Like most of us, back in 2014 Thomas Stephenson was a typical 21-year-old. He loved playing sports and being active, was focused on school, and was anxious to show the world his talents and ambition. In many ways, Thomas had his whole life ahead of him. A cycling enthusiast and triathlon competitor, Thomas was in his final semester at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He had just finished managing a number of political campaigns for the election cycle that November. Despite big plans for a bright future, Thomas’s life would change on December 11th.
On December 11th, 2014, Thomas was involved in a fatal car accident when his truck was struck head-on by an oncoming vehicle on I-840, south of Nashville, Tennessee. Thomas’s truck burst into flames and flipped down the interstate the entire length of a football field before coming to a stop.
“Clearly in shock but conscious, my first instinct was to check my surroundings and see if I could get myself out of the car. When I tried to move, I realized much of my lower has been crushed during the collision and wasn’t cooperating,” Thomas recalls. A full diagnosis would later reveal Thomas had shattered his spinal column, crushed both feet and ankles, as well as sustained a broken femur, sternum, and clavicle.
“Thankfully, a good Samaritan, whom I still speak with to this day, helped pull me from the wreckage moments before my truck was fully engulfed in flames.” At 21 years old, Thomas had suddenly gone from a healthy and active triathlete to a trauma victim.
Thomas was immediately transported by LifeFlight to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he underwent surgery to fuse his spinal column, a separate surgery to put a titanium rod through his femur and subsequent reconstructive surgeries on his feet and ankles. After the surgeries, Thomas was told by his doctors that his life would never be the same. “They told me I would never run, play sports or be active again. It was safe to say my budding triathlon career was over, and I would never be able to cycle again,” Thomas recalls.
In the coming months, Thomas’s injuries were so severe that he would struggle to stand or walk. The pain and swelling through his feet and ankles would continue and he would feel excruciating pain when he would sit for extended periods of time. Thomas’s life would be dramatically different from now on, and he would spend the next few months undergoing rehabilitation in the form of physical therapy.
While Thomas was in the hospital, his legs had atrophied considerably, so his rehabilitation focused mainly on moving his legs and feet to regain normal levels of muscle mass. Thomas recalls, “I just tried to take it day by day. I remember thinking, ‘Would there ever be a time when I would be back to normal again?’”
The stress of the physical therapy would not be the only pain Thomas would feel day in and day out though. Thomas was suffering from emotional trauma as well. “I remember feeling helpless, different, and also hopeless some days. I would feel inadequate at times too. Like things would never be the same again.”
To add to an already intense emotional situation, by the time Thomas left the rehabilitation facility and had gotten back home to Bowling Green for his Spring semester, his insurance-paid physical therapy visits were running out. Thomas’s recovery was incomplete, and he had no choice but to pay for the remainder of his physical therapy out-of-pocket.
“Luckily, I was blessed with a family that could afford to pay for the remainder of my physical therapy. Not everyone is this fortunate unfortunately,” Thomas admits. “Because my family was somewhat financially stable, I never had to concern myself with the stresses of not being able to pay for recovery. I can’t imagine someone having to go through this, on top of an already emotional situation.”
As his physical therapy sessions continued, Thomas continued to progress. He was building back lost muscle and was able to support his body weight, and finally, after countless bouts of hard work, frustration, and determination, Thomas hit his biggest milestone. Thomas was able to stand again.
Feeling accomplished, Thomas’s attitude soon changed, and he would go on to progress even further in the coming months, but learning quickly that he needed to begin athletic and strength training to focus on movement, endurance, and flexibility if he was going to see even more progress.
Today, thanks to ongoing therapy and strength training, Thomas is even more active than ever and was even able to achieve a life-long goal of becoming an Ironman triathlete in 2018. It takes great tenacity to fight through constant mental, physical, and emotional pain and come out on the right end.
Through his fight, Thomas realized that not everyone has the same resources he had access to during his recovery. Wanting to help, Thomas created TENNACITY, a non-profit organization designed to help trauma survivors lead active and fulfilling lifestyles. Thomas knows full well what it feels like to face the reality that your life may never be the same after a tragic accident such as his own, and he’s determined to make sure no one has to feel this type of trauma nor that anyone should have to bare it alone.
TENNACITY recently launched and will help facilitate access to physical therapy and strength conditioning for trauma survivors who may not have the financial resources or access to recovery.
As this article is being written, Thomas and a friend are planning a 24-hour ride through the Natchez Trace Parkway on October 26th. The end of this ride will coincide with a celebration and the launch of TENNACITY at Fieldstone Park in Franklin. This will be Thomas’s first 24-hour ride. “And hopefully my last,” he admits with a laugh. A fitting start to a bright foundation.
Siobhan Morse is nothing less than a positive bright light in every conversation, but her vibrant personality wasn’t always at the forefront of her life. She has learned to approach life, time and again, from a perspective of gratitude and delight. Although, as it often does, her appreciation for life came at a cost.
