Life Is Full Of Hurdles

Just when you think you are invincible, life slaps you across the face to tell you otherwise.  On Christmas Eve, I was on a ride by myself and while riding in aero position at 25 mph, I hit something in the road and the next thing I know I’m sliding on asphalt.  Fortunately, a few cars saw me go down and stopped to make sure I was ok.  Mostly in shock, I picked myself off the ground holding my shoulder and I could only think “not again”.


Big thanks to Louis Garneau for protecting my head!!

Last time I wrecked (2014), it caused a slew of chain reactions which basically forced me to sit on the sidelines in 2014 and 2015 which included a total of 4 surgeries.  I went over 2 years without racing and had very minimal training during that time frame.  In those two years, I lost count how many times I thought I would never be able to race again.  With a lot of determination and an awesome support system surrounding me, I was able to get my body healthy and back to doing what I love to do.  Since then I have been very diligent on keeping my body healthy.  So much that I forgot what it’s like (read: miserable) to be forced to sit on the sidelines.

Back my recent wreck…. I was transported to the hospital where Mandy was waiting for me, got x-rays on my shoulder/hip and a CT scan.  Unbeknownst to me, Mandy was texting my orthopedic who operated on my hip, Dr Harris.   Apparently he was logged in to the hospital system watching my x-rays come in.  Sure enough, the x-rays confirmed what we already knew (it hurt like hell), broken clavicle.  Mandy got a text asking “when was the last time Steve anything to eat or drink?”.  I knew right then and there, I was going into surgery.  I ended up getting the longest titanium plate made for a clavicle and 9 screws fastened to my collarbone.  I can’t thank Dr. Harris (and his wife) for taking time out of his day on Christmas Eve to fix me.  Seriously… what Dr volunteers to do surgery on his day off nonetheless on Christmas Eve?



I was told that recovery would take 8 weeks and that’s when I could get back to swimming and biking outside.  I was allowed to run and bike inside (no aero position) as long as I wasn’t in pain and the body could handle it.  It took about a week after surgery when I felt like I could manage riding on the trainer.  There was no way I could run as my ribs were in more pain than my shoulder.  I likely bruised/cracked a rib when I crashed but I never felt any pain in my ribs immediately after the crash because of the immense pain in my shoulder.  So I started logging miles and miles on the computrainer and zwift.  I got a couple weeks of over 200 miles on zwift including one Sunday morning where I logged a little over 100 miles on zwift  (and ~9k ft of climbing) with EMJ teammate Brendan Loehr.  One of the benefits I found riding on zwift with a smart trainer was that I could “simulate” hills.  I don’t have any real hills here in south Florida and with a few races on this year’s schedule with a bunch of climbing, I saw this as a benefit.   I honestly believe I gained bike fitness over the last several weeks.

Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the 8 week mark and after my recent visit with Dr Harris a few days ago, I was fully cleared to swim and bike outside.  With Team EMJ camp in Vegas less than 2 weeks away and Oceanside 70.3  7 weeks away, panic training has officially started.  I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and into a my normal routine.

I do want to thank those folks that stopped during their ride as they saw me sitting on the side of the road right after the crash (Erica Lazarus, Brian & Lisa Smith, Rick Mongeau, Alicia Schultz).  I can’t thank them enough.  I said it already but I will be forever grateful to Dr Harris (and especially his wife) for taking time out of their Christmas Eve plans to do surgery.  He’s already fixed my hip a few years ago and now he did my shoulder.  The hospital was going to discharge me and I likely wouldn’t have been able to see a Dr until after the new year.  He saved me at least a week, if not more, of recovery and time off training.  Big thanks to Mario Burbano, my massage therapist.  I have been working with Mario since 2015 and he has kept me healthy and found lingering issues before I found them myself.  Just after one visit with him after my wreck, I noticed a huge improvement in my shoulder mobility.  Lastly, thank you to my wife for dealing with another bike crash, another ER visit and another surgery.  I don’t know how she puts up with this and me.

Thanks for reading!

1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Another year. Another surgery. Another long unexpected hospital stay.

After sitting out last season with my elbow, I had high hopes of racing my first Ironman and qualifying for Kona this year at IMTX.  Training was going really well and I was just starting to get into the longer rides/runs.  In late February, I was on a 16 mile run at Riverbend park and at the 6 mile mark, my left hip tightened up.  I ran about 1/4 mile on it and stopped to stretch it for 10-15 minutes.  I tried to continue on my run and only made it 100 meters before I pulled the plug on the days run.  I probably could have made it another 10 miles but who knows what damage I would have done.  At the time, I thought it was just muscular and didn’t want to risk damaging it more.  Live to fight another day.

