Race junkie Pete Armas Jr. wasn’t always the picture of health. Like his Instagram name suggests, Pete has gone from zero to fitness doing race after race on a fitness journey that started in 2012 when he was struck by a drunk driver while crossing the street.
Pete, thanks for the opportunity to find out more about your inspiring story. Here’s the brief synopsis of your accident in your own words:
That Saturday morning began like many before it. I woke up early for a walk before lifting weights at the gym. As I walked in the cool morning air, I felt happy. I had a newborn son at home, a business which was about to open, and my health. As I walked across the street, I felt nothing wrong. No impending doom. No eerie silence. I was walking and then…nothing. I never saw the drunk driver coming behind me at 40 mph. I heard nothing, saw nothing. I didn’t have a chance. I was hit from my left side and thrown unconscious thirty feet into the intersection.
Mercifully, I must have been out for several minutes. I woke up with a stranger over me yelling “Lie still! Lie still! You’re hurt!” Still groggy and confused I tried to get up. “Help me up” I said to him, and I heard my own voice sounding like I had the wind knocked out of me. And then…I felt it…Pain. Pain like nothing I’d ever felt in my life. My legs felt like they’d been dropped in a meat grinder. I wouldn’t wish that torture on my worst enemy. I must of passed out because when I woke up again, I was in an ambulance. The medics were talking to each other about which hospital to take me to. I was bandaged from head to foot, and they must have given me some of the good stuff because all I felt was a dull aching all over my body.
“What happened to me?” I asked one of the medics.
“You were hit by a car, man”.
You’d think that the worst part of being hit by a car would be the pain. It’s not. It’s the fear, and the helplessness and the infinite questions that no one has the answers to. For three days it was not clear if my left leg would have to be amputated. Three…days… Thankfully, doctors had good news. They could save my left leg, and they were able to rebuild my knee on the right leg. But the questions still loomed. Would I still be able to walk? With a walker? A cane? Would I ever run with my son and play catch at the park? No one knew.
For two weeks I stayed at that hospital, with nothing to do but stare at the ceiling and wonder/dread about the future. This couldn’t be happening. I couldn’t let it. I decided that I was going to make a full recovery. There just wasn’t any other option.
That is a powerful story! How does it feel to read those words again and what emotions does it bring up?
I think it depends on the day. Most days I can retell the story without thinking much about it. Other days I feel like hiding in a dark room and crying like a child. Mostly I’m just thankful to God that I’m still alive and in one piece.
Pete, were you physically active before your car accident?
I’ve lifted weights off and on since I was fifteen, but never consistently. A few months on and a few months off. I also enjoyed walks around the neighborhood of up to six miles, but that was about it.
What was your competition history before the accident and what has it been since the accident?
Before the accident the most strenuous competition I engaged in was video games against my brother! LOL! In the last two years I’ve completed three full marathons, three half marathons, a few 5K’s, one Sprint Triathlon and more Obstacle Course/Mud Run races than I can remember. I race one to two times a month, so basically if you tie a string around a bottle cap, I’d race for it!
You also have a physical job it seems. What do you do?
I’m a Hazmat Truck driver delivering medical gases to hospitals, clinics etc. Fitness plays a big role in that job because I’m moving heavy metal cylinders most of the day.
You said on Instagram, “It feels like a lifetime ago, or some bad dream that I had. But alas, I know it happened because I’m reminded daily by my scars and remaining injuries”. You have foot drop in your right foot preventing you from being able to lifting it. How do you have to work around your injuries in your daily life and in the gym?
I can still do anything a normal person can do. That’s where my personal motto comes in: “My Handicap, is not a disability.”
You use a brace to help you run. Is it to stabilize your ankle and do you need to wear it to walk or just when you are training and competing?
I have different braces for different occasions. One for normal walking, a running brace, one for work. They keep my foot at a 90 degree angle so I can walk normally. I can walk without them, but I’m clumsy and often trip. I used to be very self conscious of my limp when not wearing a brace, but now I’m fine with it.
A lot of times we make decisions to change our lives find that the toughest part is that grey area after we’ve been training hard but before we see changes. You also said, “Yes, I was quite a mess, but God kept me breathing, and here I am. I’ve gone through much to get where I am today. Healing, depression, and more physical pain than I care to remember.” That would have stopped many people. What kept you going until you started seeing results?
What kept me going was knowing I had little choice BUT to keep going. My family was depending on me, so I couldn’t quit. It’s true what they say, you never know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be strong. That’s one of the points I try to drive home when I tell my story. Every person has that strength. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON.
You took Pose Method Running classes after your injury. Honestly this is probably a good idea for everybody but was this something you’ve always wanted to do or something you felt was important because of your injury?
I stumbled upon the Pose Method while searching instructional videos on running. For those that don’t know, it’s a style of running that encourages a forefoot landing over a heel strike. Before I started running I had never heard of it. This style of running worked well with my running brace.
