Dan Giancola

I started training when I was 17 years old with my best friend Steve. I fell in love with lifting weights right from the get-go. As years passed, I got stronger and stronger bigger and better. It has always been my passion to push the limits seeing how my body would respond to lifting heavyweights. When I first started lifting weights in my late teens’ the early twenties it was all for vanity the big arms,  big chest, rolled up sleeves and tight shirts looking big and buffed on the beach and looking good for the girls. Fast forward to my late twenties and early thirties, I was playing professional football at this time so lifting weights became my job as a professional athlete to get bigger stronger and faster. Now in my early fifties, it’s about something totally different it’s about being fit but even moreover for my mental health needs that more now than ever. You see lifting has always been my drug my release is my stress reliever.
Life is full of challenges but I always remind myself of one of the greatest sayings I’ve heard since my heart attack ” The comeback is always greater than the set back ” never give up life’s too short!

Last year May 20th 2020, I woke up like I have my entire life since birth. I got up took a shower brushed my teeth dried my hair and got changed for the day ready for another amazing day at my studio teaching my online class free for everyone live on Facebook during the Coronavirus Pandemic. First, stop through Tim Hortons for a peppermint tea then off to my studio to teach the class. As I have always done over 2 and a half months when the Pandemic first started I would start my class at 10:30 am LIVE ON FACEBOOK with over 5000 people literally from around the world joining me for this free 30-minute workout. Today though was different I found myself extremely tired right from when I woke up and right up to the start of my class. I’ll never forget looking at my clock on the floor which I used to time, my class.  It was 10:50 am when I started to feel like I had the flu and it was coming on strong I was extremely nauseous I just remember I had to finish this class. After I signed off after class I got horrible pain in my back it was an excruciating pain that eventually shot through my chest I knew there and then I was having a heart attack but little did I know the severity of it. Fast forward by day end I was in the ICU recovering from what is known as ” The Widow Maker ” 100 per cent blockage of the main artery. 4 doctors that day said I should have died in that studio but only because of my physical condition did I survive. 3 stents later along with Blood pressure meds, beta-blocker, cholesterol medication, blood thinners, baby aspirin, anxiety medication and stomach medication to counter all these pills am I still here alive. But believe it or not with all the above mentioned it’s not that which crushed me it was the fact that the doctors and specialists said I could never lift heavy again. Just the thought of never being able to do what I love to do what I’ve done since I was 17 years old was killing me inside. Anxiety, depression and PTSD all kicked in. 18 months of side effects not allowing me to train no release whatsoever a ticking time bomb inside of me.
I’ve finally hit my lowest point I remember running out of the lorazepam that my doctor prescribed to me and I completely lost it what do I do now I knew he was on vacation and I couldn’t get my prescription refilled. I knew exactly what to do but I was scared terrified, to be honest, but the truth was right in front of me it’s been there the whole time. I became so dependent on my lorazepam when I had the panic attacks I completely forgot my true answer. The answer is to do what you’ve always done go back to training but for the first time since you were 17 years old your starting from scratch back to the basics. Bodyweight training using one of my favourite training tools TRX Suspension Training and Rubber Tubing was my start I wasn’t strong enough for anything else. I remember my very first day back training my body was shaking like a jackhammer crying through each and every set mixed emotions of sadness because I’m shaking lifting only my bodyweight feeling so weak but also happiness and joy because after almost dying and over 18 months of no physical fitness it just felt incredible to be doing what I so love to do. Changes in my training needed to be done no more than 5 sets 6 to 8 reps but now 3 sets 10 to 15 reps. Cardio was 2 to 3 days a week now 5 days a week. Eating clean now 6 days a week with 1 so not cheat day. Has it been easy no especially at the beginning nobody likes change especially when you have been doing the same thing for almost 35 years but watching my body change to something completely different has been incredible going from a 225 bulky man to 210 pounds beginning to lean out?