Siobhan currently serves as a voluntary adjunct for Baylor Medical College and is the division director of clinical services for Foundations Recovery Network, the addiction services division of Universal Health Services. She finished 271 in her age group in the 2018 Crossfit Open, which put her in the top 5 percentile. She is training relentlessly to compete in the 2019 Games and pursues a better version of herself in aspects of fitness, health, and her profession daily. However, she has another consequential reason to celebrate life. Going on 12 years of sobriety, Morse is in perpetual recovery from opioid and stimulant addiction.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida she has always been an athlete, particularly in the sport of diving. In her younger days, she recalls being “wild”, but those associative traits eventually took a turn. Forced to deal with adverse childhood experiences like trauma and life circumstances, she recognizes these episodes were affiliated with the conducible habits of her addiction. “Addiction is a progressive disorder,” Siobhan states. And starting in her 20s and dominating her 30s, she lived on the street, homeless, using, and immersed in her substance abuse. At 40, Morse entered a treatment center due to state recommendations. Here she says, “I began to understand the disease concept of addiction and learned to deal with my past.” She was educated on her particular issues, and because of her time at the treatment facility, she grew into a master addiction counselor and was ultimately offered a job leading her to Nashville.
In Music City for 6 years now, she spent the first 3 earning her position as the division director of clinical services. Before that, she earned a master’s degree in health services administration from Florida International University. While at FIU, she participated in a number of research projects, focusing on the severely and persistently mentally ill. During her time as an adjunct professor at FIU, she taught program planning and evaluation for the College of Urban and Public Affairs. In addition, Morse received her certification as a clinical research coordinator (CRC) from the Associates of Clinical Pharmacology, working with major pharmaceutical companies to investigate new and promising treatments. She holds certifications as an ARISE interventionist and as a master addiction counselor. Morse has several current publications in research journals and has presented at global conferences on substance use and co-occurring disorders. She even wrote the chapter on exercise in recovery that is used today in given treatment centers.
“Recovery is recovery is recovery,” Siobhan says, “we are all recovering from something.” Her education might have earned her certifications and degrees, but what it really taught her was how to recover her own identity. “Recovery can cause a lot of shame and guilt,” she admits, “but that was yesterday.” She commonly asks herself, “Who do you want to be today?” and “Can I face my past, make amends, and move forward?” In the process of recovery, we have to understand and accept it is likely going to hurt, but once we get through it we become a better person on the other side. She believes the center of everything is rooted in the recovery process, but the gains illuminate in all aspects of life. “You have to tell yourself that you may have been wrong, but you learned from it,” she explains, “The only way to do that is to accept it and own it – you need to establish your integrity again and again.”
Morse also heavily works with Heroes in Recovery, a movement that connects focus groups and promotes a better understanding of addiction and mental illness. People often think, “Can’t you just stop?” or, “If you didn’t do this you wouldn’t be in this situation,” but Siobhan wants them to comprehend these issues as a brain disorder and sickness, just in a different way. On the outside, it may not look like a broken arm or a fever, but it is an illness nonetheless. She explains, “It is a chronic relapsing brain disorder and I believe people are starting to understand that more and more about mental health.”
Everything Siobhan does revolves around recovery. “I do two things in life,” she claims, “help others in recovery through my job, and I do CrossFit for myself.” Beginning in 2015, around the age of 50, she placed well in the 2016 CrossFit open and progressed into an athlete that views her recovery and her chances as a competitor seriously. CrossFit grew to be something different than other sports and today it is where she leaves her heart and her problems daily. She admits, “I’m not a good sit-still mediator, but when I lift heavy weight over my head, I am in that moment.”
Siobhan struggles with body image, specifically body dysmorphia, where one sees themselves as the way they use to be when in reality, they have physically and mentally changed. However, she says CrossFit made her feel empowered. She finds the beauty in being surrounded by others working hard and working to be better, instead of focusing on looking good. It gave her new movements that in turn translated to a new mentality. He describes, “It changed from simply doing exercise to how I looked and felt. Now, more prominently to what this body can do.” After 12 years of realizing the abuse she submitted her body to, she says, “To be where I am now – that is the place where miracles live.”
She has learned life can get pretty messy, but you have to move through it, and she is willing to let go of things that hold her back in order to push herself to a positive place. “I am embracing the mess that comes with CrossFit and with recovery,” she says. Although she didn’t know anyone in Nashville prior to moving here years ago, she says CrossFit Old South has become fellowship and family and full of love supporting her everyday intentions.
This year, Siobhan has learned another aspect of recovery – how her body needs to heal and recover between workouts. Her focus remains on competing every day, but not just for the CrossFit Games. She competes with herself to embrace the lasting issues brought on by her past endeavors and practices that diligent mentality every time she is in the gym, thankful it has translated to her daily responsibilities. The knowledge she gained and the opportunities she received all stemmed from a sickness she was forced to face head-on. She continuously uses that knowledge to educate others, while still celebrating her personal growth.
Born and raised in Nashville, Chase Akers has a quiet strength about him. On the surface, some might describe him as shy considering he is usually behind the music as a local Disc Jockey. However, his humility is a genuine representation of removing any ego, seeing as he has had his fair share of hardships. “It is me vs. me – always,” he asserts. “If I start comparing myself to others, dark thoughts seep in. It’s no longer me against myself and it becomes me against the world – that is a weight too heavy to bear.” Instead, he says to himself, those thoughts are unnecessary and remembers the embrace of love and support.
