Guest Blog: Angus Reid, Win the Day
My cousin (and fellow Vancouver College alum), Angus Reid, is a testament to the age-old adage of "hard work pays off." After excelling on the field at VC having joined football late, Angus went on to become an All-American at Simon Fraser University (despite missing 3 of 5 seasons battling illness) before being drafted 4th overall in the 2001 CFL Draft. Angus, currently starting centre for the BC Lions, has been an ironman throughout his career with an amazing streak of appearing in 142 consecutive games. Angus has appeared in 2 Grey Cups, coming home with a ring in the 2006 tilt versus the Montreal Alouettes. Angus is going to share his own "long shot" story which serves as a tremendous example of what can be accomplished through sheer determination and will.
Its a long post but don't think of it as a long blog, think of it as a short book. And, after you read it you'll agree with me that Gus needs to write a book! :)
I made a statement during an interview a while back that it’s always more interesting, and revealing finding out WHY people do what they do, as opposed to how they do what they do. The HOW is simple, it’s just the mechanical actions of getting a task done, easily duplicated with study and effort. The WHY is much more enlightening, its speaks to the very essence of who the person is, how they were able to get through the tough times, and even how far they are willing to go with their chosen goal.
Its Friday, 3:30 in the afternoon, and my head finally seems clear enough to begin this thought. Weeks ago, my cousin Kevin Jagger asked me to write a short blog for his site, on what it took to come back from adversity and make it to the top of my profession. A simple enough request. Being in the middle of a playoff race, I asked for a few weeks grace knowing the days following the season are always the biggest downtime of my year. A perfect time to get my thoughts in order, and to put it to print.
So here we are, one week removed from a first round playoff loss, after a promising finish to a disastrous start of a season. Here I sit, stranded on the couch after a two part surgery two days ago to remove screws from my right foot, and to dig out calcium growth of my left knee that was tearing my patella tendon in half. Here I think, recovering from this surgery only to mentally be preparing myself for my left elbow to get dug out on Dec 1, and my right elbow the same on Jan 5th. Here I am, 34 years old, doing each and every one of these surgeries for one purpose and one purpose only, so I can keep playing football, so I can keep doing the one thing I’ve truly loved to do since I was a young kid.
Its funny looking back now on the path line of my football life. Where it really started is kind of unclear. What my biggest obstacle has been is also debatable. This timeline is not yet over, and all obstacles and challenges have not yet been met. That’s the beauty of what we do. As long as you’re still going, the possibilities of tomorrow’s trials and tribulations still await you. The real athlete lives for the challenge of that unknown, they love it.
Every life holds many stories. Here’s one from mine.
The spring of ’96 held the most promise my young life had seen. It was the spring of my second year at Simon Fraser University. I had finished the fall season as a young starting offensive lineman, an emerging leader on the team, and an outgoing college sophomore with more friends than I could ever need. Life was really good. Most importantly for me though, I had come to the true belief that my childhood dream of becoming a professional athlete was actually a real possibility.
I’ve always been a self made lineman. You know those giants you see every Sunday on TV? Who seem to have been born 6’7” and weigh 340lbs? Can run like a deer, and jump through the gym? Those guys who can bench press 400lbs first time they ever touch a weight? You know the guys I’m talking about? That’s NOT me, that’s all the OTHER guys I play with. Coming out of Vancouver College I was 6’1", about 235lbs, good size for high school but not really pro material. I knew right there and then, to accomplish my dream, I had to out work all my competition in all the areas I could. I had to become stronger, faster, smarter, and as heavy as my undersized body could hold to give myself a chance.
I went to work, and by spring of ’96, all that work was starting to payoff. I was a certified gym rat, always training, always researching better ways, better food, and better drills. There was no strength coach at our school so I did all the research and planning of my training alone. I read EVERYTHING on athletic training and performance. I’d train 2, sometimes 3 times a day (while going to school). Oh, and yes, my appetite grew! More calories were the goal at all times. It’s really crazy thinking back now to some of the things I did to consume more. My roommate at the time should probably write a book about it, as he was disgusted equally as he was enthralled. From substituting egg whites whenever a recipe called for water, to finding 600 calorie bagels, and consuming half a dozen a day as snacks, to even eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches WHILE training. Baby food added to all the protein shakes where a staple (easily digestible high calories), chili was always in the crock pot, good in between meal snacks, and milk was always a better high caloric choice than water, ALWAYS. The list goes on and on. It all payed off for a time too. By that spring I was still 6’1” (as hard as I tried to be taller) but my weight was up to 290lbs, I could bench press 400lbs and squat nearly 600lbs. I was king of my world, and right on course to fulfill my dream, my way. Then everything changed.
