It was January 12, 2010, when I watched in horror as the images of the Haiti earthquake flashed on my television. I purposely do not watch the news, but today I couldn't help myself.
I couldn't believe my reaction to what would seemingly be one of the worst natural disasters to ever occur. My heart dropped as I saw the pictures of all the people were killed as well as traumatically injured. I recall thinking that I must do something to help and began to calculate how much money I would contribute toward the relief effort.
Days later, I received a call from my friend, Dr. Ken Testa. It would forever change my life. As a cosmetic surgeon, Ken and I have created a strategic alliance with me performing lifestyle consultations with his patients after their surgeries. Through the years, we have become close friends. He, too, had seen the images. As a trained trauma surgeon, he knew his expertise would be valuable in Haiti.
Ken began his call with "Do you want to go to Haiti with me?"After speaking to my wife, I responded, "Yes, I'll go with you."
As a fitness professional, it is never easy to leave your business. Generally, when we are forced to be away, the income comes to an abrupt halt. My major source of income is my boot camps. Fortunately, my business model allows my cash flow to continue in my absence. I knew I could leave with confidence because I have a trainer who started out as a boot camp client over a year a half ago. His talent was evident, so I started grooming him to fill in periodically. This made my departure much easier because my business was in the hands of someone qualified and trustworthy.
Before I left, I informed a friend that I was going. He responded, "You're not a physician. What could you possibly do there?" I knew why Ken asked me to go. He had never been to Dominican Republic. I had. He speaks no Spanish. I do. He wanted someone he could trust, who could watch his back just in case. I guess I fit the bill. However, I did wonder to myself how I would be of real use. I am not a medic. I simply know the basic CPR and First Aid required for fitness professionals.
We landed in a hospital in Jimani, Dominican Republic just shy of the Haitian border. The hospital was constructed to accommodate 60 beds. When we arrived, there were over 700 patients. There were so many traumatic injuries, so many amputations and so much suffering. It was truly an overwhelming experience.
The day we got there, the facilities manager said to me, "We could use some strong guys to help transport patients to the hospital for surgeries." Once again I answered, "Yes."
For 12 hours a day, I lifted traumatically injured people from mattresses on the ground, under tents, in overcrowded dormitories, in 100-degree heat. It was hard work, but I used it as an opportunity to connect.
This connection would be a challenge, though. The native Haitian language is Creole, a French-derived dialect. After connecting with a young Haitian survivor who spoke Creole and Spanish, I was able to communicate with those I was serving. On occasion, I would even facilitate communication between the doctors and patients by translating English to Spanish, then to Creole.
I was affirmed in the belief that despite language barriers, people know when you care. We know it instinctively. The skills that make me a good fitness professional made me best suited
for the duty I performed in the relief effort. But being able to connect on a profound level was only the beginning.
After my first day of working in transport, I took over the operation. What can I say? I can be pushy (after all, I'm from New York). The system needed more organization, so I stepped up to lead. As professionals that is what we do. We lead. This didn't mean barking orders, but offering motivation, encouragement and instruction as we do with our clients. With a lot of hard work and a driving purpose my crew quickly had the transport system fully operational.
My Time with Joseph
As the work was extremely physical, I started thinking about all the years of training I had put in. In my early 20s, I trained to attract the opposite sex. In my 30s, I trained for vanity and sanity. Now in my 40s, I train for function and my family.
How could I have known that all the squats, dead lifts, shoulder presses, curls, dips, crunches and planks all came to use in the effort to help people so desperately in need? How could I have known that so many of the skills I acquired in my professional life would come into play to make me useful in a moment that was so crucial? Here's how: I did it. Was I afraid? Yes. Ken and I were walking into the unknown. However, when compelled to make a decision at a pivotal moment in life we answered the call. We said, "Yes." In some small way I hope I made a difference.
And with that I urge you to do two things. First, find a cause that is bigger than you and commit to it. Do that, and you will be blessed for it. My trip has opened up opportunities to contribute in a larger way. Second, when you are met with a challenge in your business, relationships and life, step up and answer the call. Say "Yes." The growth and development that you will experience will far outweigh the risk.
You will find yourself in a new place looking back confidently at where once were -- and you will be blessed for it.
Tony Books Avilez is a nationally recognized fitness professional from Staten Island, New York. He has written and produced a host of books and videos on the subjects of fitness, nutrition and motivation. To read about his latest program visit www.TheNutritionSecret.com. To see the five and a half minute movie on his experience in Haiti, visitwww.TheTrainerMotivator.com/haiti.