Born three months premature, Chase’s neck suffered too much pressure during delivery and caused a stroke. After a month in the hospital, he came home weighing one pound and fitting in his father’s hand.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture. For Chase, it was the nerve damage at birth caused by the excessive pressure on his spinal cord. CP varies from invisible to completely immobile and is a permanent movement disorder that appears in early childhood. Chase’s CP was recognized when his parents noticed his inability to crawl during infancy. Often, symptoms of CP include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, or tremors. While symptoms may get more noticeable over the first few years of life, underlying problems do not worsen over time.
Chase’s specific case is called spastic diplegia, a form of CP where muscle tightness is the exclusive impairment and have neuromuscular mobility issues (rather than paralysis). Certain movements or poses will cause spastic episodes that Chase describes as “very painful”. Spastic diplegia is usually in the muscles of the lower extremities, such as the legs, hips, and pelvis, as the case for Chase. “This is why I train in multiple fashions,” Chase explains, “I want to wake up those nerves so they know they can do this.”
Although he will always deal with spastic diplegia, at the age of 5 he underwent 8 invasive surgeries. These surgeries would pull and stretch the affected muscles, the bones would be broken and reset, and he was placed in a lower-body cast to allow the extensive process to heal. His muscles were forced to be lengthened and the bones meant to realign in the hopes his lower body function would become manageable in his later years. His recovery consisted of 3-5 years and the entire first year was spent in a cast. The remaining few years of recovery were in multiple braces. “It was nothing to be afraid of,” he expresses, “I am not fragile, just a normal person that had a stroke at birth.”
“I grew up thinking, ‘I’ll turn 21 and grow out of this,’ like acne or something,” he explains. “But then I’d wake up and it would still be there.” At 24, Chase came to the unsettling realization that it wasn’t something he would outgrow. He recalls that concrete moment when his retrospect shifted to a positive outlook despite any previous dismay. He woke up from a haze of inhibition and distinguished he was overcompensating his physicalities with an abrasive personality. In his clarity, he no longer felt the needed to be excessive. “I didn’t need to be this presence that said, ‘Please validate me!’” he says and thought, “‘Why are you trying to be someone you weren’t made to be?’ There are a million other things I was made to be, so I had to shift my perspective. The things I could be were more important than the things I was not.” He had his body, his mind, and his heart and allowed himself to be weak and vulnerable, but he wanted to be more for himself. “I’m not just someone to embody CP,” he says.
Once he discovered this feeling, he says it felt like the world around him supported the effort. It wasn’t optimism, Chase says, it was empowerment. He says, “You can be optimistic about everything in the world but still not feel empowered by community and knowledge,” and elaborates, “The first two steps to any kind of change is community and knowledge.”
His first experience with community support started at a college Pilates class. He claims, “I was still chubby and weak, but I forced myself into company so I could learn from those around me.” Here, the instructor would help him move into selective positions and while grimacing from the pain she would say, “I’m proud of you.” It might have ignited those nerve sensors into discomfort, but Chase says it changed various negative thoughts into positive affirmations. His feelings of inadequacy transformed into a new movement with new meanings. Essentially, Chase’s body was recovering through movement, but so was his mind.
“I reminded myself ‘I can do all things,’ as my mother told me as a child.” His mother’s biblical reference of Philippians 4:13 would become a mantra in many ways. “When you say ‘I can do all things’, it means I can do all things,” Chase explains. But Chase isn’t referring to skydiving or squatting 200 pounds, “I mean I can feel love – I can look in the mirror and love and accept myself.” He says, “It doesn’t have to mean surface-level things. I can have a community and go to a gym and not be afraid or intimidated. I can love my life and myself for exactly who I am and the things I am capable of.”
This affirmation has now become an everyday approach. As he aged, those words became less biblical and more of a vow he latched onto. “My family didn’t see me as their disabled son,” he notes. Therefore, he learned to see himself as they did. He says, “I was going to do the things I wanted because that is what they wanted for me.” Chase says he is closer to his family because of CP. It was a circumstance they chose to fight together and with that adversity came a special bond. Although, he admits it made him “grow up humble” his stance remains, “My family championed me from day one,” and he believes CP was a driving factor in his biggest support system.
“CP doesn’t necessarily get worse, but I do believe it can get better,” Chase says. Most people can rehabilitate whatever the battle may be, but Chase’s disability is incurable. There is no cure for CP and his acceptance of that fact helped in accepting himself – that was and continues to be his true recovery.
This is why Chase’s recovery story is a little different from the rest. His journey was finding something he never had. Growing up with a multitude of limiting factors, he had to overcome an implemented mentality. His recovery process is of course physically demanding, but his real recovery is in its mental feat. The dark place was a series of thoughts and phrases that spiraled into depriving his own life and questioning self-worth and ability. His mental battles consist of “what if’s” and negative self-talk, but with the help of a community providing love with no limitations, Chase patrons the healing process.