Its 4:17am, Wednesday December 1st. I can’t sleep. I stopped taking the pain killers for my knee and foot surgery about 3 days ago, but the constant throbbing in my knee has decided to continue anyways. Both surgeries were completely optional, yet completely necessary at the same time. My foot was really quite simple; remove the two screws placed there to secure my foot after shattering it in Saskatchewan just over a year ago. Removal of hardware is optional. The difference? I now will have full motion of my foot again. While providing security, the screws allowed zero flexion, ok for life, not exactly ideal for high performance sports. I felt playing one year with a brick for a foot was enough; time to have a foot again. The knee is a little different. Not the standard “torn ACL” “strained meniscus” or “loose cartilage”. Nope, mine was nothing more than a 10 – 15 year growth of calcium protruding out, off of my knee cap. It first became noticeable to me about 6 years ago when I realized I could no longer have my left knee cap in touch with the ground. Over time it became worse, visually and functionally. To see it would be to believe a large, sharp edged rock was just under my skin, on the edge of my knee cap. And to touch it, would be to experience holding kryptonite to Superman. The real kicker to this issue was that this growth was tearing right through my patella tendon, like an ice berg through water. And the more it grew, the more it tore. I really just didn’t want to deal with this pain any longer.
So here I am 4:46am now, only seven hours away from my 3rd surgery in a week. My elbow this time. The worst part about surgeries is the fasting before. NO food or drink after midnight the night before. That’s fine if your surgery is 6am, but when it’s for 1 in the afternoon and the pain from YOUR other surgeries keep you up all night, that can be a long time to go for a 300lb man. My elbow, or should I say elbows (I have my right elbow scheduled for Jan 5th) these, like my knee have been a long time coming. Simple really, too much heavy weightlifting, and too much smashing and punching people, over an extended period of time = destroyed joints. For some, it’s the shoulders, some it’s the wrists, me? It’s my elbows. The bone spurs in both haven’t allowed me to straighten my arms in nearly 4 years, but lately, all the bone chips floating around sometimes get caught and actually “lock” my arm from moving at a certain angle. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, and believe me, your pain center lets you know if it doesn’t want to move. I wanted them both done at the same time, to cut down on recovery. I fought and I begged the surgeon. He refused. I had an answer for his every reason until one – “how are you gonna take care of yourself on the toilet?” point taken, end of discussion. I don’t have to ask myself if I still love what I do; I just look at the measures I take to ensure I can still do it. I’ve learned to fight for what I love.
Fall camp of 1996 should have been my BIG year, the year I really prove I’m on my way. The past offseason, my body really began to mature into my efforts, I was big, strong, quick, and most importantly confident. Till that day.
It actually began about 10 days earlier. My stomach was becoming uneasy leading up to training camp report day. There was a constant full and bloated feeling, even with no food in me. My energy was zapped, and my appetite was gone. I first passed it off as nerves but then I started spending more and more time in the washroom. I was now sure I had a virus, stomach flu. No big deal, it’ll pass. Then report day came, and everything changed for good.
That morning, like the previous week or so, I woke up bloated, tired, and like lately, no alarm clock needed – my stomach woke me up, and the only thing athletic my body wanted to do was sprint to the toilet. Only this time it was more. Along with the usual, I was now losing some blood. I was legitimately scared. I went to my coach, who sent me to our team doc, and the medical testing regime that would dominate a great deal of the next three years of my life began.
The story from this point is long, and the tales that happen throughout are ALWAYS better told in person, some would make you laugh, some would make you cry, but all are relatable by anybody who has struggled THROUGH something to get what they've always wanted.
I missed three years of my 5 year college eligibility due to a severely irritated bowel, with intestinal bleeding. What happened during that period could fill a book. I saw countless doctors, have had every test, tried every medication, been a part of case studies, done acupuncture, drank horrendous Chinese potions, worked with natural paths, nutritionalists, have literally tried every diet ( I’m even talking boiled chicken, rice, and water ONLY for 3 months!! I mean what the hell?!!) My father and I even met some nut job out in West Van that said for $10,000 he'd inject some homemade serum into me that would rebuild my body. Now that one was too crazy even for me to explore further, but desperate people do desperate things, and at 21 years old, I had already become desperate for my dream.
During this span my whole body fell apart. I became terrified of food and what it would do to me. To eat it caused too much pain, to digest it seemed impossible, and the 30-40 sprints to the washroom a day were psychologically wearing me out. At one point I had lost nearly 100lbs, my strength was so zapped that to ask me to do 10 push ups was like asking me to lift a car – it wasn’t going to happen.
