illness

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

69 : Owning It [Cystic Fibrosis] w/ Gunnar Esiason

Most athletes take the ability to breathe clearly for granted.  I have a cough and sinus congestion as I write up this blog post and I was just thinking that I should probably give up my Soul Cycle seat for tomorrow morning.  The discomfort from the cold largely stems from the fact that I cant take a full breath without "coughing up a lung."  Now imagine feeling like that every day of your life because that is what it is like to live with Cystic Fibrosis (CF).  Gunnar Esiason is the featured guest on the podcast for Episode 69 and he was diagnosed with CF at 2 years old.

Gunnar is a recent graduate of Boston College, host of the "Making it Matter" podcast, and is an Advocate for the Boomer Esiason Foundation.  At this point you've probably made the connection that Gunnar's Dad is former NFL quarterback, Boomer Esiason.  In the beginning of our interview, Gunnar teaches us about Cystic Fibrosis, which is a terminal genetic illness that effects the respiratory system and digestive track.  Gunnar says CF is not a cookie cutter disease, which means severity and symptoms can vary significantly.  Like concussions, CF is an invisible illness because those affected by it more often than not look healthy.

Gunnar and his parents at the dedication ceremony for the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Morristown Medical Center.

Gunnar and his parents at the dedication ceremony for the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Morristown Medical Center.

Gunnar played two of the more violent sports growing up, which were ice hockey and football.  During our conversation he discusses the countless obstacles athletes with CF face, especially in such physically demanding sports.  For starters, breathing is difficult and is often compared to breathing through a straw.  Gunnar talks about the struggle to keep up with his teammates on longer, more endurance focused activities.  Another hurdle is bodyweight or lack there of.  Gunnar says that he has been considered underweight by American standards his whole life and discusses the frustrations of trying to put on weight and muscle mass.  Later on in the episode we talk about the recent addition of a feeding tube to his routine and how that has been a tremendous help in gaining and keeping on weight. Gunnar now tries to break down the stigma surrounding feeding tubes because it has been a game-changer for him. Despite these obstacles Gunnar never wanted to be treated any differently than his teammates nor did he want to use them as an excuse not to participate.  He is grateful for his coaches and teammates knack for knowing when to push him and when to pull him back in both practice and games. 

 
Pictured, Gunnar Slangin' it in HS. I asked Gunnar if he ever felt extra pressure playing football because of the success his father had on the field, but Gunnar says his dad had a good parent-coach relationship when it came to football and was more of a "hockey Dad."

Pictured, Gunnar Slangin' it in HS. I asked Gunnar if he ever felt extra pressure playing football because of the success his father had on the field, but Gunnar says his dad had a good parent-coach relationship when it came to football and was more of a "hockey Dad."

Gunnar continues to play hockey and uses it as a "fun" version of cardio.

Gunnar continues to play hockey and uses it as a "fun" version of cardio.

Exercise and sports participation is extremely important for people with CF because they help to clear the lungs better than any alternative treatment.  Like many things associated with the illness, exercise and sports can also be a doubled-edged sword due to the increased risk of infection.  Anyone who has smelled a hockey bag knows what I'm talking about.  During the interview Gunnar takes us through some of the many setbacks he faced throughout his athletic career.  One of the more serious setbacks came when he contracted mono during the summer between his junior and senior year of high school.  He was sick for two months, lost his job as starting QB, and when he returned, it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t fit to play and still wasn’t well. Gunnar had to miss his entire senior football season to have a shot at playing  hockey in the winter. This was devastating to him at the time, but by exuding positive energy and keeping his sights set on hockey, he ultimately found joy in seeing his friends succeed on the field.

Gunnar also talks about a couple other setbacks including coughing up blood during a football practice and two bouts with pneumonia in college, which have since hindered his athletic performance.  He stresses the importance of having a good balance with athletic activity and rest because you can easily run yourself into the ground.  I think this is a great message for all athletes, listen to your body and trust your gut!  Gunnar also talked about the ways he protects his health such as wearing a surgical mask to prevent infections and avoiding situations with poor air quality (ex. second hand smoke). 

Hockey is still a huge part of Gunnar's life as both an athlete and coach.  Like most of my hockey guests, I asked about his opinion on fighting in hockey.  Gunnar believes fighting and the physicality of the sport should remain, stating that fear is a part of the game.  These are similar to my thoughts on the sport of football.  However, Gunnar emphasizes the importance of hitting properly.  He says that there is a lot of training for coaches especially in regard to concussions.  During this episode Gunnar talks about how he doesn't agree with USA Hockey's checking ban until kids reach the age of 13 (bantam level).  He feels it is important to teach proper ways to hit and take a hit at a young age and provides an example of an instance when he broke his wrist because he didn't know how to take a hit when he was young.

Being an english major at Boston College, the creation of the Gunnar Esiason blog and Making it Matter podcast was a natural transition.  He decided to create this blog to use some of his experiences as an educational platform for people with cystic fibrosis, or their families, looking for some sort of guidance.  Due to concerns of spreading infections, individuals with CF can not interact with one another, so the creation of the blog and podcast with his co-host Julia Rae serves as a platform for them to interact. Their hope is to prove to listeners that kids with CF can grow up to live long, fulfilling and normal lives. The slogan of the podcast is to "Own It." To Gunnar, this means people with CF need to share their stories with the world, become their own advocate and for the CF community so people can identify with them, because there are only about 30,000 patients in the world.

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW Gunnar esiason?

Boomer Esiason FoundationBlog | podcast | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | Youtube

Download Episode 69 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud