I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it. “Man, you are nuts!” In my younger days, this much appreciated appellation could have been encouraged by any number of shenanigans that my friends and I enjoyed. Jumping off cliffs or train trestles? Check. (It’s even more fun when the train is running right next to you.) Wakeboarding in the river? Sure, you just have to remove the pin from the outboard so it won’t snap off when you hit a rock as you’re pulling a skier up the rapids. If I told you about the time five of us chased down a truck to a bonfire party with over forty people you would’ve said “O.K. that’s just stupid.” You would’ve been right too, but when some guy in the back of said truck throws a beer bottle and said bottle splits some poor girls head open, that guy was going to feel something, no matter how many friends he ran to. As a side note, after explaining why my buddy just flattened their friends nose (literally), we were all made welcome, which was handy, because our party had just broken up (which happens to be the reason that flatnose decided to try his hand at makeshift artillery).

But that was then, and this is now. The Josh who was sometimes known as Thor now goes by Grandalf. I’ve raised four kids with no drug addictions, arrests or teenage parenthood. I even managed to do my part in teaching the Code of Man that can only be learned on the football field to dozens of young men, the majority of whom now have beards bigger than mine and are raising their next generation of gridiron grunts.

I can hear it now. “Well thank God you grew up! The good lord musta spoken inta yer life to cause such a turn around. Hallelujah, welcome to the fold!” Sorry, friend, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from all of my wilder days, it’s that having the conviction to follow your own path will almost always be the best choice, yet virtually never be the easiest. This includes the decision to spend much of my adult life without many real friends after saying adios to most of those from “the 612 days”. (Our apartment number…it was legendary. Sometime I’ll tell you about finding a 500cc Honda dirtbike parked in the living room when I got home one night. Wouldn’t have been a big deal except that #612 was upstairs.) When many of my friends questionable life choices became bad habits, I did not follow along. One of the things that originally set me apart from my crowd was that I never did any drugs. There may be many things that I would use a time-traveling Delorean to go back and slap the taste out of 19 year old Josh’s mouth for, but standing against the tide would not be one of them.

That beautiful gem of a personality quirk is literally making my life right now. Those who know me now will laugh at the notion that I am some kind of rebel. The Thor who calmly walked into a fight against dozens with four friends is now Grandalf who has two beers left in a 6-pack that he bought a month ago. The 13 year old who walked up to a Black Bear with a video camera now spends all of his time in the gym, at the computer writing programs for the gym, or editing inspirational videos…which are mostly based on what I do in the gym. If I take it back even further, I really owe the 10 year old that spent entire summers from sun-up to sundown swimming in a river  that any sane adult insisted was full of undertow currents that would suck you straight to hell and giant eels with eye-lasers that would give you face cancer. That little sunburned rebel is the reason I was able to save my wife’s life on that same river decades later. Back then it was “You’re nuts for swimming in there!”. A quarter century later, when my wife and her friends are trapped under a submerged tree and I’m twenty yards downstream it came out more like “Thank God you’re a strong swimmer.” You can thank God, I’ll thank that skinny kid who knew what he was capable of and trusted in himself.

The odd thing is, it’s only been very recently that I’ve realized that I never outgrew the outlaw-viking-pirate phase. I just thought that I didn’t need it anymore. Now, though, the comfortable life inside the village walls is gone. The village, razed to the ground, it’s signpost now reads a line from Rage Against the Machine, ” The frontline is everywhere. There be no shelter here.”

The invasion by the Dread Pirate Parkinson three years ago set my comfortable life to the torch. Going along, running the treadmill to nowhere and taking my daily piece of cheese had been fine, and then, in the chaos and confusion of early diagnosis I found myself alone again, the kids suddenly grown and that wife that I had saved just a friend. I shudder to think of what I might have turned into if that 19 year old daredevil hadn’t stayed alive and well somewhere inside my dopamine deprived brain. Luckily, he stuck around to take the wheel when our collective life ran out of road because the kid can still drive it like he stole it. The other personalities might be sitting in the back seat now, but they’ve got smiles on their faces, because the kid always pops the clutch in second gear.

“Man, you’re nuts!”, is something that I’ve started hearing again recently after spending a couple of decades as a perfectly sane, rational adult who pretty much colored inside the lines of life’s coloring book. Now though, I hear it about what I do in the gym instead of the insane things that an invincible 19 year old used to do for fun. To be frank, I’ve started to hear that I’m flat out wrong,… again. “You train too hard, too long, too heavy.”, “You squat/deadlift too much”. I have heard all of these things from friends and family, most of whom really know what they’re talking about, for three years since picking up the barbell again. Hearing this used to shake my confidence and make me question myself, but not anymore. I appreciate the concern, but I’ve been training this body for decades, and while I am constantly having to make adjustments, I do know exactly how to do this.

Would I put anyone else on my exact program? Hell no. But my willingness to follow my own trail has taken me farther than all of the research I’ve done on every aspect of training the “right way”. Do I think I know better than Rippetoe, Wendler, Burns, or Lilly? Not even close. I’ve read Practical Programming for Strength Training and  Scientific Principles of Strength Training and I actually understand both of them with all their fancy science, so it’s not easy to disregard conventional wisdom from people who know far more than you do. In this case however, it is an absolute must. You see, I’m training and doing all of these crazy things for one monumentally outlandish goal. I’m trying to break a world record in the lift that best defines pure strength despite having Parkinson’s. I’m trying to make a statement that will be heard and seen by the entire PD/Dystonia community: That in spite of all that this disease has stolen, I can still be me.

In my case, I can say that pushing too hard and following my instincts to my own path has led me to right where I need to be. In this case I’m actually not talking about being 21 lbs away from a world record. What I’m referring to are the almost daily affirmations and encouragement I get from fellow PwPs that seeing what I’m doing is helping them. That my crazy idea to share a story that I would have much rather kept private is doing exactly what I hoped to accomplish with this new and NOT improved Life version 2.0. Now it’s easy to see, being content with average, trying to be like everyone else and staying in the little box that life hands you on day one? That would be nuts.