Fitspiration With Dylan Harris
My view of Dylan Harris has evolved since I first met him at a photoshoot in 2012 from the simple assessment of ‘amazing physique, future as a pro fitness competitor, chill guy’ to later, ‘humble, open-minded health and fitness professional, responsible health and fitness representative’ and now to ‘admirable and inspirational.’ Following his path, I saw a story that others need to hear, so I asked Dylan to guest write about himself in this “Fitspiration” Spotlight. What he wrote was honest, open, brave, and a real piece about health, fitness, and his life. He’s both an open mind and an open book, and I appreciate him for sharing his path and challenges with others.
The Dylan Harris Story
My name is Dylan Harris. I am the owner and trainer of FitStatus Personal Training out of Springfield, Missouri. I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through NSCA. I am also a coach at Crossfit RTB. I am a recent graduate of Missouri State University with my Bachelor’s in Exercise and Movement Science. Needless to say, fitness is my life, and I try to share this passion with as many people as I can.
I was raised in the small town of New Madrid, MO, located on the Mississippi River in Southeast Missouri, also known as, “The Bootheel”. This was a very rural community dominated by cotton and corn farming. That being said, there wasn’t a lot to do, so being outside and staying active was essential to keeping me entertained.
It didn’t matter if it was sandlot baseball, pickup basketball, “cops and robbers” at night, etc. You could always find me outside playing. As I got older, I began participating in organized sports.
I was a three-sport athlete, football, baseball, and basketball, from 3rd grade up until high school, where I dropped basketball in order to prioritize off-season training for baseball.
As high school was coming to an end, I had to make the decision to play college football or baseball, as I had the opportunity to do either, but because my heart was on the diamond, I chose to play college baseball. And it was my freshman year of college where I found a passion for bodybuilding. My roommate and teammate trained for bodybuilding on the side, and he told me I had the potential to be a successful bodybuilder if I trained for it. Obviously, that was kind of flattering, so it intrigued me enough to give it a shot.
Sure enough, I was consumed by the sport before I knew it. I would spend hours at the baseball field and in the batting cages, but somehow found time to get in my bodybuilding training as well. Heck, we would roll in at 1 am on the bus from an away game, and I would still do what I could to get my workout in for the day. I even tried to make the dieting thing work on the road. It was always fun to stink up the dugout and bus with my hard-boiled eggs.
As my second year of college, baseball was coming to an end, I had started to realize that my heart was no longer on the diamond, but was in the weight room. I was consumed by my physique and nutrition. It was all I could think about. I was skipping sessions in the batting cages just to get more training in.
That was my cue that it was time to hang up the cleats. Looking back now, I kind of wish I would’ve seen my baseball career out a little longer, but at the same time, I don’t like to live with regrets because I am more than content with where life has taken me.
At this point in my life, I found myself going into my junior year of college training like a madman, but at the same time, I no longer had baseball to occupy my time, so I also found myself getting into a lifestyle I never really lived. I began to find myself at the bars and strips clubs. Although I was taking care of my body when it was daytime, I was hurting my body at nights by partying and putting substances into my body that was only for temporary satisfaction.
And this is what brought me to Springfield, MO. I transferred universities to live with buddies that I was wanting to party and live it up with. It was almost “Jersey Shore” like! Literally, my life was revolving around the gym, drinking, some recreational drugs here and there, women, etc. I didn’t care who I was hurting at the time because I was having the time of my life!! Yeah, right.
I’m glad this was just a phase of my life that just proved to be a learning experience. I had even dropped out of school for a semester, and even attempted to return, which ended up with me actually failing a class. If you knew my academic history, you would know that I was an A student with the occasional B once every 3 or 4 semesters.
It wasn’t like me. I had never been this person in my life. I had always put other people before me. I had always had a relationship with Christ. But I was lost and in a dark place. I knew it, but I had no reason to change. At least I didn’t think I did. I’m sure there were plenty of reasons, but I didn’t recognize them. That is until I met my now fiancée, Brittney. She started out as a client of mine when I was working for a gym in Springfield. It started out as a lot of flirting, but once I got to know her, discovered I had no shot with her because she came from such an amazing, Christian family, and she had already told me, she only dates to marry. And here I was, some meathead, trying to hook-up with any woman I could, partying multiple times per week, etc. To this day, I really don’t know what it was, but it clicked.
I knew I couldn’t let this one get away. This was my reason to clean up. This was the sign I had been waiting for to wake the heck up! After remaining persistent and proving that I could be a better person, she finally gave me the time of day outside of the gym.
And from then on, the rest is history! I gave up all of my bad habits, I got back into the church and renewed my relationship with Christ, I cleaned up my health, I got back into school, I started my own business, etc. I was on a mission to be a better man for her, and she has proven to be the biggest blessing to me.
