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What Covid Learned About Messing with Tommy Strine

MORTALITY, surely she isn’t associating that word with me. A 29 year old that CrossFits six days a week, walks outside another hour a day, is on a keto diet and had a single beer on Fourth of July. 10 HOURS LATER AND YOUR MORTALITY RATE WOULD HAVE BEEN 90%, wait as in I would of died 90% of the time? What is it now that I am at the ER before that 10 hour window? YOU HAVE IMPROVED YOUR CHANCES TO 50% AND THE TREATMENT WE ARE GOING TO PUT YOU ON HAS HAD SOME GOOD RESULTS. Wait SOME good results? This Covid thing is really happening to me isn’t it? It’s coming for me, into the ring for the fight of my life.

July 18th I was diagnosed with the “novel Covid-19, coronavirus.” I had a fever that spiked at 103, headaches, body aches, chest tightness, loss of taste, ear aches. Pretty much google symptoms of Covid 19 and I had it. So to quarantine I went, my wife left me food at the door, I slept, drank water, watched Super Market Sweep re-runs and hunkered down for what I thought would be two weeks. Then came Monday evening July 20th. It was getting harder and harder to breath. My blood oxygen level was dropping and our family doctor suggested I went into ER. As I walked into the ER I was sweating buckets, I mean Shaq at the free throw line type stuff. “Let’s get you admitted” the nurse said. So here we go, that word MORTALITY thrown at me. “We are going to do a five day trial on you that we have had success with that drops that mortality rate and people have recovered at about 50%. Your lungs are filled with infection and are only functioning at 19%, we are going to battle it with a series of drugs and treatments, it is going to be very hard” So here we go, into the ring with Covid, and I am the underdog. Odds 50/50 at best, gloves on, hands up its the fight not of my life, but for it!

One of my favorite movies is Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe. It tells the true story of a boxer named James Braddock during the Great Depression. Braddock was a former heavy weight title contender that fell to the wayside during the Great Depression and made his way back to the World Heavy Weight Title fight being the underdog all along the way. In 1935 Braddock fought Max Baer, the undisputed heavyweight champion that had killed two men in the ring and was a 10–1 favorite to not only defeat Braddock but some had it 8–1 that he would actually kill him. Unbeknownst to Baer and those making the odds, Braddock didn’t step into that ring alone, he had the backing of a nation behind him. The love of his wife, his kids and the love from every American that thought they were down and out, pushed Braddock to a 15 round unanimous decision. So here I am, James Braddock, the underdog, against Covid and Max Baer the undisputed champion wreaking havoc everywhere it goes. The lesson I learned and that Covid learned however will be very similar!

Similar to Braddock I can take a punch and boy did I. While I was prepping for my five day battle my wife is at home taking care of our 3 month old daughter. My mind was racing as I sat in the ER about how my wife could take care of our daughter and if I did die, would they be ok? One of the most helpless feelings I have ever had came when my wife called in tears that she ran out of cleaning wipes, and she can’t clean the house to disinfect. It was a literal gut punch. Here comes the first act of love and backing we receive. Within hours our church group delivered cleaning supplies and set up a meal train to take the burden off of her making meals. She calls me to tell me its something I don’t need to worry about anymore, she is taken care of! Round 1 goes to the underdog, with the backing of love from our amazing church group.

Coming to the middle rounds, I am pretty beat up, my scans are the same, as I go 3 hours at a time with different IV treatments and get 30 minutes of sleep at a time. I have had 21 different needles stuck in me to draw blood (I would later find out that I had a needle or medicine pumped into me on 117 different occasions), and haven’t been allowed to eat for almost 24 hours. My energy is gone, but the next 3 hour shift is about to start and they are getting ready to draw more blood out of my already bruised and swollen veins. My hands and fingers are black and blue, and now I am getting shots to thin my blood directly into my stomach. But just in time, a pep talk comes in a text from Tic Price, Brandon Chappell, Joey Cantafio Dave Dumars and the Lamar Basketball team. “ We love you, we have your back, you’re a warrior.” Then my family, “God has your back we are praying for you.” Random friends, “this thing isn’t tougher than you!” Former players “love you coach!” Bring it on, I can go another round!

Getting to the championship rounds and at this point I am exhausted, but breathing treatments are my meal ticket home and through this thing. I had been warned this is the hardest most physically draining part of the process. Breathe into a tube, ten straight times. The average person at this stage hits 1000 ML of volume per blow, once you get to 3000 we will start to consider that you beat this thing, It is going to take a few days they said, remember your lungs are only at about 20% capacity. Ok, I can do this a few days but I will get there! However, before I start these treatments I get text messages from literally dozens upon dozens of coaching peers and mentors throughout the country telling me they have my back and encouraging me. “you got this”, “prayers to you”, “you’re a beast” “ love you brother!” Coaches I have never met in person but have created a bond with through this pandemic sending me love and prayer. Coaches I have worked for and with along the way reaching out. The text messages literally pour in for hours. I get a video from the Be Ready family that brings me to tears. So just as I read the very last text, the respiratory nurse walks in and says “alright lets start, ten times!” Ok Tommy, just beat a thousand. 3,2,1 inhale! The nurse looks at me astonished. “Do it again!” Ok, 3,2,1 inhale! “this is impossible” she says. One more time… “ 4000 ML volume, where are you getting that strength from your lungs are only at 20% capacity.” What she didn’t know and what Covid didn’t know was, every breathe I took had those dozens upon dozens of coaches and friends behind it too, there was an army behind me! This thing was messing with the wrong dude!

My favorite scene in the whole movie is after the fight when they announce the winner. “And the winner, and NEW Heavyweight champion of the world.” The roar of the thousands of Braddock backers when the announcer says the word “new” always gives me chills. It is as that moment you realize just how many people were truly behind Braddock and what he was truly fighting for. When I got the ok to go home after six hellish days in a hospital room, I truly felt the magnitude of the hundreds if not thousands of people I had behind me. I will never be able to completely thank each and every one and to be honest, each one deserves their name to be on this blog or a monument or something. Because without them, I wouldn’t of been able to fight. I might not of had the exhilarting feeling Braddock had of the crowds roar as the belt was put around his waste, but I felt the roar of the prayer, and thoughts from each and every person.

I didn’t necessarily knock out Covid, I guess Braddock didn’t knock out Baer either. But I did defeat it. It is a long road to recovery and I will probably have some scars that come from it. However, what I learned from my battle with the big bad wolf is that love and God are still undefeated! People step up for others with encouragment and acts of kindness, people’s words get people through trials, people’s prayers strengthen the weak, and peoples love towards one another is the most powerful thing we as humans own. I didn’t defeat Covid, WE DID. The people that showed their love, gave their hearts, donated their time and their prayers, They defeated Covid-19 in Tommy Strine. Covid stepped into the ring the favorite but it stepped in alone, I stepped in with an entire army behind me. An army armed with love!

As I move forward in this new journey of recovery and reflection I know this more than anything, MY GOD IS UNDEFEATED! I know that the God I serve put people of all colors, orientations, and ways of life into my life to pray and think of me in a time like this. Death doesn’t discrimnate, Covid apparently doesn’t either. Most importantly however, GOD DOESN’T. I hope to continue to live my life on the simple principle to LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE because that is what saved my life, the love of both.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Love one another!

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