Body builder stared in the face of death and persevered
By Rachel Lambert
Photographs by Michael Griffin Jr.
Clyde Norris knows what it means to conquer fear.
In 2011, Norris, an award-winning bodybuilder and owner of Clyde’s Fitness in Spartanburg, S.C., was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. This accumulation of abnormal white blood cells interferes with the development of red blood cells, causing a lack of oxygen in the body and bleeding.
The diagnosis came quickly, and before Norris knew it, he was admitted into the hospital to start blood transfusions and treatment. The doctors told him it would be a 28-day stay. Those 28 days stretched into a yearlong battle for his life.
At his sickest, Norris underwent physical therapy to learn to walk again.
“I was down from 218 to 148 pounds … I had to use a wheelchair to walk 10 or 15 yards, and I had to sit down because I was so tired,” he recalled recently. This weakness was hard for Norris, he confessed, going from an avid runner and heavy lifter to relearning steps.
One of the most remarkable parts of Norris’ recovery is the role that fitness has played in it. “(The doctors said) if I wouldn’t have been working out, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “The strength helped my body fight.”
In his book, “Cancer: 4th and inches,” Norris compares his experiences in the hospital to his experience as an athlete. Treatments, therapy and appointments were like going through practice and drills, but instead of linebackers, receivers and quarterbacks, he had a team of doctors. Everyone had a specific role, and the team had to execute a game plan in order for him to recover.
“I just tried to work as closely as possible with them and learn as much as I could, which I think is important too,” Norris said. “A lot of times people don’t know (about their illness), which doesn’t give them a positive outlook.”
In his book, Norris also writes about Feb. 12, 2015 — the day of his stem cell transplant. He remembers the day he finally left the hospital, his father at his side. As he put it, “Once my father and I left the hospital, the world seemed different. It was different.”
Norris’s struggle continues to shape the way he runs his Kennedy Street gym and to inform how he trains his clients. He shepherds his many clients’ dreams by offering encouragement and challenging them. Along with each individual’s personal goals, Norris wants every client to gain a strong body and positive outlook on life while they are training with him.
The irony is that Norris relentlessly helps others while fighting for his life each day. Although his cancer is in remission, Norris still takes 46 individual medications daily, including steroids, autoimmune boosters, and anti-seizure medications.
Norris rarely talks or complains about his struggle. Every time you walk into his gym, you are greeted with a warm smile and kind eyes.
“What did you eat this morning?” he asks. “How do you feel today?”
Norris listens, wanting every client to feel comfortable and confident he will reach his fitness goals.
While Norris helps his clients reach their goals, he also has plans of his own.
“(I want) to do my own movie script,” he confessed with a sly grin. “That is something that I enjoy … I’ve got my idea in my head. I just need to sit down and take the time to do it, just like I did with my book.”
In his book, Norris wrote he hoped to start competing in bodybuilding competitions again in the summer of 2015. However, some of the medicines he was taking inhibited muscle growth. Now, he plans to be back on stage in 2016.
“It will be a long process of eating and cardio and working out … but it will be fun,” Norris said. “It will almost be a bigger challenge than it was when I was show ready.”
Clyde Norris did not let fear win, choosing instead to triumph over it and let it fuel his desire to recover. He pushes himself toward his goals each day, and that quiet determination inspires his clients to strive for more.