Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Lifting on Borrowed Time

by Nicole Rutherford, SSC | October 29, 2019

brad under the bar ready to squat

November 27th, 2018 was the first day we met Brad. When we sat down to discuss his history related to training and health, we found out that Brad was a twice-survivor of cancer. He was already expected to have died two years prior. The guy we met that day wasn’t ready to give up. And to this day, he is still fighting and stronger than ever.

Brad was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013. It was found in his left arm above his elbow. He had an intense bout of chemotherapy and radiation where he lost all of his hair and significant bodyweight. After this finding, he insisted on taking care of himself as much as he could physically. He started going to the gym and made the effort to put back on the size he had lost undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. He was working out consistently, hitting all the machines in the gym and doing all he could to get back to normal health.

He was in the clear for a while until he was struck again with a worse diagnosis in 2015. This time, the doctors found two tumors in his left lung that resulted in having part of his lung removed. After they discovered the cancer in his lung, his doctors gave him a life expectancy of 2 years. He again went through chemotherapy and lost a significant amount of weight. There was one thing different about his recovery after this bout of chemotherapy; he was stronger and made a quicker recovery. No, he wasn’t “training” prior to this incidence, but he was stronger going into this surgery than the last.

When receiving this diagnosis of a 2-year life expectancy, he didn’t give up and spend those next two years in misery waiting for the doctors predication to occur, they way some people do. This time around, Brad fought back even harder. Once he got back into the gym he noticed that all the big, strong guys were lifting weights. After doing some research he came across barbell training on the internet. He was ready for a change of pace and wanted to see progress. He wasn’t getting bigger or stronger from the machines and believed this could be his way to get the results he wanted.

By now it's 2017, approaching 2018. Brad’s diagnosis in 2015 had given him a life expectancy of 2 years. With the previous two cancer findings being 2 years apart, he started to have concerns that another issue could arise at any moment. He was stronger, but not as strong as he believed he could be. He came across Starting Strength in October of 2018 and started his first linear progression.

A month later we were introduced to Brad. Running into him, you never would have guessed what he went through the last few years. He was a kind, full-of-life and skinny (to our standards) man that was prepared to work hard and become the strongest he had ever been. He knew from his past surgeries that the best possible thing he could do at this moment was to get as big and strong as possible. In October 2018 he was around 150 lbs at 5’10”. By December we were able to get him up to 165 lbs. By February he was sitting at 175. From October to February he gained 25 lbs and became immensely stronger. He attended his first Starting Strength Seminar in January 2019 and squatted an easy 155x5x3 and deadlifted 185x5.

In March we found out that Brad’s cancer had metastasized to his right-side flexor carpi ulnaris. While waiting to see what the plan of action would be, Brad continued to lift 3 days a week around all of his doctors’ appointments. He kept up with his nutrition and was getting in as many calories as he could to maintain his weight. Lastly, he made the decision to fight for his life and preserve as much strength and size as he could. He was not ready to give up this fight in the third round.

In mid-April Brad had surgery on his right arm. Prior to surgery the doctors gave him the expectation that he may never have full use of his right arm again. Out of surgery we received news that they saved his ulnar nerve, and, though it was damaged, his arm could make a partial recovery. He had zero grip strength and could not bend his elbow. Over time they hoped he could gain somewhat better grip strength and partially bend his elbow. With a cast on and half of his right forearm missing, we saw Brad in the gym just a few days later. He was not able to grip well at all or put any load on his right arm, but he still made it in to lift. We squatted, deadlifted, and did one arm bench and press with dumbbells. He used a safety squat bar for squat, used the Repel Bullies barbell strap to deadlift, and strengthened his left arm as much as he could. We jumped right back into training, making modifications as needed. We started a new progression that day and made it a priority to recover the strength that was lost.

Brad was recovering extremely fast from this surgery – faster than he ever had before. He had an amazing crew of doctors that allowed him to get back to weight training quickly. As soon as we had his doctors’ approval to load weight on his right arm, we did. He gained back an immense amount of grip strength, he was almost able to fully extend his arm and his arm looked full with muscle tone only a few months after surgery. A few weeks after that, he no longer needed the safety squat bar, nor the barbell strap. He went back to regular squats, deadlift, bench and press much quicker than anyone ever expected he could.

Though there were ups and downs over these few months of training for Brad, he showed up and did as much as he possibly could without one complaint. Ever. Not once did he whine about how hard this process was. Never did he wish he didn’t have to workout. He knew that being strong and showing up is what has made him harder to kill and able to lift on borrowed time. I am extremely happy to say that Brad is truly the strongest he has ever been at this point in time. A few weeks ago he deadlifted 240x5 and squatted 190x5x3, sitting at 187 lbs bodyweight. These are personal all-time records for him. And guess what he’s still doing? Getting stronger and bigger.

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