By Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS
I need to share a remarkable story of a fitness professional in the fight of his life. He is someone I have long admired. Someone I have shared the stage with many times. One of the best presenters I have ever heard. A wildly successful entrepreneur who has earned more accolades in his storied strength and conditioning career than most can dream.
Peter Twist is one of the most successful trainers and performance coaches of ALL-TIME. His business, Twist Sport Conditioning, is a world-class training & performance facility in Vancouver, Canada, with franchises in the US and Canada.
For eleven years, Pete was an NHL strength coach. And since then, has devoted his life to helping kids and adults become their very best. His passion and energy are infectious, his intelligence is incredible, and his spirit is unbreakable. As a matter of fact, Pete may be in the best shape of any forty-seven year old I know, male or female. With the fitness and conditioning of an elite pro athlete, he looks like he can still suit up and play. And dominate!
But life took a strange turn earlier this year. Out of nowhere, Pete was diagnosed with Stage 4 Nasopharyngeal cancer (head/neck) that had spread throughout his lymph system. He was asymptomatic when he first went to the doctor in January 2011 (just about a year ago), and has been through hell and back since then, fighting one heckuva fight to force this thing into remission. He would tell you himself that this has been tougher than any fight he has ever faced in his long and successful hockey career.
I recently had dinner with Pete at his home in Vancouver. It gave us some quiet time to sit and talk. About fitness. About our industry. And about life. What a conversation it was.
I asked Pete if I could share his story, it truly is inspirational, because not many people know of his battle. As a matter of fact, for four of the hardest months earlier this year, only six people even knew Pete was sick. More know now, but the chance to share Pete’s story here with you is a chance to share some of the most IMPACTFUL words I have ever heard from another person. There are “deep lessons” from Pete’s journey, and I share them with his blessing and his hope that they might empower others in a similar battle for their health or other challenge in their lives.
One of the interesting things about Pete’s story is that there were no detectable signs or symptoms when he was diagnosed. He acted on his own intuition that something was wrong and asked to be tested. At first, doctors resisted because “he had nothing wrong.” His physical appearance, strong vitals, and healthy lifestyle, said (on the surface) that nothing “appeared wrong.”
When the truth of the situation was revealed, doctors found a tumor the size of a baseball located about 2 mm from the brain stem. A thorough diagnosis placed the chance of survival for three-years at 25%.
What followed was brutal. Two months of chemotherapy and radiation at the highest intensity one can receive. When I asked what that felt like, Pete described it as “severe burning of my mouth, face, and neck from the inside out.” Taking in nutrients was next to impossible; requiring “thirty minutes under layered pain-killers to get down a glass of vanilla protein drink.” Knowing Pete, he was probably yelling like a gladiator to get it down and get it done.
I learned that the effects of head and neck radiation continue to accumulate for five to seven weeks post-treatment. That means the side-effects get worse and worse even after treatments stop. Pete said this was one of the most frustrating parts of the entire experience.
From Pete: “My objective was to keep as much strength and physical mass as possible and to do little things HOURLY to deal with symptoms and set myself up to have a little higher starting point when I could manage to start ramping back up. A one percent difference was worth fighting for relentlessly.”
We talked about life lessons and as always, his words were deep and introspective.
“QUARTERBACK YOUR OWN HEALTH AND OWN THE PROCESS” Doctors: oncologists, nutritionists, naturopaths, chiropractors, you name it – all come from different backgrounds, academic paradigms, and philosophies. Many of them do tremendous work, but are often overwhelmingly busy in their day-to-day and guided by the ‘system.’ It is critical that YOU determine what is right for YOU and take charge at each step. Quarterback your health and quarterback the team you assemble for any acute challenge in life.
FOLLOW YOUR GUT, FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION. “If you’re strong and healthy, you won’t get looked at the same or as thoroughly by your doctors. They make assumptions based on fitness, appearance, symptoms, and positive energy. Insist they look deeper.”
Pete went in because of a premonition, a gut-call that something “wasn’t right.” He really had to press to get the right team together and get the tests done to eventually be diagnosed and then treated because he looked healthy. Had he waited until symptoms appeared, the results may have been….
BE PROACTIVE. How you feel, your physicality, your health metrics, your blood work, and lack of symptoms do not necessarily mean you’re A-OK at the cellular level. Pete did crazy research on cancer, and believes, “We all have cancer five to seven times in a lifetime. Most we naturally eradicate from our systems… some we do not.”
DON’T PLAY THE VICTIM CARD. It took a tremendous amount of grit and determination for Pete to get this far in the fight. He doesn’t like “wearing the cancer hat.” When going to the hospital for chemotherapy and radiation, he would drive his car “straight to the top” of the roof of the cancer center and park. He did not want to park where it said “PATIENT” painted on the wall. He would enter the parking garage with inspirational music cranked (AC/DC or POD if I know him!) and later would say, “Is that all you got? Give me your best shot!” After each radiation and chemo treatment, he would attempt to exercise right away, sometimes right in the parking garage. Literally.
