Of all the ways you can put your back out, providing support to hurricane victims has to top the list as one of the more worthy causes.

While serving as an electronic technician third-class in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Florida, Nelson worked with his unit to clean up debris following two hurricanes, Erin in 1995, and Opal in 1996.

Among their many duties, he and his unit cleared heavy tree trunks from roadways, restored electricity and repaired fences.

Unfortunately, some of these tasks took a toll on his lower back.

At the time, just 23 years old, he didn’t think too much about it.

“I was very active and used to muscle soreness. But when I was honorably discharged in 1996, I was diagnosed with lower lumbar spine inflammation.” He received disabled veteran status.

Better Health Starts With A Decision

As a senior software engineer for Business Performance Services in Pensacola, Florida, Nelson is responsible for the maintenance and support of applications that providers use to bill patients for services. “I’m the primary developer for a portal that helps providers, facilities and hospitals process claims for their patients.”

In 2008, while grocery shopping, he picked up a case of water and felt something click in his lower back. “After that I couldn’t walk upright without the help of dragging my desk chair with me. I would go to meetings walking with the chair as a walker.”

After joining his company in 2011, his back pain seemed to get progressively worse.

Nelson, father of five children ages 3 to 22, got to the point he couldn’t stand for long periods of time. “Worst of all, I couldn’t pick up my younger kids.”

The Tipping Point

Nelson in a body building competitionThanks to back surgery in 2013, he became close to pain free for about a year. Then the pain returned, and he faced yet another surgery. That was the tipping point for Nelson.

Nelson had enjoyed everything from competitive volleyball to obstacle course races for years, despite his chronic pain. But ultimately the condition would prevent him from playing any sport. He became depressed.

In March 2014, he said no to surgery and decided to focus on improving his overall health and fitness instead. He took up weight training. Between March and June of last year, he lost 14 pounds and lowered his body fat from 22% to 15%. Initially, his goal was just to get in better shape.

The Secret To His Success

“At first, I would go to the gym and perform basic workouts. But nothing really changed until I asked a trainer friend for help. He put me on a simple diet, and I dropped the extra weight in a couple of months.”

Seeking more motivation to keep the weight off and strengthen his muscles, in June 2014, Nelson asked his friend to train him for a competitive bodybuilding contest the following August. While training for that contest, he noticed that strengthening his core muscles helped minimize his back pain considerably. He was hooked.

Nelson took second place out of eight in at an “over 40” bodybuilding competition and sixth place out of 22 in an Armed Forces competition. “It was so motivating to know I could take control over the pain instead of letting it control me.”

In November 2014, he won first place at another “over 40” competition with 12 participants.

Now he trains 5-6 times a week for 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day.

Grateful For A Second Chance

On Memorial Day, he says, he’ll be praying for families who’ve lost loved ones that gave their lives for this country. “And I’ll be hugging my kids and celebrating the fact I can pick them up now and hold them on my shoulders.”

He adds, “The slogan, ‘better health starts with you’ couldn’t be truer. Nothing feels more satisfying than setting a goal for your own good health and achieving it.”