Rise and Fall: How to overcome the emotional pain of a torn bicep.
My name is Michael Majik and for the past 5 years, I have trained to be a strongman. I love this sport. It has given me reasons to be healthy, make friends, and travel to places I never thought I would. It also has made me stronger both physically and mentally. I do it for the love of it and know the prices I can pay.
Since I started there has been one major goal, compete at Ontario’s Strongest man. In Canada we have a different path to Nationals, you qualify for provincials then, for Ontario, the top three go to Canada’s. With only 12 or so competing at Canada’s, it is a big deal to compete at provincials. Qualifying isn’t hard, as all it is, is a set of proven lifts (250# overhead and a 585# deadlift). With these done easily, I was finally in. 2014 was my year. I had made it. The flights were booked, the competition forms sent in, and training was in full swing. I was ready to compete…. But never made it there.
So what happened? Well, from years of training incredibly hard I have learned a few things. 1) Never push yourself too hard in training, leave the best for competition day. 2) No matter how careful you are, you will injure yourself the longer you are competing. That is a fact. Now it won’t always be career ending, or be needing surgery, but it will happen. No one is perfect and mistakes are made.
On Sunday May 25, I was prepping for Ontario’s. The events that day were axel, tire flips, and stones. Nothing out of the ordinary. Ontario’s strongest man had a progressive tire flip event, the last tire being 1100 pounds. At the training facility we have a tire that we believe to be… who knows, I estimate it at 1200-1400 pounds and I personally feel it is closer to 1400. My theory that day was, if I can get one flip on that behemoth, I will destroy the medley in a month. Prepped to attack it, I start. As I transition from the “deadlift” portion into the clean movement, I feel a pop… and heard it. It felt like my right elbow was bending the wrong way. I dropped the tire, asked if anyone heard a popping noise (no one did), and grabbed my elbow. From feeling it, I knew what had happened. I tore my bicep.
I knew what was going to happen. I was going to need it to be reattached, which meant months of rehab. Normally for me, it would have been a setback but I knew I would be ok, as I knew injures happen and I always bounced back in the past. This was different. So much effort and passion had gone into this contest. As I got into my car, I sat there for five minutes and cried. I had watched so much hard work and dedication wash away in a flash. The injury didn’t cause much damage to me physically but emotionally it was devastating, only to know how much in the coming months. I gathered myself and went to the hospital.
They did the initial check and yep, it was torn. Not the muscle though, it was the tendon that snapped. I was scheduled to return the next day for further tests. That Monday morning I sat and waited. I had ultra sounds done on the whole arm to see the extent of the damage.
Side note here, maybe I just enjoy steak way too much but the ultra sound made my arm look like a well-marbled piece of meat. I feel I would be tasty. I do not condone the eating of me in any way.
The final verdict was in: Surgery was needed and I got scheduled in four days later. That’s an insanely short wait time for Canada. Free health care is great but surgeries can take a long time to get. I got lucky, in more ways than one. The sooner they can do the surgery, the easier it is to perform. As the tendon recedes into the muscle, it becomes harder to retrieve. After a few weeks it cannot be retrieved. Thursday came and they did a great job getting me fixed. I was in a brace for two weeks and then was able to freely move the arm again.
I had survived surgery somehow.
Sounds odd to say that but it wasn’t a pretty time for me. While in the brace, it was basically like a broken arm but with some movement. Which means I could sort of use the hand but any fast movements were cripplingly painful. I made due and was ok once it came off. My cabin fever had set in and I was cleared to do cardio at the gym. It was something.
As time passed, I realized how it had become rock bottom. It wasn’t at the beginning but around 2 months into recovering. I had lost all drive. I didn’t care about my diet. I was eating normally but didn’t stop if I wanted two liters of ice cream three times a week. I became anti-social. I didn’t want to go anywhere, see people, or do anything. Lastly, I didn’t want to hear a thing about strongman. I love the sport, but any news depressed me. I tried my best to keep myself happy but it didn’t matter. I made myself into a hermit and felt so alone.
It wasn’t that I was alone. I was able to do things. I still was able to work. I was able to do all the normal things at home. I just wasn’t me. I had let go of who I was and was going through the motions. Having a weight restriction of five pounds on my right arm made me feel helpless. I sank to the bottom. Something had to change.
Road to recovery
The big change came at the two and a half month mark. I was in for my ten week checkup. I looked great and was cleared to lift ten pounds! Hey, it was big to me. I also asked a few questions. As long as my arm was straight and the right hand pronated, I could deadlift. This made me very happy. Up to this point I could only squat really. I am lucky to go to a gym with a large variety of equipment and bars. We have a safety squat bar. I could use it without grabbing it with my right hand. I could squat. So I did, three times a week. Adding deadlifts meant pulling once a week now.
I felt upbeat for the first time in nearly three months. Following doctors’ orders, I programmed training to not break any rules. I deadlifted, I squatted, and I did upper body work on my left side and very light on the right. I continued to progress and stick to form work and reps. It wasn’t getting me stronger but it was making me feel better. At the 16 week mark was my final checkup. I was cleared for 20 pounds on the right arm and told to up it again in a month, then at the 6 month mark I can go 100%. This gave me a time line to build to. I started to bench again. It wasn’t much but I made progress. I was coming back, strength wise and mentally.
The beast and I meet again.
My return to Competition
As for right now, I am actually only four and a half months recovered. I am back to a normal workout routine with pressing and back work still lighter than normal. I am back to 75% on the upper body and close to 90% on the lower body. I am much lighter now, down from 240 to 224, and plan to slowly climb up again. I have only done very light log work for any strongman movements and will not do any until the seven month mark. I wanted to take my time to heal before I push it. I do plan on doing a powerlifting competition this winter. It will be my return and I am starting to prepare.
We all recover physically if our bodies can, it is the mental aspect we always forget. I took this as a chance to reclaim who I want to be in life beyond competition. I am returning to it for why I love it, for that passion to become a stronger person in every way. I may never be a world class competitor, but you can bet that I will always be a person who will make myself and others know they are world class people. I will compete at Ontario’s one day. I also will compete at 105kg at Nationals in the USA one day as well. I am hungry to return, to compete, and to do what I love.
Michael Majik. From Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Currently a 105kg competitor. Competing in strongman for 5 years, lifting for 10. After dropping 100 pounds of weight, I decided to try strongman. I qualified for Ontario’s strongest man 2014 before tearing my bicep 4 weeks prior. Best lifts are a 280 log, 585 beltless deadlift, and 525×2 squat.