Propelled Him Through Extreme Adversity to Ultimate Success
After suiting up for his first game as a football player for the New Orleans Saints, D’Juan Woods collided with an opposing player, which resulted in a career-ending spinal cord injury. D’Juan was nearly paralyzed from the neck down. His team went on to win Super Bowl XLIV, while his path to recovery went downhill fast. Suffering from weight gain, severe nerve damage and opioid addiction, D’Juan would eventually make the biggest play of his life by getting back into the gym.
Almost starting from scratch, D’Juan set out to rebuild the left side of his body and to learn as much as he could about how to recover from his injury. The journey was by far the most difficult form of adversity he has faced in life. He stayed motivated by coaching youth football. The skillset and knowledge he accumulated throughout his career would never be taken from him, and he could pass it on to help future generations achieve their goals. He eventually lost 63 pounds and was recognized as the 2012 Men’s Fitness Magazine Ultimate Athlete Winner. Today, he is a much sought-after certified personal trainer, the equinox prodigy, and co-owner of Ultimate Athlete Bootcamp based in Los Angeles, CA.
How did you and your brothers discover your love of football growing up?
As little kids, we were always competitive, and it translated into every sport that we played. We chose sports that didn’t require a lot of equipment. We often grabbed a football to see who made the most touchdowns. Football was a sport that we played at home and at school against other kids who we didn’t normally get to see.
What memories do you have of throwing the football around growing up?
I remember my three brothers and myself in the front yard learning a few positions. My older brother Gary taught us how to play skilled positions such as cornerback, wide receiver and quarterback. Every summer our dad woke us up at 6 a.m. for a run on the track, jumping jacks, and to practice what my brother had taught us.
At what point did you know you wanted to play football professionally?
When I was in high school, Rashaun received a full scholarship for Oklahoma State. They chose the highest level athlete, and my brother made it. Seeing my brother’s accomplishment fueled me.
My goal was to go to the NFL. After high school, my next step was to get into division one in college because that would increase my chances of being visible with scouts and going to the NFL.
What was your experience of being a part of the Super Bowl-winning team, the New Orleans Saints?
It was terrible, in 2009 during the Super Bowl championship with the New Orleans Saints, I suffered a spinal cord injury nearly paralyzing myself, and my life changed forever.
I was not able to experience the season the way I initially planned. I battled my injury for the entire season before being told that the Saints were going to the Super Bowl.
Although I enlisted on the roster for the 2009 Super Bowl win, I didn’t participate or experience the win with my teammates. I was torn to know that after spending the entire season 1,000 miles away from home and sacrificing my body for the love of the game, I would not be part of the game.
After your injury, what was going through your mind when you were told you would never be active again?
Life as I knew it would change drastically. One day I wake up feeling like I can take on the world, and the next I wake up unable to move my left leg and arm. I realize that adversity happens to everyone and that I was in a battle to get the life I once had.
How did your life change because of the injury?
As a result of my injury, I had nerve damage and suffered severe pain. I gained over 50 pounds, and my health took a turn for the worst, emotional and mentally. At that time, I was prescribed opioids as a way to alleviate the discomfort and pain I was going through day and night. When you’re in severe pain the only thing going through your mind is that you want it to stop. At the time of my injury there was not enough public knowledge that opioids were addicting and the only time I felt normal was 15 minutes after two happy pills. In 2015 I discovered CBD and the medicinal properties of hemp and cannabis. I moved to California in order to medicate legally and educate myself, so I could transition from a health hazard.
How did you recover from your opioid addiction?
Good coaches teach their athletes how to be mentally tough and how to process and overcome adversity. I was able to extract the principles of my athletic experience to set a foundation to take my life back. I defined the principles of an ultimate athlete, an individual with the ability to identify, assess, process, and overcome adversity. These principles allow me to set a foundation, create a mindset and use that mindset to take my life back.
How did the mental toughness you developed on the field help you recover from your injury?
