I’m not too up to speed on the bodybuilding social media circle, alas. But, a friend recently told me about Ronnie Coleman’s back surgery and how he’s now confined to a wheelchair as a result. Needless to say, I was intrigued and shocked.
Ronnie Coleman is closing in on 52 years of age and definitely past his best physically. The most striking change is his lack of size – he’s no longer 300 lbs of ripped muscle, far from it actually. And it’s understandable, as he’s no longer getting on stage and competing, there’s no requirement of the IMMENSE drug doses it takes to get anywhere near the size he attained – and he’s a genetic freak. Seriously.
Nevertheless, he is still bigger than most will ever be and certainly looks better than any 52 year old around your neighbourhood. Although it’s never been all about looks, there’s more to the health and vitality puzzle than the superficial exterior. What can you do with your body? Can you play with your grandchildren? Are you mobile? How’s your posture?
Upon some very basic research, I found this was the most recent in a long list of surgeries Ronnie’s undergone………….
• December 2007 – Laminectomy of L4-L5 discs
• July 2011 – Disc decompression of L3-L4 discs
• December 2011 – Fusion of neck C4-C5-C6
• July 2014 – Left hip replacement requiring 2 screws
• August 2014 – Right hip replacement requiring 4 screws
• July 2015 – Fusion of L3-L4 discs
And we can now add a February 2016 11 hour back surgery to the list. This surprised me and it may surprise many of you too. I knew about his hip issues, but I never realised he’d had back trouble dating back so many years – years when he was still competing.
What does this illustrate?
It reminds us the body has limits. As capable and sometimes miraculous as the human body can be, there’s a cap on its’ abilities. You can only get so strong in this case. And boy, was Ronnie Coleman strong…………..his 800 lb squat has been seen by just about everyone who’s set foot in a gym. Ironically, it’s that very 800 lb x 2 squat he says he regrets most; because he didn’t do more reps.
We all know he could easily have done more reps, but it’s not for me and you to say.
The following quote is pretty viral at present (sorry if you’ve seen it already)………….
“So you guy’s still wanna be like me, you still want to have the same work ethic is I had. Well as you can see I’m 8 X Mr Olympia and I can’t walk. I endured an 11 hour major back surgery last Tuesday. Do I have any regrets?, if I had a chance to do it all over again would I change anything? Yes if I had a chance to do it all over again I would change one thing. That is when I squatted that 800lbs I would do 4 reps instead of 2, that is my only regret in my career. Those 2 reps I did still haunts me today because I know I had 4 in me but the coward in me only did 2. That is my only regret.”
Becoming great requires doing things others won’t, or can’t. Ronnie Coleman is no exception. He trained like a starved lion. He lifted “heavy ass weight” as he called it. Doing so won him millions of fans around the world and inspired a few million more on top of that to get in shape and push themselves that bit harder and further. Even I’m partial to a good Ronnie Coleman training video from time to time. Yeah Buddy!
With all these ailments and injuries though, one may ask: who’s the real winner – Ronnie Coleman or nature? I would say Ronnie Coleman on the condition that he’s able to recover sufficiently and be an agile and mobile human being once again. But let’s not forget there are many other ‘victims’ of the iron game who’ve endured similar torrid paths with much less to show for it. Where’s their status? Who cares about them? Are they destitute? Probably.
Serious heavy lifting is dangerous and it always will be. I love lifting heavy and prefer it far more than ‘pump work’ or ‘fluff’, but loving it means I’m forced, by default, to pay ample respect to such an activity. Did Ronnie’s sometimes questionable form/technique contribute to his injuries? Heavy weight + insecure technique = injury in every book. Some people (very few) have won the genetic lottery in order to dodge such outcomes. And it’s every bit a lottery; how do you know you’ve got the genes to withstand years of abuse via lifting ultra heavy? You only know when the story is over. As genetically blessed as Ronnie is, it seems even his joints and frame could only endure so much, for so long.
The career of Ronnie Coleman demonstrates a fundamental law of nature: For everything you gain, you lose somewhere else. It just comes down to whether what you gain is worth what’s lost as a result. For Ronnie, it was. He may lose a pain free life as a senior citizen, but he’s set his name in stone as an all time great in a sport he adored. Would he have done so if he hadn’t been so driven, so intense, so extreme? Unlikely.
Everything we do has the potential to carry long term implications – especially weightlifting. Weightlifting has the potential to better your life in an inordinate amount of ways, but it also carries the potential to harm, and humble you when taken too far. 800 lb squats are feats only few can realise, and to do so requires extremes that often times the body retaliates to in the form of illnesses or injuries later in life. It sucks, but it’s true……..your past can catch up with you, for good or for bad, and even the great Ronnie Coleman isn’t immune to that.
Nobody is inhuman.
I would like to wish Ronnie Coleman a speedy and successful recovery, and more importantly I hope he’s reunited with his love as soon as possible; the gym.