McDermott: Let your Problems Break

Scott McDermott’s weekly motivational and inspirational column about health and fitness

I have to confess, I am still a Survivor fan. You know, that T.V. ‘reality’ show where they strand people and make them do crazy challenges and then vote each other off? Yup, that show. I was hooked after the first one, and have only missed one or two seasons in 34. I like the show for a lot of reasons, but mostly the physical challenges. I could do without the manufactured drama, but I love to see people achieve things on their own merit and skill. One of my favourite seasons remains the Australian Outback, Season Two and one part in particular during the third episode. It is a reward challenge for fishing gear, and when you are starving, this is a big deal. The two tribes have to choose a person to stand on a platform with a pole across their back at the shoulders and neck – like where you place a barbell when you squat. The teams then run across a balance beam with a pole of their own carrying fabric ‘buckets’ of water they had filled. Once at the platform – a team mate takes the water buckets and places them on the pole of the opposite tribe’s water carrier. The goal is to get all the full water buckets on the opposing teams bucket carrier as soon as possible so they collapse or quit. In this case, the teams filled all of the water buckets and got them on the shoulder poles of the two guys standing on the platforms. It became a battle of wills. Who will quit first? Each guy, Colby and Mike, had around 40 buckets totaling over 400 lbs on their back, standing in the hot Australian sun, with no food for over a week, to serve their screaming muscles.

For 16 years this image has been burned in my mind as the most powerful lesson. A crushing weight on your shoulders and nothing to do about it but hang on. A massive problem that cannot be solved, that’s trying to squash your will to fight.

This happens in real life so many times, over and over again. I have been known to say that it isn’t the fact that life gives you a problem, it’s that it gives you a dozen. It’s easy to say problems are a gift with a lesson to teach, in fact, I wrote an article about that very thing not too long ago. When your problems are few, or light, it’s really easy to say that sort of stuff, but what about when they are really massive problems, and lots of them?

I could try and speak to other people’s problems but I know mine the best, and am free to speak about them as an example. January 2016 I had just survived a near death crash. I had metal parts holding my arm and shoulder together, metal staples in my skull and could only stay awake for about 90 minutes at a stretch before I had to sleep for four to six hours. Alberta was in the worst recession anyone could remember. We had launched a brand new boot camp program I was supposed to be leading. I was living in a small rental condo, having sold our house at a loss to chase the dream of building a new one after finding a super deal on land. We hadn’t unpacked anything before my crash, so the condo was loaded with boxes and chaos, while I was barely able to move. My son was not yet 4-years-old, and didn’t understand why Daddy couldn’t play with him. He was great at helping put my socks on though. There was more, but I think you get it. It wasn’t one problem, it was 30, just like the buckets those guys had on their back.

So what do you do? You grit your teeth and hang on, that’s what.

Last weekend I finished my seventh Ironman triathlon. After five surgeries, chronic lung infections, hundreds of physio appointments to get my shoulder moving again and only seven weeks after knee surgery. I am 20 lbs heavier than normal, completely under trained and not in the shape I am used to being in when I race, but none of that matters.

I refused to quit and then something magic happened, just like in that Survivor episode I was talking about.

Colby and Mike were in a standoff, loaded with ‘problems’. Legs shaking, backs aching, and in absolute hell. Colby screamed out in pain and resolve. Michael was alternating between a mouth open silent cry and gritting his teeth and the weight bore down on each of them. Their team mates screamed encouragements at them as they stood there in agony. Michael started to bow forward as the weight became too much and then with a scream rallied to stand back up again, and it happened. The wooden bar snapped! Michael stood up and all the ‘problems’ fell into the water surrounding the platform.

That is the image I hold to: my problems failing before I do. Standing up as the bar snaps and all the problems fail in their effort to crush me.

As I crossed the finish line last weekend, I felt all the problems I have been carrying fall away and a new freedom surround me.

I wish this for you. The ability to stand strong, never surrender, and let your problems give up and break.

Happy Training!


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