Personal disclaimer: This story is so important to me and causes me such a big emotional experience every time I recount it that I can’t make any promises as to the quality of the writing here. The entire thing comes from my heart and my ability to edit sort of goes out the window. It will also be heavily abbreviated.
I often meet people who inspire me for any number of reasons: The 60+ year-old guy with the boot brace on his leg who chooses to take the stairs at the gym when the 18-year-old “aspiring” basketball player takes the elevator, the veteran with one or more limbs missing who is walking around the VA telling jokes and uplifting those with fewer physical challenges or the 90-year-old who is at the gym every single day being put through the paces by her trainer while she is surrounded by patrons texting on their phones who would be the first to talk about their “workout” when they never broke a sweat.
But occasionally you are incredibly lucky enough to make the acquaintance of someone so amazing as to defy explanation.
My friend Boris is that person for me.
I first learned about Boris through Facebook when a mutual friend told of an accident that had Boris in a coma given little hope for survival. It would be many, many months later before we would actually meet, but I followed his progress and always inquired after him from our friend. When I saw him in the gym for the first time maybe 6 months after he was discharged from the hospital I introduced myself and asked him if he would mind telling me his story. I was in no way prepared for what I was to learn.
But before I tell his story, let me just tell you a little about the man I met and why I wasn’t prepared. Boris is always smiling. If he has a down moment only people much closer to him than myself ever know about it because the rest of us just see the bright eyes and the ear to ear grin. He is intensely passionate about his dog, his daughter, his workouts and just life in general. He uplifts everyone around him with no conscious effort that I’ve ever seen. Being drawn into his orbit is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
As the story goes the morning of his accident he had gone to the store for breakfast items. For some reason, of which I don’t believe there has ever been found an explanation, he suddenly went unconscious and while driving uphill ended up in a high speed collision with another vehicle that was traveling at 70 mph. None of his airbags deployed and his driver’s seat broke loose throwing him first to the roof and then to the backseat. As he recounts it the Traumatic Brain Injury he sustained caused blood to flow from his ears and other parts of his head and left him in a coma for three weeks with very low odds of survival. When he did finally wake he remained in the hospital for a total of four months and lost 70 pounds.
Now as a small side note and of importance to anyone struggling with their workouts I’d like to point out that if Boris had not already been heavily into lifting he would have not had 70 pounds available to lose and I can’t imagine how he would have survived. As I’ve always told my personal training clients you are not just working out for today or for the aesthetic improvement you are working out for the unknown future.
It took some time, but with his amazing work ethic and aided by muscle memory Boris is in most areas as big or bigger than ever. He is back driving finally and every day he discovers one more thing he can do that was previously denied him. We all celebrate with him at each new achievement.
But this is not all of Boris’ story.
Boris is from Zagreb, Croatia. He was 6-years-old when the Croatian War of Independence began. He has one parent who is Croatian and one who is Serbian. The three of them along with his one-month-old brother were forced to flee from Serbian forces and from that very young age he remembers climbing over dead bodies in their efforts to escape. Furthermore at one one point he was separated from his family for several days.
It was five more years before they would be given political asylum to move to the US and there is no way of calculating how far that experience went in building his current character. But hopefully you can see why this young man made such an impact on me.
We have all had and continue to have adversity in our lives. You don’t actually have to survive a war to feel like you are fighting one every day. But it’s how we choose to handle that experience and the person who comes out on the other side that matters. Our struggles are the fire that forge our steel backbones. The harder it is the more character building opportunity it provides. And yes I do know that in the middle of it we just want to say “screw character”, but there will come a day when through a near death experience or any other multitude of tragedies you will be thankful to have the strength provided by that backbone.