From ER to PR: Returning to the Platform

What’s Wrong With Me?

This past Saturday, Jeremy and I competed in a powerlifting meet. However, the process to get there and do as well as I did was not exactly smooth sailing, and there were times when I felt like what I ended up accomplishing, was actually out of reach.

A little over 8 months ago, I was finishing up a session at Halevy Life prior to closing and started to feel some slight discomfort in the right side of my stomach.  Writing it off as nothing more than some bad Chipotle, I headed home, took some Pepto Bismol, and drank some water expecting to feel better in the morning.  At around 3 in the morning however, reality set in when I woke up to what can only be described as the feeling of getting stabbed in my lower back.

Something was definitely not right.

My mom, being the gem that she is, drove down to the city from Westchester to meet me and brought me into the ER. And from the moment I set foot in there, things were blurry.  My last clear memory was getting asked how bad the pain was, which was about a 9/10, and getting a big dose of painkillers to help take the edge off.  

Needless to say, I was in no condition to be out of the hospital bed that morning. From there, I went through a battery of tests and screens to figure out what the hell was going on.  After about 8 hours, there was still no clear plan of action–until the doctors dug into my file and discovered what was causing me so much discomfort.

A Little History

When I was a born, it’s safe to say that I was a little bit of a mess. The kidney on the right side of my body was approximately 2 cm smaller than that on my left side. In addition to that, I had what’s known as a duplex collecting system, which  basically means I have two different tubes from the kidney connecting into the ureter (too much information, I know). This led to my having a couple of procedures done around the time I was born, and then one “final” surgery when I was about 8 years old to prevent blockages from occurring. 

duplex-kidney-illustration
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – chop.edu

After my last surgery, I went for continual check-ups every 6 months to make sure that everything was working as it should be.  By the time I headed off to college, I was cleared to not have to worry about issues or setbacks any longer. I was ecstatic. No more checks, ultrasounds, or scopes through not-so-fun areas (use your imagination on this one). Since then, everything had become just an afterthought. I never had any signs or symptoms of anything flaring up again since I was cleared. That is, until the fateful night that happened to me last summer.   

What the doctors had discovered was scar tissue formation which created a blockage in my system. This meant that water was slowly building up inside my kidney for who knows how long and eventually led to a pretty severe kidney infection; hence the severe pain that I was in.  Lo and behold, I was brought back into surgery to clear up the scar tissue and open up a bigger passage so that this hopefully wouldn’t be an issue again.

The Aftermath

The surgery itself was relatively painless and only took about an hour. It was after the surgery however when I suffered. I was fitted with a catheter for about 24 hours after the surgery, and since I had a non-invasive procedure done, the surgery was done with a scope through my man parts. This meant that the catheter had to taken in and out constantly to make sure that there wasn’t any clotting as I healed from the surgery. And yes, it was as miserable as it sounds.

In addition to this, I had two stents placed inside of me to help everything down there work smoothly and take strain off my system.  Although I expected to be in a fair amount of discomfort after the surgery, I absolutely did not expect the pain to linger for so long because of the stents.

For a little over 3 months, I was basically in pain whenever I moved.  For someone whose profession is inherently active, and whose lifestyle both inside and outside of the gym revolves around physical activity, this issue created a pretty miserable mental environment.  Every day dragged by slowly because everywhere I walked, every time I bent over to pick something up, just flat out hurt. During this time period, I lost all motivation to workout and felt helpless.  I did some light workouts here and there, fighting through pain during and after my sets, but these were nowhere close to what I would normally be doing, or more importantly, enjoy doing.  

So when the time came to finally get the stents taken out, I was absolutely ecstatic. Almost instantly the pain was 100% gone and I was cleared to be active and do all the things I loved to do. That is, until I started trying to work out as I normally do again, and realized that months of deconditioning left me with some awful DOMS and pretty low strength levels.  Despite feeling great physically, I was certainly not as strong as I used to be, and still had no real motivation to workout.