My support from family and friends was never ending; their love sometimes was the only thing keeping me going. Every day they would want to help me with my future, but everyday all I could see was my past disappearing. I began to wallow, and no matter how hard they fought, I slipped quietly into a real depression. To me, my friends and family became a constant reminder of what I WAS, and more terrifying to me, what I was beginning to believe I could never be again. I had always believed I could make my body do anything. I was convinced hard work and discipline was all it took to push it as far as it needed to go. And I’ve always been one whose sole dream was to forge a career where it was physical excellence that determined my fate, and football was the chosen vessel. Now I had a body that had just completely shattered my believe structure. I had all the hard work and discipline needed, yet my insides refused to function. Once I had exhausted all possible solutions ranging from standard medical, eastern medical, nutritional, alternative, and some straight out bizarre, I was left with this one true hard fact – this is who I am now, nobody else can change that. What am I going do about it?
Its 9:35 now and I’m off to the hospital for my elbow surgery. I am a little scared, but in the end, what’s there really to be scared of? It’s just another event in life to teach you more about yourself.
11:30 am. It’s the morning following my elbow surgery. The nerve block they did for my left arm has worn off and now the real pain is setting in. Painkillers help, but really, they just make your whole body feel blah. I don’t like taking them, but for the next few days they will be a necessity. The next month or so is going to be difficult, physically and mentally, it’s more draining than you think, not being able to do anything. Feeling your body’s muscles weakening from inactivity, and psychologically fighting the depressing feeling that you falling behind. But these are both things I learned, and learned to deal with, a long time ago.
Here are the bone chips removed from my elbows (quarter for scale):
Most guys at the age of 21 are just starting to figure out what they might want to do with their lives. Me? I’d known what I wanted to be since I was about 9. At 21, I should’ve been one step away from becoming exactly that. The reality was, at 21, I couldn’t have been further away from my goal. I was now nearly 3 years removed from football and ANY type of exercise at all. Was probably a very unhealthy 215lbs, mostly house ridden, and severely depressed? It was time to finally except reality. Becoming a professional athlete just WAS NOT going to happen. It was over; I mean what else could I do?
Don’t ask me how, but with that, my WHOLE mind changed. I was finally freed from the pressure and fear of failure to make it that I had placed on myself for so long. Making the pros was now removed from my mental measuring stick for success in my life. Time to have new goals, time to regain control of my life, time to be proud of myself again, time to find what really makes me happy. My stomach was so bad and unpredictable that planning anything more than a day in advance was futile. Everything had to be taken on a day by day basis. My new plan now was to WIN THE DAY. That was it, that was my goal. Nothing else beyond today could be thought about, today was all that matters, and I wanted to WIN it. I had no idea where this road would lead. In the beginning there really was no great comeback plan, just a purpose to keep going and to keep fighting – WIN THE DAY.
I could usually tell the second I opened my eyes in the morning if I was in for a tough day or not. My stomach literally controlled me. The pain and discomfort was always there, just some days were worse than others. So just getting up and trying to have breakfast became the first challenge of winning the day. I mean it, I saw trying to eat every meal as a fight, and I was not going to lose this fight, not today. As expected, some meals were easier than others, but I attacked each and every one of them with a reason, a purpose, and a goal. Sounds crazy I know, but that’s the psychology it took for me to even want to be around food. Soon exercise needed to be added to the regime. This was a daunting thought for me. Maybe the most intimidating feat mentally I had ever had to overcome. For years I was a gym king. Always the biggest and strongest guy there. And I LOVED being that guy. That guy was gone. I was now re entering an old world as a completely different person. Starting from scratch, literally. It was hard, both dealing with the uncertainties of my stomach, and the obvious reality that I was NOT the big strong guy that used to arrogantly run these places. I kept reminding myself – just WIN THE DAY. Some days were good, some days were awful. Some days would start out promising, and finish in tears, stranded for hours in the washroom. But now I always had something to wake up for, to WIN the next day. I took great pride in the days I got everything done, and slowly, more and more, smiles started to return to my face. I beefed up the process by plastering positive quotes from legendary minds all over my room. I began reading biographies of extraordinary overachievers. My mind was opened, and finally I saw the true simplicity behind great accomplishments, it’s in loving the process. Everyone wants to be something great, but the true beauty is in loving the process, not the outcome, because THAT is where life is truly lived.
