INTERVIEW: Crohn’s Inspiration and Personal Trainer Michael Hulcher

Michael is a personal trainer, athlete, strength and conditioning coach, Crohn’s advocate and inspiration. Michael is on the forefront of the IBD movement by showing what’s possible and inspiring others through exercise and nutrition.

Michael’s story is motivating and inspirational. I am always amazed by hearing the hardships others with similar situations have faced, conquered and overcome on their journey. I can certainly relate. I cannot express the feelings I get reading Michael’s story. It is always a great reminder knowing I am not alone and there are others out there just like myself refusing to let Crohn’s Disease hold them back!

It is with great pleasure to introduce IBD inspiration Michael Hulcher.

Instagram: @michael_hulcher
Email: Hulcher@gymjones.com
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Photo: @dianebondareff

Introduction:

My name is Michael Hulcher and I’m 36 years old, 5’9” and 172 lbs. I am a trainer at Gym Jones, an infamous tier 1 training facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. We train athletes, fighters, military personnel, movie stars and regular people who want to become better humans.

Michael’s Background: 

I grew up in Richmond Virginia. I was an athletic but chubby kid. I was exceptionally coordinated and talented at my sport – Men’s Indoor Volleyball, but was never the hardest worker and I was certainly not a gifted athlete. I was too short for college volleyball so I ended up in art school, more out of natural ability than any passion I had for the sport. After college, I moved to California and became a graphic designer.

Towards the end of my volleyball career I’d sustained some injuries that put me off from athletics for a while. Volleyball was more painful than it was fun so I stopped playing in 2002.  Around this same time, I started to experience some symptoms of Crohn’s disease but it wasn’t until 2007 when I was officially diagnosed. I dropped from 190 pounds all the way down to 135 pounds. I looked very sick and felt even worse.

I didn’t start to lift weights until 2006 when I moved in with a couple guys in San Diego. One of my roommates was into lifting and he taught me a lot. That was around the same time the movie “300” came out and I first heard about Gym Jones. I poured over the site and eventually read every article. I started to learn about training and more importantly, learn about what hard work really meant.

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2007. I still remember the day I was diagnosed very clearly. I remember my doctor telling me that I had Crohn’s disease. My very first thought was, “I’ll never have an easier day than today.” The disease is progressive and incurable, so I decided right then and there to put myself in the best possible position to deal with the disease. I figured if my doctor was going to do his best to treat me, I should treat myself even better. That meant a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Over the next 4-5 years, I put on 40 pounds of muscle despite the setbacks associated with my disease.

You come from a performance and strength based background. How did you get into strength and conditioning?

I decided to get into serious strength and conditioning first, out of curiosity – I was just passionate about exercise. But then it became about proving a point. Initially to myself, but soon it became about showing people with this disease that anything is possible with consistency, perseverance and hard work. Eventually I got to places I never thought possible. My personal bests include a 425 lb deadlift, 385 lb back squat (on a partial ACL tear), 280 lb front squat, 235 lb power clean, 2000m in 6:48, 10,000m ski in 38:12, and completed the Gym Jones triathlon (500m ski, 50 cal airdyne and 500m row) in 4:37.

These are things that just 5 years ago that I would have thought impossible, especially someone living with Crohn’s.

Why does strength and conditioning appeal to you over other styles of training?

I love this style of training because inside your head and everything around you goes quiet when you’re really focused and working maximally. There’s nothing else like it when you’re just trying to breathe. The side benefit of course is that you push yourself into new territory, into places you weren’t sure you could go.

When training hard, you truly learn a lot about yourself. And that makes you a better coach and trainer because you can relate to people that way. They know when you’ve done the work or if you’re just a bullshitter out to take people’s money. I want to give people a transformative experience in the gym that can make people better inside and out.

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Photo: Lisa Boshard

Did you find it hard to talk publicly about your disease after recently being diagnosed?

I was very embarrassed by my disease for the first few years. The symptoms can be so hard to deal with in social situations. I used to hide my discomfort. I used to bail on things without telling people that I was sick. I didn’t want to be identified as someone who was “sick.” In fact, I never told anyone at Gym Jones the first time I was there that I had Crohn’s disease. It wasn’t until my friend, mentor and colleague, Bobby Maximus helped me to see that having Crohn’s and achieving my fitness goals was something to be truly proud of.

After that, I started to be more honest and forthcoming about my experiences in coping with an incurable auto-immune disease and doing top level fitness training. Now I’m working to become an industry leader in fitness and auto-immune diseases. I want to help others achieve their fitness goals despite their disease.

Now, I own it. I’m not afraid to be known as “the fittest person in the world with Crohn’s Disease.”

Best advice to anyone living with IBD:

The best advice I have for people living with IBD is to stay absolutely 100% positive. In a very real way, we create our own reality. Perceive yourself as a victim and you will live as a victim. Think of yourself as being in control of your health and you will be. I try hard and never let it get to me. Of course, once or twice a year I have an emotional breakdown, usually when I’m flaring particularly badly, and cry for a bit and go “why me?” And then I’m over it and back in the gym as soon as I’m physically able to walk. Fight it and you can stay in control. Be good to yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Train. Do your part in your own treatment.

What can we expect to see in the Future from Michael?

I’m going to be featured in the US edition of Men’s Health Magazine towards the end of the summer as part of a health article about people in fitness who are successfully battling disease! I am really excited about reading that article and the exposure it’ll give me and more importantly, bringing a wider awareness to Crohn’s Disease. Not enough people know what IBD is or what 1.3 million people in the U.S. have deal with everyday.

Otherwise, I’ll be busy trying to inspire people through social media and advocate for a cure for this disease and collaborate with inspirational people like you!

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