Heart Of A Champion: A True Animal

UPDATE: According to Ox who received an email, the hospital found a heart and Chris will be going into surgery this morning, 11/29/12, at 7am.

On any given day, in any given gym across America, Animals exhibit strength, fight and grit by lifting iron. But on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 20th, Animal got a personal and very uplifting look at what true strength really is in Valhalla, New York. It all started a week before when we received an email from a fan with a simple subject line that read:


A fan... Chris Slavin. Fans often need and want many things. We receive hundreds of emails where Animal loyalists ask us for t-shirts, hats, banners, or samples of Animal Rage. But this email from this particular fan was different. Chris asked us to forward his letter to one of our athletes, Evan “Ox” Centopani.

In need… Chris was diagnosed this past July with a rare heart cancer that was discovered after he went through surgery the month before to remove a tumor in his heart. By September, Chris had undergone three rounds of extremely aggressive chemotherapy. Chris writes, “I am in the stages of receiving a heart transplant because no amount of chemo or radiation would have been able to kill all the cancer in my body. Right now this is the third week I have been waiting and I am hoping that it comes soon since I have not had a treatment in a while and each day there is a chance that it could spread.”

According to Chris, only seventeen patients have undergone this type of heart transplant and, of those, only three have survived beyond two years, tumor-free. Three people. Despite these daunting odds, do you think Chris had thrown in the towel? Many likely would have done so in his shoes. After all, Chris tells us, “My life has completely been flipped upside down from being a very healthy, 22-year old college student to a weak, little, scared kid fighting for his life.” Understandable. But instead of giving up, Chris chose to fight.

In that fight, he drew upon bodybuilding (as many of us do) as a source of inspiration and strength: “Bodybuilding was my life and I loved, lived, breathed, ate and dreamt about getting bigger every day and would like to pursue that dream after my recovery if everything goes as planned.” That is his future. For his present, Chris had a few simple requests. First, Chris wanted a personal response from Ox. Second, he desired an autographed poster of his bodybuilding “hero” to hang in his hospital room, but only if Ox could “pull some strings.”

Ox didn't need to pull any strings. Upon reading this email, we knew we had to do more than have Ox respond to the email and sign a poster. The first thing we did was contact Ox. Upon hearing about the matter, Ox immediately volunteered to visit Chris in the hospital the following week, November 20th. As Ox told us, “Is there anyone who wouldn’t go? I mean, come on. With all the good fortune I’ve been allotted in life, going to see Chris hardly puts a dent in ‘paying off my tab.’”

We then planned for Eric to accompany Ox as a show of support from everyone here at the company. Finally, we got Muscular Development involved as well to help profile Chris’ amazing courage and to shed light on his moving story.

But before that visit, Ox wrote back to Chris. In his letter, Ox told of his father’s own experience with cancer. In October 2011, Ox’s father, Victor, had his right lung removed along with a section of his heart due to a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer. Despite the surgery and despite chemotherapy, the cancer came back and spread to his chest and neck. The week before he went to visit Chris, Ox had spent time taking his father to various appointments with the oncologist and the surgeon. With this personal experience, Ox told Chris:

Chris, I would never act as if I have the slightest clue as to what it feels like for anyone who is fighting cancer. Truth be told, to fight for your life may be the ultimate test of any man. Hey man, I know it may be easy to find inspiration in people you see on television or in magazines. When I was younger, I was easily enamored with people who seem to possess a larger than life image. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that image and substance don’t always come as a package deal.

Fame, glamour, celebrity status and image will always pale in comparison to genuine substance. You can’t buy substance at any price and you can’t convincingly portray it regardless of how good the actor, the filmmaker, the cameraman. And that’s because substance and character are developed through adversity. Flattering as it may be that you are inspired by me, the reality is that I am inspired by you and your decision to fight for your life, beat cancer, heal yourself and become the fourth person in the world to not only endure this transplant and remain tumor free, but to go on and live your life as you see fit.

That day, Ox stayed with Chris in that hospital room for four hours – long after the cameras stopped flashing. As he told us, “The last thing I wanted to do was show up and hit the road. The truth is, I may have benefited even more than him from our conversation.”

