While traveling to Toulouse, France for our EuroCup qualifiers, we sat waiting as the hotel investigated a suspected bomb threat. Everyone was on edge, especially since the recent attacks that took place in Paris. When the police finally gave the all clear, we could now put the focus back on basketball. Just for a minute, we were reminded that there are bigger issues other than sports.
One of the usual topics that people often ask me about, whether at my basketball camps, speaking engagements or on Twitter or Facebook, is my training. In past blogs, I usually try to give a few pointers or tips, but I really wanted to dedicate this blog entry specifically to training. Being a professional athlete for the last several years, I have had to make tremendous lifestyle changes in order to continue to compete at the highest possible level. I have received an education in the areas of nutrition and training from some of my great teammates.
As a professional wheelchair basketball player in Europe, your team plays for three things: the regular season championship, the league cup, and the European Championship, which only the best teams will compete for. It's very similar to college athletics where a team plays for their regular season title, conference tournament championship and the NCAA championship. It's a long season with a demanding travel schedule, and often times, we have to play multiple games in the same day.
Being an athlete isn't an easy thing for me. I'm not blessed with speed, endurance, or great hand eye coordination. But, I did realize while naturally I'm not gifted with a lot of innate athletic skills, the proper training and determination helped to compensate for these short comings. When I do speaking engagements, I remind people it's not always the skill of a man, but rather, the will of the man!
On top of being a less than naturally gifted athlete, for a long time I was very overweight. I played my entire collegiate career heavier, and was always told that if I could get my conditioning up to par, basketball could open a lot of doors for me. In hindsight, I lost some of my potentially better season due to the fact I was overweight for so long.
When I first went out to Spain to try out for a professional team (there are no professional teams in the United States), I arrived too heavy. If I was going to make a go of having a career playing abroad, I needed to make some serious changes. I embraced a more Mediterranean diet and learned from teammates how to get into shape. I had some of the top players in the sport at my disposal to show me the ropes.
Prior to learning the key of small meals more often, I would make terrible diet choices. Being someone who is wheelchair bound, burning calories isn't as easy as able-bodied individuals who can do higher level cardio training. The best advice I ever got was to "eat to live, not live to eat!" As soon as I could apply that logic, it made keeping my weight under control a lot easier. Now I follow a hybrid paleo type diet where I'm eating five times a day, avoiding large meals and just making better decisions.
A few basic diet tips I can give for aspiring athletes:
- Eat more often. Several small meals keep your metabolism going all day.
- Avoid drinking your calories.
- Understand what you're eating, and it's nutritional value.
- Make smart choices.
- Taking vitamins or other supplements may help (for example glutamine, fish body oils, and cranberry pills, will help keep your body healthy. Also helping avoid issues that athletes with disabilities run into with shoulders or UTI's)
Training is a whole different animal because at this level you are training year round and your off season is critical to making gains in strength, all while adding different aspects to your game. During this time, I spend a lot of hours in the gym, working on every facet of my craft. Regardless of where I am, I get up early to get shots up, lift weights, do some form of cardio, and then find my way back into the gym later to play some pickup basketball or to get more shots up!
A few training tips:
- Train sport specific.
- Try to simulate the speed and rhythm of your sport as much as possible.
- Fall in love with the process of being great!
- Learn to listen to your body.
- Rotator Cuff exercises are critical to maintain health/functionality in your shoulders.
At this level, it's a lifestyle choice. From the diet, the training, and getting proper rest, it all plays a part! One needs to be persistent in their passion, which includes the desire to train.
A quick update on my teams progress out in France: We have qualified for the EuroCup finals in Spain! I'm very excited about the idea of squaring off against my old team for a chance to win a championship!