A new look, a new me, a new challenge, a second chance. I could look at these 2 ways the first way is to feel sorry for myself for not being able to do what I once could or I could transform my body into something I’ve never been a new goal a new challenge a completely different outlook. Life is full of challenges but I always remind myself of one of the greatest sayings I’ve heard since my heart attack ” The comeback is always greater than the set back ” never give up life’s too short! Remember ” why does it always have to be someone else why not you ” BE THAT ONE! – Danny G

Photo By: Phil Cheevers

Words cannot express how excited I am to have this incredible opportunity to write my very first column ever and to do it with Status Fitness Magazine is just amazing. The most common question people ask me is “Dan what does BTO stand for in your company name BTO Performance”? Well, this is a long story but I will do my best and keep it short but in the process hope to inspire many people in this column.

What most people don’t know about me is that I not only played professional football on and off for 10 years in the Canadian Football League ( CFL ) and the National Football League ( NFL ) but I beat all odds to get there. You see I never played a down of university football and without that, the odds of making a professional football team is about 1 out of a million.

After high school, I didn’t know what to do with my life I didn’t have a direct path to choose I was an athlete my whole life I excelled at soccer, hockey and football. I spent my first 2 years after high school at a local college taking different courses but honestly, none of them appealed to me. During this time, I knew one thing that I still loved to do and that was kicking the football.

In my 3rd year of college, I met a professor who knew me from high-school football and introduced himself to me he was shocked I wasn’t going to University to kick somewhere. I told him straight out I didn’t have the marks so I guess the dream was over before it could start. He very quickly said to me that he could have me at a free agent tryout next week in Toronto in the CFL. Of course, without hesitation I said I’m in! The following week I found myself among 25 of the best kickers in college football along with a former CFL kicker all looking for the opportunity to get into camp with the Argonauts. You see at the time if you had $60 anyone could try out for any CFL team but if you are lucky 1 out of 500 guys will get picked to go camping. On this day, I went 22 of 22 in field goals I was the most accurate kicker of the 25 kickers that day. Right after our workout the head Canadian scout came to me and said how impressed he was with me he told me he would call me the next day and give me all the details. He had one question for me though where did I play my college football. I told him high-school football sir that’s it. His face dropped. Well, the next day came and went so did the next 2 weeks so I finally made the decision to call him. It was simple with no college experience or video of game action no team will sign you.

Knowing this now I made the decision I needed an alternate route. I decided to play minor League football to get game film and experience. After every season I would make a highlight tape along with a resume and send it to every CFL team,  every NFL team, every arena football league team and even the World League. From there I would travel all over Canada and the United States and went to as many free agent camps as I could. I repeated this process for 9 years I dedicated my 20’s to chasing my dream. I worked part-time in a grocery store to pay my phone bills, sending out my VHF tapes and gas money to travel. In my 9 years chasing my dream I went to 131 free agent camps. In those 131 free agent camps I went number 1 130 times but no college experience no opportunity.

Finally, in 1998, I signed with a CFL team the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The story went everywhere all local papers grabbed my interview the dream was finally here or was it? On my travelling day leaving for Saskatchewan my girlfriend ( now my wife Christina) drove me to the airport to see me off. I remember sitting on the plane and over the intercom, a stewardess called for passenger Dan Giancola to go back out to boarding. I walked off the plane and the stewardess informed me that the Saskatchewan Roughriders no longer needed my service their kicker has returned to the team. I was devastated.
I returned home the next day that night I went back out with my minor League team to practice as always and the looks my teammates gave me just buried me looking at me as if to say ” ya ok buddy you signed with a pro team “! I drove home devastated. The next day I made the decision to go back to college but instead of going to class, I went to train in the gym. I was there for hours 5 to be exact my mind was spinning just questioning do I really have a chance at this dream or not? I remember walking down the stairs going down to take a shower and it was then I saw the gym coordinator putting a poster up on the billboard in the hallway for some reason it caught my attention. After my shower, I decided I wanted to see this poster so I walked over to it. The poster was a picture of an athlete doing a layup in basketball and the writing on it was and I quote 1 and 100,000 student-athletes with ever play a professional sport so stay in school. To say this poster crushed me is an understatement I needed to have it though. I tore it off the wall rolled it up put it in my gym bag and brought it home.

When I got home I went straight into the bedroom and took the poster out of my bag and put it up on my wall beside another poster I had at the end of my bed. The other poster was a football poster of a player getting tackled by another player and was entitled DETERMINATION “It’s not whether you get knocked down but whether you get back up again”! I loved this poster it kept me going every single time a team said no to me over 9 years chasing my dream. I would always say I’m entitled to feel the way I want to today but tomorrow is a new day.

