They don’t know it, but my kids made my illness better!

My Kids
We like our walks together.

In October 2014, my life changed significantly. Not only did I move 3,485 miles away from my family and friends, but I also gave up my career as a nurse so that I could take on my new role within the household — becoming a stay-at-home dad.

Taking on this role was far from a dull transition, and I love every minute of it. I’ve never been so busy in my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all roses and smiles.

Despite good working relationships with my team of doctors, my health was not in a good place. It had been far worse, but it’d also been far better.

One of hardest parts about being a stay-home-parent is the close proximity of the fridge. It’s always there calling you, asking you to drink sugary drinks and to consume unhealthy snacks. Even before moving across the pond my weight had slipped, and now it was even worse.

When you have Ankylosing Spondylitis (A.S.) this is not a good thing. More weight means more stress on your joints. It had also been a long time since I had worked out, and my core and back muscles were not in good shape. My daily pain levels were gradually rising, and my stiffness and fatigue were worsening. I knew what I had to do, and I knew why, I just needed to find the motivation to do it and to succeed.

Thankfully I found my motivation. It was staring at me with greasy fingers asking for more chicken nuggets. My kids were my motivation.

Thinking about the future

I thought about what I wanted for my kids in life. What kind of father did I want to be? How was I going to help them arm themselves with the tools they needed to be happy in life?

The answers came easily. But the reality of the situation shocked me. 

How could I raise them to be healthy, responsible adults if I continue to shirk my responsibility for my own health while I stuff my face with double stuffed Oreos.

If I wanted to instill these values into my noisy offspring, I would have to by lead by example. Has anyone ever learned anything from a hypocrite? Probably not.

Making changes

In many ways, the easiest and the hardest part was changing my diet. It’s hard to form new habits and to break old ones, but with a strong enough motivation, anyone can do it. So, armed with a new calorie-counting app and a hundred blog posts that contradicted each other about how to eat healthily, I began the task.

The next task was to get into an exercise routine that was a) conducive to my A.S. and, b) one that I won’t get bored of quickly and thus increase my chances of it becoming part of my lifestyle, rather than a New Year’s resolution that I would give up.

What I settled on was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I started training in martial arts again (I had as a child between about 8-13 years old.) I started training in Kempo, or, to be precise, Shaolin Kempo.

Clearly not everyone with A.S. would be able to train in martial arts, but I think most people have misconceptions about how much they actually can do. Your body, even a diseased one, often can achieve more than you think, and a good martial arts instructor will be able to adjust exercises to meet your needs and to help you achieve your goals.

Did it work?

My results after over 1.5 years of training is astonishing. I’ve dropped over 30 lbs and I’m no longer classed as overweight. I’ve become the fittest, and strongest, I have ever been, especially in my core, which is vital for someone with A.S.

As a result from these two changes in my lifestyle I have reduced my medications to a minimum, and some days I have almost no pain.

Being a stay-at-home dad has shown me just how impressible young kids are. And just how much they desperately want to be like their parents.

What drives me most is not my motivation to continue to manage my disease effectively. Maybe it should be?

Instead what drives me, every single day, is my fear.

The fear of failing as a father.

The fear of not being able to play with my kids, because of my A.S.

The fear of not being there for them, because I couldn’t find it within to help myself.

Fear is a great motivator. But my love for my kids is greater. 


If you’re interested, you can read the start of my Kempo journey here: https://www.potomackempo.com/student-essay-ricky/

Red Belt - Shaolin Kempo
Receiving my Red Belt (Assistant Instructor) in Shaolin Kempo

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