Athletes have a saying “find a way to find a way.” After my diagnosis and being told I would never play the sport of football again at a competitive level, I had a decision to make, let circumstances define me or take control and find a way to find a way.
What was it like for you to disprove the doctor’s diagnosis of never being active again to become the 2012 Men’s Fitness Magazine Ultimate Athlete Winner?
That was my first time competing since my injury. I was scared, and I had doubt, but I also had faith and something known throughout the athletic community, I had heart. All I needed was for my spine to hold up, and it did.
What led you to found the Ultimate Athlete Bootcamp?
My business partner Michael Myers and I share the passion of football and training. We wanted to find a way to instill the principles of athletes to anyone who wanted to develop mental toughness and improve the quality of life they were living in all phases mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We developed a system called the “Athlete Maker.” We believe that if you have a body, you are an athlete; you just have to unlock your mindset. We are based out of Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas.
How do football drills help non-football players improve their fitness?
A good athlete can move in all three planes of motion, has speed, agility, awareness and great proprioception. Football drills require you to exercise all of those elements at once and force you to think while accomplishing tasks with specific instructions. We call this being game ready.
What are the differences you see between the mindsets of an everyday person and an athlete?
Everyday people are easily shaken under pressure. An ultimate athlete is poised, confident and knows what they want and goes after it relentlessly. The everyday person avoids anything that is challenging and an ultimate athlete finds challenging things to overcome. An everyday person lets things happen to them, and an ultimate athlete creates opportunities and makes things happen.
What are some ways non-athletes can improve their mental toughness?
Every muscle gets stronger with exercise, your brain is a muscle, and you must exercise your mental strengths to grow it as well. Enter an atmosphere that requires you to be the best version of yourself by allowing you to break out of your comfort zone.
A Woods Fit slogan “Go Muscles Not Show Muscles” points to a difference between building functional muscles and muscles that look good. What do you see as the difference between the two focuses?
It goes back to mindset. When the main concern is to only look good with no functionality, it says a lot about how people approach their lives. The outside appearance is more important than substance and foundation on which things are built. They are both great, don’t get me wrong, but having both demonstrates strength in a person’s mindset.
Tell us about how Woods Fit Game Ready CBD pain lotion can help athletes.
During my search for knowledge and medicinal CBD, I tried some good and bad products. I wanted to develop a product for people with an active lifestyle that would help them recover faster and help with their everyday pain and be transparent with ingredients. I wanted to offer a product that is one of the best in the market as it pertains to managing aches and pains.
When you work with personal training clients, how do you tailor your sessions to the individual’s goals?
As a coach starting with a new client, there are two questions I ask myself: What does the client want? What does the client need? I create programs that help them accomplish personal goals and also show them what their bodies are capable of. Every client is different. They are starting at a certain skill level. I start them where they are and build from there. That way, we can progress in every phase as it pertains to health, wellness and exercise.
What are the main differences between training with clients in person versus online?
The main difference is the ability to reach and help more people in the same amount of time. Online coaching makes me a better coach by forcing me to provide as much detail as possible because of the inability to make corrections with clients on the spot.
What work are you doing with youth in your community?
I’m developing an app that helps re-enforce positive, healthy habits and educating kids on the importance of health, wellness and exercise. Children of all ages and sports will be able to visit my app, perform daily and weekly tasks, and be rewarded for completing and executing these tasks consistently, in time developing positive habits and gaining more knowledge.
What’s the most rewarding part of giving back to your community?
Knowing that I can change an individual’s life by sharing my victories and losses and giving them perspective on mental toughness to use positively in their lives.
Who inspires you?
The youth. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and with a mindset change they will accomplish amazing things I could only dream of.
What’s next for D’Juan Woods?
Creating my all-natural supplement brand, launching my CBD brand and my app, as well as traveling the country performing Ultimate Athlete Bootcamp events and more youth outreach programs.
By Rosalidia Dubon