Fitness key to trainer surviving, recovering from wreck

Personal trainer Chris Williams had more than 10 years of experience riding motorcycles when he wrecked his bike.

Sometimes I am reminded that taking a stake in your own body — exercising and eating well — extends well beyond looking good in a swimsuit or improving your odds against heart disease, cancer and obesity.

About a month ago, East Shore Athletic Club K180 personal trainer Chris Williams competed in the second annual Primal Games, a competition among some of the all-around most fit people in the Charleston area, and finished fourth overall.

So it's safe to say he's fit, as well as mentally tough.

Three weeks later, that fitness and toughness faced the ultimate test when the 30-year-old wound up in an intensive-care unit in Greenville.

On July 14, Williams was riding his motorcycle with a group of people on a mountain road in the Upstate when his back tire hit a patch of something slick and he lost control of the bike.

Experienced and wearing full protective gear, he knew how to lay down the bike and kick it away from him. He had done everything right, but luck was not on his side.

The motorcycle hit a small boulder on the side of the road, launched in the air and landed on Williams.

“If it hadn't hit the boulder, I probably would've stood up, kicked the dust off, assessed the damages and even ridden the bike home,” Williams says.

Instead, the bike broke vertebra, 11 ribs and his shoulder blades, tore muscles and left him in “incomplete paralysis.” (There are varying degrees of incomplete paralysis, where the patient has some motor or sensory function below the affected area — so the injury is called incomplete, according to the Mayo Clinic website.)

But Williams is grateful for one thing.

“I owe my life to physical fitness,” he says. “Not to toot my own horn, but I'm actually doing pretty well.”

Not only did Williams survive the crash, but he's doing activities that medical professionals have told him many in his situation wouldn't advance to for at least six weeks. He's sitting up, having normal bowel function and has a little movement in his toes.

The work ethic from the gym also has transferred to the rehab clinic, even though he remains in a great deal of pain.

Meanwhile, he's getting support from friends, including people he trains, who have journeyed to Greenville to be with him and even helped with extra rehab and light massages.

Among those friends is Dr. Nancy Curry, a radiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, an avid runner and one of Williams' clients, whom I saw at the Primal Games only because she wanted to cheer for Williams. Curry describes him as a terrific guy who not only could dead lift 465 pounds but run at a 6-minute-per-mile pace.

“He is speeding through rehab unbelievably fast. Chris has already learned to transfer himself to a wheelchair and is blowing away the physical therapists with his strength and determination. His mental attitude is equally strong, just unbelievable.

“I got very attached to Chris during the eight months that he has been my trainer and now am sort of a second mom to him,” says Curry.

Williams says his insurance will cover up to $250,000 of medical expenses, but that the surgeries he's had so far already have burned up about $180,000. He expects more surgeries and extensive rehab to run his bills up beyond the maximum.

Friends have set up an account at the Mount Pleasant Towne Centre Bank of America to help pay for rehab. Call the bank at 416-2760 to find out how to contribute.

Williams says that while the accident will be life-altering, he feels a responsibility to be a role model to his clients, many of whom are teens.

“It's been tough for me to see them see me in this state,” admits Williams. “I've got to beat this thing so I can be an inspiration to the kids.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postandcourier.com.