So on I went, day by day, not really sure where this would lead, only sure that I now loved travelling this road. WINNING every day I could, always trying to get just a little bit better than the day before. Before I knew it, strength, size, and SOME stability to my condition returned. This process was filled with way more ups and downs and CRAZY stories than I could ever possibly tell her, but it did, none the less, get better. It wasn’t too long until enough confidence returned that my mind wanted to start looking past just TODAY. I wanted a BIGGER goal, something worthy of all my efforts. Deep, deep down, I wanted to play football again.
It was now Christmas. Three months into my new WIN THE DAY life. My weight was up to something in the 260lb range, working out was becoming much more regular, and even eating was becoming more tolerable. Football was the next step, but how? I wasn’t even sure if I had any eligibility left, let alone the ability to play. It had been three long years, most of my college teammates had already moved on, would there even be any want for me? Secretly though, the truth was, I was terrified to try football again. I had no idea what my stomach could tolerate, and psychologically, I knew I couldn’t handle making a big deal of a comeback, only to fail, and have to quit again.
Then my brother saved my life.
Bruce was home for Christmas. Back for a visit during a very successful professional football career in Germany playing for the Hamburg Blue Devils. He spent a lot of time with me those holidays; we spoke of my dreams and equally my fears. It was obvious that I wanted this, but just as obvious that I was terrified, with no clue how to go about it. He had the answer. Looking back now, what Bruce was able to do for me seems ridiculous. It just shows how powerful the love of a brother can be. He somehow was able to leverage his position as a star in Europe to get me a paid contract to go play professional football with him in Hamburg, Germany. He really put his whole credibility on the line for me. No game film of me at all, my last football experience was one year of college football when I was 18 – three years ago! I was signed to a pro deal 100% on his word. Unbelievable.
The plan was simple. Go to Germany that spring, and give it a shot. Nobody here needed to know. If I physically couldn’t do it, I could carry no embarrassment, but at least I would know. If it did work out, and a could play again, we’d find a way to get me back playing in Canada, or I could just stay and play pro ball in Europe. I felt pretty good about those scenarios.
It was set; I was off to Germany that spring to attempt a comeback. I told only my very close friends and family. This was to be a personal mission, to find out how far back I could really make it. I trained with passion again. By no means were my problems gone, I just had finally decided that I couldn’t allow the things I couldn’t control, to control me.
Germany is a story within itself. A great 5 month saga of my life I will never forget. I learned I could play again, I learned that even though some days were awful, my stomach would get through. I learned my weight and strength WOULD come back (I left Germany 300lbs, and the strongest of my life). All of my worst fears were proven wrong. I did it, everything I set out for. Even after all of that, the greatest memory and my proudest moment of that whole trip, was fulfilling a dream I never even thought of. I got to play professional football side by side with my brother, the PRIDE I felt from that will never leave me, ever.
I wasn’t sure what football opportunities were left for me back home, but I had to find out. A phone call from Germany to my old college coach revealed I did have ONE year of university eligibility left. A short discussion on the status of my physical health, and that was that, he wanted me to come back to SFU to play my senior season. I flew home in early august, spent two weeks getting ready, then enrolled back in school and reported to training camp for the first time since 1995.
The rest as they say is history. I had my one season left, and I made the most of it. I was an ALL AMERICAN on a team that won 2 games. I finished there weighing nearly 310lbs and held every strength record the school had. I went on to be drafted 4th overall in the whole CFL draft. Now, after 10 years as a professional, I’ve played nearly 170 games (at one point 142 consecutively) have been an all star, team captain, and member of the 2006 Grey Cup winning team.
It had been a long time since I’d told this story. It’s funny though, how events in your past, continue to shape, mould and even influence the person you are today. My medical condition forced me to evaluate just how important being who I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do was to me. From there patience, trust, dedication and toughness had to be applied most of the time daily, to see the realization of my dream come true. I fought very hard for what I wanted, and it’s all that foundational work that gives me the strength to keep fighting everyday still to KEEP what I’ve earned. I’m 34 years old, I’m not naive, this ride won’t last forever, but believe me when I tell you, anything I can do to keep my dream going, I’ll do.
You only live life once, if you’re not going to fight, and keep fighting for what you want, than what's the point?
Its 2:34 on Saturday. My arm is out of the sling for the first time, man its sore! They took a LOT of bone chips out. I’m actually really excited, tonight I’m off to watch my old high school Vancouver College compete in the BC High School Football Championships. I just love watching high school ball, the energy is always electric, and you can see it in the way the kids’ play that the world is truly theirs, sky’s the limit, and they really are capable of anything.
Let’s just hope they’re all strong enough not to let life one day change their minds.
Fight for what you love, believe me – it’s worth it.
To find out more about Angus' story check out his Ubertor site: www.angusreid64.com
Angus is also a proud member of the Team Provident crew: