A Story That Just Might Save Your Life

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One of the greatest ways to positively improve your life is to positively impact the lives of others.

I just returned from a fantastic weekend presenting to over 300 trainers and coaches at the Perform Better event in San Francisco.

Since I got there a day early, I had the opportunity to visit three different Training For Warriors facilities in the Bay Area. At each TFW, I got to spend time with the TFW coaches and meet students of the program. To meet new people that are eager to share the news how TFW has positively impacted their lives is a real special treat for me.

Getting to hear how your work has improved people’s lives is very special. Even more special is when someone goes as far to say TFW has, “saved my life.” This week I got to hear one of those stories. And to hear it, I didn’t have to take a couple of planes to California. All I had to do was sneak in a deadlift session at the TFW in my hometown.

I am sure you have had someone tell you, “You have to hear this story!” In the case of this life-saving story from my friend Christopher Zell, I am telling you that you should hear it because not only will you gain some inspiration, but I promise this story could help you save some lives as well:



August 13th, 2016 was a pretty normal Saturday for a regular guy like me. 

My wife and I woke up that morning and made breakfast for our 3 kids, aged 11, 13, and 15.  After breakfast we stopped by the gym to update our membership.  Later in the day we took them downtown to the comic book store, then to lunch at a great European market.  That evening while the kids were settling in watching Netflix, my wife decided she’d go for a jog in the neighborhood, and I decided that I’d join her.  At least this is how the day was explained to me….you see, I don’t remember any of it at all.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me explain.


How do I describe a “regular guy like me?”

That August, I was 39 years old, married with 3 kids, 2 dogs, and in great overall health.  I’d spent over 21 years in the military and was a Director in a Fortune 50 company.  I’d also been active all my life: 3 sport athlete throughout high school, competitive powerlifter for several years in the military, and a member of TFW Charlotte for the past 4 years.  In addition to working long days, I was a regular “gym rat,” hitting TFW Charlotte regularly 2-3 times a week as my demanding schedule allowed.  So, I would imagine you know a pretty regular guy just like me, and if you are one, I am not too different from you.  Now back to that Saturday evening of August 13th.


All we were doing was going for a short jog.

As my wife and I left the house that evening, we’d planned on a short 1.5 mile jog or so.  We covered the distance and the jog was was uneventful until we started our cool down.  Because my wife was just ahead of me, she turned around to check my progress. To her surprise, she saw me starting to stumble.  I didn’t say anything, but she saw a look of anger and terror on my face.  She immediately knew something was wrong and rushed toward me just in time to catch me falling towards her, preventing my head from smashing into the pavement.  She realized I wasn’t breathing and was starting to seize.  She took my cell phone (which I was luckily carrying) and immediately called 911.


On instinct, my wife went into life saving action.

As she spoke with the operator, she began chest compressions.  She had never been formally instructed in CPR but through intuition and what she’d seen on television she had an idea of what I needed. She continued compressions for almost 6 minutes until a neighbor drove by.  My wife was near exhaustion when the neighbor took over (who happened to be a Physician’s Assistant).  About a minute after our neighbor began, the EMTs arrived and took over.  They immediately hooked me up to an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and shocked me.


At this point they knew what happened to me: Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

I required 3 shocks on site to get to where I was stable enough to be transported to the local Emergency Room.  During the drive I flatlined again, and the EMT delivered a powerful blow to my chest with his fist (no kidding), and I came back to life.  Once I arrived at the ER, I required 3 more shocks within the first few minutes.  The staff at the ER knew that my situation was very grave and that I would need advanced treatment. I was then airlifted to a cardiac clinic in Charlotte.  When I arrived at the cardiac clinic it was series of more shocks. Once my heart was stable enough that it kept beating on its own, they initiated a cooling protocol to drop my body temperature to prevent brain damage from lack of oxygen.




Overall I was “out” for nearly 60 minutes total. 

They told my wife they were unsure what damage I had sustained from the continued shocks and the lack of oxygen.  I went into a coma for 3 days.  A military Chaplain was called in and my wife told him to leave. She was certain that it wasn’t my “time.”  As they started to warm my body back up and pulled the breathing tube out, I almost immediately came to.   I recall seeing my doctor on my left, and my wife on my right.  I asked my wife “what happened”?  She replied “we went for a run and you passed out”, to which I replied “that can’t be true…I hate running!”


Everyone laughed and that’s when they knew the worst was over.

