Zach’s Story

Zach Kotecki – @ZachKoteckiFitness

My passion for fitness and impacting others ignited after a life threatening injury that should have left him paralyzed. At 16 years old I suffered a broken neck (C3 fracture) after losing my footing while running sprints and hitting the wall headfirst at full speed. I heard 2 cracks when I made impact with the wall and when I opened my eyes I was lying on the gym floor unable to move. I was taken to the school office to lie down and take in what had just happened. Everyone thought that I had just suffered a stinger and would be fine. I was asked if I wanted to go home or go to the hospital and, like every 16 year old kid would do, I opted to go home. My mom, who works at the school, was there and pulled the car around to the front for me. I leaned forward off the bed and set my feet on the ground, took one step and my legs couldn’t hold up my body. I couldn’t walk. An ambulance was called and I was transported to the local hospital for X-rays. When I got them back I was lying on the stretcher still strapped in tight. The next words I had heard changed my life forever. The doctor says that I have severely fractured my c3 vertebrae in my neck into several pieces. Immediately tears started rolling down my face. What does this mean? Am I going to die? Am I going to have surgery or be paralyzed? The only thing on my mind was that this would not stop me from stepping onto the baseball field one last time. As silly as that sounds, it’s true. I wasn’t ready to accept that I had played my last game. This is the game that I love and has helped mold me into the person I am today. Baseball taught me how to interact, respect and, most of all, it built character. I was sent to the ICU at the University of Chicago, downtown Chicago, where I would spend the next couple days having tests and treatments done. I still get emotional today thinking back at just how lucky I was in the grand scheme of things. After the time in the ICU I was sent down to the main floor for 2 days before being released.

While at the hospital I was fitted for my neck brace, otherwise known as a Miami J, and I wasn’t allowed to move until they had physical therapists come help and show me how to walk all over again like I had forgotten. Even though I knew in my mind how to walk, they had to make sure I could relay it to my movements. I spent 4 straight months in the neck brace, 24 hours a day, meaning I couldn’t shower so I had to adapt to baby wipes, which my amazing parents had to help me with. I was pretty much a pity case which I did not like one bit. I wanted to do everything myself. I was very stubborn and wanted to feed myself or change myself but I couldn’t. I had one of my friends at school help carry my books for me from class to  class. I hated the fact that I had to let this “incident” define my abilities. I couldn’t be in the halls at the same time as everyone else either so I was always the last one out and the last one there. This was kind of cool because I got to come to class late and for lunch I was always the first. After those 4 months I was able to take the brace off while I was sleeping as long as I was on a big enough surface where I wouldn’t roll off and fall in the middle of the night, risking the healing process. Later, I was given a special brace to wear so I could ditch the baby wipes and shower again, something I was very happy about for obvious reasons.

After a long time of healing and getting my body back to normal, I was able to recover to my fullest ability and fulfilled my goal of playing baseball again. This adversity in my life has shaped me into the person I am today. From this unfortunate event I’ve found my true passion in life, to impact lives and train others in all areas of fitness and sports. I’ve learned to not take daily abilities for granted such as walking, being able to exercise or playing a sport you love, because you never know when that can be taken from you.

Fast forward 7 years and I’ve obtained my Bachelors Degree in Exercise Science from Concordia University and my national certified personal training certificate through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I have coached both Varsity basketball and baseball at the high school I attended, Illinois Lutheran High School, and worked with several of the athletes there. I am now the head trainer at Iron Valley Barbell, a worldwide destination gym. The reason I am telling my story like this is to show you that truly anything is possible. You can be at the lowest moment in your life, which for me was this injury, and turn it into one of the biggest blessings in life. For years I was asking myself why had this happened? Praying to God for an answer believing that everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t until years later I found out what my purpose in life was for, why this exact incident had happened to me. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for what I still can physically do, and I hope I can use this experience and adversity I’ve felt with to help impact, motivate, train and get the most out of my clients.

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