“What makes it more challenging is that I’m recovering from not knowing what I want, who I am, or what I am capable of. I have to keep working to progress my mental challenges while acknowledging the physical ones.” Chase’s recovery is learning how to live with the life he has been given and all of its factors, but still setting himself apart as an individual. Ironically and quite beautifully, Chase gives a lot of this credit to becoming a part of something bigger – his community.
Recovering from a disability is unmasking the odds and the person it makes you become. Chase admits, “We spend a lot of time hating ourselves because of limitations. The biggest part of my recovery story is uncovering just that.” We can all relate to finding our way in this world, it’s called growth, but by no means is it easy. It begins with acceptance and continues with overcoming the negative self-talk. Chase replaced his self-deprecations with memories of the words, “I’m proud of you,” and “I can do all things,” and believing them instead of giving into self-preservation. Chase’s message illustrates an invaluable lesson to us all. “Any wall you put up will harm you more than any wall you will ever let down, and the walls of self-doubt will destroy you more than any disability ever could.”
Will Bartholomew is one of the rare Nashville natives. He is most commonly known for playing college football for the University of Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville as a fullback. Beginning in 2001, Will is now CEO of D1 Sports, where today hosts 36 facilities across 25 states and according to sources, brings in $20 million a year in revenue. Although there was a time when Will couldn’t foresee his own bright future, at 22, his plans to succeed in the NFL blocked any view beyond that horizon. When his professional football dreams were crushed, he chose to battle his way back to a slightly different journey – one you might be surprised to know Will accepted with an open mind, but also with the same grit and determination as his rehabilitation required in his playing days.
Will attended local high school at Montgomery Bell Academy where he says, “This is where I fell in love with the weight room.” He particularly remembers his strength and conditioning coach playing a large role for his love of the game, especially in high school. “He would quote scripture to me while we worked out together,” Will recalls, “I found a lot of inspiration in those words.”
Much of that inspiration would guide him through the following years of rehabilitation, adversity, and recovery. His first true test in playing setbacks faced a young 8th grader with a torn ACL and cartilage. Although, the hardest thing to overcome was the news he wouldn’t play football anymore. Doctors explained the major surgery would be risky, seeing as young, teenage boys are still significantly growing. Nonetheless, after surgery came rehab and so did Will’s lack for any expectation on how the future of his knee would turn out. All he knew was the feeling that “things had been ripped away” from him.
With rehab and a lot of extra work, he had years between his injury and college recruitment to safely harbor the recovery process. “Having that injury at that time was a blessing in disguise,” he maintains. It gave him an education in patience, trust for the process, and he learned that working hard could get him back to the game he loved. Will says all he could think about during the recovery process was, “get in the weight room, work hard, and be the strongest most disciplined athlete I could be.”
Although the knee injury was nothing casual, occurring at a young enough age gave him time to grow, continue to rehab, and strengthen the muscles around the knee for his future career. He also began to understand the level of dedication recovery requires. He says, “Life has to do with patterns and a lot of them depend on how you respond.” Life will always have obstacles, but how we recover sequentially depends on our outlook and the patterns we choose to repeat. Along with the haunting memories of potentially having it stripped away, he left his younger days of football with a gracious perspective.
The University of Tennessee at the time hosted major talent in every aspect. “My goal was to play special teams,” Will admits, “I didn’t even think I could start.” Not only did he quickly earn his way to a starting position, but he also took on the role of team captain and won a National Championship title.
As an undrafted free agent, Bartholomew was set to play in the National Football League for the Denver Broncos. Unexpectedly, Will’s fate circled back to his knee during training camp, when his career looked to be over yet again suffering another injury. This time, the recovery would require multiple surgeries. “At that moment, I thought, ‘How do I respond?’ and I had to go back to that pattern,” he recalls. The approach would need to be in a similar fashion. “I made my response be the same as before – work as hard as I could to come back and be the best athlete I could be,” he remarks. Although, this time, the process of recovery led him to starting D1.
He signed a settlement with the Broncos and moved back to Nashville to seriously rehab his knee. He needed a place to train like an athlete – one that had the caliber of resources but could also be ready him for a return to the NFL. He needed the opportunity to reach his goals and he needed them in the shape of a space with coaches and programming like he’d previously known. Instead, he found himself working out at a community center. “I was powerlifting and being loud, I guess, but the general manager asked me to leave,” Will admits. When he realized his available options were not quite up to par, he created his own and named it D1 Training.
The vision for D1 Training was to contrive fitness facilities that provide custom sports-based training programs to help people achieve their sports and fitness goals. Lining the walls of all D1 Training facilities are the words that say “Iron Sharpens Iron,” and ring true to create the mentality that one person strengthens another. The D1 environment is meant to support you through the process of recovery or the exertion of elite exercise and along the way, you become stronger because of the people that surround you.
A year later, Will had the confidence in his recovery work to return to football. He had a new found strength and new business so he decided it was time to head back to the Broncos. The first thing standing in his way was a mandatory physical. To everyone’s surprise, Will was diagnosed with another torn ACL. “Whether I tore it again or it never really healed didn’t matter,” he claims. Something had already shifted in Will’s mindset. “This time it felt more of a confirmation that God wanted me to put my heart and soul into something else,” he clarifies.
