Celebrity trainer Steve Jordan at age 32 has lived two lives. In this exclusive interview Steve describes how he nearly died, recovered, and came to be a fitness expert who once worked at the White House.
Steve, you once had a deadly accident but have fully recovered. Could you tell me what happened and explain how you nearly died?
It was September 23, 1994. I had just started my second year of college at the University of Maryland. A close friend that I grew up with, Brian, and I had traveled down to Baltimore from College Park that Friday night to see Johns Hopkins play Fairleigh Dickinson in football. We had buddies from home on both teams and were fired up for a great time and partying.
I was a serious athlete in high school and already into maintaining a high level of fitness. I was also young, lacked discipline, and was inexperienced. Before the football game we hit a few bars and did some drinking, and after the game we went back to a fraternity house on campus for a party. It was a sports fraternity, where most of the guys were at least 50 pounds heavier than me, were on sports teams, and were known to be able to party pretty hard. I tried to keep up with them but just couldn’t. At 5’9”, I was smaller and didn’t have the same kind of tolerance to alcohol. The rest of the evening is cloudy, and mostly pieced together from other people’s accounts.
The story goes that I was very drunk and wrestling around with Brian on the second story balcony when we went plummeting over the ledge together. My body was leading and I fell to the ground, hitting my head on the concrete. My friend landed on top of me, impacting the front of my head just above my right eye. My head got crushed and my face was basically split open. Brian ended up with a concussion from hitting his head on my face. Chaos ensued as we awoke from the initial shock and were in kind of a frenzy until I finally passed out.
The EMTs came and took me away to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center where it was soon determined that I would need to undergo emergency surgery. I had a hematoma (a localized collection of blood that was clotting in my brain), I was losing spinal cord fluid, and my brain was swelling at a rate that it ran the risk of crushing my brain stem, which would be fatal. They drilled a whole in my head to relieve the pressure, which was not effective enough, so they had to actually saw off part of the left side of my skull.
Surgery took nine and a half hours and afterwards I was in and out of consciousness. According to my parents, who arrived on the scene in time to be with me following the surgery, I came around enough to give them a thumbs up. After that they put me in a coma-induced state which allowed me to begin to heal, followed by two and a half weeks of intensive care. It wasn’t pretty. There were tubes everywhere, heavy medication… the works.
How did you react to this traumatic incident?
After about a week it really hit me how badly I had been impacted. I had lost movement on the left side of my face. I couldn’t close my left eye because of the nerve damage. Despite what they say, you never really want to sleep with one eye open. They were exploring options on how to deal with that, including another brain surgery, but at the last moment I was able to, by some miracle, get movement in my face. When I told them about it the doctors were skeptical, and when I showed them they were astounded.
As for my reaction to the physical and cognitive issues I was facing, in each case I was resigned to a complete recovery, so I immediately went to work on the muscles in my face. I did exercises every day working the muscles in my face like you would your biceps or abs. After a lot of hard work and dedication to a full recovery, I barely have any noticeable asymmetries today.
I had major hearing impairment in my left ear and would eventually have ear surgery to reconstruct my eardrum less than one year later. I also had some dermabrasion on my face where I have a scar at the top of my nose and through my right eyebrow and I opted for rhinoplasty (a nose job) to open my sinus because breathing through my nose was also difficult.
I also had suffered long term and short term memory loss. After about a month and a half in the hospital I was transported back to my home state of New Jersey to undergo cognitive rehab. I went for about three months and a test showed my memory was still just below average. The doctors didn’t want to release me and thought I would be better off in more therapy. Because my skills to function in the world without endangering myself were perfect, I was able to be released and sent back to school, but I still couldn’t drive for another three months in case of a seizure. I had my hills to climb for sure, but ultimately I focused on a full recovery and a new way of life that has brought me to where I am today. Because of how the accident changed my life, I look back on that date, September 23 of ’94, as a second birthday.
To this day I have lost my sense of smell, but that is the only residual effect that I feel from the accident. Cognitively I am in perfect health and physically I feel as good as I did when I was a teenager. Fitness has always been my outlet for making myself feel better both physically and mentally. It was what helped save my life following the extreme trauma I endured, and it has put me on the path to recovery and later success as a fitness/lifestyle professional.
