By Nick Williams |
I could have been a statistic.
I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father and a workaholic mother. I spent years going in and out of foster care, where I had to learn to be self-sufficient. People often thought I was older than I really was because I was forced to grow up quickly in a tough neighborhood.
At 14 I legally emancipated myself from my parents’ custody and became an independent adult, responsible for my own decisions and well-being. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get by on my own. I didn’t want anyone to know how difficult my situation was.
At that age, physical activity was one of the only ways I could escape my reality. In middle school, I got lost in track and field and roller-skating. But I was always good at the speed rope, which I liked because it fit my independent personality.
Then, when I was 19, I was the victim of a random shooting outside my apartment building in St. Paul, Minn. I was shot in the neck and kneecap, and doctors told me that I would likely always be disabled, and I might not speak again.
A Difficult Path
I left the hospital a week later in a wheelchair with a daily plan for speech and physical therapy at my home. I spent a couple of hours each day with a specialist, but I didn’t stop there. I also worked on it myself.
I had just graduated from a community-college program to be a nursing assistant, and I finally had a good job — one that required the physical skills necessary to lift people in and out of bed. I had really been getting somewhere in my life, and this shooting threatened to take it all away. I decided I wouldn’t let it happen. I’d come too far already.
My coping strategies probably go back to my early life. After all, if I needed or wanted something, I had to make it happen. I had to develop the confidence and skills to survive on my own.
I didn’t want to see months turning into years, not knowing what I really could achieve in my life. I decided to get as much out of therapy as I possibly could, and I chose to see myself as able-bodied — because that’s what I wanted to be. With that mindset, I devoted myself to an intense therapy program.
In about two months, I started to regain my speech, thanks to daily practice and perseverance. For several months after that, I walked with a cane, a brace, and a limp — all of which I eventually left behind as my condition improved.
I overcame my injuries, but life continued to throw me curveballs. By 22 I had been married and divorced. I was the single dad of two kids, and I cared for them while I went back to school and held down various jobs.
I didn’t have much support. I didn’t know any other single dads or anyone else with circumstances like mine. I wanted to do the right thing, but it was often difficult to know how.
I wasn’t taking care of myself because there was simply no time. I worked long hours. I started drinking a bit too much and eating fast food too often. Over the next 10 years, I put on an extra 100 pounds. What had happened to that little kid who loved to run track and jump rope? He felt like a distant memory.
Not surprisingly, when my kids got a bit older and I was able to take stock of my own body, spirit, and social life, I didn’t like what I saw. I was feeling antisocial; I had no confidence. I hadn’t been a priority in my own life.
My survival mode kicked in; I knew I had to make a 180-degree turn. The extra weight needed to come off. I needed new friends, new hobbies, and a new attitude.
Everything had to change so I could focus more energy on my well-being. I cut some people off. Some drinks didn’t get poured. I was used to doing things on my own; this was no different.
I knew I needed to start working out, and right away I thought of the speed rope and the hours I’d spent with it as a kid. So I bought one and started jumping in my garage.
At first, I was just practicing and perfecting my jumps. It wasn’t easy being overweight, but I found that jumping didn’t aggravate any of my old injuries. I pressed on. Eventually, I devised trickier choreography to challenge myself, aiming to drop weight and build stamina.
I changed my diet, too. I started eating smaller portions and cutting some carbs, like removing the bread from the top of sandwiches. I was eating to fuel my time in the garage, so I was motivated to make healthier decisions.
Hard Work’s Rewards
About eight months into my garage routine, I joined the Life Time near my Rogers, Minn., home. I was ready to add cardio and weights to support my jump drills. That’s when I got a little validation for all the work I’d put in.
People at the club would turn their heads when I walked by; some asked if I was a dancer or a boxer. I’d been doing the work alone for so long, and it was rewarding to know that people wanted to know how I was doing it.
Eventually, through some connections I made outside the gym, I started getting modeling gigs. I’d gone from the overweight, antisocial guy to the one posing in photos for fitness gear — and I’d done it all on my own.
I now rotate my workouts each day: weight training for legs, arms, and back along with cardio and the speed rope. It’s an intense routine, but I love it; at the end of each workout, I look like I’ve been pushed into the pool.
I try to keep my routine really simple. I’m at the gym seven days a week. I stick to a healthy diet, eating clean and drinking plenty of water. Occasionally, I’ll indulge in a burger or some ice cream.
My new lifestyle doesn’t require anything complicated, and I wanted to share that with others in need of inspiration to make healthy changes. So I created Rapid Cord Fitness and a companion 30-minute workout DVD designed to help people with busy schedules reach their individualized, holistic fitness goals.
I picked up the speed rope again because it seemed like a way for me to turn my life around on my own. Ultimately, it’s what brought synergy to my workouts: It improved my stamina, strength, and conditioning.
I don’t want the rope to be old-school anymore; it’s something more people could benefit from doing! For me, it’s no longer an escape — it’s the cornerstone of my healthier, more active life.
Nick Williams, 38, fitness model and creator of the Rapid Cord Fitness philosophy.Overcoming a difficult childhood and serious injuries to develop a healthier lifestyle and design a method to see it through.The day he looked in the mirror and was in tears about his appearance, he started working out. When he noticed people gathering at the gym to watch his speed-rope routine, he was inspired to create Rapid Cord Fitness.Keeping it old-school. “Sticking with the jump rope builds agility and coordination, and it supports weight loss and muscle-mass gain,” he says. “That’s pretty much what everybody wants. It worked!” Not making time for his own health and fitness; basing his nutrition around supplements versus whole foods and clean eating. “It takes determination and discipline to change your life, but you have to stick with it! It takes a lot longer to see yourself as others see you.”