“There is no path forward for you, without surgery”

Were some of the hardest words I can ever remember hearing. The proposed spinal surgery offered few prospects for an athletic future. My back would “never be the same” (my doctor’s words) I would lose range of motion of my spine, and over time the surgery would result in further complications. Studies done on patients with my condition reported that the likelihood of needing a corrective follow up surgery – would increase by 3% every year.

The Accident That Broke Me

In March of 2020 I was backcountry skiing in British Columbia when a massive cornice collapsed under my feet and I fell through it, off a cliff below before tumbling down a glacier. I flew home, and had a complete reconstruction of my shoulder just days before COVID shut the hospital down for all elective surgeries. It was March 16, 2020.

About 1 month after the surgery, I started feeling a strange pain in my spine. 1 week later, I couldn’t walk, I had electric pain shooting down both legs. The MRI imagery of my spine showed a very degenerated lumbar disk, perhaps worsened by the accident. The spinal surgeon was clear: “take the surgery or live the rest of your life like this.”

It was the spring of 2020, the heart of COVID. The world shut down, and mine did too, it was scary. Some movements would send electric jolts into my feet. I was working with Physical Therapists several days a week, but my pain was worsening. More than the pain, I remember the fear that my life as I had known it for 40 years, was over.

Tantalus Cornice

The Search for a Better Way

The pain was so severe that I could stand for less than 10 minutes per day. The time I had laying in bed was good for one thing; Research. And that’s what I did, I dove deeply into what modern science had to say about spinal injuries. I followed the threads and studied eastern movement practices, and I spoke with practitioners from all around the US, the Middle East and Asia.

Ultimately all roads lead to a deeper understanding of the fascia system – and its central role in musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction.

My Lessons from The Trenches of Back Pain

I focused my study on how the body remodels, and how we stimulate the growth of new tissue. We heal from within, we do it every minute of the day – fibroblast cells are constantly spooling out new tissue, building bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia in response to load & movement pattern.

My body wasn’t “broken” like the doctors said. I didn’t an external “fix”, a scalpel – I needed the right kind of movement, to heal from within.

But as I continued to defy the doctor’s direction, I wondered – if I’m right, why isn’t my back healing? I was really afraid that I would never find a path that would lead to healing. I would succumb to surgery and my spine would never return to its natural athletic state.

The McKenzie Method: The First Phase of Healing

Labor day weekend 2020, I had a breakthrough. I had been working with Andrew Merget – a wizard of the spine, a certified McKenzie Practitioner. Through his incessant questioning I found a specific bending movement that reduced my symptoms. I woke up on Sunday and did the movement and to my surprise, my symptoms dissipated – by the slimmest of margins. The relief only lasted an hour, but it was the first time I had any sense of control over my pain. I repeated that specific backbend over 1000x (I counted each one) that day. By the end of the day I was 2% better, but for the first time, I could see the light.

The next month of my recovery was fully immersed in the McKenzie Method, a simple mechanical approach to resolving back pain. The McKenzie practice allowed me to resolve the symptom, by addressing the tissue displacement, a key step in my progress.

Athlete IQ: The Second Phase of Healing

With the pain under control, I started asking: what caused the dysfunction in my spine? What is the natural function of my spine? What’s the end goal of my rehab? I was on a mission to study the roots of human athleticism, and build a practice to cultivate it. 

I read about the athletic evolution of humans from climbers in the jungles of Botswana, to the global modern home sapien. I studied the movement habits and the conditions that gave rise to them, along the way. And I began exploring the roots of athletic movement, from climbing and jumping to running and throwing. And my body started healing. By the end of the fall I went on my first run. I knew that I had come to a breakthrough in my understanding of my body, and I knew it had to be shared! That was the start of the Athlete IQ Method, and the Samsara Mobility Program.

That winter I was back in the mountains, skiing and climbing. The next summer I learned to surf, I took up MuayThai & JiuJitsu. I healed my back far beyond what surgery could ever have achieved. It required no expensive interventions, no equipment, just a deep understanding of the way my body was designed, and the stimulus it needed to heal itself.

A New Understanding

What I gained from that whole process was a new understanding of the design of my body, and how to make change by collaborating with its natural processes. It was like I understood the language that my body spoke, and I could respond with effective interventions. I was back in control of my physical life, and my body.

Today my back, and my whole body are thriving. I’m more mobile and agile than I have ever been. When people ask me if my back is back to normal, it makes me laugh because my version of ‘normal’ prior to the accident pales in comparison to where I am today. My back feels 10x better today than it did when I was half my age. Today my body feels so comfortable, more so than I can ever remember. But even better – I feel agile, mobile, and I have full freedom to move.

Launch of the Bodyweight Mobility Program

In the fall of 2019 we released the Samsara Bodyweight Program, a Train-at-Home video series designed to help anyone build strength with no equipment. It was the most successful program we have ever launched with over 2000 athletes using it to build movement capacity and strength at home – the most comprehensive Bodyweight Program for mountain athletes.

3 years later – we are ready to launch the next iteration of the Bodyweight Program. Built on the foundation of my learning over the past 3 years, the New Samsara Bodyweight Mobility Program is a full body movement-based program that is designed to restore your body to its full athletic potential. It drops 05/23 – and we cannot wait to share it with you.