That other poster got to me though when the odds were presented in front of me it got real. 1 and 100,000 student-athletes so what are my odds I’m not even a student-athlete. My first thought was maybe they are all right maybe it’s just a stupid dream that only happens for special people. I went back and forth from poster to poster and for some reason, I walked to my desk in my room and I pulled out my sharpie I walked up to the basketball poster and I remember repeating to myself ” Why does it always have to be someone else why not me ?” Over and over I said that and finally I walked up to the poster with my sharpie and I put a big X through 1 and 100,000 and I wrote: ” BE THAT ONE “!!! I made the decision right there I was going to BE THAT 1 in 100,000 and wasn’t going to stop until I got the opportunity! Bto Performance the Bto is BE THAT ONE now you know!

Fast forward to next year, I signed with the Toronto Argonauts I was nominated for rookie of the year special teams player of the year and Canadian player of the year I tied the league in scoring for most field goal attempts and fell 5 points shy of breaking the rookie scoring record. Following year I signed with the Buffalo Bills in the NFL and won 2 Grey Cups over my career. Not bad for a guy with no college experience.

I chose this story as my first column not to brag about myself but in hopes to inspire people to chase their dreams no matter how big or small they may be. Believe in yourself have a passion and love for what you do and believe me you nobody will ever tell this guy or you that dreams don’t come true I not only lived it on the football field but now again right here with you incredible readers an opportunity to have a column and to share with you all with Status Fitness Magazine.

I’ll leave this with you all “Why does it always have to be someone else why not you?” BE THAT ONE!!!

My interview for TSN
Cover Photo By: Phil Cheevers

When lockdown began last March and the  Covid Pandemic hit, we were one of the first businesses to close. It was not only devastating for me but also for my 380 plus clients. They didn’t know what to do and how to handle it. I remember thinking I always wanted to try online training so I thought why not let’s do this “LIVE ON FACEBOOK A FREE 30 MINUTE WORKOUT” for all ages and all levels of all bodyweight training. It was an immediate hit, the word spread like a wildfire. I started with just morning classes at 10:30 am and before you knew it, we added evening classes at 6 pm also. I literally had people from around the world going LIVE with me on Facebook for my workouts for free in hopes to keep everyone’s mental health in check. Thousands of people at a time training with their families. Husbands and wives, then their kids and amazingly some grandparents.

