MDLP: Life is Pain Management

August has it out for me. Aside from it being a great month as far as birthdays of so many loved ones and myself included, it comes with the knowledge that my best friend would have been turning 35 this month… but thats all I have to say about that. Last August I suffered a spine relapse and almost like clock work I am in the middle of a small one now. Now pump your breaks, I am not admitting myself into a beach side spine rehab facility where I itch my neck all day and turn tricks for deadlifts. I am currently fending off some symptoms of sciatica which have brought a gift with it. These unfortunate events have forced me to take a deeper look into my training, daily habits and current pain triggers. After talking to Brian, which really helped out my stress, he advised to relax and take a look at my situation with a birds eye view.

I had a dream that night. It’s one of those dreams you get when you cant get your mind off of something. The kind of dreams you have when you carry a weight on your shoulders all day and your mind has nothing left to do but flood your dreams with some unusual and subjective answer. I fell asleep fast that Monday night and I woke up in hospital room on what I perceived to be a winters day. The room had that smell to it, you know that smell of something thats chemically clean? A very similar smell to your first tattoo shop thats unforgettable and addicting in its own right. That pungent yet reassuring soap and water aroma. I could see beds all around me and I had the foggy feeling that I was in a dream but was not cognizant enough to piece that detail apart. I sat down, I was waiting on someone. My back was in pain and I felt like I had a million words to describe it but instead I sat there like a small child crossing my feet as they hung off the hospital bed I so impatiently sat on. In walked a figure, shadowy at first as all things are in a dream but that mustache was unmistakable! Was I really sitting with Doc McGill? I am MDLP’s cheesy fan boy anecdotes.

He had the answers, I knew it! I sat there with an instant change in attitude and the small boy foot shuffling and lower lip pouting quickly became a man of confidence and boisterous laughter. We spoke, the detail of what was said is now lost in time and in the various brain cells that died when I was a fighter, but the underlying feeling was that this was going to take work. If I was awake or this situation was happening in the real world I would of quickly told myself I probably already know the answers and to be patient. But my dream was telling me there was something outside of myself I was looking for. That I needed the affirmation that I wasn’t alone, that I would pull through and that everything ends, even Pain. The conversation lasted for what felt like hours but what we know in the real world is mere seconds.

Stu articulated a game plan, a rehab program and we bantered on with jokes and my war stories. I sat there bellowing out how hard my life was and how horrible I felt, creating a flood of weakness that would only make me drown in my self pity. Doc Stu turned turned around. He moved like a mist, it’s weird in dreams how people move like that isn’t it? He sighed heavily, slid the Hospital blind that divided the beds and there appeared a young girl. Unlike other figures in my dream this image was as clear as day and with it brought a visceral and gut wrenching feeling. She was covered in bandages, with IV tubes everywhere and her face barely visible due to the overwhelming amount of gauze on her face. She was young, she had to be. There was no reaction in her eyes or body language but I knew that she could see my gazing upon her. As much as there was no movement there was also no fear, no crying or the stench of self pity. I knew it and I knew that she knew that I knew it. If you were to ask me now if I could differentiate pain in a dream or pain in real life, I would not have the answer. What I felt was a landslide of reality hitting me like a ton of bricks. I was sad, upset and above all, completely embarrassed with myself. The figure I thought I perceived as Doc McGill quickly turned into something or someone I could not recognize, only hear.

“ There are far worse options than what you feel Michael. Everything ends, and until you get there, appreciate what you have”

I woke up. My stomach hurt, I was sweating, and my back discomfort was still there but my attitude had changed. I am Psychology major, a stoic man, and often times more pragmatic than whats good for me. I know that this dream is a direct result of my conscious stress, anxiety, fear and doubt with a very real underlying tone of subconscious problem solving. I know that in the long run this dream is me telling me what to do and why. I am too far into this game to not have the tools, knowledge, and right people in my corner to wake up to another day of feeling sorry for myself. I am not saying clarity came from a dream, instead I’ll say that perception was solidified when I woke up. My morning coffee would give me the right tools to note down just exactly what I would do. Although this is specific to spine injury, I would say that these bullet points are invaluable for any injury or short coming during training. A part of me writes them down as an informative step by step of how to deal with spine relapses and the other part of me writes these down so I can go back to this from time to time to remind myself of what to do.

