Elburn native reaches bodybuilding stage after horrific accident
By JIM OWCZARSKI, Staff writer, Beacon News
The act alone was unremarkable, a grown man walking across a stage. The significance of it was monumental.
Byron Hicks works out at the gym he owns, Jakked Hardcore in Montgomery. Five years removed from a horrible car accident, Hicks won a bodybuilding event.
As Byron Hicks competed Saturday at the Midwest Ironman Figure and Fitness show at the Gateway Theater in Chicago, he showed off a physique over a decade in the making. As he moved, posing, flexing, displaying carefully crafted definition, one element to his structure defined not who he is, but what he is about.
In May of 2002, the 250-pound Hicks found himself wedged into a borrowed Ford Escort while his more appropriately sized Ford F-150 was being worked on. A block away from switching rides, a car made an unexpected U-turn in front of him and the two collided.
At impact, Hicks’ right femur was like a window pane falling to the pavement — but because of his muscular frame the damage remained contained within his leg.
Only after an eight-hour wait in the hospital did a doctor realize his thigh had swollen to a disproportionate size.
The femoral artery was severed in the accident, and Hicks was bleeding out internally. To save his life, a fasciotomy was performed to release the building pressure. An incision from the knee to the hip was made, causing Hicks’ leg to burst open like a slice sausage casing.
The bleeding was contained, but the severity of the injury presented a problem. Because the femur is so large and is a part of the hip and knee, its reconstruction was complicated. After a week, it was decided Hicks had to be moved to a different facility. But infection set in, resulting in 13 “cleanup” procedures as doctors shaved dead muscle in an effort to avoid amputation.
The infection eventually cleared, and new hardware was put in his leg to give Hicks a chance to walk again. Byron Posing
Midwest Ironman Bodybuilding & Figure Championship 2007. Byron Hicks. Heavyweight Class Winner. Overall Winner.
It was June, nearly a month after the accident, and it was just a chance.
“It was very traumatic mentally,” Hicks said. “It was very hard to deal with for awhile. It was hard to deal with for a long time, actually. That whole summer was spent at home laying in bed looking out the window. Mentally it was very hard.
“Even at that time I didn’t know if I’d be able to walk again. I was still laying in bed. I knew I was alive, I knew I had my leg, but I didn’t know what level of experience my life would be from that point on. It was tough for awhile.”
It wasn’t until September 2002 that Hicks was able to get onto crutches, and his once massive body had shed 50 pounds. A fitness demon and a bodybuilder in training, the former martial artist and Kaneland football player couldn’t leg curl 10 pounds, couldn’t get out of bed on his own and was faced with the prospect of needing some kind of walking aid the rest of his life.
Just 25 years old, Hicks chose a different path.
He returned to the gym, and supplemented his prescribed physical therapy with exercises he developed at home. At first, he could only sit. Eventually he could stand. And on his own, he would ditch his cane and move around the gym. He was unsteady, but unfettered — seven months after the accident.
“Something like this could break anybody,” said Tami Hicks, Byron’s wife of close to eight years. “I can’t give myself credit, but I can say I did have to pick him up a few times, a couple times when he just wanted to give up. I couldn’t let him. It affected my life, my kid’s lives, his life. I loved him too much. I had to push him harder, and once I did I think it was kind of like the domino effect and got it going.
“He realized how lucky he was to be alive, to have his leg, to be able to walk eventually. It just took a long time to get to that point.”
Hicks wasn’t to the point where he could walk around a mall, but progress was being made. He could stand, walk and work, but his hip and knee would not bend at the same time, eliminating his ability to resume serious bodybuilding.
During that time, he and Tami decided to go into business for themselves and opened Jakked Hardcore Gym in Montgomery in September 2006. Now that the gym was literally his livelihood, Hicks broke through.
“I’ve gotten, it seemed, everything I could in my life back to normal from before the accident,” he said. “The one thing I didn’t get back that I wanted truly was to be able to get on stage at least one time. Just to see if I even liked it, because I’d never done it. It was such a want for me then, then taken unfairly, to me, in my head, it wasn’t settled.”
He sought out Chuck Sanow of USA Gym in Bridgeview to train him for competition, a decision based on Sanow’s renowned ability to work the legs.
The work was hard and painful. A year ago, Hicks spent a week in December barely able to walk due to the extreme soreness. But he pressed forward, putting the finishing touches on a rebuilding effort that led to his first competition on Dec. 8.
“As far as getting through it, we adjusted and just accepted what life threw at us,” Tami Hicks said. “It was baby steps.”
Those baby steps led Hicks, now 30, to a second-place finish in the open men’s heavy division of the National Physique Committee-Illinois’s event in Chicago, while taking first place as well as top overall in the novice men’s heavy division. The victory qualified him for national events.
But there is a reminder — a large, bulbous scar on his right leg from the fasciotomy. Self-conscious at first, especially in a sport where you win or lose based on your appearance, the new muscle structure from the 17 surgeries he endured led to look all his own.
“It’s pretty wild looking. It’s pretty nuts,” Hicks said with a chuckle. “That ended up being a strong point. It’s kind of cool.”
Now, Hicks and his wife are back at Jakked, working on making their business a success. But what of the future? It took five years for Hicks to finally make the stage, and the victory was sweet.
“We are seeing success (at the gym), we are finding members that are extremely happy with the place and now I want to spend a little bit more time with those people and work with them a little bit more,” Hicks said. “But at the same time, that win is still sitting there and feeling really good and I don’t want to let that go.
“Being only 30, I don’t feel I’m that far out from being where I could have been even though it’s been five years. If I’m already at the national level now, then there’s a chance I could maybe get through it.
“Why not? Let’s see.” firstname.lastname@example.org