All told, I was in the cardiac ICU for 12 days.  I was diagnosed with Ventricular Tachycardia (VT), a condition that results in a rapid and irregular heart rhythm.  My heart rate had been clocked as high as 333 beats per minute on an EKG.  The doctors also found (to everyone’s great surprise) a 75% blockage in one of my heart’s main arteries, for which I received a stent to open the restriction.  The doctors performed what’s called an “ablation” where they scar an existing electrical pathway in the heart in hopes of eliminating the VT.  In addition they implanted an ICD (Internal Cardiac Defibrillator) which would deliver a therapeutic electrical shock to my heart if it ever detected an irregular rhythm which could lead to another cardiac arrest.  The VT trigger for me turned out to be intense physical exercise.  As I’ve learned more about the condition, I discovered that VT, and many of its variants, do not discriminate across age, gender, or physical activity levels.  You see, sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical issue with the heart, not to be confused with a heart attack, which can occur when the heart is deprived of blood due to a blockage or other physical condition.


I knew I had an issue with my heart rate. 

I had experienced this for almost 10 years.  I had participated in more than a few TFW Hurricanes where I had to drop out of an exercise because I just didn’t “feel right.”  I had no idea this was a critical medical issue and never told anyone.  I just always blamed it on caffeine, or an energy drink I might have had before my workout. I made excuses during my military career like maybe I shouldn’t pay roller hockey during the summer in Saudi Arabia or maybe I shouldn’t do sprints in the snow during the winter in Germany. I always explained it away and didn’t go to the doctor until a year or so before my cardiac arrest that my wife made me.  They initially diagnosed it as a less dangerous arrhythmia but the point is that if I had taken responsibility earlier, chances are good I could have avoided the whole event.




There are two big reasons why I am still here today.

First, without my wife providing immediate bystander CPR, I would have not survived.  So, it is a just another great reason to have a training partner. Studies show if a victim receives CPR and an AED is used quickly, survival rates increase to over 43%. I was provided a shock from an AED within about 10 minutes from the initial arrest which brought me back.

Second, my general overall level of physical fitness was critical in not only my ability to survive the event, but also my ability to recover faster than the doctors ever thought possible.  My wife told me how the doctors had tears in their eyes once I woke and they realized how little I had been affected after all that I had been through.  I directly attribute this to my lifelong passion for fitness, and my doctors agreed.  I’m a member of several cardiac arrest support groups and know of folks who have had to quit their jobs, have lost motor function, or suffered brain injury.  Even now during checkups they are still amazed at my progress.  After 2 weeks in the hospital I took 2 weeks off at home to recover, and returned to work within a month of the event.  This is pretty unheard of, and I feel very blessed and lucky to have done so well.


My hope is that everyone can learn from my story to possibly save a life.

There are a number of things to learn from my story. Here are the four I hope you take to heart:

  1. Learn CPR. Learn it yourself, train your staff, train your students.  If you save a single life you have made a monumental contribution to the lives of many.
  1. Invest In An AED. While many federal and state laws now require them for certain facilities, they are not in enough locations.  AEDs save lives, PERIOD.  They are portable, easy to use, and again…if an AED is only used once in its lifetime, it will have more than paid for itself (approx. 1K USD).
  1. Train For Life. There is no doubt in my mind that the benefits I’ve received from being a member of Training For Warriors helped contribute, in no small part, to my survival and recovery. I was told many times while lying in the ICU how strong my heart was, and how impressed people were with my fitness level.  I was even told by one of the EMTs afterwards (when I met him to thank him) that he had never met someone so strong.  Apparently I was fighting him while I was being loaded into the ambulance (probably due to the lifts and sprints Martin and I have done since we first met, lol!)  The point is I see Training for Warriors not just about getting someone ready for a obstacle race, swim meet, or soccer match; it’s about training you to deal with LIFE and whatever it throws at you.
  1. Pay Attention To Your Body. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!  Don’t dismiss something and try to explain it away like I did. Chances are you aren’t a licensed medical practitioner, so talk to someone who is.  Don’t think the manly (or womanly) thing to do is to push through it, pretend it’s not there or hope it just goes away.




When my friend Chris told me the story how TFW had helped to save his life, I was powerfully impacted. I was reminded by his story and the ones I heard in San Francisco this weekend that my TFW network is doing bigger things than just helping people lose some fat or build some muscle. The program is what I envisioned all those years ago: A global community that is preparing people mentally and physically to better fight the battle called life.

I hope you benefit from the story and perhaps use some of the lessons to open a conversation to help someone close to you.

Yours In Strength


This article was created by and can be viewed at: https://www.trainingforwarriors.com/story-just-might-save-life/

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