So this is where my real journey in health and fitness began in 2012. It was out with the bad, in with the good! And the first thing on the agenda was to prepare for my first physique competition, in which I chose to compete in the Male Muscle Model category of the WBFF. This category appealed to me because I didn’t want to be too beefy, but also enjoyed having some mass on me. This category gave me just that! I spent 24 weeks prepping and came in the best conditioning I’ve ever been in my life. It wasn’t quite enough to get a win, but it was a win in my book! Despite the loss, all it did was propel my passion for fitness and nutrition. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could! From there, I had considered several physiques or bodybuilding competitions, but could never fully commit.
I had started my business, was in school full time and was saving up for proposing to Brittney. It just wasn’t the best timing for me to keep competing. Instead, I just used the time to experiment with all of the different dieting and training strategies so that I could apply them as necessary to my clients.
I don’t see it fit for me to ask things of my clients that I have not personally experienced myself. How can I ask a client to go low carb/keto if I’ve never been there myself? I can’t. I wouldn’t be able to know what they are going through or understand what is really going on in the body. Books can only tell me so much before I need anecdotal experience.
Two years had then passed since my last physique contest, but my business had grown, my knowledge was on a whole new level, and I was on the brink of graduating college. I had to choose my internship site, but I already worked in the fitness industry. I could’ve taken the easy way out and used my current job as my internship, but I wanted to expand my knowledge base even more. I had been through sports enhancement training many times. I had been through physical therapy and athletic training due to shoulder surgery and numerous other sport-related injuries. I had already worked in gyms for the past three years. What was left? Well, I bit the bullet and decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone and give Crossfit a try. I honestly hated everything I had ever read about Crossfit. It goes against almost everything I had ever learned about programming workouts.
But I can’t be a critic if I’ve never tried it. Don’t tell me mama’s casserole doesn’t taste good if you’ve never had it! So I reached out to a few local Crossfit gyms and finally had one accept my offer.
That would be Crossfit RTB! The owner took me in with open arms and immediately put me into action. And sure enough, it was challenging and quite humbling! I’m not going to go into detail on my thoughts at this point, but if you want to read about it, you can read my blog on it here.
So January 2014 rolls around, and after not being sick in several years. And I literally mean that. I don’t get sick. Ever. The worst thing I ever experienced was migraines, and I hadn’t even really experienced those in the last 2-3 years after cleaning up my lifestyle. But I had started to lose blood most of the time I went to the bathroom. It was when going #2, but from here on, when I refer to bathroom visits, just assume #2.
I had assumed that red I was seeing was probably from the frozen cherries I would eat every night before bed with my greek yogurt. So I eliminated any foods that may cause red in the bathroom, but it didn’t fix the problem. At this point, I knew I was losing blood, but it wasn’t really all that much. But regardless, it’s not normal, so I scheduled a visit with a colorectal surgeon.
While in there, he did a quick rectal exam and determined I had swollen hemorrhoids. No big deal. Most people that train with heavy weights experience this in their lifetime. Well after applying some recommendations by him, I continued with my life, but the bleeding never stopped. Actually, it was slowly getting worse.
Now I was leaving murder scenes in the toilet regularly. No seriously, it was a scene straight out of a horror movie. And the frequency of bathroom visits was even beginning to pick up. However, the Crossfit Open was about to begin! I had been told I had a great chance to make Regionals my first year.
Heck yeah! I wasn’t going to pass this up for another doctor’s visit and be told to stop training. So I ignored the worsening symptoms and tried to keep them on the lay low. I had let a few people know what was kind of going on, but I never really let people know the severity it was reaching. My mind was on trying to make Regionals.
If you do not know, the Crossfit Open is 5 weeks of workouts in which you get scored against every competitor in your region. So we are talking to thousands of people. Well, sure enough, each week of training and recovery was getting harder and harder. The workout would end, and while other people were already back on their feet, I’d find myself squirming on the ground for 15-20 minutes.
I had never had to recover that long between workouts. I could feel the blood loss taking effect. My anaerobic capacity was decreasing by the day. Every time a workout would start, I could feel the fatigue minutes sooner than I ever felt in the past.
Well, week 5 of workouts was finally here, and it was a tough one. Thrusters and burpees!! Midway through the workout, I found myself entering a place in my mind I had never experienced. Even the doctors of the gym were looking at me and asking each other if they should stop me because I looked like I could fall out at any given moment. But they let me proceed because they knew I wouldn’t quit.
I was the weakest I had ever felt in my life, but I wasn’t going to stop. I was being scored! I was literally crawling to the bar after the burpees. It was awful. And at the end of the workout, I was in the puke bucket, dehydrated, weak, probably in need of an IV bag. As I lay there, they loaded ice bags on me and began making me get some fluids in. It took a good 45 minutes for me to recover. This was the breaking point.
