Charles Pazdera: Real Strength

Jul 25, 2022

The other day we lost one of the strongest kids in the world. I refer to him as a kid because that is how I knew him. Charles was about six years younger than me and we grew up together as close family friends, even though far apart in age. You could never refer to him as a kid anymore. No kid could ever stare cancer in the face for 3 years and walk tall the entire time, never ever once saying why me. This was a man. Charles is now pain free and waiting for us. He defines the word strong.
In the training world we view strong as 500 pound squat or a 600 pound deadlift. Charles had a different strong. Early in his battle with cancer he had a major surgery that required the removal of his entire right scapula, shoulder joint and collar bone to try to remove the tumors. This was not some minor procedure - this was 12 hours of hell that would handicap Charles for life.
I knew Charles was very into lifting weights. I had trained Charles for a few months back in 2002 before I moved to California and I remember how dedicated he was that summer in the weight room. In fact, the way he found out about his cancer was from a visit to an orthopedist about an ailing shoulder that he assumed was from lifting.
What would you do if someone ripped out the major bones of your back and shoulder?
Most would not go to your friend and ask for an exercise program to work around it. This is exactly what Charles did.
I was not really sure how Charles was going to able to lift any weights. I wrote Charles a program where he was able to train his lower body with minimal use of his right arm. We have a safety bar at the gym so he was able to squat with minimal stress to his surgical area. For his posterior chain we used 45 degree back extensions, again minimal stress to his upper back, and these rocked his glutes and hamstrings and Charles loved them. I have not prescribed a Swiss ball crunch in years but when I looked at his program I added them along with Front Planks for his core. Again minimal movement and stress to his surgical area.
His upper body work consisted of Neutral Grip Incline Push-Ups and Blast Strap Rows. When he pulled himself up on a set of Blast Strap Rows he was crooked and the reps looked like he was pulling with only one arm but after each set he would smile and say "it's so great to be back in the gym." The push-ups were tough for him and range of motion was minimal but I still see him in the corner of the gym doing his best.
Charles loved arm work. I could tell that before Charles got sick he trained his biceps and triceps like crazy, typical college kid trying to look good. We put those in and that was like dessert for Chaz. Again, they were not pretty but just watching him perform DB Curls and Band Pushdowns made me so proud of him. I loved the face he would make when it really burned. He always had a smile and never once complained that something hurt.
For Charles's cardio we just did steady state walking on the treadmill at 140 BPM for about 30 minutes. I guess I prescribed this because I wanted him to be around the gym longer.
When you do not feel like getting up for work, think of Charles. When you get to the end of your workout and you do not feel like doing intervals, think of Charles. When it burns toward the end of your set, think of the smile on Charles's face after his arms burned. When you are having trouble starting an exercise program after it's been a few years, take a long look at both of your arms and legs and your cancer free body and then tell me you can't, better yet, tell Charles you can't. I am not sure if he will have any sympathy for you. Then again, he might, this is how incredible this young man is. Full of life, smiles and love - and unfortunately cancer.
Charles's funeral was like a party. It was a celebration of a young man that taught us so many things about perseverance, bravery, toughness, stubbornness and love. The number of people that showed up for Charles was incredible. It showed how much he meant to so many and confirmed the footprint he leaves on all who knew him -- or about him -- and how missed he will be.