by Rashed Fakhruddin
In 2016, the ongoing pain in my upper back led me in search of the right workout in order to prevent having to go “under the knife” and undergo surgery even though this was the direction I was told I was heading in. The things I enjoyed doing the most, playing sports like basketball and football along with group exercise classes like cycling and yoga, were about to be stripped away from me due to the pinching nerves in my back (C3-C7 bulging disks). At the time, I couldn’t imagine life without sports and exercise and the community it had provided me with. I was lost and disheartened by the task I had to face.
After trying out a variety of different rehab methods and exercises, my back pain pushed me to the doorstep of Barre3. I decided on a whim to walk into a Barre class simply because my ClassPass membership was about to expire and I had a few extra classes. It was soon after that I never looked back.
I have been honored and asked to share my story from the bottom of my heart as it is tied to the physical and emotional support that helped me through my recovery of unforeseen events. It was here that my narrative truly changed.
Over a year ago now, the physical pain had been stifling for almost a month. I was admitted to the ER and informed a bacterial infection had found its way to my heart valve. Nearly taking my life, this “infection” would require the doctors to perform open-heart surgery.
I was out of it until the day after the surgery, barely opening my eyes in what was the worst, most excruciating pain. I woke up to a gigantic card from the YWCA’s AMEND Together program led by former NBA and Vanderbilt all-time basketball scoring legend, Shan Foster. (AMEND is a primary preventive initiative dedicated to ending violence against women and girls by engaging men and boys to change the culture that supports violence, in which Rashed plays a highly active role in then and today). This was followed by hundreds of messages, emails, cards, and visits from community members. Notably was the role of the fitness and sports community in what may seem simple, but truly thoughtful efforts. I had visits to my home from three different lululemon ambassadors and friends: Holly Coltea of Barre3, Raquel Bueno of Liberation Nashville and Megan Conner. It crossed my mind after the fact that it was no coincidence they were the incredible ambassadors to the fitness community. I can’t forget lululemon employees sending me “Get Well Soon” cards. I was also touched by the get well cards from the Vanderbilt baseball team, their athletic department, and even Coach Tim Corbin himself. Even the Tennessee Titans sent me a signed jersey from Jack Conklin which was incredibly meaningful to me. With all the wonderful emotional community support, not once could I feel a moment of sadness or defeat. Surrounding yourself with positive people is important. Their role in the recovery process and beyond are just an example of the positive outcomes our community continues to create.
The physical recovery started immediately. The first morning after surgery I was forced to take a walk around the hospital floor. Holding on to a wheelchair in excruciating pain, wincing and wishing to get back in the hospital bed. Once I was sent home, my daily, difficult task was walking five minutes twice a day. In five minutes, we can usually make a cup of coffee or stare at the bathroom mirror, but those five minute walks were a marathon for me. After some time, it advanced to ten minute walks, however, I recall often, slowly moving through the neighborhood and wondering if I would make it back to my home alive. I could feel my heart intensify it’s struggle as it raced to catch up.
A month later I began my cardio rehab to specifically build my heart back to strength. I attended ten sessions before I decided to use Barre3 classes again as my cardio rehab. I noticed I could take a full hour of class and get plenty of cardio and strength conditioning. But what made the bigger difference was enjoying the emotional rehab that came with a sense of community due to the owner and instructors established at their studio. Before I knew it, I was able and willing to take five to six classes a week. I was in awe of how exercise and fitness could help the healing of what needed physical attention, but also the emotional growth and validation I felt within a group of supportive friends.
Barre classes are the exercise that keeps me in the best shape, providing me with strength and endurance. I feel emotionally uplifted and think it has been excellent for sports! I sometimes wonder why more athletes don’t take Barre. Whatever you like to do for fun—biking, yoga, hiking, running—I’ve learned that mixing up your routine will help in ways you’d never expect. We all have imbalances in our bodies. Common for me are tight hamstrings and “tech neck”, but I aim to find balance by working opposing muscle groups. Barre provides me the extra juice I need to take on the rest of the day, which for me continues after work with other non-profit, community, and family commitments. Despite any lows in my journey back to health, I can say now I have an incredible amount of new energy that I didn’t think was possible for me or any other full-time working dad. Today, I feel like I need daily classes and endorphins the same way I feel like I need to take my daily vitamins!
As men age, we actually shrink! But instead, I feel like I have grown. I refuse to shrink. I refuse to let limitations define my growth. And I refuse to let health concerns stand in my way of believing I can heal, especially after learning so much about my body and its capabilities. I refuse to be close-minded about exercise and mental strength because I have defied even myself. I refuse to let go of what I have gained – from my health to my friends and colleagues and community to the foundations of family and support.
When I look back to a year ago, I can’t help but be thankful to God for every moment and every person and organization who made a choice to reach out in support during my illness. I hope they know the positive impact it made on my emotional and physical healing as well as my unwavering gratitude.
During our workouts we often hear, “open your heart,” and although the words have been known to frighten me at first, after everything I have been through, what it actually means is for us to extend our love and compassion to everyone. You never know who might need it the most. My personal story is one of many similar situations, I’m sure. But my hope is that we each learn to pay it forward. Let us continue to be there for those going through the struggles of recovery, whatever it may be. I hope we can all play a role in the healing of others, make friends, and be a true community of reinforcement. Never underestimate a message, a card, a visit, a gift, an email, a text or a call. It just might save someone’s life.