I knew I wasn’t healthy anymore. Something was going on that was more than hemorrhoids. I was in the bathroom 15-20 times per day, losing massive amounts of blood each time. The Open was finally over, and I reached out to my doctor and demanded a colonoscopy. He was hesitant to give me one, as he really thought it was just a bad case of hemorrhoids and suggested to just remove them. I said to him that I truly believe it was more than hemorrhoids and I wanted to rule out anything else it could be.
On April 14, 2014, my life would change forever. The colonoscopy revealed a severe case of Ulcerative Colitis. What?! Me!? The guy that eats his fruits and vegetables every day. The guy that trains his butt off! The guy that limited as many toxins as he could. The guy that has done everything in his power to be as healthy and fit as possible now has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease! What the heck!?
So I consulted with the doctor and they had informed me that it was a disease that had no known cause, as well as no known cure other than having my entire colon removed. But they assured me that nearly every case of Ulcerative Colitis is easily managed and controlled through medication and diet alone.
Most people are able to treat it for their entire life without surgery, while a few end up needing surgery in the future. Unfortunately, this would not be the case for me. I had to be a freak incident. The colonoscopy only made things worse.
I guess all of the air and tubes they stuck up me only irritated my colon even more because it wasn’t a week after that I found myself completely dysfunctional. I had to stop going to work and school, and my mom, who is a nurse, came to town and hooked me up to morphine and IV fluids in my apartment because we weren’t being taken too seriously by the hospital at this point.
Doc had started me on the basic treatments, all of which were complete failures right from the beginning. Eventually, he started me on a heavy dose of the corticosteroid, Prednisone. Most people might take 10mg or less, sometimes up to 20-40mg. Well, I was on 60mg and nothing. So my pain and condition just continued to worsen. I was losing weight by the day. Literally withering away.
We tried the emergency room once and they just sent me back home. So we tried again a week later, and my symptoms had already worsened tri-fold. This time the hospital admitted me. I ended up in the hospital for 15 days, in which they just watched as my hemoglobin went from 14.0 all the way down to 6.8, at which I needed my first blood transfusion.
Also along the way, I had food taken away from me, and I was being fed through a vein in my bicep. I ended up losing a total of 50 lbs in a matter of weeks. We even tried what was supposed to be the secret weapon to end this flare up, Humira. We did a loading dose of 4 shots in one day, but two weeks passed, and nothing. I continued to use the bathroom 15-20 times per day and continued to lose blood at an alarming rate.
At this point, we had to make a decision. Do we continue to try other treatment options? Or do we send a 24-year-old man in to have his colon removed and put an ileostomy bag on his stomach? After canceling two surgeries, we finally committed to the surgery. It would require three surgeries over the course of the next 6-8 months. The first surgery, the doc went in and removed my entire colon, and created an ileostomy for me to use the bathroom still. I have yet to have my next surgeries, but the plan is to eventually connect my small intestines to my anus, and create a reservoir called a “j-pouch” which will hopefully act as a new colon, and I can have the ileostomy removed. There is still the chance that the surgery will not take, and I will be stuck with the ileostomy the rest of my life, but let me just say, I am currently two weeks post surgery, and I am feeling the best I have in 6 months!
There were numerous times throughout this journey where I wanted to have answers. Why was I so sick? What did I do to deserve this? But the moment I turned it all over to God and stopped questioning his plan, I was able to get a positive attitude and move forward through this thing like the bump in the road that it is.
This journey has taught me that no matter how well you take care of yourself, it can all be taken away from you in a heartbeat. But imagine how bad things would have been had I not taken care of myself so well before. Who knows, it may have gone downhill so fast that I could’ve died. Who knows?! I certainly wouldn’t want to find out.
The doctors were extremely impressed at how normal my vital signs remained and how well my other organs continued to function and compensate, despite barely having enough blood to function. And that is one of the many things I hope that people can take away from my experience. Your life can change in an instant.
So why would you abuse the one thing that you have complete control over, your body? I understand that people need to live a little, but they are also doing themselves huge disfavor by not doing a little something to improve their health.
Find an activity you love to do. It doesn’t have to be bodybuilding or Crossfit. Just something that gets you moving and out of your seat. Find a balanced nutritional approach that emphasizes real, nutrient dense foods that you can stick with.
Even if that means having something “naughty” occasionally, just as long as you are fueling the body right most of the time. Spend more time doing the little things that make you healthier. Get more sleep. Destress. Spend time with friends and family. Find that lifestyle that improves your overall well-being. Stop merely surviving, and start thriving!
If anyone ever has any further questions about my battle with Ulcerative Colitis, I would be more than happy to speak with you and share my experiences. I know I’m not alone on this, and many people have reached out to me, and I want to do the same for others. But regardless, never give up, never quit. Stay positive. And find that reason to move forward! Find your faith and keep your faith! I promise it will all be worth it.