High-level athletes often come to a point in their career when they have to accept the cards they are dealt. Will described the change in mindset as a “stamp on his life” that said, “this is done, it’s time to move on.” He acquired the acceptance of a new process – one that felt similar to healing an injury. “You have to be realistic,” Will says, referring to playing the game of football, but he could just as easily be talking about injury or doubt or hardship. We often forget to remind ourselves that this temporary pain will not last forever. He affirms, “You can always work through it. There will always be a way – even if that means changing your plans.”
So while Will was training for his NFL comeback, a bigger plan seemed to surface. He had been pouring his heart and time into the D1 business. “My faith has been my backbone – of the business and me – it’s who I am,” Will describes, “but there is something bigger at play than just my story.” Trusting his faith and choosing to stay on the course of growing D1, his recovery would now focus on being the best in the business. Recovery became less about his knee and more about his life choices. “The one choice you will always have is your outlook,” Will says. This stage of his career would open up new roles needing the same amount of attention his knee had once required. It would still take dedication, but it was nothing he hadn’t gone through before.
“It goes back to those moments in 8th grade, doing rehab, sitting there listening to someone else tell me how it was going to be,” Will conveys, referring to the doctors saying he would never play football after his first knee injury. “But that wasn’t what I believed. I believed I would recover and I believed in my mindset.” A positive mindset and overall attitude are some of the few things we actually can control according to Will, and he says, “It translates to business owners too.” In both business and recovery, perseverance, discipline, and work ethic will build character. “You are going to have setbacks,” Will plainly states, “and when you do, how are you going to respond? Will you have that mental fortitude?”
Sports psychology is embedded in athletics today and programs recognize the importance of the mental game. Will says, “I think the same thing applies to sports as it does to training as it does to rehab. You have to develop the mental strength because you are going to face adversities.” When we are forced to slow down and are placed in the discomfort of an injury, life, business or whatever it may be, our character carries us through it. Will defines character as our backbone or rather, who we are and what we are made of. In fact, also displayed on the walls of D1 Training is the quote, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.”
Through football, recovery, training, family, and business, Will has always managed to have a great outlook on life. He is one to keep positivity at the forefront of his endeavors. “I want to always be working towards progress,” he explains. Through his recovery journey, Will has worked hard to achieve his goals as they have changed over time. “I’ve had massive gains and massive losses,” he admits, “but both have equally helped shape my character.”
Katie Giglio is among the slim 10 percent of people that fully recover from a stroke. At 27 years old, her recovery was never something she expected to share. And although her story may sound like the perfect combination of friends, doctors, drug dosage, timing, and recognition, in reality, it was another combination of things that got her in this gut-wrenching situation that has forever changed her narrative.
In 2015, after a Crossfit Open workout, coined 15.4, she decided to join her friends at their usual spot, La Hacienda Taqueria, for a celebratory meal. Little did she know the familiar 10-minute drive would host a plethora of damage to her near future. Katie recalls only a few vivid details of that moment, but she remembers her head feeling weird as soon as she hit the red light outside the gym. Still in route, she missed the turn and recalculated to the restaurant, pushing aside the discomfort. Arriving in the parking lot and somehow managing to park her car, she began to feel her face droop and her left arm and leg lose feeling. When Katie realized she couldn’t sing along to her car radio, the horrifying reality sank in that something serious was wrong. “I heard my own voice and the words sounding slurred, but I wasn’t sure if I was hearing myself right,” she describes.
While texting a friend she knew wouldn’t understand her, she attempted to convey her inability to move or exit the driver’s seat. Her friend, already in the restaurant, passed the phone to another friend of Katie’s, who happened to be a nurse. Luckily, Melissa Wiley’s specific education – a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and labeled an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) – prepared her to recognize the typical symptoms and classic indications of a stroke. Wiley’s quick assessment, despite her disbelief, substantially decided Katie’s miraculous outcome.
The emergency responders from the Nashville Fire Department arrived within minutes, however, the normal protocol for Katie’s condition was to be taken to the nearest hospital in order for a doctor to determine a diagnosis, once a stroke is diagnosed, the hospital would then decide how to proceed with treatment. But seeing as the VUMC has the highest qualification of stroke care (Level 1), Wiley explained her position with the center as a neurology nurse practitioner, and strongly advised the EMT to take her to “not the nearest hospital” but to the VUMC in order for Katie to receive a dose of TPA within the 3-hour window.
TPA is also known as tissue plasminogen activator and is a protein involved in the breakdown of blood clots. This drug, administered within the 3-hour window, would reverse the systems caused by a stroke. Katie was awake during the surgery, as required, however, she felt very little. She says, her feeling went away slowly during the process, but “during the surgery, her feeling came back just as slow.”
The surgery and administration of TPA helped to dissipate the blood clot in Katie’s spinal stem and allow the blood to flow freely to the brain again. During a stroke, a blood clot appears to block the blood flow to the brain, usually sitting at the top of the spine, and the brain suffers from a lack of oxygen and various cells begin to die. When brain cells die, multiple abilities controlled by the affected area are lost. But for Katie, the TPA dosage reversed these, otherwise common, inhibiting possibilities. “I went back to the gym after 10 days and one week of that in the hospital,” she recalls.
