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Unstoppable: Emylee Covell Shares The Wellness Lessons She Learned Recovering From Rhabdomyolysis

“I imagine everyday a better healthcare system, where people have more access to all healing modalities from western practices to eastern…


“I imagine everyday a better healthcare system, where people have more access to all healing modalities from western practices to eastern philosophies, where prevention is just as important as the treatment itself. Where your gym is also your clinic, your physical therapy office, your lab and your best resource for optimizing your health. Not just for the few who can afford it, but all people everywhere. I’d like to get people in the room who feel the same. Maybe if Tim Ferris (one of the most connected individuals, as well as a fellow data nerd) could get Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Ariana Huffington, Wim Hof, Health Leads CEO Alex Quinn, and every other leader in the changing health care system got in a room together we could make this all happen. Let’s change the way people think about their bodies, their doctors, their prescriptions and their power to make take massive action when it comes to health.”


I had the pleasure to interview EMYLEE COVELL Co-Owner of Pharos Athletic Club. Overcoming an unhealthy childhood of obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and hip dysplasia, Covell sought a healthier life by challenging her preconceived notions of what her body was capable of. Studying Kinesiology at USC before getting certified in ACE, CMTC, Myokinesis Integration and CrossFit L1, Covell began implementing mobility programs at gyms and yoga studios to enhance the performance of top athletes in Los Angeles. As Co-Owner of PHAROS ATHLETIC CLUB, Covell threads the mechanics of mobility into all programming to help members safely reach their full athletic potential.

Thank you so much for joining us. What is your “backstory”?

I have been in the health and wellness industry for nine years, helping thousands of people reduce pain and improve performance through mobility, soft tissue therapy and strength training. As a former fat kid who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and hip dysplasia, I am no stranger to beating the odds and overcoming obstacles. While doctors were prescribing Vicodin, Methotrexate and writing notes to get out of P.E. in high school, I was looking up “how to lower inflammation naturally,” “side effects of prescription drugs,” and “the anatomy of hip dysplasia.”..I have always had a problem standing by and taking orders, especially when it comes to people deciding what’s best for me. After two years of dialing in on nutrition, rewiring movement patterns, and strengthening weak links, I lost 40lbs, stood pain free, became a highly competitive athlete and decided to pay it forward.

With a background in kinesiology from USC and certifications in Functional Range Conditioning, Tom Meyers Kinesis Myofascial Integration and NASM, I naively thought I had so much connection and control over my body that I couldn’t fail. But in May of 2018 I was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure caused by Rhabdomyolysis.

The Riker Brothers

Can you share the story of how you became ill, and what you did to not let it stop you?

In the fitness industry, we joke about “Rookie Rhabdo.” Some newb walks into the gym and “over-did-it,” so their muscle tissue explodes into their bloodstream, causing their kidneys to shut down.

But that’s not what happened to me. I have been consistently active since 2009 and had just finished up a three month strict gymnastics program with a bunch of muscle ups, rope climbs, handstands and core work. I had never felt “fitter.”

But on Thursday May 3rd, I woke up to an unparalleled pain in my stomach that felt like my abs were exploding. After a crazy ab workout on Wednesday, a part of me thought I had just reached a new level of soreness; I even worked out on Thursday despite the severe pain and worked a full day because that’s just how I worked.. It wasn’t until Friday morning that I woke up with 6-inch abdominal swelling, nausea, dizzy spells and couldn’t walk that I knew something was terribly wrong.

I spent 7 days in the hospital doped up on morphine, hydrocodone and fluids, praying that I wouldn’t have to go on dialysis. Depressed and feeling like a hypocrite, I thought about keeping it a secret, mostly because I was embarrassed. What would people say when they hear a professional who has dedicated her life to healing, recovery practices and movement integrity has spent the last week in the hospital with Rhabdo?

Of course I was afraid of what others would think, the barrage of troll comments about “the dangers of exercise,” and mostly I was afraid of scaring off new people curious about starting their own fitness journey for fear they’ll overdo it.

But then I thought about what a lie it would be. I thought about all the people too afraid to show anything but their highlight reel to the public. I thought about all the people who are too “embarrassed” to show weakness or admit that they hurt themselves while exploring their limits.