1. Patience:

Spine recovery is unlike anything else. There will be relapses, scabs picked, and re-injury. The key is to not freak out. DON’T FREAK OUT!! Haha but seriously, take your time and assess the situation objectively. This will take patience over emotions.

2. Use your tools:

By this time I have hoped you have read Gift of Injury and Back Mechanics which have a various list of spine hygiene tools. These are the weapons you have in your shed to tackle this relapse first hand. Your knowledge on walking, pristine movements, Big 3 and other recovery exercises listed in these texts is paramount. For now and the rest of your life these will be a staple in your tool box and THEE most important thing on your way to recovery.

3. Reach out:

Any major injury should be guided by a professional. I am not saying who to go to or what to do as I am not a medical practitioner and I am not in a position to tell you what to do with your life. But I will tell you this, from my experience with various injuries, I have found that going at it alone is a very slippery slope. On the physical level it can lead to improper rehab, bad mechanics and further imbalances. On a mental level, having someone to guide you allows you to not feel isolated and have a mental game plan.

4. Take a birds eye view:

Take a moment to look at your program and daily habits as if you were coaching yourself. Do not attach your ego or emotions to your recovery, instead, isolate what exactly is causing new pain triggers and poor movement. In spine injury it is often day to day movements, familiar places and sports we are emotionally attached to that blind us to what is hurting our spine in the first place. For example, I recently purchased a new couch and sitting down to vegetate on a Sunday is one of my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, as much as I want to do this, it is not currently in the cards and I need to detach myself from what I want and what I need to do. In the same light I have noticed my training is missing a lot of spine hygiene exercises I have gotten to comfortable with not doing and its time to re-implement then in my day to day workouts.

Take Away:

I am by no means any where near the physical discomfort, nerve damage, or mental wreck I was last year. I am confident I have the right tools and experience to formulate the process to get me out of trouble. Don’t get me wrong, these relapses don’t come with their own mental struggles that are hard to put into a few pages but they are lasting shorter and shorter and for that I am eternally grateful. As I have so often heard in motivational speeches and a term I repeat to myself on a daily basis, “I  didn’t come this far, to come this far”

Never Stray from The Way


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Michael “MDLP” De La Pava is currently a competitive Strongman and owner of The Battle Axe Gym. Born in Miami, Florida into a Colombian household, Michael finished his schooling by attending Penn State University where he graduated with a Degree in Psychology. Having his roots in martial arts, he would go on to compete in various sports as a Muay Thai fighter, Powerlifter, and rugby player before committing himself fully to Strongman. During this time, he opened Miami’s first Strongman gym, The Battle Axe, where he currently coaches athletes from various disciplines including powerlifting, MMA fighters, Strongman, officers of multiple authorities and enlisted and active military operators. Competing in Strongman for over 6 years has given Michael the opportunity to rank as high as 15th in the nation (105kg), won Florida’s Strongest man (1st in 2014 and 2nd in 2015 in the 105kg class), lift and load a 420 pound Atlas stone, log press 335, pull 700, and most importantly, share the competitive battlefield with some of the best in the game. During this journey, Michael suffered what some would consider a potentially career-ending spine injury. It was at this time that Brian and Michael would begin working together to not only rehab his spine, allowing him to return to Strongman but also develop a new Strongman training program revolving around the 10/20 philosophy. Strongman and coaching have given Michael the opportunity to travel around the nation and the world to train, coach and be coached, as well as share ideas with various leaders in the strength community. Michael’s experience and network in strongman brings a welcome connection with the ever-growing sport of Strongman to the 10/20 team and PRS family.

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