I don’t want to bury the lead behind a long and sappy post, and this is going to be a longish and very sappy post, so I’ll first say, go to www.bulaball.com and check out all of Riaz’s hard work and, if you are so inclined, and know someone who could benefit from the product, please send the site along to them and help us spread the word.
Being married to Riaz has been nothing if not exciting. I have experienced so many things I would not have had I married another professional lawyer type and for that I am incredibly grateful.
When Riaz and I had been together for about a year, he was invited to the Caymans for a rugby tournament. I took a week off of work and went with him (it was the Caymans, I mean COME ON!) We had an awesome time. One of my best memories of the trip is meeting the Fijian rugby team who were the nicest group of people you could ever come across.
Fijians do a lot of singing, a lot of talking and a lot of sitting around drinking kava (some kind of dirt tasting tea made out of some kind of root that has a sort of drug in it that makes your lips numb – don’t ask me – they live on a tiny island, what else are they going to do!)
The Fijian word for hello is “Bula.” But they never just say it once, they always say it twice or three times so when I would run into the entire team I would hear a cacophony of Bula Bulas that was just the best thing ever. I think it is probably my favorite greeting in the world.
I think that experience planted the seed for the name of our new company, Bula Balls.
After Riaz moved to the states permanently, he was working on a construction site for one of our friends. I noticed every morning that he would take one or two vicodin to help get him through the day. And he would come home at night and just lie on the floor with his eyes closed clearly in pain.
After we got married, Riaz got an epidural to help with the pain. That you could even get an epidural for back pain was news to me, I thought epidurals were only for women in labor!
After going to physical therapy and seeing a few doctors, Riaz finally got the name of a doctor who was a specialist in back surgeries, at that point I was just a couple of months pregnant with Aiman.
I wasn’t there, but Riaz tells me that he walked in to the doctor and told him that he needed surgery … like now. Aiman was on his way and Riaz needed to be able to pick up his son.
The doctor was cautious, took some x-rays and an MRI and concluded that Riaz had a burst disc in his back and was an excellent candidate for surgery.
The surgery was outpatient, I took him into the surgery center early in the morning and expected to pick him back up around 2 or 3 to go home. I got a call at 3 saying that everything was fine, but that Riaz would need to stay until at least 7 or 8. I went over to the center at 4 or so to find out what was going on.
I met the surgeon – nicest guy ever – who proceeded to inform me that Riaz’s back was one of the worst cases he had seen in over 25 years of practice and he needed to keep monitoring Riaz for several more hours. Not to get into the gory details, but when the disc in Riaz’s back burst, the gunk that burst out of it caused a nerve in his back to compress against the bones of his spine. Because Riaz continued to play rugby, live and work after the disk had burst for who knows how long (but at least 2 years), the bones of his spine had begun to grow around the nerve causing what must have been unimaginable pain. The doctor told me more than once that he had no idea how Riaz even walked into his office, let alone how he played full contact rugby.
For a few weeks after the surgery, Riaz was basically confined to the couch. I would leave in the morning for work and set up a little picnic on the floor next to the couch so that Riaz wouldn’t have to get up.
At a certain point, Riaz was given the go ahead to get up and try to start walking around. He would walk (very slowly) from our apartment to the end of the block and back. Probably less than 25 yards.
Every week he would go a little farther and after a month or two he was allowed to go to physical therapy. Our insurance would only cover a few sessions, so after those ran out, Riaz was on his own.
A trainer he had seen before going into surgery had introduced Riaz to self-myofascial release; basically rolling around on balls and foam rollers to release muscle tension.
Riaz started rolling around on all different kinds of balls and pipes and bought all sorts of crazy contraptions to massage the tense parts of his body. Every night in front of the T.V., Riaz could be found on the living room floor just massaging different parts of his body. It became our running joke, “tonight I’m going to watch Grey’s Anatomy while Riaz rolls on his balls.” We’re weirdos.
Riaz always told me that the only thing he really cared about was getting into a state where he could reach into a crib and pick up our soon to arrive baby.
When Aiman arrived on the scene, Riaz could not have been a bigger help. He got up in the middle of the night to soothe Aiman (and me!) when we were at our wits end, Riaz took Aiman for walks so I could have little breaks and he had no trouble reaching into the crib and pulling the little guy out.
When I went back to work, Riaz was the full time stay at home dad. And he did a better job than I could have ever imagined. Riaz is, without a doubt, the best father in the world.
Little by little, Riaz got better and better. He wasn’t complaining of any pain, he wasn’t taking any pain medication, he was taking long walks with Aiman and he was venturing back into the gym.
Before long, Riaz was coming to me saying that he wanted to join the boys down at touch rugby on the beach. This was probably a year post-surgery. I thought he was a nutjob for even thinking about running around with a rugby ball again (even if it was just touch rugby!**), but it was what he wanted to do and I wasn’t going to stop him.
(** Ed. Note: I broke my leg in six places playing touch football in college. You can get hurt even when no one is tackling you!)
Riaz was playing rugby on the beach most Sundays and going to the gym maybe once a week and still just rolling around on balls and pipes every night. I started noticing that Riaz was steadily losing weight, was more energetic and was just happy.
More than that, Aiman was getting more and more active and Riaz was running, playing and just generally keeping up with the little terror. Something that I, who has never really sustained any kind of debilitating injury, still can barely do! The kid’s the energizer bunny.
At just over 2 years post-surgery, Riaz was invited to play full-contact, over-35 rugby at the Aspen Ruggerfest. I didn’t go, so I can’t attest to any playing abilities, but I can say that Riaz’s team won the tournament and the score of the final round match was a 51-0 blowout. I also met many of his teammates at a party in Denver before we came to Costa Rica and the way those boys were mooning over Riaz you would think he was the second-coming, so I’d say he must have played well.
When Riaz was flat on his back, out-of-shape, kind of chubby and completely depressed after his surgery, I really did not think he would ever be the active, exciting, energetic guy I had met a few years before. Thankfully, I was wrong. Riaz is a completely different person than the person he was 2 years ago. In fact, he is different than he was when we met, because even then he was in near constant pain, was self-medicating and was just tense all over.
Riaz has spent the last year and a half turning his experience into a business, Bula Ball, and it is finally ready to go.
I sometimes give Riaz a hard time because he is so passionate about his experience and helping other people who are in a pain. There are many times that we go out and and I find him cornering some poor person, gesticulating wildly and extolling the benefits of rolling on balls! It’s embarrassing.
But, at the end of the day, Riaz has made a complete recovery and he is a different and much happier person than he was two years ago. And he owes basically his entire post-surgery recovery to his persistence in keeping up with his daily practice of rolling on balls. If I had that same kind of experience I would probably be pretty excited about it too.
So, today we are launching the Bula Ball website. We have spent more time and money than I care to even think about right now trying to make the site and our self-myofascial release product as perfect as we can make them. I really believe that Riaz has developed a program that can help people who are in pain and I hope that everyone goes over to the site, checks it out and passes it on.
I am in awe of Riaz for putting together this business – virtually on his own. I could not be more proud of what he has accomplished and, not to be a total sap or anything, I love him more now (even though he put me though more hours of Bula Balls talk than anyone could ever imagine) than I ever have. He is an amazing person and he has built an amazing business and I just know it will be a success.
If you made it to the end of my sappiness – I salute you! Tomorrow, we will be back to our Costa Rican travels. We’re on our first road trip now and I have a ton to share.