Katie’s miraculous case was later explained as a result of her on-going stomach issue, known as Ulcerative Colitis. A problem diagnosed in November 2015 that caused inflammation in her colon and flair-ups that caused bleeding. On no medication at the time, the doctors determined this was the perfect storm to lead to a stroke since the inflammation and internal bleeding are root causes for a blood clot.
“I was ready to jump back in immediately,” Katie says, but she quickly learned to approach life at the gym with a different mentality. “I had to slow down and remember what my body just went through,” she explains. She had to rework both sides of the body in order to regain simultaneous function. Her left side felt slower so timing was noticeably off on lifting weights and jumping rope. “I felt the only side effects during Crossfit,” Katie claims. Although, correcting her timing and working her full body at an intensified rate, restored her system for everyday life to go on as normal.
“I’m a better athlete than I’ve ever been,” Katie says. Her diet became a major influence in athletic performance but had to be controlled in order to not trigger flare-ups. She recognizes her food choices were the main contributor in her Ulcerative Colitis causing a stroke. She explains, “the quality of food plays a large role in my routine now and even though I cannot cure it, I have learned I still have some control of what I feel like.”
Katie learned a multitude of lessons that she’ll take away from her recovery story. She says, “Food was the medicine to my recovery and now nutrition is a major passion of mine.” After her stroke, Katie lost weight by simply eating better. It took 9 months to lose 40 pounds, but she has now stabilized her stomach problems and maintained that healthy weight for 2 years. Out of a terrifying experience came positive changes, and Katie’s recovery led to a routine of healthy habits and a life she loves and works hard to preserve.
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People October 22, 2018
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People September 5, 2018
by Lindsay Miller
Sitting in a Nashville suburb of Franklin is the office of one of the country’s most popular natural health websites. With 7,500 sq. ft., this wellness empire is the production headquarters to videos that collect millions of YouTube clicks, comments, and shares from all corners of the globe. It is the home of an unparalleled class of product and education on nutrition, natural medicine, fitness, healthy recipes, DIY home remedies, and trending health news through multiple platforms of media, including Facebook Live, webinars, videos, podcasts, Q&As and ebooks. Dr. Josh Axe is the visionary behind several cutting-edge and premium nutraceutical brands, including Ancient Nutrition, Axe Organics, NUMA Essentials and ProBiome Rx.
The Axe Wellness office is, of course, a health-conscious work environment with kombucha on tap, and a refrigerator stocked with vegetable juice and paleo donuts. Employees have daily exercise times for planks and push-ups. They say the leadership reinforces a culture that is open, transparent, innovative, entrepreneurial, and not bogged down by bureaucracy. Axe Wellness continues to emphasize personal development and growth for their customers, employees and founders alike. This mecca to natural health knowledge is one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.
Along with Axe Wellness, Dr. Josh Axe and Jordan Rubin (one of Josh’s business partners), founded a supplement company called Ancient Nutrition. They produce Bone Broth Protein, collagen products, essential oils, probiotics, keto products and educational materials. At Ancient Nutrition, Josh says, “The mission is to restore health, strength and vitality by providing history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world.” Although Ancient Nutrition is only one entity of Axe Wellness, it has become steadily popular of the years. Josh says, “Right now our main focus is on both of these businesses,” meaning the main website, draxe.com and ancientnutrition.com. He explains, “While Ancient Nutrition is mostly product, draxe.com is all about creating and distributing the world’s best content and educating people on how to use food as medicine.”
Both Dr. Josh Axe and his wife, Dr. Chelsea Axe, hold the title DC or Doctor of Chiropractic. Josh is a certified doctor of natural medicine and a clinical nutritionist. A doctor of natural medicine, or DNM, is interdisciplinary in nature and sometimes referred to as traditional or classical naturopaths. DNMs are known to focus primarily upon patient health and not pharmaceuticals. Doctors of natural medicine are a multi-disciplinary group of Natural Health care professionals such as Naturopaths, Homeopaths, Osteopaths, Dentists, Holistic Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, and Eastern Medicine Doctors, among others who have dedicated themselves to providing basic Natural Medicine health care worldwide. It is important to note, the emphasis of naturopathic medicine is the use of all natural healing agents, including methods and products.
Dr. Chelsea Axe is a Tennessee board certified chiropractic physician and a CSCS Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Her background is largely rooted in sports and to this day she stays extremely active in and outside of the business. Clearly, both Drs. Josh and Chelsea Axe take on a variety of multiple roles to keep their businesses running, but they also play important roles to each other and their community. They are heavily involved with their church, they seem to travel and sweat together when they can, and stay physically active in Music City and all over the world. Perhaps most essential is trying to bring along their two dogs, Oakley and Flash, everywhere they go though.
Josh has been a previous health advisor for many athletes and worked with the Wellness Advisory Council and the University of Michigan Swim Team. In 2008, he founded Exodus Health Center, which quickly grew to more than 1,000 patients per week. He is well known as the author of Eat Dirt and has been a regular guest expert on The Dr. Oz Show covering topics such as weight loss, gut and digestive health, and herbal medicine. He is also the co-founder of BurstFIT training program alongside his wife, Chelsea.
