Photos of Conan in Movies

Nerve Damage in My Back - end of a career

Wednesday, 09 August 2006

No bodybuilding injury is worse than a nerve injury / nerve damage. 

2000 I was training hard getting big, getting ready to go to the USA to make a crack at the big time wrestling. I was big, pumped, I had a silly haircut and I had my airline ticket - I was ready.

Thunder VS Gothic Knight (Canada)

Unfortunately I never made it...... 


Two weeks before I was to leave I was contact by TNT from AWF for a 2 week Australian wrestling tour. At first I was hesitant to change my plans but I did owe these guys as they were the only ones at that time running quality professional wrestling shows in Australia - also TNT was my mate and my wrestling partner, and as he said a couple thousand dollars extra wouldn't go astray - I agreed.


Wrestling Campion 7ft Thunder and TNT 

We performed the wrestling tour, some of the shows were very well recieved, other shows where the venues had done no promotion turned out very poorly. Overall it was an encouraging tour, we could see if it was promoted inhouse we could build up from the successful shows and establish a full pro-wrestling circuit in Australia again - the first in about 20 years - with real regular pay for all the wrestlers!

During the tour I wrestled mainly Gothic Knight from Canada, he was a big lad, and the smallest guy on tour ZZ Hook who was quiet athletic and had a personality 10 times bigger than his body, with a voice to match.

 conanVSgothic.jpgWrestling Stare Down

Wrestling Gothic Knight and Stare Down with ZZ-Hook 

At the end of the tour I came out with a few bumps and bruises, a few thousand dollars and a flu. The flu (cough, sore throat) persisted longer than usual, as I rarely get sick and if I do it lasts at most 2 days, during which time I am fully active, though I will train light.

This time the flu lasted weeks during which time I continued to train. My mate Hilly came over to train with me one day and shoot a training video that I was going to sell from my old website.

Hilly training partner from 1989 to 2006

Hilly - training partner since 1989

The first day of the shoot was to be chest and shoulders - the tape is currently in storage in Australia - it has me complaining that I feel really weak - on that day I could only just manage to bench 120kg for 2 reps  when I wanted to do 150kg.

Over the next few days of shooting different body parts I began to feel that something was wrong as all my weights were down - except legs - we got some great footage maxing out the rusty old leg press at that gym with weights hanging off and Hilly sitting on top of the leg press machine - at Al's Gym in Bondi Junction.

Over the next few weeks I got weaker, especially in my back which was unusual as I was deadlifting 700lbs no wraps, no belt and no suit,and bent over rowing 500lbs. Unusual for a tall guy to have such a strong back - I suppose it comes down to how much work you put in.

That is when the back pain started.

At night mostly I had a sharp pain in my upper back, near my spine on the right side. Nightly the pain increased and I was getting huge muscle knots in the right side of my body.

John-Louie master pain giver, masseuse by trade was a  master at removing the knots in extremely painful 1 hour session, He would massage as hard as he could and use wooden implements to break up the muscle knots. This would relieve the back pain for a day or so then it would start to build up again.

Next I tried accupuncture this too was effective in temporarily reducing the back pain, and without the agony. Though every time I came out of accupunture I felt dizzy and lightheaded, a great excuse for a lazy afternoon on the beach, which conveniently was about 250 meters from the accupunturists office.

This was now about a month into it and this was no ordinary problem - it was getting worse and my strength had gone to the crapper, old women in the gym were using the same weights as I was.

I visited my friendly local physician Dr Guy, fabulous doctor who cared about his patients and was quite a personality since he was also a local musician. Dr Guy diagnosed the problem and sent me to see one of the worlds top specialists in this area - who happened to work 2 days a week at the local hospital. Bonus the Australian Government Health Care paid for this bill.

The nerve specialist was very excited about the problem I had since he had at that time a dozen student doctors with him that he was instructing. For him I was the perfect subject due to the muscle atrophy from the nerve damage being so prominent.

What happened was that whatever had given me the flu had somehow activated my own bodies defences to the point where my own defenses mistook my own nerves as the virus. My own immune system had attacked my nervous system  and caused the nerve damage.

I lost my nerves from my spine to my forearm, along with most the muscle in my back, my lower right chest, my right tricep and all my strength. I could not even french press a 5lb dumbell. That means I could get a bottle of milk hold it behind my head and try to push it up and straighten my arm and I could not move my arm - the bottle of milk was too heavy.

He went on to tell the story how this problem was first diagnosed during WW2, where roughly 1 person in a million is affected by it and they generally lose the nerves 'feeding' one limb, though sometimes it is two limbs (I was lucky there). Also I was lucky that it was only one arm affected and not both legs.

He went on in great detail about what it was and how it worked, etc. At that stage I could not care less all I wanted to know is when will it fix itself?

"The nerves grow back 1mm a day, so in your case A LONG TIME!"

My career was completely ruined.

I still travelled to the USA off my own bat (I paid for it) and saw WCW, the head trainer at the time - Mr Wonderful Paul Orndorf - was very sympathetic but essentially I was damaged goods, no good to anyone. In fact a neck injury with similar, but permanent results, had ended his career right at it's peak. I met Ross Perot at the training center as he was looking into buying WCW at the time but that fell through and WCW sold out at rock bottom price to WWF not more than a month after I was there.

Everything I had ever worked for since I was 16 went down the toilet, I was angry, depressed, very upset and completely disillusioned.

Conans right lat is missingRear Double Bicep, ConanJon and ConanMost Muscular in Clown Pants

Photos of the obvious nerve damage and muscle atrophy (loss) 

These are the only photos I took for the next 5 years, on the larger images you can see the massive muscle deterioration on my right hand side and this was just at the start.

You can also see the missing muscles in the Big vs Small wrestling match 

For 6 months the back pain persisted. It was like someone was stabbing a knife into my back every minute of everyday - and I am not a whinger. I wrestled professionally for 5 years at that point and had worked the worst nightclubs in Newcastle and Sydney and stopped more fights than you've had hot dinners. This was the worst pain I had ever been in, my eyes would water in pain continually, especially at night. I would sleep with my arm twisted behind my back in an effort to relieve the pain to an extent.

The only solution available to me was pain killers. I refused. 3 years of pain killers and I would be an addict, and that stuff is as bad as heroin (the effects of which I had seen at  one work place) to kick - not interested.

6 months of absolute depression. The nerve damage had ended but the muscle wasting was continuing,  as was the back pain.

Oh and as to my girlfriend of that time, no support, did not care, no kind words, in fact she left. Add in that due to the injury I could not continue my main employment in the  security industry, nor my wrestling, nor my acting. What a great end for scene one in a movie, physically broken, financially broke, dumped, down and out. 

I tried to keep positive and to keep doing something productive through this time and I know it could have been much worse but I would have to say emotionally and psychologically this would have to have been the toughest time in my life.

I just hope you reading this never have to go through a something like that where everything you have worked for is ripped away from you by dumb luck.

There is another article covering the nerve damage recovery and the benefits I looked to find and gained there after from this experience.

Guillian Barre syndrome isn't fun when you career depends upon a functioning body - you can read more here.

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