The Road to Recovery
A broken down runner makes a remarkable comeback with a little help from a friend—and a one-of-a-kind workout.
Andrew Simon looks like he’s running for his life.
His hands—thick, strong hands forged by a childhood of southern Illinois farm work and reinforced by decades of grappling with wrestlers as a coach in Indiana—fly back and forth. The 53-year-old’s torso sways slightly from side to side. But his legs? They’re firmly planted on the floor. He’s not going anywhere.
“Keep moving,” says Brian Bradley, Simon’s trainer, who’s standing nearby. “10 more seconds.”
A casual observer might think the burly man swinging his arms about looks strange, even silly, with his lower half locked in a lunge but his upper half in a full-out sprint. But you would be loath to underestimate the exercise he’s performing, Finish Line Abs. Just 30 seconds of this vigorous arm swing easily spikes the heart rate into triple-digit territory. As Andrew found out, the move is a lot harder than it appears.
“After the first time I did Finish Line Abs, my arms were sore for three days,” Simon says. “I couldn’t do that move again for five full days. But from then on, I did them in every workout. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
Twelve weeks have passed since that first session. Today Simon is hl the Walnut Hills High School gymnasium in Cincinnati for an exercise session with Bradley, the director of Elev8d Fitness, a whole-body approach to fitness and functional wellness.
Simon executes the move with picture-perfect form. His fingertips glide from up by his face, to down by his hip, and back up. Simon is breathing heavily, but his breaths are controlled and confident. It’s clear that he’s improved at the exercise. But when you ask Simon what’s changed during three months of Elev8d Fitness training, he’ll tell you a lot more than just his ability to perform any one exercise.
“Everything seems to work better,” Simon says. “My body feels different. Things are working in sync.”
It’s a welcome change for a man who, for all of his strength and determination, was broken down just months before. After decades of sports and exercise, Simon’s body had turned on him in the way it turns on so many longtime athletes: a tweak here, nagging soreness there, and eventually, constant pain.
Simon is an avid runner, but the years and miles had taken their toll. His knees ached. His feet fell victim to plantar fasciitis, a villainous bastard of a condition that can make it feel as if you’ve put a nail into your foot on every step. But worst of all was his right hip.
“It reached the point where standing a certain way could bring a tear to my eye,” Simon said.
The pain was there almost all the time—even when he slept. Simon is a side-sleeper, and prefers to lie on his right side. That way he can face his wife, Mary Beth. And it’s more comfortable—or at least it was until his hip started throbbing. When the pain started to keep him up at night, he did what anyone would do: avoided the problem and adapted. Can’t sleep on the right side? Sleep on the other one instead. So that’s what he did—for six years.
The competitor inside wouldn’t let him stop, but the man who used to rattle off miles at a mid-7-minute pace had slowed down to where he could barely muster two or three miles in a workout. Dealing with so much pain for so long made him doubt that anything could change it.
He’d tried physical therapy and chiropractic. Nothing had worked. Why should Elev8d Fitness be different? But after trying the program, Simon made two delightful discoveries.
First: He found the workouts were fun. Simon trained about four times per week, usually performing the 8- or 16-minute sessions inside Carmel Middle School, where he works as a teacher. A fellow teacher and friend, Kelly, trained with him. “We laughed a lot,” Simon says of their workouts. “[After school] we’d be doing the workouts the hallways, and teachers would come by and ask if they could try it too.”
Surprise number two: Positive changes happened far more quickly than Simon expected.
“When we started doing Elev8d Fitness, I was using muscles in ways I wasn’t used to,” Simon said. “After three weeks, I went for a drive and noticed that my arms felt more firm on the steering wheel. The short time it took to achieve those results was really impressive.”
But the differences Simon noticed went far beyond just gaining strength. “I’m more energetic,” Simon said. “My wife says I’m helping more around the house.” She also could tell he was standing taller and walking more upright. On the day of the workout in Cincinnati, Simon’s clothes looked a little more baggy—perhaps because, since starting Elev8d, he’s lost 13 pounds.
As the weight came off, Simon rediscovered his body’s strength and capability. One positive change lead to the next.
“My golf game is better,” Simon said. “I wanted to go out and play every day because I was playing the best I’d played in 10 years. My swing is smoother and I’m shooting better.”
But the best change of all happened in his sleep. About midway through the challenge, Simon noticed his nagging hip bothered him less and less. So he thought he’d give sleeping on his right side a try, just to see what happened.
“During a series of nights I would start on my right side, but then it was start hurting after 10 minutes and I’d have to change,” Simon said. “Then one night I was ok for 45 minutes. Then I could go for hours. Now I can stay on my right all night! I’d gone for so many years without sleeping on it, so it’s been fun to notice that it doesn’t bother me anymore.”
So in Cincinnati, where Simon is meeting with Bradley to assess the results of the past 12 weeks, there’s much good news to report. But Simon doesn’t need to even open his mouth for Bradley to know things have gone well. You can see it Simon’s face, in his newly baggy clothes, and in every movement he makes. When Simon pumps his arms during Finish Line Abs, you can see it in the power channeling down from his formidable shoulders, through his arms, and into his hands.
“We didn’t give him more energy,” Bradley said. “He’s always had that energy. All the horsepower was there, but it was stuck in the mud. He is finally moving the way he should be.”
Even an untrained eye can tell that there is a certain rightness about it. During the final seconds of the exercise, Simon looks fluid and energetic, like a younger version of himself. He’s working hard but having fun. He may not be going anywhere, but he’s come a long way.