HEAL FROM WITHIN. Look beyond traditional nutrition guidelines and organic foods and invest in a deeper understanding of all the variables affecting cellular health.
WE DON’T “RISE TO THE OCCASION”; WE “SINK TO THE LEVEL OF OUR TRAINING.” This is a message for trainers: Make sure you are ready for a battle and that your clients are too—one day everyone will face an immense challenge. I like what Pete says, “You can’t be your best when your best is needed and you aren’t in peak condition.” He adds, “I believe survival is in part determined by a will to live, a will to love, and a willpower to do the hard things well every minute during challenge, pain, and suffering. Become very passionate about LIFE and engage in activities in a way that grows WILL and WILLPOWER.”
WOW. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to start training like an animal and begin living TODAY like it’s your last day on earth. Powerful words.
BREAK ALL THE RULES. “You must be willing to change YOUR rules: to adopt healthful strategies that give you an edge, to step up and break from the traditional medical model, to return to action.” Pete is an example that we are capable of more than we might be told. Fight to give EVERY effort any moment to build your physiology and physicality. Work at YOUR pace – not the pace of the average sick person. Not the pace expected by the disease model. Be willing to do everything it takes to get back to where you were. Act on your personal pride, conviction, and your will to live “FULL ON” for yourself and all those around you.
Pete’s words really stuck with me. He is an incredible man and truly inspirational. He ended his story with this (and I will paraphrase): Growth comes from challenges and of these, there are very few that will force you to draw upon absolutely one hundred percent of every single element of your being. One hundred percent of every personal resource within you. When one of these challenges presents itself, it will be an amazing opportunity. After the anger and fear have ripped through you, after you face your sadness and concern for loved ones, be sure to see the amazing opportunity you’ve been given. The battle will become a set of scars you carry with quiet pride and deeper gratitude for the chapters ahead of you. The personal growth is strong and real. Don’t be bound up or held back from the beating you’ll take. Springboard from it and let it ignite every single day for the rest of your life.
My evening with Pete ended with some “HEALING FROM WITHIN.” Pete’s diet for this past year has been mostly raw vegetables and a concoction of organic foods, supplements, and powerful antioxidants to fortify his system. So when he asked me if I would like one of his “desserts,” I willingly obliged. It was here I was introduced to what I now call “Twister’s 27-Ingredient Jungle Juice.” This “shake” has so many things in it I can’t remember them all. Three times a day for almost a year: cabbage, broccoli, spinach, raspberries, blueberries, cranberry juice, greens mix, fish oils, and many other “goodies” in it. Sounds disgusting, huh? Pete said, “You think this tastes horrible? Try cancer and then tell me if you like it.” Despite not knowing all that’s in it or if there are really twenty-seven ingredients, by the end, it tasted real good! For me, that night, sharing Twister’s 27-Ingredient Jungle Juice was a spiritual moment.
Pete is now almost one-year post diagnosis. He powers UP mountains running and laughs rambunctiously as he races down; he lifts hard and heavy again in his Twist Sport Conditioning Center and does wind sprints like he did when he was competing. He’s teaching again and back in the trenches making a difference. But most of all, he’s enjoying life and is as vibrant and FULL OF LIFE as I’ve ever seen him.
Pete recently developed a CREED for himself, his team, and all the clients they touch. Think to this as your life motto: “Life is short…LIVE EVERYDAY. Today I will GIVE everything I have, what I keep inside I will lose forever.”
Thank you Pete Twist for the man you are. The trainer you are. And the friend you are. I hope your story IMPACTS thousands of people to live their BEST LIFE EVERYDAY just as you do. Thanks brother!
**Note: Connect with Pete on Facebook: http://facebook.com/peter.twist13
Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, is an internationally recognized performance coach, personal trainer and massage therapist who motivates, educates and inspires people worldwide. He is the owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA, where his wonderful team of 35 focuses on personal training, massage therapy, Pilates, yoga, sports performance training and nutrition to help transform the bodies, minds and spirits of a broad clientele. Todd trains dozens of NFL and MLB athletes. He is the head of the Under Armour Performance Training Council, serves on the Gatorade G-Fit Team, and is a featured presenter on the Perform Better educational circuit. He is a two-time Trainer of the Year (IDEA & ACE). Additionally, Todd provides motivational talks and programs to companies and conferences worldwide.
Men’s Health recently named his gym, Fitness Quest 10, one of the Top 10 Gyms in the US. Todd has appeared on 60 Minutes, ESPN, NFL Network and has been featured in Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Business Week, Prevention, ESPN the Magazine, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Journal, Stack Magazine, Self, Shape, Fitness, the NY Times and Washington Post. Todd has authored 35 DVDs on strength and conditioning, functional fitness, massage/bodywork and business/personal growth.
His new book, The IMPACT! Body Plan, debuted in September 2010 and is a 10 Week program designed to create world-class fitness and life performance. You can sign up for Todd’s FREE award-winning Ezine newsletter, the TD TIMES, at www.FitnessQuest10.com or www.ToddDurkin.com.