On May 20th, this all came to an abrupt halt. I drove into my studio as I did for 2 and a half months, I had my coffee ready to go, I fired up my stereo and away we went. I started my class as I always did, at 10:30 am I gave everyone their warm-up and by 10:35 we started crushing our class. Everything was absolutely perfect, class was going great right up until 10:50 am, I remember looking down at the clock I had set on the floor, I used that to keep my time in check for class. Immediately, I felt like I was getting the flu it came on fast and strong, I remember thinking wow I feel sick like I gotta throw up. My mindset was God just get me through these last 10 minutes, I have to finish this class for these amazing people.
I got through the last 10 minutes somehow and now I needed to stretch everyone as I always did. I remember as soon as I logged off, I felt like I needed to get up and step outside for some fresh air. It was then that one of my clients rolled up on her bike to say hello to me, we talked for about 20 minutes and at that point, I became more nauseous. I went back into the studio and out of nowhere, I felt like I needed to throw up, I ran to the toilet and was dry heaving for over 10 minutes. It was then that a sharp pain shot through my back as I’ve never felt before I honestly thought that I may be having a gallbladder attack as sometimes I have. The pain was excruciating, I immediately thought to myself I’m going to grab my medicine ball and roll out my back in hopes to decrease the pain in my back. I tell everyone that was the worst and best decision I’ve ever made. The worst decision because soon as I rolled out on the ball immediately the pain shot through to my chest, the pain was unbearable, I truly have no words for it. It was also the best decision because, at that moment, I knew I was having a heart attack.
I remember calmly shutting down my stereo and locking my doors and then walking into my car. I could barely sit, the pain was brutal. I remember thinking my wife is going to be off work in 20 minutes, I’ll go home wait for her and see what I should do. I started driving home when the pain intensified it was then I called my wife at work and told her I think I’m having a heart attack. She immediately said to me get to the hospital now!!! I turned around and headed to the hospital. How I made it was truly a miracle, was it the wrong decision to drive-in instead of calling an ambulance? Absolutely, but I was terrified. I parked in the hospital parking lot, parked my car and calmly started walking toward emerge, it was then I ran into a few nurses, a few of my former clients. I remember them asking Dan how are you? With a smile on my face, I said I think I’m having a heart attack. Immediately, they told me to head into emerge. I waited in emerge for 20 minutes and finally, a nurse called me in to take my blood pressure and ECG. I remember her asking me “so you think you’re having a heart attack?” I said, “yes mam the pain is excruciating”. It was then she threw on a blood pressure cuff my blood pressure was 170/110 resting was 110. She didn’t seem too concerned said it could be anxiety so it was then we attached the ECG to me. I remember her calmly saying to me just relax here we go. I remember her tearing off the paper where my results were and she calmly looked at me and said I will be right back. That’s when all hell broke loose, I remember 6 nurses walking in immediately putting an IV in my hands and arms. I was given 2 blue pills (aspirin) and then nitro under my tongue. At this point, 2 doctors came in and told me, Mr Giancola, it appears you are having an acute heart attack, we need to get you to Hamilton, time is of the essence we have about a 2-hour window.
At this point, my wife and my daughter walked into the room right there and then I knew I was in huge trouble because this was Covid time they weren’t allowing visitors so I knew this was bad. At this point, we were in the ambulance racing to Hamilton. I remember lying there thinking “omg is this really happening right now” just as I had that thought, the nurse said we need to put this defibrillator on you Mr Giancola just in case, at this point, I was numb.

When we arrived at Hamilton General Hospital, they immediately rushed me through emerge cutting my shirt off as we were flying into surgery. 4 doctors and 4 nurses were ready to go waiting for me I was terrified. One doctor said to me Mr Giancola try to relax please stay still and try not to ask any questions right now. I remember saying no problem doctor and thank you for helping me. After about 45 minutes, the doctor looked at me and said Mr Giancola we got it and we are now working on the other one. I asked one doctor, “May I ask you a question doctor?” he said, “yes absolutely”. I asked, “what did I get?” He said, “you had what we call a widow maker we just got it on time your extremely lucky”. After the procedure, they told me I would be in Hamilton for 3 days then transfer me back to St.Catharines General to recover. Amazingly, that night 3 doctors came into my room 1 doctor every 3 hours and all said the same thing, “Mr Giancola you are a very lucky man, you have an amazing strong heart, we got this thing in 10 minutes to spare”. I asked, “what do you mean by 10 minutes?”. He said, “Mr Giancola if we didn’t get it when we did you would have had a massive heart attack and died”. He said, “your physical fitness and the strength of your heart saved your life”.

Photographer: Phil Cheever – Taken 6 months after the heart attack

Incredibly, that morning the doctors made the decision instead of staying in Hamilton, they sent me back to St.Catharines I was recovering remarkably. On the last day at the St.Catharines Hospital, we had to do an ultrasound on my heart and the news that I got back was nothing short of a miracle. I remember my cardiologist looking at me saying, “Mr Giancola it looks like you have no damage whatsoever to your heart and we expect a full recovery”. I was speechless I just cried. Fast forward 1 year later and finally, my check-up with my cardiologist and what a follow up it was. My heart has fully recovered absolutely no damage at all. My meds are all reduced and some meds discontinued. How do you go from almost dying to a full recovery? I believe with all my heart that my fitness conditioning over my lifetime is what saved my life. My biggest honour is when I was in the hospital and the radio stations were asking everyone to pray for me I was so touched. They even started #doitfordan t-shirts I’ve never been more moved like I was at this moment. I’m a truly blessed man although I suffer right now with anxiety and PTSD from all I have been through I am determined to get my training going and coming back better than ever my heart is stronger than ever and I’ve gotten a second chance in life and I will continue to inspire and motivate people to achieve their utmost potential through fitness.

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Photos By: Phil Cheevers