The Heart of a Warrior

Rudy Avalos was trapped in a guillotine chokehold, his air cut off. He returned to the grappling tournament against the advice of everyone he knew, but Rudy’s journey began many years ago, as an escape from his violent childhood.

“I was 19 years old when I joined the military.” Rudy said, “I joined to get the Montgomery G.I. bill and go to school. I wanted to start fresh, become a man.”

While he created new opportunities for himself, Rudy found working as a machinist’s mate in the Navy to be monotonous. It was during his time ashore that he discovered the M.M.A.

“At that time, my spiritual alignment was very different. I carried a lot of pain and suffering with me from my childhood and I used that as fuel.”

Rudy trained in various martial arts, from kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu to stick and knife combat. He found a natural talent, but all that rage eventually caught up with him.

”I started learning about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. An instructor put me with this 300 lb guy who put his hands around my head, stuck his elbows in my collar bone, and pulled [my] head up.”

It’s called “the can opener,” a type of pain compliance. Rudy knew the technique, knew that his opponent could not break anything, or cut off his breathing. He resisted. Suddenly, the wrestler pulled back and something tore that sent burning, popping sensations all through Rudy’s neck.

A week later, his injury became a major trauma. While wrestling with a friend, Rudy was put in a schoolyard chokehold. The friend jerked Rudy’s neck backwards. Rudy ended up on the floor, temporarily paralyzed.

“I can’t even explain the pain. The next day, I remember waking up and I couldn’t move; I couldn’t get out of bed. So that’s where it started, that was the beginning of my transformation.”

Even though he was eventually able to move on his own power, Rudy lived in constant, severe pain. He couldn’t work. He had to hold his head down at all times. Due to a long waiting list, it would be months before Rudy could be given an M.R.I. The best he could do until then was get Chiropractic and Massage therapy to reduce the swollen tissue.

“The Chiropractor started adjusting me; I bet he wouldn’t have done that if he saw the M.R.I. The massage therapist would put her fingers around the broken discs. I couldn’t move. I was at her mercy. She could have killed me.”

At the time, nobody knew that Rudy’s neck was broken. That knowledge came after the M.R.I. scan showed several broken discs, some of which were pushing against the sac containing spinal fluid. Doctors told Rudy it was a miracle the sac didn’t rupture. Until he knew the severity of his injury, Rudy could only continue his physical therapy, not knowing the risks.

After months of intense, painful therapy, Rudy was finally able to get an M.R.I. scan. In order to fit into the claustrophobic capsule, a metal plate was pressed against his forehead, forcibly straightening his neck so that he could lie down flat. The pain traumatized his nervous system and he left from the hospital in a wheel chair. Weeks later, he looked at the scan with the naval doctor.

“I’ll never forget the pictures.” Rudy said, “The M.R.I. actually shows the two disc areas in between each vertebra, the spaces between them wide open. The Lieutenant Commander said, ‘Son, you’re never going to be normal again.’”

During this season of suffering, his physical condition seemed permanent. The physical therapy hit a ceiling. Rudy was still living with an extremely limited range of motion and constant pain.

“I went into a really bad depression. I gained 50 pounds. I continued to see the chiropractor and the massage therapist, but it wasn’t getting any better. I started drinking because of the pain. My mom kept telling me, ‘Don’t have the surgery. Don’t do it, son.’”

Rudy’s mother had undergone carpel tunnel surgery which left her wrist permanently damaged. Without known treatment options, Rudy’s suffering lingered on. But something began to change in Rudy’s outlook. After journeying through depression, resignation, and listlessness, he began to recognize how he was blessed.

“Every doctor said, ‘I cannot believe that you’re alive.’ I’m thinking, ‘I got a second chance at life, I need to do something different.’”

Rudy entered a two-year program at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, CA. He also completed an intensive Tui Na program at The Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Shanghai, China. While attending school, trading out massages with other students and forming professional connections, Rudy was introduced to a specialist in acupuncture.

“I brought [the specialist] my M.R.I. He looked through everything very carefully and said, ‘I’ve done thirty-three cases similar to yours. I believe I can have your neck [restored] to full range of motion in four treatments.’”

The specialist’s acupuncture treatment methods involved threading long needles into Rudy’s neck and connecting them to an electrical stimulator. Rudy was pushed to his pain threshold once again.

“Basically,” Rudy recalled, “he vibrated the discs back in place. After four treatments, I was able to turn my head in every direction. After getting the range of motion back, everything changed.”

Rudy continued his education and graduated college in 2007, and later opened a private practice, called “Healing Under Pressure” in San Diego. His next move was most unexpected and went against the advice of all his friends.

“I decided to do martial arts again. Returning was about confidence that I could help other people come back from their injuries. It wasn’t machismo. The metaphor was huge.”

After four months of hard training, Rudy was not only back in competition, he was fighting a tournament in the same fighting style that should have left him paralyzed or even cost him his life. In the third round, Rudy found himself in another chokehold.

“My opponent got a hold of my neck and I went into a flashback. I was frozen. He was trying to get me into what they call a guillotine choke. I could hear my Jiu Jitsu teacher’s voice, ‘Stay calm. You know what to do. Turn your neck…’”

Rudy was able to maneuver himself out of the chokehold, win the fight and the tournament. For this warrior, it was the victory outside the ring that mattered most.

“I released myself from doubt, from self-pity, from wondering how strong my heart is, my faith. In order to help somebody who’s gone through physical pain, in order to have real compassion, you need to know what it is to suffer. Experiencing the pain, humility and suffering gave me the compassion and love I use to help other people every day.”

Through his M.M.A. training, Rudy met the love of his life, Meighan Kirkpatrick and moved from San Diego to Tucson in 2012. Together, they are launching Evolutionary Body Work and Beyond in 2014.

Rudy is a Licensed Massage Therapist/Asian Body Therapist & Holistic Health Practitioner. He continues to study at Southwest Institute of Healiing Arts, Mesa, AZ for a degree in Occupational Studies in Holistic Health with a concentration in Mind Body Transformational Physchology and Holistic Nutrition.

Meighan is a licensed Massage Therapist & Auricular Acupressure Specialist. She studied at Vitality College of Healing Arts, Carlsbad, CA & ASIS Integrated Massage School, Tucson, AZ.

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