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This Professional Drummer Recovered From Two Lung Collapses, Now He’s Training for His First Ironman

After easing back into running post-surgery, he’s ready to take on the mental challenge of the triathlon.

nick gross how running changed me
Caleb Alvarez / Courtesy Nick Gross

Name: Nick Gross
Age: 33
Hometown: Laguna Beach, California
Occupation: Drummer for the band, girlfriends
Time Running: 20 years

Growing up in Laguna Beach is probably the luckiest scenario possible. I’m eternally grateful to have grown up skating, surfing, skimboarding, playing drums in bands, going to shows of my favorite bands, and so much more. There’s an energy and a vibe about Laguna that sticks with you the rest of your life.

I was a super rambunctious kid with endless energy. Finding the drums early on was like finding your perfect soulmate. I started a band when I was 13 and made that my complete focus, and landed my first record deal at 17 with Sony Epic. Having a focus when you’re young is so key, at least when I was in my teens. There were less distractions than there are today, so it allowed me to really focus on my music and drums to begin an early career.

After we signed a deal with my first band, I dropped out of school and started to meet a ton of songwriters and producers in Los Angeles. It allowed me to create a pretty deep network quickly, and I used that network to start making music for other artists. It was a natural progression from my own music to being able to work on songs for other artists and explore the world of music publishing and producing. Music fuels everything I do in my life, and also inspired me to start an education company, Find Your Grind.

I also started my relationship with running when I was 13 years old as a cross-country runner in high school. I had so much energy and my head was always going 100 miles per hour, so running really gave me a release from that. On the other hand, I’ve come up with some of my best ideas running. I love the feeling of being in motion, to keep pushing forward. Running gives me that feeling; it releases the endorphins that I need to be productive and positive, and keeps my fitness at a top level of productivity for me to be able to play the drums for two hours a night. It’s a win-win.

Outside of the running I was doing in school, I ended up racing in a lot of half marathons up in San Francisco and around the U.S. to keep pushing myself.

The biggest obstacle for me was having my lung collapse—not once, but twice, in 2016 and 2017. I was playing a show, and my lung completely collapsed. It was a wild experience. It felt like an elephant was stepping on my chest. It was one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced. And it was completely traumatizing experience for me.

I spent two weeks in the hospital and didn’t think that I would ever be able to run and exercise again. It happened from a pulmonary bleb forming on my lungs, similar to blisters that rupture and cause air to leak, but outside of your lung. I had no idea I had this condition until after my lung collapsed. Blebs are a rare genetic problem, which can affect young athletes. The pain was so excruciating.

I ended up getting surgery, and I was told there was less than a 5 percent chance that the lung could collapse again. The surgery involves sealing the lung to my rib cage so that it can’t collapse again.

Getting back to exercising was all about just listening to my body. I felt the effects of surgery for a good two years until I felt like myself 100 percent again.

As a runner, you obviously need your lungs, so this was a huge juxtaposition to be in. I didn’t run for a solid four months after surgery, and then gradually came back. It really is all about just listening to your body as much as you can and letting that guide your recovery and journey back into exercise.

I still deal with the recovery of the surgery today, but it’s also taught me to trust in my body and to power through the hard moments.

In terms of running, sometimes it will feel like my lung has a cramp in it—similar to a side cramp, but a lung cramp. It sounds odd, but that’s the way that it feels. They don’t happen regularly, just every now and then. Sometimes I’ll have to stop running or training because of the pain, but that’s very rare. I can sometimes become sensitive to different air qualities and altitudes as well. It’s made me tougher. In a lot of ways, I’m glad I had the experience because it made me grateful for a lot of things and has allowed me to see the world differently.

The apps that I use now are Strava and Nike Run Club. I’m currently training for a half Ironman. It will be my first, so I’m really excited to see how it goes. Putting the combination of running, swimming, and biking together will be really cool and something that I’ve never experienced before. I’m ready to be uncomfortable.

I try to run for 45 minutes every other day, and I’ll gradually start to run longer and longer the closer I get to race day. Truth be told, I’m sure nobody is ever fully ready for an Ironman, no matter how in-shape they are–it’s really the mental aspect that excites me the most.

Running is really a life-changing lifestyle that can add so much to your life. Even if it’s ten minutes a day, it really has the ability to bring so much positivity, mentally and physically, to your life. It’s worth it to find that routine for yourself and use running as a backboard for that. And we can’t forget how fun it can be. It makes you feel alive, excited for the future, and like your best self.

These three tips have made my running journey successful:

1. Start early

Start your days early and make a plan for the day ahead the night before. Staying with that discipline will change your life.

2. Stay in motion

I think it’s so important even if you don’t know the perfect thing that you want to do in your life to keep experimenting and trying things to see where they might lead. Life opens doors that you’d never know if you would have just kept trying.

3. Enjoy the process

The man who loves walking will walk further than the man who loves the destination. This one is all about the process and enjoying the process of your journey and the moments that lead up to your goals.

Nick’s Must-Have Gear

Apple Watch: I wear this to track my heart rate and steps throughout the day.

Celsius Energy Drink: This beverage gives you the perfect kick of energy to start your runs.

Spotify and Apple Airpods: I have to have running jams on lock!

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