Posted in Strength Training, Wellness Coaching

Patient Zero

By Summer 2014, this was the situation in which I found myself:

I injured my back at work in January of that year. An MRI showed a bulging disc in my lower spine, L5 to be exact. I returned to work after six weeks off, but I was in constant pain. I ate ibuprofen like tic-tacs to get through the day, and then came home and laid on ice packs. I was seeing a chiropractor for adjustments and massage every week. I was stretching, going for walks, and occasionally swimming, but my recovery would not progress past a certain point. My quality of life was in the toilet; I was surviving, not living.

To add insult to injury, by that summer, the Managed Care Organization overseeing my Workmans’ Comp claim refused to pay for more treatment. This despite the fact that just a few weeks prior, I won a hearing before the Industrial Commission to have my bulging disc declared a “workplace injury.”  They denied two appeals. If I wanted more treatment, I was going to have to get a lawyer.

The doctor’s report from the final denial. A doctor who never examined me. I found the phrase “non-physical etiology” particularly offensive. That is a fancy way of saying my pain was all in my head.

I was also rapidly approaching my top weight. I had lost about fifty pounds a few years before, but  gained it all back. The new clothes I had bought didn’t fit anymore, and my remaining “fat clothes” were getting tighter. Between the ill-fitting clothes and the back pain, I was so uncomfortable in my own skin I could barely stand it. I was exhausted.

I was not in a great place.

And I was watching my friend Amy. I had worked with Amy for years. Our mutual struggle with weight and body issues was an ever-present topic in our conversations and inside jokes. She was nowhere as obese as I was, but she too had been a “big girl” most of her life, with all of the emotional baggage that entailed. Much like me, she also wasn’t really much for intense physical activity.

Amy and I at a Christmas party in 2014, five months after I joined her at Ludus Magnus


But over the course of several months, Amy transformed in front of my eyes. She got leaner; her shirts and jeans got smaller. But it wasn’t just physical. Amy was always a vivacious person, but she walked with a new confidence. She was making big changes in her career to find something she really wanted to do, rather than just doing what she had always done. She took a huge risk and a hefty pay cut to do this.

All the while, she talked constantly about her new weight lifting regimen and her trainer, Matt. I heard her describe hitting new PRs in squats and deadlifts, about doing crazy things with kettlebells and dumbbells. It was always, “Matt had me do this, Matt had me do that, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.” I was intrigued. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

Amy? Lifting weights in a grungy gym?


All of my denials from Workmans’ Comp said I should be on an “at-home exercise program,” and that I shouldn’t need treatment anymore. Doctors who had never laid eyes on me claiming to know what I needed was infuriating, but I couldn’t bear the thought of getting a lawyer and going through a long, drawn-out process to fight them.

Going to the chiropractor was not going to be enough. Stretching and a bit of swimming was not going to be enough. If I wanted to get better, not just get through the day, but actually recover, I was going to have to take more drastic action. 

And I had a living, breathing, example before me every day of a woman so much like me, who had undergone this massive transformation. Who kept at it not just because she had lost some weight, but because she actually enjoyed it! Because it was improving her life beyond the physical.

I was also encouraged by the environment she described at Ludus Magnus. I’ve had several gym memberships in my life, but I’ve always hated the traditional “gym.” Large fitness centers intimidated me, with their rows of equipment, skinny women in skimpy attire, men with perfect bodies staring at themselves in mirrors. I felt like a fat lump in those places, like an object of scorn. I get that my perception is a tad distorted, but that was my reality.

I remember Amy said, “Ludus isn’t a fitness gym, it’s a power gym, there’s a big difference.” It was a small, private gym only open to Matt’s clients during his hours. The people who went there were focused on getting stronger, not on getting skinnier. On becoming more, not less.

So me being who I am, I stewed and fretted for weeks, but I eventually asked Amy if she would introduce me to Matt. She came with me to my first appointment at Ludus in August 2014, took me through my first workout, and was a constant source of encouragement in those tough early days.

Amy is not the reason I have kept going back to Ludus Magnus and to Matt for over two years. But without her as an example and an inspiration, I may never have found this way of life that allows me to thrive, not just survive. A simple decision to reach out and ask a friend for help changed everything.

In the beginning, all I wanted was for my body to get stronger and not be in such pain all the time. Weight loss wasn’t even on my radar. It seemed too far out of reach. I was not capable of envisioning where my journey would take me, but I was desperate enough to take a first step.

In retrospect, I’m glad Workmans’ Comp denied me. Yes, it was an injustice. But I know myself, and I needed a hard push to get out of my comfort zone and take a risk on something different.

Sometimes what I think is the worst thing that could happen is exactly what I need.

If you are ready to take a first step on your journey, please email me at or call 614-517-2520.

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