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  • Writer's pictureBen Timmons

Consistency through Adversity

We're honoured to have a guest blog appearance from one of our dearest friends, the devilishly good-looking, freakishly strong Ollie Andrews (his meme game is pretty spot-on too). Ollie's story is phenomenally inspiring and the bravery of this young man continues to inspire us every day. If you need a spot of motivation, then look no further my friends...

"Training always has and always will be a big part of my life.

Being able to feel the air burning in your lungs or the swell of lactate in your calves has an almost cathartic effect, forever driving me to keep pushing and keep testing where my limits lie. Over the years this has taken many forms starting with short distance sprinting through my primary school days, to Rugby union throughout my teens. Although there were always those that were naturally gifted, my enjoyment and perseverance outside of competition quickly demonstrated how hard work could surpass talent.

Entering my final year of university, I discovered and quickly very in love with the sport of powerlifting. Being accountable to only myself and being able to quantifiably measure performance, progress and improvement gave me the opportunity to measure, test and track any variable I wanted to in order to measure my performance better than I have ever done before. That, and being able to pick up really fucking heavy stuff makes you feel like a complete badass.

For the first couple of years all was going well, my lifts were improving, my body composition was getting better and although never really suffering, my mental health was in an excellent state. I competed in my first powerlifting meet after a couple of years of dedicated training as a light 86kg male in the 93kg category and managed to blag top of my class, heaviest deadlift of the day and best lifter of the meet. That high quickly dissipated a couple of weeks later when sitting down with my dermatologist for a routine appointment quickly led to a follow up appointment with an oncologist and then starting chemotherapy roughly 4 weeks later.

I was diagnosed with a condition called Indeterminate Cell Histiocytosis a few years prior which made my body flare up in a lot of red lesions, which although looking horrid had no impact on my life, and after finding the right cocktail of medication was well controlled and managed. A routine scan just before my powerlifting meet showed that the medication wasn’t working very well anymore, and it was time to get on the harder stuff. I started IV chemotherapy in November 2017 which involved a week of daily infusions at the hospital followed by a 3 week ‘recovery’ period, so your body was ready for the following week of abuse at hospital.

Although everyone knows chemo isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t really hit you until your dry heaving at 3am despite your stomach being empty whilst you struggle to keep your head up from the tiredness. The first few weeks were really rough, but as much as you can, I started getting ‘used to it’ after a couple of cycles. I had decided to keep working throughout treatment; being on reduced hours, in order to keep my sanity, but between work and treatment my mental health was starting to impact from a lack of training.

After a few conversations with my oncologist I convinced them that I could go back in the gym as long as I didn’t really do weights and heavily invested in antibacterial wipes which were to be used religiously. Naturally I completed ignored the heavy weights bit of that and went straight back to squatting 5’s at around 80% of my 1 rep max with my recently shiny head surely only adding to my aerodynamic efficiency. 3 days later as I lay in a hospital bed receiving IV antibiotics following a 2-day fever, I finally realised that my oncologist probably had a point about overdoing it…

Despite being hospitalised from pushing myself too much, I was still hungry to keep going back and trying my best to improve, and that’s where my experience in tracking really came to shine. I’d been logging workouts since I started powerlifting and the ability to be able to look back at what you’ve previously done and learn from it really came into play. Based on my experience of hospitalisation I knew that going heavy wasn’t really an option, so I started exploring other variables that might potentially help me training progressively and more importantly help me keep training full stop. I switched from low-bar squatting to high-bar and conventional deadlifts to sumo, this helped keep things interesting and allowed me to keep progressing and keep the overall load and fatigue I was experiencing to a minimum.

After about 6 months of tracking and fiddling with a bunch of variables; including my newly devised HFAIF (How fucked am I feeling) scale, I had finally found the perfect balance between being able to train regularly and recover well enough to continue treatment.

I went through chemotherapy for 18 months in total, encompassing 2 different drugs and 2 different oncologists and as I sit here writing this, I’m comforted by the fact that I am now in complete remission. Despite a small handful of hospitalisations, I whole heartedly believe that being able to keep training throughout chemotherapy not only helped me maintain a high level of mental wellbeing (positively impacting my professional and personal life), but also helped keep me physically fit and able to fight cancer. And without being able to measure and keep control of all of those variables it wouldn’t have been possible.

Being able to successfully beat cancer means that I am lucky enough to say that training always has and will continue to be a part of my life.

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