Throughout my two+ years of blogging, I’ve shared bits and pieces of my life with my marvelous husband Jonny who is an inspiration to so many people. However, there’s a big part of his life that’s not been told on Itz Linz. It certainly doesn’t define him, but it has played a role in shaping who he is today. Meet Jonny:
My name is Jonny Itzkowitz, and not only am I Linz’s dashingly good-looking husband, I am a stroke survivor. Here’s my story:
How nice it is to be a winner. I should know. As soon as I learned to play a sport, I wanted to be the best, as well as help my teams win. Baseball has always been my favorite sport. By the age of twelve, I was playing on the top team in my area, hitting in the three-hole. I can count on one hand the number of losses my teams ever had. As a freshman in high school, I was inserted into my usual three-hole on varsity. I am certain the senior on the team whose spot I took was not pleased. It did not matter because the coach knew that the passion I played the game with is how he wanted the entire team to play.
By the time I was a senior, I was named captain of the varsity team for baseball, football, and racquetball. Upon the completion of my high school athletic career, my teams had won numerous conference titles. In addition to the team accomplishments, I had racked up many all-conference/state team appearances for all three sports while also setting nine records in baseball. Needless to say, always persevere by setting goals to be the best you can be.
little league baseball and varsity football
After high school, I decided to take my talent to South Beach (a few years before Lebron James ever declared his intentions to do the same) at the University of Miami aka “The U.” The only difference was that I was trying to play baseball at The U. My thinking was simple: either make it with best or have the ultimate college experience and graduate from a top university. As it turned out, I was not as talented or genetically gifted as other students my age from around the country when it came to playing college baseball and I was not able to merely walk-on to The U’s baseball team. This led to me joining a fraternity and become the king of the average Joe’s on the intramural field.
Whether it was flag football, inner tube water polo, or any sport in between, I competed for my fraternity and we won. This was the time I realized I had to work harder to compete with individuals that had comparable or better athletic talent than me, so I could continue to win and be the most valuable to my teams. Little did I know that this realization would be the component in overcoming a life changing incident that led to a dangerous weight gain.
Can you find Jonny? Fourth from the left, top row.
Despite being in the best physical shape of my life, I suffered a massive stroke March 28, 2004 during my junior year of college at the age of twenty-one. I was walking to the gym when I fell and literally couldn’t get up. I was hospitalized for eight weeks and was ultimately left with partial paralysis to my left arm and a weak left ankle. My career and athletic goals paled in comparison to re-learning to walk and function normally again. At the beginning of my recovery, the entire left side of my body just didn’t work. I had no control of my muscles; I couldn’t feel anything on the left side.
First, I had to learn to sit up in my hospital bed. It seems as though it’d be simple, but it wasn’t. I had to exercise my face muscles in order to look “normal,” and to be able to smile again. Once I was able to put weight through my legs, I went through rehabilitation to learn how to walk and strengthen the muscles that were affected. I started on a therapy treadmill at just 0.1 miles per hour (now I’m able to maintain a speed of 3.2). Intense daily rehab included speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
Daily exercise is so important to my everyday, healthy life.
I have worked relentlessly for ten years, and I am proud to say, I have regained physical and cognitive functions. I still have partial paralysis to my left side and a weak left ankle, but I am able to live a very independent and fulfilling life. I have learned strategies and techniques to compensate for my weak left side. As a result, my right side is incredibly strong as I’ve had to learn to do everyday tasks one-handed. Have you ever tried to button a shirt with only one hand? How about crack a peanut shell? Go ahead and give it a try. What about tie your shoes? If you figure out that one, let me know; for now, I just replace laces with Velcro. Daily life didn’t always seem so easy directly following my stroke.
For a few years right after my stroke, I became lazy, complacent, and turned to food to replace the sports I could no longer play. After first settling for the cards I had been dealt, my weighted ballooned to 265 pounds and, on my 5’10” frame, I failed to realize what I was doing to myself. It was not until a person very close to me asked if I wanted to be as “big as a house?” This turned my life back around and I began channeling all my athletic ability into walking. Whether it is on the treadmill or outside, this was the first athletic activity I could still do and continue to get better at. When I first started my walking regimen, I would walk twice a day, workout with a trainer at the gym, and seriously cleaned up my eating habits.
My weight dropped to 175 pounds and I felt more confident as I regained my life again. I continue the good habits today so I am able to lead a healthy, active life. I walk for forty-five minutes almost seven days a week (taking rest days when necessary). I workout with a trainer at the gym who supports my left side; this has helped so my left side muscles don’t atrophy and I’ve been able to maintain my muscular build. A trainer comes to my house once a week to help me strengthen my core. I eat mostly good foods as proper nutrition is an important piece to the puzzle.
After ten years, I have found other athletics I can do to help fulfill the void of sports in my life that allowed me to lose ninety pounds and allow me to live my life at a healthy weight. I still set goals to accomplish that allow me to be the athlete and person I always wanted to be. I graduated from Miami with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and Psychology, and later earned my master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Maryville University in St. Louis. I currently work at a job I love, helping and inspiring others to live their lives the best they can.
My perspective on life and my ability to overcome obstacles was never stronger after experiencing the most traumatic event and difficult rehabilitation of my life. I know I will continue to face challenges throughout my life, but like everything else, I will find a way to succeed. Through my hard work and perseverance, I have inspired myself and others to achieve so much, even when it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What’s the biggest obstacle you have overcome in your life? How did you persevere?