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82 one-arm push-ups, Bruce Lee movies and shoot’em up video games help local fitness guru repair his scarred brain after near-death accident

September 20, 2017

Three years ago, Brunswick gym owner Jesse Di Michele sustained a serious brain injury after an horrific motorcycle accident. Doctors said his recovery would be minimal and that his brain was permanently damaged. His elite fitness would never return. What they didn’t count on was Jesse’s fighting spirit.

The medical profession’s gloomy prognosis only served to spur on this stubborn, straight talking, highly motivated competitive athlete, yet, still, the journey would be frustrating, experimental and confronting.

Jesse’s near-death accident scarred his left frontal lobe, which is involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, and social behaviour. All of which had been affected in Jesse.

This pocket-rocket, former professional fighter began the fight of his life and against great odds. His first steps were to retrain his brain’s neural pathways by painstakingly elementary memory games. Each day another item would be added to a ‘list’ to memorise. Eventually, and with tasks which made his brain ‘hurt,’ he put 1000 items on his ‘list’ to recall.

Prior to the accident in 2014, Jesse had been an elite level player of Call of Duty Black Ops video games. They require lightning fast reflexes and outstanding hand-eye co ordination. His martial arts and boxing had provided the foundation for these skills. However, when he first picked up the console after his accident, he did well just to turn the game on. “My reflexes were ‘shot’, he said. Ironic for a shooting game for which he had no peer! With dedication and persistence, Jesse slowly built up his gamesmanship and dexterity, repairing his brain at the same time.

As owner of the successful ‘alternative’ gymnasium Fittox, in Brunswick, run by ‘misfits’ (his words), Jesse began training his body at the same time. A personal trainer (PT) of long standing, he strived to get his body back in shape. Amazingly, after less than three years, he was able to break the unofficial world record for one arm push-ups – 82 in sixty seconds!

A big fan of martial artist guru and filmstar, Bruce Lee, Jesse was inspired by his hero’s performance in Dragon, where he fights-on after breaking his back. In reality, Lee did break his back but kept making movies, despite the injury. Jesse thought about his hero’s courage, every exercise he did.

Now, after the third year anniversary of his accident, Jesse has repaired his brain by creating new neural pathways through rigorous, painstaking exercise of his brain and body. The real test for his recovery came very recently when he underwent an MRI scan. The specialist was incredulous with what he saw. There was no sign of the scar on his frontal lobe. Puzzled, the doctor could not believe that Jesse has achieved the ‘impossible’ and healed himself.

‘My brain still hurts at times, because I’m stretching it to the limit every day,’ he said. ‘I want to use my experience to inspire others to rise above their prognosis and other people’s expectations.’

Jesse Di Michele can be contacted at Fittox Gym,18-120 Albert St, Brunswick VIC 3056 PH: [03] 9001 6214

Feature Image: Fittox Facebook

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