But mostly, I thought about the missed opportunity to reach and connect with others about what it’s like to “start over” after learning the hard way about where our limits are.

It’s been eight weeks since I was diagnosed, and since the risk of reinjury is so high in the first year, I am taking it slow on the road of repair. I’m using this time to explore other healing modalities, zero in on an anti-inflammatory diet, rebuild my movement integrity and strength and reignite my inner fire to help others help themselves.

HOW IT DIDN’T STOP ME?

Let’s be honest: it did stop me. And that’s exactly what I needed. I was basically bedridden for two weeks, unable to walk stairs or even curl myself up from a lying position. When you are the kind of high-pain-threshold person who is conditioned to believe that more is better, you’re not going to stop unless you are forced to.

For the past year I have been consumed with starting this business that I have been coasting on autopilot in most other parts of my life, especially when it came to sleep, hydration and nutrition. I’ve done the bare minimum, been battling endless colds and lethargy all year and justified it with “this is what it takes when you’re giving 100% to building a business.” A business that’s built on optimizing health, healing and performance no less! (The irony is killing me, too, don’t worry).

We are conditioned to believe that pushing through pain is what separates the weak from the strong. However, if our bodies aren’t ready for the volume, the impact and the stress, we’ll shut down before we ever have the chance to see what all the hard work is for.

Rhabdo happens to highly-driven, mentally tough athletes who maybe have taken some time off, and then try to come back guns blazing. Their brain expects the same capacity from the body, but the body literally isn’t conditioned to bear the stress.

Being forced to take time off has allowed me to really think about how to maximize my ability to recover. Just like every other muscle, rest must be trained and practiced.

Will I avoid high repetition exercises or ab work? No, because if I don’t train it, I won’t be ready for it. But right now, my goal is resilience and my training program reflects the question: Am I doing everything I can to create a healthy environment for my body to thrive?

Can you tell us about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your illness?

When it comes to chronic pain and physical limitations, it’s easy to curl up in frustration and shame and let the inner voices wreak havoc.

However, with every limiting card I have been dealt in my past, I was somehow able to make a Royal Flush and come out stronger, faster and more connected to others because of it. I am excited to prove the same with this, but with a new definition of what accomplishment means.

So often we feel like accomplishment and success are synonymous with hard, arduous work. While that’s certainly apart of it, I’m finding that resisting the societal pull of more and instead exploring stillness, clarity and connection is the most powerful thing I can do.

We often shortchange our needs and hide behind being “busy,” but ultimately, when your life literally depends on it, you figure out a way to clear your schedule, lighten your load, and prioritize what matters.

So through this struggle I have found that accomplishment is synonymous with connection. If I can have connection with others who are dealing with post-injury, then I have succeeded. If I can connect with people around the world who may not have support, guidance, or sympathy, then I can feel accomplished.

And most importantly, if I can use this an opportunity to really find inner connection — mind, body, spirit — then I have hit the motherload.

What advice would you give to other people who have limitations?

  • Awareness and connection is everything. Zero in with absolute clarity on where your limits are and what makes things better, worse or the same. Learn to connect with your pain signals as a form of open communication with your body. Pain forces you to get clear and focused.
  • Sometimes doing nothing is just the thing to do. Repair happens during rest. Muscle tissue rebuilds during rest. You’re not lazy. It’s not something to feel bad about. It’s part of the healing process.
  • Lean on a support system. It’s hard to do anything alone, but especially hard when you have chronic pain or physical limitations. Health professionals who may help, friends, family, an online group of strangers who are going through the same thing. Get connected. Pros, friends, family.
  • Focus on what you CAN do. When you have limitations, you are constantly thinking about what you can’t do. But carve out some time to really think about where your strengths are, how you can be the most effective with what you have and what you can do… Chances are the list is longer than you think.
  • What would it be like if it were easy? What if you could think yourself out of pain? Even just for a moment…The mind plays tricks on you. So let’s play right back. What would you look, feel and act like if you didn’t have to live with pain?
  • When it comes to chronic pain, we are seeing chronic neural patterning, which becomes the new norm, so get to know your pain signals : tightening, shrugging shoulders, shortened breath, the “pain face.” What if we could start with these physical reactions and work on being non-reactive.
  • A smile goes a long way on creating that internal environment of accepting yourself as you are while you wish toward something better. Imagining yourself as pain-free helps to create new neural pathways that trick your brain into thinking more of those thoughts. It may not be a cure, but its a coping mechanism that really allows you to enjoy the little things and imagine a world without pain.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

