cancer

74 : The Importance of Finding Balance w/ CrossFit Games Regional Qualifier, Marco Dapkey - Part 2/2

 This week's episode with CrossFit Games regional qualifier and survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Marco Dapkey has been broken up into two parts.  Episode 74 is part 2 of 2 so if you missed part 1 go back and read/listen to Episode 73 before continuing.  There you will learn about Marco’s cancer diagnosis, which caused him to miss his highly anticipated senior season of high school football.  We also talked about the treatment process of his cancer and the struggles of watching his team succeed without him.  To end the episode, Marco took us through his attempted comeback to football only to receive yet another sign, that football might not be in his cards. This is obviously where this episode begins. In part 2 Marco talks about CrossFit’s role in his transition to life after football and what it has taken to finally qualify for regionals (an incredible feat). Marco credits his more balanced schedule for his success in the 2017 CrossFit Open (explained in previous post) as opposed to previous years where training took precedent over most things.  Contrary to popular belief amongst most athletes and myself, more is not always better.

In part 1 of my interview with Marco, we left off where Marco had just broken his foot and came to the decision that football might not be meant to be.  Marco said that after coming to this decision that both he and his mother felt a sense of relief (this sounds familiar, episode 72). This decision also meant that he needed to have a difficult conversation with the coaches at West Chester University (WCU), but Marco reiterated that nothing could be harder than not playing in his senior football season in high school. Marco had an overwhelming sense that he was meant to do something different and bigger.

Side note: During this portion of the interview we discuss Marco's bout with second impact syndrome.  Fortunately, Marco's injury didn't require surgery like mine or Brett Wycinski's. Marco had gotten blindsided while covering a punt after an suffering an undiagnosed concussion a couple weeks earlier. He ended up being in ICU for a week and was forced to miss the rest of the season.

At the moment, CrossFit has become that different and bigger thing God had in store for Marco. During our conversation, Marco tells us how he first got into CrossFit.  After the spring semester that Marco injured his foot, he ended up going back the Neshaminy High School to help out with the strength program and was exposed to a CrossFit gym and some of their non traditional and intense workouts. Intrigued by the atmosphere and the novelty of the CrossFit movements, Marco searched for the closest CrossFit gym to WCU and found CrossFit West Chester. As a reminder, Marco was still receiving chemo treatments once a month at this time. 

Little 5lb, 8oz, baby Marco (This is the picture  Steve  referred to in the interview). Marco was a vegetarian at this point in his treatment and he goes into some of the holistic remedies he practiced during our conversation. He finished his last treatment on his birthday in 2015.

Little 5lb, 8oz, baby Marco (This is the picture Steve referred to in the interview). Marco was a vegetarian at this point in his treatment and he goes into some of the holistic remedies he practiced during our conversation. He finished his last treatment on his birthday in 2015.

Drink your milk kids....

Drink your milk kids....

After working with his high school's strength staff, Marco returned to WCU in the summer to help out with the football team's training camp as a video coordinator.  Since he was staying in the dorms and waking up early everyday anyway, he decided to ride his bike to CrossFit West Chester (about a 15 minute ride) to the take the 6 am class.  He was immediately hooked and it didn't take long before he started looking into signing up for some local competitions. This thought led to a series of Regional appearances with the CrossFit West Chester competition team. While competing at regionals Marco always took note of what the individual competitors were doing and took what he learned back to his training when he got home.  Each year Marco got closer and closer to qualifying as an individual for the CrossFit Regionals.  Last year in 2016 he missed qualifying by one spot, but you might be surprised to find out what change he made in his schedule to finally qualify in 2017.  Only the top 20 Men & Woman from the Mid Atlantic region advance to Regionals after completing the Open workouts (view video in Episode 73 is this sounds like a foreign language).

Only the top 20 Men & Woman from the Mid Atlantic region advance to Regionals after completing the Open workouts (view video in Episode 73 is this sounds like a foreign language).

Only the top 20 Men & Woman from the Mid Atlantic region advance to Regionals after completing the Open workouts (view video in Episode 73 is this sounds like a foreign language).

After missing 20 man cut-off for regionals by one spot in 2016, Marco felt like he might have been a little too focused on CrossFit. Marco decided to redirect his focus back on finishing school and has recently completed an internship with the strength staff at Villanova football.  He also started started following the Misfit Athletics training program.  At one point during the interview, we talked about how he stays healthy with all the training volume he does.  He credits his health to trying his hardest not to over do it and implementing non-traditional CrossFit movements to his repertoire.  Specifically, he has adopted many of the training methods from Mark Boyle's strength and conditioning program (from the Boston area). Mark's program utilizes unilateral movements in different planes of motion.  During this part of our conversation, Marco stresses the importance of finding balance in life because it can be toxic to constantly be on the go.  

Like Marco, I found CrossFit back in 2012 when one of my buddies who I worked with on the Rutgers football team introduced me to a workout.  I was immediately hooked and it was the first thing that made me feel alive after being told I could never play football again.  I highly recommend athletes transitioning to a life after sports try CrossFit, not just for the endorphin high, but for the camaraderie as well.  I fell in love with the sport at District CrossFit in Washington DC, where it was cooler to move well and have great joint mobility than it was to lift heavy shit and look "tough."  Now that I think about it, the further removed I got from the gym, the more I started getting hurt... I need balance.  Everyone needs balance.

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW MARCO DAPKEY?

INSTAGRAM FACEBOOK

Download Episode 74 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

73 : Stripped of Football Glory By Cancer w/ CrossFit Games Regional Qualifier, Marco Dapkey - Part 1/2

This week on the Heads 'N Tales podcast we hear from Marco Dapkey who is a survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and has recently qualified for the CrossFit Regionals (an absolutely incredible feat). Marco's interview has been broken up into two parts.  In part one (Episode 73) we learn about Marco’s cancer diagnosis, which caused him to miss his highly anticipated senior season of high school football.  We also talked about the treatment process and the struggles of watching his team succeed without him.  To end the episode, Marco took us through his attempted comeback to football only to receive yet another sign that football might not be in his cards.

As I have mentioned in many of the previous podcast episodes, CrossFit was a great outlet for me in my transition to life after sports.  Marco obviously felt the same connection to the sport and has excelled to an elite level.  For those of you wondering what CrossFit is, what the regionals are and why you should care, the video below will explain.

To put it in simple terms, CrossFit is a high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise.  You don't necessarily need to compete in CrossFit, and I would venture to guess that most people who consider themselves "CrossFitters" don't.  For athletes who miss the feeling of competition, there are plenty of opportunities to get your fix in the sport.  The video above explains the general gist of the CrossFit Games, but the specifics have changed slightly since this video was published.  It is now actually much more difficult to qualify for regionals because only the top 10 men and 10 women from Asia, Africa and Latin America, 20 men and 20 women from Canada West, Canada East and all U.S. Open Regions, and 30 men and 30 women from Australia and Europe are invited to compete.   In 2016, 324,307 participants from 175 countries participated in the open, further proving how difficult it is to qualify for regionals.   We will save the rest of the CrossFit talk for part 2.

Before Marco found CrossFit, he was captain of his football team at Neshaminy High School where he played safety and outside linebacker.  There was lots of hype going into his senior season with the prospects of Division 1 scholarships and a state title.  As the team began to wrap up their spring strength and conditioning program at the end of Marco's junior year, he started feeling sick.  This feeling started off with a cold that had him coughing and wheezing and no matter what he did, he couldn't seem to kick it. He eventually came down with swelling in his throat and a lump in his cheek.  Each of these symptoms came about over a span of 3-4 weeks.  All the while, Marco was suffering his way through practices and training sessions like any competitive athlete would have done.  Marco recalled that a week before he was diagnosed with cancer his team was testing their lifts before the start of summer training.  Despite feeling like hell and unknowingly having cancer, he ended up power cleaning 285 lbs and squatting 485 lbs. Marco said he almost fainted after the squat and knew in his gut that something was seriously wrong. 

Eventually his symptoms got so bad that he needed to be taken to the hospital after having difficulty breathing.  After a slew of tests, X-rays and a bone marrow biopsy the doctor confirmed that he had cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia to be exact (just like our Episode 24 guest, Dan Exter).  With dreams of playing college football and winning a state championship the first thing he asked his doctor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was could he play football.  After learning about the treatment process he realized football was not an option and that news was the only thing that made him cry throughout the whole process. As a football player, you often feel invincible so the question of how could this happen to me quickly consumed Marco's thoughts, especially because no one had an answer as to why he got cancer.  Fortunately, the treatment protocol for Marco's cancer had a strong track record, but it was going to be a long road.

Marco's treatment plan of action was as follows:

  • Stay in the hospital for a month, or until the cancer has been proved to be in remission.

    • Leukemia is a blood cancer, so he had tumors everywhere.

    • He was on a lot of steroids, "not the good kind" to suppress the tumors.

  • Over the next six months Marco received out patient treatments once a week.

    • Felt really sick

    • Lost his hair

    • Suffered from a pulmonary embolism

  • The last leg of his treatments included 2.5 years of maintenance where he got chemo treatments once a month.

    • This is the phase that he was able to start getting his life back together.

Marco #7

Marco #7

Despite having a lot of positive support throughout the process, once football season rolled around, Marco struggled mentally and emotionally.  Being a team captain, Marco wanted to be at every game, but didn't want to show any inclination of weakness. He remembers mentally putting himself into the plays and couldn't help but think about what could have been.  He also struggled to fight off the jealousy he felt when his teammates were out there on the field even though he still wanted them to succeed. Marco says that being unable to play that season still haunts him every so often.  I feel your pain brother.

Despite the down times, Marco was always about quickly turning negative thoughts into positive ones.  Marco's cancer was a pediatric cancer and he was inspired by the young kids receiving treatments at CHOP.  He reminded himself that the younger kids, who didn't have the opportunity to develop the mental toughness he was able to forge over his years of playing football, had it worse than he did. 

We begin to transition into part 2 of Marco's story by talking about how he ordered P90X when he got home from CHOP because of all the infomercials he watched in the wee hours of the morning when he couldn't sleep.  After getting home and eager to put some of his muscle back on, Marco remembered trying to do five pushups in the first workout and was out of breath.  He quickly realized he wasn't quite ready for that yet, but started back up with the regimen when he entered maintenance phase of chemo. P90X was especially beneficial because it allowed him to workout in the safety of his own house to avoid infection.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the maintenance phase of Marco's treatment lasted for 2.5 years.  Marco decided to attend West Chester University (WCU) so he could continue his treatments at CHOP.  It didn't take long before Marco got the idea to walk on to the WCU football team because one of his high school teammates was playing there.  The doctors told him he could pursue this goal while receiving treatment.  Marco was actually recruited by WCU in high school but did not go after the opportunity because of his dreams of playing Division 1. The WCU coaches remembered Marco and had him filming practice to start out.  Eventually he started doing some drills but felt slow and lacked motor control.  However, he worked his butt off over winter break and was finally getting back in the swing of things.  The WCU coaches were also making note of his significant improvements.  Unfortunately, Marco ended up breaking his foot playing pick-up basketball with some friends and came to the decision that maybe he wasn't meant to play football.

Stay tuned for next week's episode for part 2 of Marco's story where we focus on his transition to life after football.

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW Marco dapkey?

INSTAGRAM FACEBOOK

Download Episode 73 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud