My name is Annie.
When I was invited to come here today I started racking my brain about how best to approach this talk. As you can well see, I’ve recently had surgery and I was admittedly anxious about anesthesia and pain med induced memory lapses. With these things in mind I thought I best start early and have something written down in front of me!
I wondered, what have past speakers talked about?
What do you, the audience want or need to hear?
Lastly, what do I have to share with you that goes beyond noise or hearing myself talk?
What do I have today to give, and how can I best deliver that for a net positive impact on those of you who have gifted me with your time and attention today.
We’ll circle back, but as a business owner and as someone in coaching who desires to be a helper – this last question hit at the root of what we’ll discuss today:
All of us with our stories, our life practices, our chosen professions, and our time and attention are poised uniquely to positively impact others.
In particular, when others give us the gift of their time, attention, and resources it is on us to honor that by doing our best to serve those people.
A pioneer can be defined as someone who is the first to use, adopt, develop, and apply knowledge, ideas, or practices.
While many of the ideas, knowledge, and practices that I will discuss today are not new per say, I hope to offer a fresh perspective on how we combine and implement these strategies in our lives to our benefit and to the benefit of our clients, community, and ultimately the world around us.
To set the stage, I think it is important to share a part of my story with you first.
My obsession with the human body started at an early age. My dad, a tech nerd and early adopter of computer technology, had a lap top setup with DK anatomy software when I was 5 years old.
More interested in the virtual cadaver than the games available to me I would spend hours pouring over the layers of muscle, bone, and fascia.
It was at this time that I started trying to draw the world how I saw it.
By the time I turned 12 years old I wanted nothing more than to be a comic book illustrator. More of the sit and read – avoid the presidential fitness test – kind of kid than the jock, I was not an athletic person then nor am I an exceptional athlete now. However, the more I looked at anatomy texts, photo references, and weightlifting books the more physical pursuits appealed to me.
After a summer spent incessantly begging my parents for a gym membership my mom took me down to Pro Fitness, an old school gym nestled underground on the outskirts of Aggieville. I was home. The connections I made with mentors and the hours I spent in this sanctuary set the stage in many ways for the rest of my life.
Flashing forward 8 years, I found myself a few years out of highschool, managing bluestem bistro, and a bit lost on what to pursue. Should I go to college? Should I travel? Or should I simply continue to work?
Like any eat, pray, love American girl would I bought a plane ticket to New Zealand and spent several weeks working on farms before a friend of mine offered me a ticket to their Burning Man festival.
Not particularly the festival type, I thought that getting out of my comfort zone and not spending money on a hostel sounded like a pretty sweet deal anyways. so I put my anxiety about hippies aside and took a bus down to Whanganui.
At kiwi burn I found myself halfway between a rural farm-scape much like Kansas, and a jungle-esque forest.
After a few nights of pre-festival construction my friend Shannon arrived with our tent and we set up camp in the woods next to the rest of the burners.
The first night, at roughly 3 am I heard an incredibly loud noise outside the tent. Knowing they didn’t have thunder storms there, and not recognizing the noise as similar to anything else my American brain assumed that someone had brought a gun to the event and that this festival – like so many events in the US – was ending in gun violence.
Propping myself up on my side intending to leave the tent I was stopped quickly in my tracks by an immense pressure and a sense of being adjusted by massive chiropractor as though it was an Ent from the Lord of the Rings. As it happened, that gunshot was a tree splintering at its base and crash landing on top of me.
Numb and unable to move from the waist down I turned to my friend and informed her that I needed medical assistance right away. At the time, I assumed my back was broken as both legs were so painfully cramped that I felt as though my quads and hamstrings were going to peel themselves off the bone. My right lower leg and foot were completely numb and I couldn’t sit up at the waist without feeling like my organs were on fire and without feeling grinding internally.
Looking down I realized my pubic bone had rotated up and in and was protruding outwards, just under my belly button.
The deep sense that this might be my final few minutes on earth settled in and the overwhelming feeling of “I don’t want to die like this” washed over me.
I laid there, Shannon holding my hand and a cohort of strangers from the festival gathered around me. One spent her time holding my head, another softly sang to me, and a group of onlookers – both of us apparently startled at the recognition of the other party – mutually recognized the random and impersonal nature of tragic events.
The ambulance arrived and the bartender turned volunteer EMT tapped my shoulder.
Before arriving at Kiwiburn myself and the folks who gave me a ride had stopped at the town bar for a cider before heading out to the event and had conversed at length with the bartender just a few days prior. Like the worst possible version of Dorothoy waking up to familiar faces after returning home from OZ, his familiar face was a comfort during what felt like a nightmare.
Straightening my legs and carrying me out of the woods to the ambulance proved to be tremendously painful.
Humans as a mammal are separated in part from the rest of the animal kingdom by our ability to willfully control our breathing. Most species’ breath is regulated by their activity such as walking or running or sleeping.
Humans, on the other hand have volitional control of our breath which we can use to alter our emotions, to regulate our behavior, and to access different states of consciousness at will.
At around 17 I had developed a regular meditation practice and had maintained this up to the time of my accident not knowing how essential this skill would be to my survival.
Just like numerous other people who report near death experiences, I knew that if I fell asleep I would stop breathing and I would not wake up. So, filled with fear, agonizing pain, and a small inside voice with a will to live – I focused on one thin – My breath.
One breath at a time.
After an hour long ride through the mountains we arrived at the hospital where we proceeded to wait for another hour before receiving care.
A young doctor walked in “heard you were bumped by a branch”
“My pelvis is broken” is told him – exhausted from pain.
He pushed his hands down into my side and said “no it isn’t .
Without pain medication I barked at him that I was in agony and did fact have broken bones.
It was at this juncture that Anton, an ex military nurse walked past the door and said “we need imaging on this girl immediately”
An ultrasound displayed fluid around my lungs and kidneys.
The doctor flushed pale.
I was hemorrhaging severely, and a subsequent mri revealed a shattered pelvis and detailed organ damage.
In whanganui they completed emergency surgery to stabilize my pelvis through femoral traction, removed a foot of my intestines, administered four pints of blood, and stitched my bladder back up before flying Shannon and I up to Auckland’s primary hospital.
During my stay there they told me: “You’re the most smashed up person we’ve had on the orthopedic ward since the 1980’s”
My surgeon told me I was only alive because I’d been lifting weights so long. This cemented to me the value of this hobby I had loved for so long, and I felt compelled to share this value with other people.
To put a long story only mildly less long, I spent several months in the NZ hospital system in the orthopedic ward and arrived home to Manhattan on May 18th, 2016.
During my time on the ward and after returning home the outpouring from the Manhattan community was astounding. The social, emotional, and financial support was a lifeline for me and my family during this time of crisis.
A few months later I met my wife Laura under the guise of getting together to study. A division 1 Rower and captain of the team her final year we enjoyed spending time together more than anything.
From the start she offered a calm understanding and never made me feel anything less than perfect in my body that is covered in scars.
She embraced me when I struggled with PTSD, chronic pain, and anger.
Truthfully, I don’t know how I would have made it here today if we hadn’t met in the first few months of my arriving home.
Forever my encourager, she supported my decision to study and sit for my personal trainer exam and pursue it in spite of my physical limitations.
In Spring 2016 I started training people formally at the Chester E Peter’s recreation center as a college student, and from that time on I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
Several graduations, several moves, and several jobs later we moved into our current home and opened Unbreakable Strength Co. as an in person and remote strength coaching service.
In his book Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor Franklr said that
Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any “how”
On the surface what Unbreakable offers isn’t so different from any other gym – sure, we measure Sets, reps, PR’s, joint ranges of motion – the basics. What we do differently I believe is come along side folks in investigating their why.
We encourage you to interrogate what you’re made of and what your values are, and to use those deep parts of you to develop a consistent practice focused on how and why you live and how the development of strength is just one way to live out your why.
We shift the focus away from what you aren’t towards what you are – resilient.
We don’t focus on the scale or pious dietary behaviors and we don’t erase differences, we embrace them and encourage you to leverage what makes you unique to the best of your abilities, and to become a challenger of yourself and of the world you live in.
At Unbreakable strength, our why is a belief that everyone has an Unbreakable Strength within them. It isn’t just about the weights you lift or the number on the scale. It is about knowing and building your most powerful, anti-fragile, and courageous self in all spheres of life, and we believe the gym is an excellent place to forge these qualities. In short, we have faith in the human potential for an excellent and meaningful life and our mission is to build up and serve others through strength coaching.
In Simon Sinek’s “Find Your Why” he tells us that
“The goal is not simply for you to cross the finish line, but to see how many people you can inspire to run with you…….The greatest contribution of a leader is to make other leaders”
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. We all have our “tree” story, and while we cannot change what happens to us we can change how we respond. At best, we can celebrate our survival and help facilitate that survival for others to, regardless of the medium through which we are sharing it. For me this just happens to be coaching, but for you it may be something entirely different. At the end of the day we can all engage our gifts towards facilitating people feeling empowered in their own mental and physical abilities so they realize they are strong enough to weather any storm life throws at them.
I can say that it is only due to love, this Manhattan community, and the physical and emotional resilience built in me through training that I am able to sit here and talk with you now.
I want you to think about the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced and I want you to think about why you’re here today. I want you to know that while there are times in life where you feel unkept, unworthy, unable, unprepared, or unsupported that you and all of your Uns are where your strength lies. Though we are all unfinished, together we are Unbreakable.