Brian Jones, a 45-year-old husband and father of six, fell more than 20 feet from a roof in April 2011. He landed in a standing position on a concrete drive and broke both of his legs. The breaks were diagnosed as pilon fractures.
What's a pilon fracture? The talus bone, in the foot just below the tibia and the fibula, gets pushed up with extreme force into the tibia, and breaks the bone near the joint. It's often seen in car accidents because of the force of the impact on the feet through the pedals. In Jones' case, the pilon fractures were particularly bad, shattering the ends of the tibias where they meet the talus.
His doctor told him that it wasn't a matter of whether he would be disabled, but how severely.
"I thought I was done with it all, you know?" Jones said. "We were so convinced by both the doctors and the physical therapists that my lot in life was going to be spent either in a wheelchair or behind a walker that we had work done on our home to accommodate what was going to be my new disabled lifestyle."
The fractures were bad enough that they required pins and hardware to fix. Eventually Jones had to have eight surgeries. He got a staph infection in the left leg and nearly had to have an amputation. He was bedridden from April to nearly October - no weight bearing.
Jones determined that he was in an unacceptable situation and he refused to participate in the disability. What he had in his favor was a high degree of motivation to control his recovery and change his life. With the prognosis of being crippled and never walking normally hanging over his head, Jones figured he had nothing to lose.
"Even though I could not put weight on my legs, no one said anything about me crawling," Jones said. "I had my wife get me some hardshell kneepads and some weightlifting gloves and I started crawling around the house."
Crawling eventually gave way to a wheel chair, which gave way to a walker, followed by physical therapy for 12 visits.
"The prescribed rehabilitation consisted of crunching a towel with my toes, pointing my toes toward my knees for a ten count, an exercise bike, and light leg presses. The physical therapist could not believe that the file describing my injuries was really my file, as I was progressing fairly well. I spoke with my orthopedic surgeon once. He saw that I was able to totter around with a limp, which was more than he expected, so he kind of wished me luck and sent me on my way."
At this point Brian had already exceeded the expectations of the doctor and physical therapist. Alternating between the use of a walker and walking sticks during this time he would make a very slow trek to his local YMCA daily. Every day he spent 15 minutes on one of the cardio machines. This cardio extended to 30 minutes, then to an hour.
Then the event that changed everything happened. Brian dropped his iPod between the exercise bikes at the YMCA. Squatting down to pick it up, he felt a pop in his ankles, and found out that squatting makes your legs feel much better. Squatting was good, and deserved some investigation. Searching around the internet led him to StartingStrength.com, a weight training website. After posting a question about his injuries, he was contacted by their staff and began the Starting Strength program.
Brian readily admits that phone call began a course change in his life and the lives of his family. He was sent a Starting Strength DVD and book, and was also offered services via phone, email, and the forum.
To begin his training, Brian acquired a barbell and a few plates. At first the plates were too heavy, so he cut some homemade training plates out of particle board. Weight was added, sometimes by the ounce using washers. Asking his shattered body to get stronger, it did, bit by bit.
Brian continued to train, adding 5 lbs every session. His bones and muscles responded to the training, to the extent that bone growth pushed the pins and hardware out of his ankles and into the soft tissue of his left leg. That hardware was supposed to be a permanent, lifelong addition to his body. It was removed via surgery four months after beginning the Starting Strength program. Four months after the surgery on his left leg the hardware was removed from his right leg.
After having the hardware removed, Brian resumed his training. By July of 2012 he had a 315lb deadlift. By August he was squatting 255 lbs. five times and deadlifting 365 lbs. five times. Barbells have given Brian his life back.
So, rather than just get himself able to walk, Brian has taken up powerlifting. It doesn't end there as his story has struck a chord with many.
He has been contacted time and time again by members of the Stating Strength community. He has been told that his story has inspired others to work on recovery, attack the challenges in their lives, to never give up.
Jones decided that he was obligated to help others as he was helped himself. He began working with other injured people locally in Lexington, Ky., including an ATV crash victim and a soldier that fell from a helicopter during training exercises. Jones understands what it is like to be up against something that feels overwhelming and be told by the medical authorities that you will never be any better than you are right now. He doesn't accept the limitations commonly set by the medical profession and believes others shouldn't either.
People have reached out to Jones to see if he would be interested in doing some public speaking engagements. This is something he is planning on as it will increase the number of people he can touch with his story and hopefully provide them with an inspiration to continue on and breakthrough their barriers.
Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full version of this article is titled Barbell Training as Rehab can be found on StartingStrengh.com under Most Recent Articles.
Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of a story by Karl Schudt that appeared on the website StartingStrength.com.