You’ve expanded your life professionally and become a fitness trainer. I understand that you once were invited to train officials at the White House Athletic Center. What qualifications took you that route?
After the accident, I returned to my studies and declared a kinesiology degree. I took a class one summer that gave me the knowledge to pass the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Instructor exam and practical. At the time I began training some local professionals, professors, and peers on campus, and I was enjoying it. But I also entertained the idea of going a more corporate route with my career. It’s important to me to be able to reach individuals, but from the start I envisioned delivering a message to a broad audience.
I also attended a seminar that was sponsored by AT&T. There was a gentleman there from the White House Athletic Center giving an intriguing presentation on corporate wellness. I approached the presenter following the event and we talked. He asked for my resume, which I provided for him the next day. I didn’t expect much of it but about two weeks later I received a phone call from him asking me to interview for a part-time position in the White House Athletic Center, which is in the old Executive Office adjacent to the White House. Security there was high and I needed special clearance to be in the building. I went through two rounds of interviews and got the job.
Your three-pillared foundation for helping clients improve their lives is unique. Tell me how it works.
My three-pillars of success are motivation, inspiration, and education. I put them in this order for a reason. Motivation is something that we all need. When an individual comes to me to lose weight or get stronger, he usually has an idea as to what it’s going to take to achieve his goals. He’s just having trouble finding the internal motivation to do it, so I provide this need. It’s the first step toward success.
The second step involves inspiration. To intrinsically motivate yourself, you need to be inspired, either by yourself or by someone else. It’s that fire in the belly that enables you to push through the discomfort, maintain focus, and help you keep your eye on the goal. I like to provide inspiration at times through relating some of my experiences, both positive and negative. I’ve built into my program a number of tactics to get the client to the point that he is truly inspired through his own experiences.
The last step, which is really the nuts and bolts of my three pillars of success, is education. The more you understand why your body moves or does not move, the more efficient your efforts will become and you will see results more quickly. This too is motivating and inspiring.
A manuscript of your life is under construction for future publication. What is the purpose of your book?
The purpose of the book is to educate readers about the pursuit of fitness and wellness. It is not just about exercise and diet, but is a lifestyle.
Where do you provide training now?
My company, Steve Jordan Lifestyles, provides five-star service to clients across Los Angeles. This summer I will be working in Aspen; Mykonos, Greece; and St.Tropez, France, where I will be building a client base.
Who are your clients?
I’ve trained several A-list celebrities for their personal fitness and movie roles. A few recent clients are the musician Seal, America Ferrara from Ugly Betty, and Ann Curry for NBC’s The Today Show.
You were recently featured on the Tyra Banks Show. What was your role there?
Tyra Banks Executive Producers and Kellogg Executives chose me out of a large pool of personal trainers to work with four women who had won a contest called The Prize is Inside that Kellogg was promoting through their Special K cereal. These four women were from different parts of the country and needed to accomplish goals from long distance. My responsibility was to coach them over the phone for 12 weeks. This was very challenging, but through different tactics of coaching I was able to instill in them my three pillars of success: motivation, inspiration, and education. All four women achieved their goals successfully.
I sit at a desk for a portion of the day. What can I do to ramp up my metabolism?
Your metabolism is basically a series of chemical and physiological processes that help break down food and to provide you with energy. To improve metabolism, you have to eat. You have to think of your metabolism as a furnace. In order to keep that furnace stoked, you need to constantly fuel it. If you don’t it grows cold and goes into a hibernation mode. When you start to feed the fire again it will respond, but it is slow to heat up and won’t be efficient. When you don’t eat, your metabolism actually slows down to conserve itself. Your body goes into “starvation mode.”
What you can do to ramp up your metabolism a little on those days where you are chained to a desk is to find ways to get your heart pumping and body moving a little. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park on the far end of the parking lot to get a little more walking in, and try and incorporate a short aerobic workout into your daily routine. Also remember to get up from your desk and stretch frequently throughout the day, at least every half hour. And most importantly you need to eat. Bring your food to work. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Pack small, healthy snacks and never skip a meal.