As the other half and co-founder of BurstFIT interval training program, Chelsea is also the face of each workout. Her program combines functional body weight exercises, Tabatas, weight lifting, and HIIT cardio. She encourages proper posture to reduce the risk of injury throughout lifting and daily tasks. Her focus relies heavily on exercise technique and she thoroughly teaches functional movements while also incorporating them into all of her specialized programs. She is proficient in Olympic weightlifting standards as well.
Besides Chelsea’s contributions to BurstFIT workout demos, videos and programming, she is also experienced in a plethora of health and wellness categories and contributes to the website, draxe.com. She is an expert in the field of natural health, cross-training and nutrition.
Chelsea has coached and participated on the junior olympic volleyball team, where she played at nationals for consecutive years. Specifically working with athletes is her favorite because of her own experience in sports and her passion to push thresholds to another level. Because of her nutrition and programming skills, she is adept in developing specific programs catered to individuals goals.
Both Drs. Josh and Chelsea Axe have worked with a variety of individuals. From triathletes and weight lifters, to families and young athletes, they continue to make health and wellness not only a priority, but also a positive, life-changing, convenience for each and every person interested in their methods.
They run a world-wind schedule, pacted with media, websites, guest appearances, product examples, YouTube videos, and supplement content. “Chelsea is at the forefront of our fitness brand, BurstFIT, and most all videos on social media,” Josh conveys. Right now, he says his focus is more on the nutrition side of things, while Chelsea is more involved with fitness.
Josh was born in Troy, Ohio, where he grew up playing soccer among other sports. He joined the triathlon team in college at the University of Kentucky, and worked as a personal trainer during his academic stay. He has spent the majority of his life and education learning about health and wellness, but that is all because of an unfortunate diagnosis when he was a child. He claims his inspiration on medicine and natural health came from a health crisis in his family. He explains, “When I was young, my mom was my gym teacher in elementary school and my swim teacher. My dad was a semi-pro water skier and lifted weights a lot.” So when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40, he says the family was not only surprised, but followed into the traditional medical route for treatments.
“We lived in the medical model,” Josh further explains, “When you get sick you go get medicine from the doctor.” And although his mother went through chemotherapy and was diagnosed as cancer free, he says she was sicker now more than ever. “She was always on medicine,” he remembers. From that she developed things like thyroid issues, and this type of cycle would continue for close to ten years. “It triggered something in me,” he says. “I watched her age years in a matter of weeks, as a side effect of the chemotherapy. Her face was sunken, and she looked defeated. Even as a kid, I remember thinking there had to be a better way than this just to stay alive,” he describes.
Witnessing his mother’s health decline made him rethink his own ideas, even at a young age. At 14, he says he decided to stop drinking sodas. He recalls, “I didn’t know a lot about nutrition, but I knew soda was bad.” Small steps may seem simple, but it built significant habits and that mindset would follow him his whole life, dictating his actions, eventually leading him into the industry he’s now in today.
Josh’s first involvement in fitness was structured more toward body building methods, however, between eventually participating in triathlons and having a clean diet, someone suggested his interests might best fit chiropractic school. Josh says, “I realized with that degree I could practice functional medicine, nutrition, chiropractic and work as a natural physician, among other certifications.” The idea of following this academic path allowed him much more freedoms with medicine.
During his last year in college, his mom called to say, yet again, she had some bad news. She said she had been diagnosed with cancer again and this time it was in her lungs. He flew home and just so happened to be studying specifics on natural medicine. He encouraged his mother to try an all natural route. So they started juicing, drinking bone broth, eating mushrooms, incorporating turmeric, essential oils, and worked on her mind set for four months. In her next visit, the doctor found that the tumors had shrunk in half.
Josh boasts, “13 years later she is in the best shape of her life, completely cancer free.” This experience, he says, “drove me to practice the way I practice and use food as medicine.” He believes in wellness care as more of a preventative measure and opposed to our traditional doctor visits, in which MDs are forced to react to immediate sick care.
Chelsea experienced a much different path. As an athlete her whole life, she was on track to play volleyball for the next four years of college and had a few options as to where she wanted to go. Not according to plan, she tore her ACL and meniscus her senior year in high school. Without having signed any documents defining her future, all the offers on the table immediately fell threw.
With a new and unknown future to look forward to, Chelsea only knew she wanted to somehow be involved with sports. “I didn’t have any experience inside the fitness industry, outside of specific sports,” she admits. Racking her brain between athletic professions like physical therapy or additional years of med school, “I eventually decided I wanted to be an ER doctor,” she said. But looking back, she cringes at the version of a “healthy” lifestyle she thought she was living. For example, her diet was above the average college student, but she would have cottage cheese and fruit for breakfast, “but then I was drinking three energy drinks a day,” she shakes her head. “I didn’t have a real nutrition understanding even though my diet was still better than most.”
