I may be soft spoken but I do carry two big sticks.  So WATCH OUT!!!   

 For about the past 5 years, I’ve been working part time at the YMCA where I live as a Wellness Coach and LIVESTRONG Instructor.  You’ll find me in the Life Management Center helping members exercise properly, motivating and guiding them to a healthier life.    I usually don’t talk about what I’ve gone through unless someone asks.  I think my actions speak louder than words.  When people see me with a positive attitude, smiling, laughing, joking around despite having to walk around with crutches, they are impressed. It gets them curious and want to know what happened.  I think it makes an even bigger impact on them when they see me in the gym or pool consistently working on my rehab.

For those that are wondering, I’m still an ATC.  I’m still keeping up with my certification and licensure.  I do miss working in an Athletic Training Room which I’m fully capable of doing.  But my days of being on the sidelines during an event are most likely over.  Physically, it is not feasible to do.  However, I am able to use my skillset at the YMCA.  I help a lot of people who may have been discharged from physical therapy transition into continuing with their rehab on their own.  I do get a lot of referrals for that.

In addition, I became a certified LIVESTRONG Instructor.  If you aren’t familiar with LIVESTRONG, it is a 12 week exercise program for cancer survivors.  We work on regaining their strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.   On the first day, I share my story to let them know what I’ve been through.  If they can see the way I keep going despite adversity, hopefully they can be inspired to do the same.  I’ll be there to help guide, encourage and motivate them to not give up. 

I enjoy working at the YMCA.  It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time.  I may have found my niche.  I’m good at what I do.  I was Employee of the Month for February 2017.  I get the opportunity to work with a lot of different people with a wide variety of ailments.  I’m still going to maintain my certifications, maybe add another one.  

I’m going to wrap this up.  This turned out to be much longer than expected.  ;)  I’m going to keep working hard and give it everything I got. I’m determined to get rid of those crutches!!!! Thanks to all of you for your help, love and support.  I may not always know how to respond, but know I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.  No matter what happens, good or bad, I will continue to have faith and always take to heart the words spoken by Jimmy Valvano, 

“Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up!!!”