Recovery bonds once-paralyzed athlete, trainer

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PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) - There is tough love. Then there’s Mike Barwis love. “God puts people in your life for reasons,” Barwis said recently at his Barwis Methods training facility. “Brock (Mealer) was definitely the one. He’s the greatest human being. They don’t make ‘em better. That guy’s blood to me.”

Ask Mealer, and he’ll tell you the same thing.

He knows that without Barwis’ tough love, he likely would not be walking.

Period.

“In terms of my progress, Mike always gives that glory to God and gives it to me and my hard work,” Mealer told The Detroit News ( http://bit.ly/1r2Dt2m ). “But I’ve always realized as hard as I may have worked, and as hard as I may have tried, I know I never would have gotten there, and I certainly wouldn’t have worked that hard on my own, unless I knew if I didn’t show up here it was going to be a lot worse for me because of Mike.”

Mealer was paralyzed in a Christmas Eve car accident in 2007 near Toledo that took the lives of his father, David, and brother Elliott’s girlfriend, Hollis Richer. At the time, Elliott Mealer had a football commitment to Michigan, where he eventually became the starting center.

Barwis was new to Michigan as its strength coach, and he immediately took to Brock Mealer - who had gone to Ohio State but became part of the UM community - and his gentle spirit and determined soul. Together, they believed he would walk again, despite paltry odds given by his physician.

Now, twice a week, Mealer, without the use of braces or crutches or a cane, takes a .32-mile walk around the training facility Barwis opened after leaving UM in 2010.

“I’ve got 24 rings and I’ve worked with 44 sporting events and 500 Olympic and pro athletes,” said Barwis, whose facility is the focus of a Discovery Channel sports docu-series, “American Muscle,” that debuted Wednesday. “I will tell you this, I don’t have one moment in my life in athletics that ever even remotely approached the moment of glory I felt when that kid walked.”

When Mealer attempted to walk for the first time after the accident, he was wearing ankle braces and took about 90 minutes - including eight stops. He eventually shaved an hour off the time. Then he walked without braces - and faced a whole new assortment of challenges - and saw the time jump to 50 minutes.

On a recent attempt with Garek Henry, an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the facility, Mealer, with his red T-shirt soaked with sweat and Henry barking the elapsed time and urging him, “Come on! Let’s go!” finished in about 12 minutes.

And he did it without stopping.

“That was one of my goals,” Mealer, 29, said. “But before I could do that, I had to make it all the way around without falling. I have a solid goal, here’s what I have to do, and I go do it.”

The walks used to be a full workout, but now they serve as a warm-up for Mealer’s grueling twice-weekly, three-hour sessions. He does weight and balance-ball work and takes a second walk.

It’s gut-wrenching to watch, but the results are evident.

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