A Changing Tide

One day in the late fall however, Jeff brought up the desire to do a powerlifting meet as a team in the near future. This was exactly what I needed to get my ass back in gear. This time though I didn’t want to just get back in gear, I wanted to surpass it.

I also realized I was much farther behind the 8-ball than I was for previous powerlifting meets: all of which I’ve done pretty well in. I had a much taller task ahead of me trying to surpass what I’ve already done before, and was unsure if I was ready to take such a big step forward after what happened.

With my occasional over-analytical tendencies, I knew that I didn’t want to write my own program for the meet. I also knew that I would be a little cautious and that I probably wouldn’t push myself when I needed to in light of my medical issue.  Thus, I sought out the help of a coach with tons of experience both competing and coaching athletes, and more importantly, with which I shared a lot of similarities in style of training and programming (shout out to Tony Bonvechio!). It was also a great way to expand my knowledge of the health & fitness field and powerlifting in particular, making this decision a win-win in my books.

I felt 100% comfortable turning over the reins to Tony B and had complete trust in his methodology. Thankfully, it paid off in dividends.  Sure, I had some crappy days where I didn’t feel too hot. But I stuck to my program. Whether that meant 4 days in a row or 2 workouts in a 36 hour period, I made sure I got through what was written out for me. In training, I deadlifted 515 pounds, which at one point, felt like an eternity away.

Be sure to listen closely to find out what was so funny afterwards, too!

Meet Day

All this now takes us to this past Saturday, March 19th, the day of the RPS Powerlifting meet in which me and Jeremy competed in the 181lb weight class. My nerves were through the roof leading up to my first squat. When I finally got in the zone and stepped onto the platform, everything started to feel comfortably familiar again, and I got the opportunity to pause for a second a realize how far I had come in such a short period of time.  

8 months ago, I was in the hospital bed with a tube shoved up my man parts, and now I was on the platform in front of a crowd, completely unhinged with adrenaline coursing through my body.  Before the competition, I was just worried about being able to hit the numbers that I hit at my last meet…over 18 months ago.

Well, I ended up doing more than that.  I ended up totaling 1,270 pounds between all three lifts, and was able to walk away with a 20 pound PR in the bench press, 15 pound PR in the deadlift, and just missed a 5 pound PR with my squat. It sealed 1st place in the Raw Classic division at 181 pounds.


It is safe to say that I am back, and now I’m more motivated than ever (after a little bit of a deload, of course!) to get back at it, and far and away surpass the numbers I just set for myself.  If there is anything I learned over the past 8 months, it was these 3 things:

  1. Appreciate the people around you who support you and push you to greater heights. Whether it was my parents at the hospital, team at Halevy Life, or my coach, I needed each and every one of them throughout this roadblock.  
  2. Trust the process. There were days where I was doubtful about what I was doing and unsure of my ability to get to where I wanted to be. Instead, I just trucked along and took it one step at a time.  
  3. Laugh.  Without my ability to laugh things off, I don’t think I would have gotten to the point I am at today. I was able to joke about my situation, and while it sucked that I felt pretty freaking miserable at times in real life, just being able to just laugh it off helped me immensely.

The past 8 months have been a blessing in disguise, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

by Dan Cerone

Dan Cerone

ceroneDan Cerone is the Director of Programming at Halevy Life.

Dan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Exercise Science and a Master’s Degree in Human Performance, which were both completed at Ithaca College. In addition, Dan is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a Functional Range Conditioning FRCms, Functional Movement Screen Specialist (FMS), and Kinstretch Instructor.

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Dan completed a coaching internship at one of the country’s premiere strength and conditioning facilities where he worked with a wide variety of athletes, but mainly professional and collegiate hockey players. More recently, Dan worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Ithaca College where he programmed and worked with numerous varsity teams.

Dan is a competitive powerlifter who has placed first in multiple competitions.