She had plans of heading to medical school but kept finding herself venturing to the web page of Life University in Atlanta, where a relative had suggested she look. Chelsea had her things moved from Minnesota to Georgia within a matter of weeks and was attending Life University, a leading chiropractic and holistic health university where she quickly fell in love – with her education. She says, “Being in chiropractic school, you are so much more immersed in the actual education of real nutrition.”
Fitness outside of organized sports was still new to Chelsea, so she did what she thought was healthy – run. Running became her routine until she found a group of friends doing, what she looks back on as Crossfit workouts, or at least another version of HIIT with a competitive edge. “After that I started trying out everything. Exploring the different avenues of fitness opened up a whole new realm of education and understanding.”
Josh happened to have started a practice in Nashville around the time Chelsea was looking for school credit. “I found him on his website and thought he was cute,” she laughs. “I told my best friend we needed to go to Nashville and shadow just for the day.” So she made the short drive from Atlanta to shadow Josh for the final stages of her degree. Although she was only there for one day during business hours, they ended up talking the majority of the time.
The funny part of the story, however, is her puppy, Oakley, was only ten weeks old when she went to shadow Josh in Nashville. “I couldn’t leave him,” she says. “When they are that little and just a baby, you can’t just leave them. So I had to bring him with me.” As Chelsea tells the story she glances over, “And Josh hated dogs.”
“I didn’t love dogs,” Josh says immediately. “I’m not going to argue that, I guess. But here is why. Let me tell you the story,” he insists. So he explains, “Growing up, our neighbors had this overweight, black lab, that just smelled.” And as everyone in the room laughs, Josh is dead serious. “The dog would find me!” he claims, “This is how labs are. They find the person that doesn’t want to be close to them and they just pester them.” He looks down but is smiling and says, “Because of that, I didn’t like most dogs.”
“Well, it wasn’t good for me that he saw I had a dog, seeing as I had to bring Oakley with me,” Chelsea says. And they tease that Josh would think, ‘Yes, she’s cute, but she has that dog, so it’s not going to work.’ And Chelsea claims, “It was actually a red flag.”
“Well, yeah,” Josh admits, “Yeah, it was a red flag.”
Obviously, Josh finally caved in and Chelsea remembers, “It wasn’t for another two months that he reached out to me because he was in Atlanta.” With a base of communication established, it was really one of the following trips to Nashville that Oakley will never forget. Staying with friends that just so happen to be living with Josh, Chelsea brought Oakley along again and placed him in his kennel.
Josh recalls, “I came home and this dog was in a cage, in my laundry room. I thought, ‘who would leave this dog in this cage?’ ‘What dog would rather be in this cage than outside in the backyard?’ So I let him outside.”
“He was ten weeks old!” Chelsea exclaims, “And it was January!” And while Josh agrees to the timeline, he clarifies the temperature was only 50 degrees in Nashville. Then he reluctantly adds to the story, “Well anyway,” he sheepishly starts, “I had to leave for some reason and I guess it started raining.” Chelsea says when she came home, little, baby Oakley was standing at the door just crying and begging and wet.
Nevertheless, once the two actually started dating, Josh is sure that Oakley got him back. “I planted a garden,” he begins.
“He was really excited about it,” Chelsea chimes in, laughing.
“I was so excited about it.” Josh agrees. “I had raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes, pumpkin squash and tomato. Then I came back one day and the entire thing was wiped out! He didn’t even dig it up.” Josh reveals. “He just tore off every bud, like he knew what he was doing. He literally snapped every little twig.” And while the room is full of laughter again, Oakley lays comfortably sprawled out on the large couch, looking as adorable and innocent as ever. But Josh looks at him and adds, “Oh yeah, he got me back.”
But seven years later, both Oakley and Josh have worked out a way to share Chelsea. Although, now they have both Oakley and Flash, so it’s safe to say Josh has warmed up to idea of them as pets. They do try and take the dogs on as many activities as they can, but Josh gets his alone time for couples workouts in the gym. “We don’t get competitive,” he says, “but Chelsea likes to instruct you on your last rep,” he jokes and Chelsea laughs.
“But she really is a great trainer,” he says. Josh appreciates her instruction mostly because so many trainers today aren’t focused on technique or trained in proper movement. “She really is good at knowing biomechanics and functional movements,” he brags on her, “She has a lot of knowledge on proper form and technique.”
Despite their busy lifestyle, they’re a couple that truly enjoys life together. The two deeply value their relationship with God and each other, they host and entertain friends and family, which keeps them grounded and gives them the chance to try new recipes. Both Josh and Chelsea are as good in the kitchen as they are in the gym. Overall, what they love the most is sharing. Whether it be meals, blog posts, workouts, or a natural medicine approach, they both have an inherent need to share their knowledge and experiences. They share a passion for investing in other people’s health.
Too often we get swept up in our businesses and forget to reap what we’ve sown. It is good to see successful, hard-working people still loving one another and the life they have created. Chelsea and Josh balance each other in this way. More recently, they split time between their home and business in Tennessee and their newly finished house in Florida. Both love the sand, outdoors, and sunshine, so checking off the beach house from the bucket list was a long time goal they are happy to finally settle into. After a lot of hard work, it’s time they enjoy some of the benefits.