Miguel Ramos: Road to Recovery
Getting hurt sucks — it can ruin a day, or if you’re really unlucky it can change the course of your entire life. That’s just part of blading. But what if you experienced pain throughout your life and you’d never done anything to *earn* it? That’s the situation our friend Miguel Ramos has been in for years as he’s gone from doctor to doctor in search of relief from chronic back/hip pain. You probably saw (and hopefully contributed) to the successful GoFundMe page that recently circulated to help Miguel cover his most recent bill. Though while the pressure of a large medical is resolved for now, Miguel’s pain may never go away… and to learn more about what he’s experiencing, how he’s combatting it, and what all he has planned once he’s able to blade again, just read ahead.
* * * *
Miguel, let’s start with you explaining your injury to people. What happened and how long has it been an issue for you? How does it impact your ability to skate?
My injury is from the L1 to L5 area in my spine, and I have four spots that are experiencing bulging, herniation, dehydration, and the discs are beginning to calcify. There are also issues in the acetabular femoral hip area, with damage to two nerves down my right leg.
The situation in my spine has been there since I was born, but I didn’t find out until few years ago when I had various doctors looking at my MRI scans. Basically, I was born with an incomplete spine, like when I was a baby the bottom of my spine didn’t know if it should be hips or vertebrae, so they grew into spinal parts but they didn’t align properly and the result is the trouble with my discs. So I had lower back pain my whole life, and when I was in third or fourth grade the doctors found out my left leg didn’t work exactly like the right, and that was probably when things started. But it didn’t stop me from rollerskating, BMX biking, and skateboarding and the local DIY park in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
I grew up in a place where there was no room for excuses. We built what we needed with no money. We learned what we needed to learn with no instructions, and we believed in what we wanted and stayed high on faith 24/7 so there was no time be like “I’m hurt.”
Over the years my spine would just seize and shut down sometimes, and I got used to it. I’d just wait and want to keep going, going, going. But more recently it’s gotten more serious, to the point where I can’t get dressed and I’ll be in my house all alone laying on the floor for a few days. Then I’ll feel better and be really to “let’s goooo!” — but in January of this year reality hit hard. I got the flu, then bronchitis, and my body was saying “He homie, finito.” Right now it’s been 16 days that I’ve spent 95% of my day in bed, and before surgery that was like another two and a half weeks. So now I can’t just decide I feel better and go skating, I truly can’t — but I can start moving again in June! So let’s get it then.
Before this latest procedure, what was the prognosis from your doctor(s)?
Well, every doctor has a different theory on how to fix my problems, but actually it’s just specialized services they are trying to sell. In fact the process was way too much like buying a car. So they only thing they all agreed on was that my discs had herniations. I learned that even with medicine like this you have to be careful who you trust — everyone wants your $$$$$$.
If money were no object, is there some operation that could 100% fix the issue?
Nah, well… a few of the doctors said that surgery in that area is nearly impossible and that it could be 10 or more years before the technology is safe. Everyone can fix *something* but there will still be pain — I was just born with it.
What procedures have you undergone previously, and what sort of results did they provide?
I’ve been through soooo many therapies, but no surgery — I’ve always said no, let’s figure something else out.
There was one time I signed on for some epidural injections. It was supposed to be three but when I took the second one, wow, it was the most terrible situation of my life. Right when they stuck the needle in my right leg started burning and moving on its own. They were like “Hey, stay steady” — but it wasn’t me, I wasn’t moving it. The next day I woke up puking my soul away like crazy, so I drove back to Bakersfield, which over two hours because I had to stop every ten minutes and puke some more. When I finally got there they said “Oh, you had a reaction.”
That “reaction” was the one that introduced me to the world’s greatest sciatic pain, so life was back to the same and that was my last procedure — other that hella stretching and hundreds of dollars in massages.
Has having an injury like this affected how you view physical wellness and overall health? Like, how we care for our bodies?
I don’t consider my self a very healthy man, but growing up with abuela I always ate basically what grew around my barrio or behind the house. Yuca, batata yautia, pana, aguacates, mango, gandules, beans, plátanos and basic stuff like rice and chicken from the supermarket — those are my go-to dishes, but it can be really hard to do in America. I mean you can, but it’s gonna cost $$$.
As for alcohol and drugs, I’ve never had problems. I grew up in the streets of Puerto Rico so alcohol and drugs were very easy to get. There was no restricted age for smoking or drinking either, but I was very focused on skating and being able to shred my hardest I can and not end up like lots of rad homies I grew up with that got “lost.”
I had my first beer and cigarette at 9 years old and I was like “Fuck this.” That actually helped me to stay away until I was 28 and like “Okay, I deserve a beer or two…” For full disclosure I should say that I don’t count wine — I’ve been drinking it every chance I have for as long as I remember!
Nowadays I do try to stay on an anti inflammatory diet, which partly means not drinking often, only on very special occasions and in control.vI also have stretched since I was a kid and drink water like a horse. Yoga and meditation have help a lot in the past 10 years too. Now I realize how those decisions helped me make it this long managing my pain. Like the doctors said, “You were born with it.”
But I recommend to all the youth reading this: whatever you do, balance it. Eat healthy, exercise, and don’t ever do heroin. And if you chose to do psychedelic drugs, don’t do them because other people are, only do them when you are ready spiritually. That’s a hard task — but go for it!
Most important, remember that there is no better drug or state of mind than spending days alone learning how to meditate and getting to know yourself. This activity can help you learn to respect everyone around you, love your family and friends without fear, enjoy the world around us, and live every second of it…
To that end, have your doctors recommended wellness activities or anything like physical therapy to help with your situation? Any exercises or routines you’d pass on to readers for their own injury prevention?
I start going to physical therapy again in three weeks, but what’s really helped me personally to keep skating all these years and battle the pain are the following:
1) Warm up before skating. Stretch after skating.
2) Drink a lot of water. Hydration is life.
3) Take glucosamine vitamins and turmeric. Bad joints and inflammation suck.
4) Core strength. Core, abs, and back exercise is key.
5) Sleep properly. Sleeping on my back with a good orthopedic pillow saved my neck where I also have two bulging discs. The good pillow makes a big difference.
6) Massages. Not happy ending ones… well, that’s up to you. I’m talking about real, deep tissue massage.
7) Travel-size foam roller. That’s obvious…
8) Get good insoles.
Similarly, where do you come down on the whole *pads thing* — do you wear protective equipment? Would any existing equipment have prevented your injury? Do you think more people should wear helmets for casual blading?
I wish there was as a protective pad for my pain. Well, I used a back brace sometimes when pain is out of control, but the best protective gear for the back is learning how to use your abs/core and legs.
I wear knee braces that help my with my joint pain. Sometimes I’ll wear shinguards if my back isn’t hurting too bad and I feel like trying hard. Otherwise I don’t wear anything else, though I wear my classic Primate or Reactor knee pads for skating vert.
Oh yeah, mega ramp! For that I wear crash pads, knee pads, maybe elbow pads, short pants and jeans, and obviously a helmet!
Helmets are important! If you are young and you can afford it, buy one and wear it! I didn’t have one growing up but I always dreamt of having a flyaway helmet that said “Rollerblading” on the side! Or a nice Pro-Tec one! Later in life a helmet became mandatory at a lot of skateparks. They really are lifesavers. And maybe not just your life, but your money too.
That said, please don’t scream at me to “Put on your helmet!” if you just see me taking it easy at the park — I’ve been doing this for two decades of my life. I will def put it on, but I might put my foot up your ass too.
How old are you anyway? What do you think about the idea that your friend Jon is *old* for our community, but in other action sports that age is pretty common?
I am 35 years old, born on May 11, 1982.
I can’t speak for Jon, but all I know is that he is smart enough, and he personally takes care of himself the way he knows how to do, and so his passion keeps him going at 41! We are so blessed he is still here!
But going back to why other sports have older people still doing it… I think it’s because blading is so young. What was it, 27 years ago, back in 1989, I was skateboarding, and Tony Hawk and all of them they were already 15 to 20+ years deep doing their business, so of course they have older people ripping. With Jon Julio, he is a bad ass. He is the first from that blading generation that didn’t run away. I’m also really happy that he didn’t have to accept that mail service job.
Something to keep in mind when comparing athletes from other sports is that those guys had the opportunity from earning enough money to invest in a healthy lifestyle and keep working for their sports. Mat Hoffman is a pure bad ass, with the best genetic pain control — like Wolverine — and his determination is wild. He has also been in the sport long enough to know how to survive in it and stay able to produce.
It’s crazy how nowadays guys like the Red Bull athletes — just to take one as a example — they have facilities in LA where they have a rehabilitation center with access to the best doctors in California.
I believe that in a few more years you will see more 35-and-up bladers still ripping. Blading is so young, the real die hard blader generation is here now.
Speaking of old skaters, how about a new crop of youth?! Are you involved in the Thrive Inline programs or anything else in your area to help support the next generation?
There is a new crop of youth coming together because blading is amazing these days and it has matured a lot. There is now an older generation of bladers that didn’t run away to try to be cool doing some other lifestyle 15 years ago, and much of this older generation kept blading in their lifestyle! This old generation is true and rad so kids now have role blading models almost everywhere in the world that are doing something for their local scenes! And this is one of the many reasons why I can see our community growing…
Another example is Thrive Inline, the program for kids and new skaters that Michael Obedoza does in Carson, California. I’d love to be part of it but it’s two-and-a-half hours away from me. And I usually work late, and of course there’s my back to be concerned with…
From where I am it’s tough to support those projects or start something like I had in Puerto Rico for 20 years. Where I’m at now I know all the ladies and guys that work at the Chevron gas station. Carlos the guy from the donut spot in town. And of course the Stallion Springs cops that are homies and the less cool Tehachapi cops that put me in jail for no reason a few years ago. But when I go about 45 minutes away to the town of Arvin I try to help a few kids… at least when my spine pain doesn’t have me laid up. You might have seen some of those kids from Arvin at Blading Cup last year!
In Puerto Rico where I used to live has a non profit with a skatepark called the Inline Stunt Federation, which allowed me the opportunity to make events around the island. We’d use these as a chance to teach people how to skate or hit up RVE skatepark, which is where everyone in PR learned how to ride ramps. Then years ago I created a program in the Santa Rosa mall where Moises Abreu had a skatepark. We taught hundreds of people of all ages there, but when the prospects for blading went down there was really no reason for me to stay in PR teaching these kids to take it to a different level when there was nothing really to promise or show them.
That’s when I moved to California with $35 dollars in my pocket and ended up in Woodward West, helping Richie with the in-line program and AIL. Sadly Woodward Corp dropped in-line, but thanks to Pam Velasquez and the new general manager at Woodward West, they let me have two weeks of inline during the summer.
As to AIL, well, Richie Velasquez just had to move to Woodward East at the last minute with all his family which means they and had to put a stop to the AIL. For anyone that doesn’t know, Richie and Pam basically pay for an Amateur World Championship and Open Pro Event, all of it from their own pockets. Hopefully everything will work out for Richie and he’ll be able to get it going again.
But anyway, I teach kids from all over the world for two intense weeks here at Woodward, and every time I run into a young blader or even an older one that needs some assistance I give them all I can. The youth is the future, and one of the reasons I’m still here and had surgery is to be able to help create something for the new generation. So I’m looking forward to healing up! My skating has never been about me, it’s about all of us, so hopefully soon — if my back doesn’t fail me! — I will come up with something I’ve been dreaming about for 20+ years.
Any advice you’d give those just starting out to ensure they have a long and fun blade life?
Don’t mess with drugs. They will make you suck at skating, plain and simple. Sure, it may work for awhile because you’re young, but sooner or later you will collapse in your prime. So just don’t do that and instead concentrate on the real ride. Stay using the healthy drug and that drug is rollerblading.
Focus your energy and learn how to properly blade around. I’m not telling you to go to a skate school, or training, or do the cones, but learn about your body and find your ways.
One bit of advice: if you have someone really good around, or if there is a skating school or a crew of people blading near or far, get there! Watching good skaters is key.
Also, if skating is not popular in you area, get your other homies to try it. Organize events of any size so other people can show up in you town — that can really make a difference. And if you are dedicating yourself to become a pro, don’t sit in your town waiting for the miracle happen. Go! Travel! Move around! It’s like, there are sooooo many amazing musicians everywhere around the world, but if they stay playing in their local bars they are only going to be another great local band.
Love you all and hope to see you guys at Woodward West during the blading weeks August 5-11 and August 12-18! Sign up today before they drop blading from camp because the small numbers!
Well thanks, Miguel — we really hope this recovery goes well and that you can get past these hurdles! Best of luck!
Amen, thanks! And thanks for continuing to make ONE Magazine!
I also want to use this opportunity to say THANK YOU to everyone that donated their time, money and support to the Go Fund Me that my amazing hermano Chris Dafick made for my medication situation. In less than two days the campaign went over the set goal! It’s just crazy how blessed I have been all these years, having people that care about me… Really, it’s hard for me to believe how lucky I am. Especially here in America, where being in hospital debt is normal. But having friends that saved me from that is the best gift that I could have ever received.
Since moving to America I’ve spent so much money on hospital bills, and that’s sent me to collections so many times. I’ve been battling for over 10 years to pay all of them, and just a few months ago I celebrated getting my last bill from doctors and hospitals. I had done it! Then I had to have this procedure, but thanks to everyone I know that I’ll be able to pay it off and not just in a few years… but NOW! That is such a blessing.
Sometimes I feel concerned or sad that I’ll never be able to own a nice car, or have a girlfriend and be able to afford traveling, but knowing that I am part of such a beautiful worldwide culture that loves me and genuinely cares about me… Well, that is something that even a millionaire can’t buy.
Thanks again to ONEblademag for this opportunity to write these words! Sorry for all the nonsense… Mucho love, and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to get some sk8ting with each one of you!
-Miguel Angel Ramos