Not only did Ox sign some posters for him, he also gave Chris a personal copy of a book called, “As A Man Thinketh” by James Allen. Ox talked to us about how he received this special edition from Oscar Ardon back in 2009 and how that book helped him strengthen his mind:

Being a bodybuilding fan, I thought Chris might get a kick out of the fact that Oscar had given me the book inside which he wrote a small message to me. On the opposite page I wrote a message to Chris. Giving the book to Chris was much more than me offering him a piece of "memorabilia." It was about me giving Chris something that had helped me in so many aspects of my own life that I knew could help him as well. Back in 2009 Oscar invested a lot of time in helping me. I spent 2-3 hours with him, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. He never accepted any money for his help and when the show was over and the cameras rolled, the guy was long gone. I sincerely believe he helped me because he wanted to and because he was doing something he believed in. I've had a lot of help and a lot of great people behind me. People DO things because they believe in something.

I know Ox does things because he believes in them. I also know he’s the kind of individual who gives back what he has received – what he calls “paying off a tab.” This is the essence of being an Animal. Animal is much more than being a “meathead.” While the pursuit of big muscles is something that we all share, being an Animal also means having a big heart and giving back. Ox truly symbolizes this value.

Shortly after the visit, we received a follow up email from Chris. Reading his letter was a moving experience:

I just saw the forums of Animal and MD and everything turned out awesome and I couldn't ask for anything more! Words cannot express how motivated, happy, lucky, excited and gracious I feel at this moment! I am in such shock right now that so many people (who I don't even know and don't know me) posted such caring and supportive messages about their faith and hope that I will beat this f*cking thing.

This whole experience has put a new perspective on my life from inspiration and motivation to even a new and different outlook on mankind; that people are willing to help out strangers when they are down and out despite not knowing them. For instance, Sprint [from the Animal FORVM] wrote, "Is there a way to get updates on Chris' condition posted up somewhere here? Animal is family, we stand & fight together whether it means getting somebody pumped for a big lift, or keeping up to speed with the progress of a brother as he kicks the shit out of that thing. Maybe there's a way he could get a Journey started in here, & as a whole we can help him past any sticking points he may encounter during the toughest set of his life."

I just couldn’t believe people cared to that extent on how difficult of a situation I am going through and that they truly felt for me. It just blew my mind in such a positive way that I know I am going to be victorious in the biggest battle I hope to ever face in my life. Also, as a fan of Animal for the past few years (since you saw me already wearing a tee shirt from you guys, and I honestly didn’t even expect you guys would be the ones to come, or ever come it was just a complete coincidence) it gave me a new meaning and perspective on the company of Animal itself. Like the Sprint said, “Animal is a family” and I am a firm believer now that that is true and you guys have been the best support ever. To be honest even better and caring than some of my own family I have to say, sadly but true since some haven’t even come to visit me, so you can obviously see how much this has meant to me.

But regardless, again thank you so much to the whole Animal team for everything and if there is anything I could do for you guys don’t hesitate to ask! Or I will just keep you updated by sending you emails on what is going on with my surgery and recovery etc. Just let me know. Lastly, thank you so much again for everything you guys have done for me and you have truly put a new meaning to what family means in my life.

Chris, far from being a “scared kid”, you are a young man who has shown us a thing or two about courage and strength. Sometimes, we forget what those words truly means until we see it in person, up close and personal. We know you’re going to beat this. We know that one day soon, you will leave that bed in Valhalla to battle the iron once more as a warrior. When you’re ready, we’ll be there to fight with you. On behalf of Animal and the entire Animal Nation who has come to know you, we wish you nothing but the best. Get up and rise to the occasion, Chris. Stand and meet your challenges head on.

NOTE: For those individuals interested in leaving Chris a comment, a word or two of inspiration or motivation, you can do so in this thread.

Related Articles:

Animal Outreach: Higa Style 

Animal Outreach: West Coast Style 

Giving Back 

Reaching Back 



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