It certainly takes a village: my incredibly brilliant business partners, mentors, family and friends. However, I am going to zero in on my dad’s role in all of this, because he really empowered me to love learning, solving problems and connecting with others. He used to make me write “solving problems essays,” and he supported me when I wanted to do Independent Study homeschooling. He taught me to love learning, to ask questions, to doubt “absolutes,” and to think of my body as a laboratory that is meant to be tinkered with in experimentation until I can stumble on what’s optimal for me. All my nerd-dom, continual need for growth and my incessant need to pay it forward stems from him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a Type-A, analytical problem solver, I have had a lot of success for the past 9 years by using movement patterning to empower people to play an active role in their healthcare, understanding the role that stress, movement, overuse, and nutrition plays into the blueprint of their health.

Undertrained, overworked, underslept, overstimulated. Sound familiar?

I know most of you identify with this. You put others before yourself and your work before your rest, forever reacting to your life.

I am committed to helping other high achievers avoid the dreaded burn out. We do this at Pharos Athletic Club by helping people with individualized game plans suited to their goals, limitations and lifestyle. We also do this outside the gym by bringing “The Corporate PAC” to businesses that provides Lunchtime Chair Repair, meditation practices and opportunities for staff to “train their off switch”

Before I would ask myself, Okay…What can I DO?!

  • Stretch this, strengthen that, find the root, identify triggers, remove obstacles and adhesions, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, finding actionable tools are imperative in creating long lasting lifestyle changes, but I am starting to realize that sometimes doing nothing is just the thing to do.

Rhabdo can’t just be something I recover from, move on and get right back to burning the candle at both end. I feel this weird pull to make an example of myself.

I am committed to figure out what “health” looks, feels and performs like on a day-to-day basis.

How can I match my hustle with enough self care? How can I honor my limits while still pushing to be better? From there, how can I pay it forward so we can all have a chance to perform, function and feel our true best?

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood/knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

  • It’s not a cold that just goes away. It’s not one of those quick fix kind of things, so when you ask “are you all better” and “when can you jump back into fitness,” we really don’t know how to answer you, because there’s always the dull roar of pain.
  • The path to wellness isn’t linear. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, two steps back.
  • We don’t need your medical advice. Sometimes what is healthy for you isn’t healthy for everyone. So telling me things like “since you’re not exercising you should be eating a Keto diet” isn’t necessarily helpful to me. Believe me, we have heard enough and are trying everything we can already and feel frustrated.
  • We’re not lazy. Everything takes a lot of effort, and we try to conserve where we can so we can “be on” when we absolutely need to be. So sorry if we flake, sleep in, or call it an early night. Energy conservation is of the utmost priority when you’re dealing with limitations. Sometimes the bare minimum is the most we can do. But know that we want to be productive, working, contributing members of society.
  • We’re not faking it…but we’re faking it. “You don’t look sick!” Well of course, because we are trying extra hard to cover up our weaknesses and pain so we can “lead a normal life.” When we feel good, we overdo it, and when we overdo it, we pay for it later. It doesn’t mean we are picking and choosing when to “complain.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Determine now to break out of the jail of habits and race for freedom.”

– Paramahansa Yoganonda

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.

I imagine everyday a better healthcare system, where people have more access to all healing modalities from western practices to eastern philosophies, where prevention is just as important as the treatment itself. Where your gym is also your clinic, your physical therapy office, your lab and your best resource for optimizing your health. Not just for the few who can afford it, but all people everywhere.

I’d like to get people in the room who feel the same. Maybe if Tim Ferris (one of the most connected individuals, as well as a fellow data nerd) could get Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Ariana Huffington, Wim Hof, Health Leads CEO Alex Quinn, and every other leader in the changing health care system got in a room together we could make this all happen.

Let’s change the way people think about their bodies, their doctors, their prescriptions and their power to make take massive action when it comes to health.

Originally published at medium.com

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