You are here

Leo C

December 23, 2014

I am ... A Survivor

I have owned and operated my own personal training studios for 32 years, as well as setting up and developing other personal fitness training businesses. I have traveled internationally to do seminars, posing exhibitions, store openings, and public speaking at conferences for corporations. I have also written many training manuals and developed a supplement line. All my work is geared towards teaching and educating individuals, helping them reach their full potential while striving to be a better version of themselves.

Well, three years ago the unthinkable happened. I had three strokes within three weeks. What was just as astonishing to me was the fact that I've been involved in the personal training business for more than 30 years. In addition, I had been a competitive athlete since the age of 8, and still competing at the national and world level into my late 50's in bodybuilding competitions. Having one stroke, let along three, was devastating. All I kept asking myself for quite sometime, was how could this happen to someone who had been active, in-shape and an athlete most of his life? From one day to the next I went from being in complete control of my mind and body, to paralyzed on the right side from head to toe, not knowing how to move my arm or even know where it was in space. It was like I was completely disconnected from the right side of my body.

When I was in the hospital my doctor informed me that it wasn't that uncommon for people who exercise or even who appeared to be in good shape to have strokes. This was definitely a sobering wake up call for me. When an event like this happens you are put through a variety of extensive tests for your heart, brain, and the rest of your vitals, all for the sole purpose of finding out why the strokes happened in the first place and to prevent subsequent events. Unbelievably, after all the testing was done, the doctor gave me the results which stunned me. No heart damage, no cholesterol issue, no blockage of the carotid arteries and blood pressure slightly elevated however not out of the normal range. The doctor told me I should take at least a month if not six weeks off from everything to rest and recover. I knew what the doctor suggested was for my own good, however I thought 4-6 weeks was to long. 

As mentioned, I had three strokes. The first two happened on the same day close to one another and the third one, three weeks later. Fortunately, when the first two strokes hit me, I was lucky enough to get to the hospital in time to take advantage of a stroke treatment called tPA which quickly dissolved blood clots. This treatment is considered somewhat controversial because of the risk of potential death due to the individual bleeding to death, but it can eliminate any indication that a stroke ever occurred, which is exactly the result I got. The doctor warned and advised me more than once that he wanted me to rest and recover. He strongly advised me not to compete in the sport of bodybuilding because of the inherent danger the sport presents due to the extreme behavior of pushing your body to its limits. I was deeply saddened hearing my doctor tell me to take time off. I made it quite clear to him I would follow his orders and retire from the sports of bodybuilding, something I really loved doing.

I really knew down deep that if I kept bodybuilding for competition it might kill me and yet while I was at home recovering, the thought of competing again was all I could think about. I decided three days after my first two strokes, to go back to the gym! Even though this was not exactly what the doctor ordered, I rationalized that I felt fine and I would not go back to bodybuilding, however I would start a modified exercise routine specifically for health and fitness. I really thought in my mind even though doctors' orders were to stay away longer, those recommendations were meant more for the average person who was more out of shape and not an athlete. I just wanted to get my life back to normal, with some new adjustments and move on. So I tried. I eased my way back monitoring myself, and I seemed fine. Unbelievably three weeks to the day from my first two strokes lightning struck again, I had my third one. I could feel it coming on. By the time I got to the hospital, I was once again impaired on the right side of my body just as it had happened before. Now I did not have the option of getting the tPA treatment because there wasn't enough time that had passed from the first two strokes. This meant that I would have to deal with my paralysis and recovery with what would be every ounce of energy, desire, and unwavering bulldog attitude I could muster up. I was now living the biggest nightmare of my life, uncertain of my future and whether or not I'd ever fully recover. To say it was overwhelming doesn't come close to the devastation I felt.

I was definitely at a crossroad and knew I had to make an important decision and commitment to my full recovery because anything less was not an option. Even though I was advised to give up the sport of bodybuilding, I knew in my heart of hearts, in order to overcome the biggest hurdle of my life I would have to attack my recovery process with the same mind set and mental tenacity it took to pack on muscle. By using the experience from all of the years of training and thousands of reps, implementing and executing techniques like perfecting the mind and muscle connection producing dramatic results. As the doctor prescribed, I went to what would be my first and last physical therapy session. My instincts told me, based on my conversation and what I perceived, the physical therapist expectations didn't match mine. I felt like their goal was to get me to a place where I could be functional, doing the basic things. However my goal was a full recovery. The fact I made that conclusion all in just one session, I admit might have been an inaccurate one, but I believed that with my bodybuilding and athletic background I could do better.

This was exactly what I needed at this very crucial make or break period of my life. If I didn't have the perfect willingness I learned from bodybuilding, which took 12 years, I know for a fact I would be where I am today in the way I've recovered. Yes, I knew without a doubt bodybuilding saved my life. In a nutshell this time around, after my third stroke, I took off four and a half months to rehab and recover. I learned how unbelievably amazing and powerful the mind and body is what its capable of adapting to if you have perfect willingness. Its now been thirty months since my strokes and I'm still making progress on a regular basis, which is a testimonial to the training strategy and approach I've developed and followed.

After my strokes, I decided to write a book about my story called Three Strokes in Three Weeks Saved My Life. Part of my reason for writing is was self discovery and to learn how the choices and paths I took impacted my life's journey and I have learned so much more. Most importantly I discovered what the bigger calling in life really is which has created a fire in my belly and a renewed enthusiasm for life. My book is being published March of 2015 and a film production company read it and decided to start writing a screenplay for a theatrical movie. I know my story can help inspire people and I'm determined to help anyone who is willing to be helped.

Faces of Stroke Follow-Up: 


Find a Support Group


Get Involved


For over 30 years we have been the trusted source for free resources and education to the stroke community. Together, we empower survivors and their circle of care to thrive after stroke. Make your tax-deductible donation today to support the growing needs of the stroke community.