How has taking Pose Method helped you?
It taught me proper running form which plays a big role in avoiding/minimizing injuries. There are many ways to run properly, but this taught me the core fundamentals. I love the sport of running, so I want my body to stay healthy so I can do it well into my late years.
Do you have coaches for any other aspects of physical training?
No coaches, but I’m a huge learner. I’ve got a small library of fitness books on running, lifting, nutrition, cycling, bodyweight exercise…you name it! Plus it’s so easy to find great content on the internet which can help you to learn.
What does an average training week look like for you since you’re constantly trying new things? Do you have certain foundational exercises that you never take out of your training routine?
I train four days a week. Tuesday and Thursday I’m up at 3am to lift weights before work, then run in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Saturday and Sunday I’m up at 4am to do a long run or cycle ride before the kids get up and want breakfast. Weights get thrown in the mix at some point in the weekend. It’s challenging because, like most parents, raising kids is the top priority before fitness so fitting in everything can be tough. Especially now that I’m moving toward triathlon. Now swimming has to be added!
You know, I like that I see you training WITH your kids. A lot of parents say they prioritize their kids over fitness; I’m not saying skip your child’s school play because it’s legday (’cause we don’t skip legday) but I am saying that you need to say it’s equally as important. Like you wouldn’t skip a meal because they want to spend time with you, right? You’d share the meal! So I say our kids need to see that fitness isn’t an optional thing you fit in when it’s convenient but a necessity that you make part of your routine. That changes the family legacy.
I guess I never thought of it that way. I think maybe I was thinking of it in an ultimatum kind of way, like it must be this or that. Good deal!
Let’s talk about equipment. You had a post about using an old person walker you found at a yard sale for dips and other exercises. What else was in your early home gym?
Before our current house, we lived in a small townhouse that had a tiny backyard. Saving space was essential. I had the walker, an ab wheel, a door frame pull up bar, and a few weights. Most exercise at that time was bodyweight movements.
Now that you’ve got the space, what’s on your wish list for new equipment? Do you need any special machines to help you work around your situation?
No special machines are needed. I don’t have anything in mind for new equipment BUT, I’m always on the lookout for things I didn’t know I needed! Most of my equipment in my home gym is bought second hand so I check those types of websites often. Often times people buy equipment with the intention of using it but never do. It’s a shame for them and I wish they would use it, but if not it could mean a great deal on gently used equipment for you.
Okay, you don’t need special equipment so what do you do for legs? Can you squat, lunge, do deadlifts etc?
I can do any leg exercise but my favorite is deadlifts. It can be difficult balancing endurance sports with strength training though. For example, I try not to run after a hard leg session because I know the run won’t go well.
Makes sense.Do you train for races with a group or race with a group?
All of my training is done alone. Most of the people I know are not into running or triathlon. For the others, I wake up way too early for them. I’ve looked into groups but scheduling conflicts usually prevent any workouts. I do like online groups like The Garage Gym Life Home Gym Forum and the Instagram community because it’s a way to stay informed on new trends and exercises.
You compete in such a variety of events! Do you have a yearly competition plan or do you just look about a month or so ahead and pick out events that look interesting to try?
I get emails from most of the big activity sites on the web and Facebook always has something to suggest. If it looks interesting, I’ll try it! Most races have early bird specials, and increase the prices as it get closer. I’ve signed up for races as far as a year in advance, so I have to keep my calendar app updated. For me, working out is the homework which makes racing the test, especially the obstacle races. It’s a great way to test every aspect of your fitness.
How do you adjust your nutrition when you’re training for an OCR vs training for say, a triathlon?
For me, there’s not a lot of fluctuation in my training nutrition no matter the event. Lots of carbs are consumed for the endurance sports and I always try it eat one gram of protein for every pound I weigh (I’m currently at 160 lbs.). Eating clean is what I strive for, but I can put away a medium pizza by myself if I choose to! Ha ha!
As I said, you have a pretty powerful story. You said, “My hope is to inspire others who may be going through tough times; that they may not only ‘get through it’ but be better for it”. Are you active in working to prevent drunk driving either formally or informally?
Only informally by using social media to share my story. I truly feel that The Lord gave me this opportunity to encourage others to use their inner strength to face the challenges of life. I’m just a regular guy with a regular life. If I can do it so can anyone. The second part of my message is, DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. I was so lucky, but others have not fared so well.
Do you have any sponsors or people you want to thank?
My Wife stood by me when I was at my weakest. I don’t know how I could have made it without her. My kids for the motivation to go on when things looked their worst. The rest of my family for helping me get back on my feet. And anyone who has taken the time to hear my words and listen to my story. Thank you to all!
Thank you again John for helping me to share my story and my Garage Gym Life! You’re doing The Lord’s work by bringing the people together to share in what they love. God Bless!