This. I’m 6’2″ and in my prime was 220lbs of sinew, stronger than people could imagine a man my size could be. It was mostly genetic, as the men on my dad’s side of the family were famous for being ridiculously strong, and unfortunately so is it that strength wrecks our frames and connective tissues. I was a typical 25 year old, believing that wouldn’t happen to me, that I was somehow invincible when nobody else in my family had been. At work I regularly hoisted pieces of steel that caused two men to struggle, and it was effortless for me. I’m talking 250lb chunks of steel I-beam in one hand and carrying it through a factory in which we were retrofitting, with slacked jaws and bulging eyes all around me as I passed by factor workers. I enjoyed the attention, the disbelief, and the admiring stares of the young women who worked in the various factories. Then one cold day when I was 26, I was walking across the concrete lot of the loading docks, a 20′ stick of 5″ stainless steel pipe on my right shoulder, and it happened. My right arm seemed to push away from my body, a quick suction sound like a boot pulling out of sloppy mud, a sudden burst of pain radiating from my shoulder into my neck and skull, then the ear bursting sound of all that steel slamming to the concrete. My shoulder just gave out, dislocating and hanging like a slab of meat on a hook. It wasn’t the first time that shoulder had been dislocated, that would have been when I fell 10′ from an icy platform onto the frozen ground and landing on that shoulder. But this time was different only in that I walked back to the job trailer, rolled up a jacket and placed it in my armpit, then using it as a fulcrum to put my arm back into socket. I didn’t recognize that incident as the beginning of my frame giving out, but I did take it easy for a week, not lifting anything over 100 lbs with that arm. Over the next two years I continued to use my body like a forklift, ignoring the occasional pop of an elbow or wrist, the creaking and soreness of my knees, ankles and hips. I even started to losing my iron grip at times, attributing it to not having been working out regularly. But 6 months shy of my 28th birthday, my spine collapsed as I held an unbalanced 20′ steel staircase from falling on a co-worker’s arm. I wasn’t being heroic as some have claimed, it was just that natural reaction we all have to catch what is dropped. Two co-workers lost their grasp of the massive staircase as we maneuvered it across a wide trench in the concrete floor, getting into position to hoist it to an overhead platform and weld it into place. First one stumbled, then the other, and they both dropped their part of the staircase as our elderly co-worker placed wooden blocks into place, upon which we would rest the steel staircase. But I didn’t drop it, I instinctively tried to balance it, to stay upright myself. I passed out from an overload of pain signals rushing to my brain, but before it went black I remember the sound of my bottom 4 spine discs exploding inside me from the pressure of soloing the weight, it was like the popping of twisted bubble wrap, if the bubbles were the size of softballs. That sound is etched into my memory, and every time I hear popping bubble wrap I get a shiver of pain shooting through my spine and visual flashes of my surroundings at the time of the injury, like so many yellowed snapshots stitched together. I really don’t remember the pain from that moment, only from the time I awoke surrounded by panicked co-workers to today, 13 years later. Had that happened 3 or 4 years earlier, I have no doubt I would have stood there holding that staircase alone, roaring in laughter at the pathetic weaklings that couldn’t keep their feet or grips even with me bearing the majority of weight.