The next couple weeks was spent stretching, icing, chiro visits, and more stretching.  I tried running on it a few times but would only make it 10 minutes before I would feel something was still off.  If you’ve ever had a hip issues, you know it is extremely hard to determine where the pain is coming from and difficult to describe (this is one of many reasons why hip injuries are often mis-diagnosed).  Fortunately, I was never in excruciating pain.  I was walking fine (without pain) and was still able to bike.  After a couple weeks of minimal improvement, a friend had recommended I go see Dr. Matthew Harris who is a hip specialist.  I saw him a few days later where he sat down with me for an entire hour!  I scheduled an x-ray and MRI shortly after which confirmed what Harris had already told me: femoral acetabular impingement (FAI… I have a cam on the femur head) and a labral tear.  I was given 3 options:

1. Surgery
2. Doc could get me to race IMTX but would be risking further damage
3. Rest and PT

I opted for option 3.  I did 8 weeks of PT which helped some but I still felt something was off.  I then tried a cortisone injection which alleviated my pain for 2 days.  I ran on the 2nd day and 10 minutes into the run, the pain was back.  At this point, it was late May and I had already started to think about surgery.  Labral tears do not heal…. ever.  FAI (which is essentially a bone spur) does not fix itself without surgery(think bone structure).  Many athletes are able to compete with FAI and labral tears pain free by PT and/or cortisone injections.  In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before those symptoms come back.  Whether you have a cam or pincer, the acetabular and femur head will continually hit each during hip flexion and coincidentally slice the labrum in between.  I had already thought about what could happen months or maybe years down the road if I was able to get back to training pain free without surgery.  Since my pain wasn’t going away and not wanting to delay it anymore, I opted for surgery.

Surgery was only supposed to take 4 hours but when I woke up in post op, I asked what time it was and was told it was 6:30 PM (surgery started at 7:30 AM).  I was in surgery for 9 hours.  9 freaking hours.

NOTE: The MRI had only revealed 1 tear in my labrum.  Harris had my MRI specifically done on a 3T machine compared to a 1.5T.  Think 720p TV compared to 1080p TV.  Most MRI’s are done on a 1.5T machine but sometimes you need better resolution to see everything going on.  If you ever get an MRI, ask your doctor about 1.5T vs 3T and dye injection.  

Dr. Harris found not 1, not 2, but 3 tears in my labrum and nice big bump on my femur head.  Because of the location of the tears, Harris concluded my tears were actually from blunt force trauma (my bike wreck last year).  I landed pretty hard on my hip during the wreck.  The x-ray from a year ago in the ER revealed nothing wrong and I was only sore for a week or two.

Amazing what they can do with just 3 small incisions

I woke up in post op, I asked why do my feet and right leg hurt?  My feet felt like there was clamp on them.  They were both swollen and I could barely feel anything when the nurses touched them.  My right leg was completely swollen (like 4 to 5 times the normal size).  They had hooked me up to a catheter during surgery and they told me my urine color had turned brown (tea color).  They called in a nephrologist in fear of kidney damage.  He ordered some labs which came back with my ck level in the 30k’s (normal is below 300).  Ck is the muscle enzyme and if your muscles start breaking down too much, it will get in your blood stream and can cause kidney damage/failure.  The nephrologist diagnosed me with rhabdomyolysis.  I was originally supposed to stay 1 night in the hopsital as precaution for my hip on the orthopedic floor.  With rhabdo, I was admitted to the ICU and was told I would be in the hospital for a few days until my ck levels get back to normal.

So you are probably asking how do you get rhabdo from surgery.  Don’t worry, the doctors were asking the same thing for two days.  Fast forward two days to my birthday, I’m still in the ICU, my right leg is still swollen like crazy, I can barely bring my right knee towards my chest while lying in bed, my groin is black and blue, and I haven’t been out of bed for a day and half.  The only good thing was the operative leg felt great.  I needed to get out of bed to get things moving.  Harris had me move around quite a bit after I nicely complained about my aches.  I crutched around the ICU hallways and sat down/up in a chair in an effort to get things woken back up.  Shortly after, the nurses took labs again (they had been taking them roughly every 8 hours).  Labs came back and my ck level had gone up to 41k.  Needless to say, the nephrologist started freaking out.  I was ordered back in bed and not to move.  The nephrologist was really worried about my rhabdo and kidneys but had no idea why my ck levels were so high.  He ordered a heart ultrasound (my hr was in the 150s when I was walking around with my crutches), ekg, ultrasound on both legs to look for any blood clots, and a complete MRI on my lower extremities.  The ultrasounds and ekg all checked out fine.  MRI results come back showing a grade 3 strain in my right adductor muscle.  The muscle was so strained that it started breaking down causing the rhabdo.  During surgery, they took my right leg and moved it out to the side (abduction) and it sat like that for 9 hours on the operating table.

 MRI showing my adductor strain

A day later and after a lot of pleading with the doctors, I got transferred to the orthopedic floor.  It’s like a 5 star hotel there which was a much needed upgraded from the ICU.  My ck levels had started to go down again but not high enough to get me discharged.  (I also should mention that I barely slept in the hospital…. I probably averaged 2-3 hours of sleep a night).  The next day, Sunday, my ck levels were down to 17k.  At this point we understood why I had rhabdo and my levels were on the decline (they were in the 20k’s the day before).  So after some discussion with the doctors, they agreed to discharge me from the hospital but I had to come back the next few days for outpatient labs.  I was also ordered to stay hydrated (drink 150 ml/hr) and take it easy.  If it wasn’t for Dr Harris, I would have been in the hopsital for another week.  He realized how miserable I was and wanted to get me home ASAP but the nephrologists were very conservative and didn’t want to risk anything.  They wanted me bed rested to keep the rhabdo down while Dr Harris wanted me to move around some to keep my hip/muscles moving.  Talk about a catch 22.  Fortunately Dr. Harris made an agreement with the other doctors that he would keep tabs on me and make sure I was following their strict instructions.  So five days later after surgery, I was discharged from the hospital.

Here’s how the next few weeks went post discharge:

Week 1

– Hydrate
– Cpm machine for 6 hours a day
– Hip flexion restricted to 40%. No external/internal rotation
– Ck levels down to 13k and then 7k
– Right leg still swollen but slowly going down
– Left hip feels good
– Left foot is still numb
– Right foot numbness is getting better
– Crutches suck and sleep is minimal
– I can’t get comfortable in any position (lying down, sitting down, standing)

Week 2

– Hydrate
– Cpm machine for 6 hours a day
– Ck levels down to 878
– Right leg still swollen but getting better
– start PT
– Tried biking on a stationary bike but my adductor hated that.
– Right foot almost back to normal
– Left foot is still numb
– Minimal sleep
– Still completely uncomfortable in any position

Week 3

– Hip flexion restricted to 50%.  No external/internal rotation
– Ck levels finally back to normal at 178.  No more labs needed
– Start 50% weight bearing on left leg after week 2
– Pool work (mainly sculling back and forth)
– Right foot is back to normal
– Right leg swelling is almost gone but the adductor muscle is hard as a rock.  PT did some very light stretching on it.
– Left foot is best its been but its still numb at the top of the foot
– Stationary bike is now tolerable.
– Starting to sleep a little better.  Found a way to sleep on my side and stomach as I can’t sleep on my back
– Still uncomfortable but putting weight on the left leg is helping.

Week 4

– Hip flexion restricted to 60%. No external/internal rotation
– Started swimming but no flip turns (3 sessions of 1.5-2k yards)
– Right leg swelling is gone.  Adductor muscle still hates me
– Left foot numbness continues
– Up to 15 minutes on a stationary bike (no resistance)
– Figured out a way to put on my own socks.  I still can’t tie my own shoes.
– I drove for the first time (getting in and out of the car is a pain the first few weeks)

Week 5

– I can walk! (weight bearing as tolerated but have not needed them).  I walk with a limp but I have no pain walking.  My feet start hurting if I walk too much…. good thing its not my hip.
– Hip flexion restricted to 70%.  No external/internal rotation
– Did some more swimming.  Open turns suck.
– Left foot numbness continues but its the best its been.  Progress is slow.
– Right leg flexibility has gotten a lot better
– PT is getting easy.  I want to start doing more but that idea was quickly rejected.
– Went to watch loggerhead tri which was extremely hard to watch considering I won it two years ago. Next year, next year…

Week 6 (this week)

– Hip flexion restricted to 80%.  No external/internal rotation
– Got a massage on my right leg.  Flexibility continues to improve.  Almost back to normal.

So that just about sums up the past 5 weeks of my life.  It’s a long road back but I’ve never been more motivated and I will come back stronger than ever…

**Special thanks to Dr. Harris, my caring girlfriend, my wonderful mother, and my dog Bear.  Dr. Harris, you went above and beyond what is expected of ANY doctor.  I am truly grateful for all the time and energy you put into my care.  I owe you a beer…. or maybe an entire keg.  Thanks Mom and Mandy for caring for me and being my support team at home.  I love you both!  And, of course, thank you Bear for never leaving my side.**

Back to “training”


The day was February 21, 2008.  I unexpectedly anchored Pitt’s 400 free relay at the Big East Championships.  All throughout my senior year, I knew my last race of my very long swim career would be the 200 back at our conference meet.  I swam distance free and backstroke in college and I am not a sprinter by any means.  I wish I was, but I learned long ago that I do not possess those fast twitch muscle fibers.  I would have love to swam the 50 and 100 free at every single dual meet instead of the 500 and 1000 free.  If you know me, you have probably heard me call sprinters every derogatory name possible….. one’s which I cannot repeat on this blog.  My coaches had other ideas that day in February, and put me on the relay after my 200 back prelim swim.  We finished 6th and I earned my only Big East medal of my collegiate swimming career.

I could not have been happier to be finished.  16 years of competitive swimming will do that to you, just ask any other swimmer.  I was burnt out.  All the early morning practices, getting yelled at by your coaches, and swimming countless laps while staring at a blue line (Pitt’s was blue) became more of a job than something I used to do for fun.  Sitting here today, I wouldn’t change any of it though.  Swimming was the best thing to have ever happened to me and I am grateful I was able to swim at the Division 1 level for the University of Pittsburgh all 4 years.  Swimming has molded me into the person I am today.  It has taught me so many things over the years without me realizing it and prepared me to enter into the “real world” of a working professional.  I have made so many friends over the years whom I will never forget.  There will always be a camaraderie between swimmers, whether we’ve ever crossed paths or not.

Two months later, I graduated with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering and started my first full time engineering job a few days later.  I traveled significantly for the next few years for my job.  I worked long hours and ate just about anything I wanted to without any care.  I had zero motivation to do any physical activity those first 6 months after graduation.  It just wasn’t a priority for me.  After gaining some weight, I began lifting weights off an on for the next couple of years with a little running here and there.  I hated running with a passion.  My legs hated it, my mind hated it.  It was just plain boring.   Swimming was still not an option at this point in my mind.  I wasn’t ready for it.

Fast forward almost 3 years later after graduation, I was in a pretty unhappy place.  Frustrated with my life, job, career, and physique, I knew I needed a change but I didn’t know what.  At the time my brother was living in St Louis and was home for a couple days.  We went to the local Trek store and I found a road bike on sale.  Ever since doing the Pittsburgh triathlon relay (swim portion) in 2004, I’ve always wanted to get into the sport of triathlon.  Every year I would watch the Ironman World Championships on tv and I would say, “that’s going to be me someday”.  I think I cry every time I watch it every year.  Yes…. I’m a wuss.  If you aren’t motivated to get off your butt after watching the race, your pulse needs checked…. seriously… watch the race this December, and I guarantee you will feel like you can run a marathon in world record time immediately after(yes I know feeling and doing are two different things but everyone could use the motivation).  I always made an excuse to delay getting into the sport which was having a bike.  Needless to say after that day at the Trek store, I no longer had an excuse and thus began a journey I wish I started long time ago.

What I soon realized was missing in my life: competition.  Up until my last swim meet ever in college, I had always been competing in something since age 5.  Whether that was soccer, swimming, baseball, hockey, basketball.  Sports had been such a big involvement in my life, I don’t think I knew what to do with myself when I stopped swimming in 2008.  Ask anyone that knows me…. I HATE LOSING…. period.  Finishing anything but first was unacceptable.  As a kid, I’ve been known to throw my cap and goggles after a bad race and added a few obscenities as I got older.  Yes I was sometimes “that guy” behind the block.

I spent the next couple months training on my own with zero structure.  I typically didn’t decide what I was going to do until 5 min before I started my workout.  I got back to swimming again but I was enjoying it because it was on my own terms.  I entered my first triathlon memorial day weekend 2011, a small local sprint.  I have never experienced so many highs and lows ever in a race before.  I was first out of the swim but then was passed by everyone in my wave on the bike.  Here I was on my road bike, getting passed like I was standing still. The bike was 13 miles and I couldn’t have been happier to get off the damn thing.

I finished the race and at the time, I thought that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.

During the rest of 2011, I went on to complete 2 sprints and 3 olympics with moderate success but I wasn’t satisfied.  I decided in August 2011 to reach out to my college swim coach Eric Limkemann and began working with him the next day.

A few months later, I was offered a job in Florida.  I had been pretty frustrated with my current job/career.  I was ready for a change and ready to get out of Pittsburgh.  I was born and raised in Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!).  I had never lived more than 30 min away from home before and I didn’t know anyone in the Palm Beach area.  To say I was taking a leap of faith and going to be out of my element, was an understatement.

“You can take a person out of Pittsburgh, but you can’t take the Pittsburgh out of a person”.

My 2012 season started off strong but ended with an injury.  I took 3 months off during the off season to heal up and work on my house (this took up every weekend of my time).  I started off 2013 in terrible shape but I’m now in the best shape of my life.  I’ve made some huge gains this season and I just need to keep the ball rolling and finish the season strong.