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Monday, January 23, 2012

Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens Used a Hyperbaric Chamber to Heal a Toe Injury

Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens Used a Hyperbaric Chamber to Heal a Toe Injury
Stamped “P.M.,” the bag is filled with multicolored vitamin supplements. Before noon, the iconic Baltimore Ravens linebacker already had consumed a protein shake, egg whites, an apple, 2 gallons of water and a similar bag of “A.M.” supplements. Lewis, 36, is explaining why he believes he has survived 16 NFL seasons — and still is playing at a Pro Bowl level as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans— in such a physically demanding sport. In addition to a relentless year-round conditioning regimen and aggressive therapy for the toe injury that sidelined him for four games this season, Lewis estimates he swallows 50 pills a day. Then the veteran, hardly ready to declare this playoff run a prelude to retirement, reaches into the briefcase to show off his afternoon snack — another apple. “I’m watching these guys, with their cheeseburgers and stuff,” he says. “And you’re going to compete against me? Even if you’re younger and faster, your fuel won’t let you beat me.” His obsession for healthy eating is, well, notorious in the Ravens locker room. “His diet is so ridiculous, even the people around him have to adjust,” linebacker Terrell Suggs says. “It’s crazy. Last week, I’m eating a bag of chips, and he throws ‘em away.” Lewis is a fish-and-vegetable man who hasn’t touched pork in 12 years and has eaten beef twice during that span. He also doesn’t drink soda or eat bread or sugar — except for scant exceptions. Like his cheat snacks, Twizzlers and Gummy Bears. “To keep living life,” he says. Conversations with Lewis — a passionate, spiritual man and maybe the greatest middle linebacker ever — can branch into myriad directions that offer a glimpse into layers of his life beyond the game that made him famous. To get the latest sports news from USA TODAY, including game results, columns and features, follow us on Twitter at @USATODAYSports. He not only details the lengths he has gone to heal his toe and contemplates his gridiron mortality, but he also reveals a profound concern that generational curses of poor diet and exercise habits threaten the health of family members. Lewis is an unmarried father of six, and his relationships include people who have fallen on hard times. A boy who was the lone survivor when his mother drove her van into a river last spring. A 76-year-old cancer patient. A teenager with bone cancer — for whom he is paying medical expenses. “It goes back to the idea that, ‘To much is given, much is required,’ ” Lewis says. “With all the things I’ve been through, the No. 1 thing that I’ve learned is that we’re supposed to help people through this world.” He reflects on a big influence, Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. And a not-so-big influence, the father who suddenly appeared three years ago. As he sat at his locker, Lewis, who grew up in Lakeland, Fla., mimicked the gravelly voice of his late maternal grandfather, Gillis McKinney. “He used to have this old car, and he’d say,” Lewis said, changing his voice for effect, ” ‘Y’all kids keep getting all these new cars so quick, but I’ll keep a car with 500,000 miles on it. You’ve got to take care of the engine.’ “It’s the same thing with your body. If you clean your body out so that it is not fighting against you, you rest better, think better and you’re always light on your feet. I haven’t had as much as a cold in three years. Bottom line, your body is a temple, and you have to treat it that way. That’s how God designed it.” Tending to toe injury Yet on the field, some setbacks just happen. Lewis had started 57 consecutive games, dating to 2008, when he was sidelined in November. Although the injury was widely reported as turf toe, which generally involves the big toe, Lewis said the injured area was actually near the small toe on his right foot. “I tore a piece of my plantar plate,” he says. Says Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome: “A toe took out Jack Lambert, Deion Sanders and Jonathan Ogden— two Hall of Famers and another who will probably be one. You hear about ACLs and how serious of an injury it can be. People don’t realize how much the toe affects the ability to push off, change direction and accelerate.” Did Lewis — who still had a team-high 95 tackles this season — see the injury as a sign that his body is succumbing to wear and tear? “I don’t do that,” he says. “That cheats what warriors like me really go through on a daily basis to keep our bodies going full speed, running into people. If you’re trying to play a long time, it takes 24-hour treatment. There’s no break.” Lewis, who led the Ravens with 95 tackles despite the games missed, was bombarded with remedies from fans. One woman urged him to drink a special cherry juice. Another suggested a particular ointment. He also was told that he could alleviate pain by tying his shoes differently. In rehabbing the toe, with the tissue needing to scar, Lewis bought a hyperbaric chamber that increases oxygen flow. He had acupuncture treatment. He’s using a laser light that accelerates regeneration of tissue. “If you walked in my house, you’d wonder, ‘What is going on with this?’ ” Lewis says. “It’s like a space lab over there.” Retirement? Not now Perhaps this will be the final shot at another championship for the two-time NFL defensive player of the year (2000, 2003) and Super Bowl XXXV MVP. If the Ravens win it all, would Lewis retire in a blaze of glory? “Ask Haloti (Ngata) and Sizzle,” Lewis says of the all-pro teammates. Suggs, aka T-Sizzle, was adamant: “I can’t let him retire. We don’t even want him to come off the field.” Suggs recalled a 2009 game in which Lewis showed him his gruesome right hand — the bone of a finger broke through the skin — as the Cincinnati Bengals were driving. “I said, ‘Let’s get through this series, and you can deal with that on the sideline,’ ” Suggs said. “That’s how valuable he is. He’s still outplaying guys in their 20s. When it’s time to walk away, he’ll know. But it’s still not his time.” Lewis figures he wouldn’t still be playing if not for Sharpe, a central figure during a turning point in his life. When Lewis was on trial in Atlanta in 2000 after the deaths of two men during a brawl following a post-Super Bowl party (murder charges were dropped; he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge), he lived in Sharpe’s basement. Sharpe, who had signed with the Ravens as a free agent that spring, would pick up Lewis each day after court and work out with him. The houseguest became fascinated by Sharpe’s strict diet. “I give him a lot of credit for trying something that you’ve never done, which takes you out of your element,” Sharpe said this week. “As the years progressed, he got better at it.” The diet only scratched the surface of Sharpe’s impact on Lewis, who formed a bond with the tight end and safety Rod Woodson, who had joined the team in 1998. “When he was going though his ordeal, it was very tough on him,” Sharpe said. “But he had always been around people who told him what he wanted to hear. Rod and I, we would tell him what he needed to hear. That’s why he respected us.” Sharpe said he understood how Lewis, who grew up poor, was tempted to indulge in a lavish lifestyle after striking it rich as a pro athlete. “You can do all these things because you’ve got the money, but it might not be the best thing to maximize your talent,” Sharpe says. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to be at every party coming to a city near you.You don’t have to go to every all-star game.It’s OK to pass.’

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