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Fitness & Health

17th Jul 2018

Man beats cancer twice to become pro physique athlete

James Kearsley defeated leukaemia on two occasions - and is now a sponsored physique competitor

Alex Roberts

James Kearsley defeated blood cancer leukaemia on two separate occasions – and is now a sponsored athlete and physique competitor

The Tasmanian native, 23, spoke to JOE regarding his battles with a rare form of blood cancer, and a passion for fitness which has led to sponsorship and further success.

Kearsley’s background is very much athletic, which he believes stood him in good stead when the initial diagnosis occurred.

“Growing up I was always very athletic, participating in a range of sports.

“Going to the gym started as a hobby, and turned into a passion, and back then I had no idea how much of a positive impact being fit and active would have on my life in the near future.

“In February 2014, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia – a rare form of blood cancer. I had to undergo intensive chemotherapy straight away to stop the worsening of my condition. I underwent three cycles of chemotherapy from the beginning, not being able to work or go to the gym throughout the whole period.”

The treatment impacted Kearsley’s personal life from the very beginning.

“You could literally see my body change every day, with the regression and degeneration of my physique.

“It would be very depressing for most people to see their hard work vanish in front of their very eyes, but for me it only motivated me more to get back into the gym once I had recovered. I learnt so many things through my experiences, and in a way I am thankful for it.”

Initially, good news was on the horizon.

“After the three cycles of chemotherapy, I was announced as in remission in June 2014.

“I returned to the gym as soon as I was healthy enough, and started piling size back on. Once again you could literally see my body change on a daily basis. The stimulus of weight training, calories and my body’s muscle memory made me put on muscle incredibly fast.”

Such was his rapid progress, Kearsley decided to enter a physique contest – but then came the second diagnosis.

“Two months after my first competition, in December 2015 I was re-diagnosed with the same form of cancer.”

A second diagnosis meant he had to take an altogether different course of action.

“Since a relapse occurred, a typical chemotherapy regime would not be enough to provide hope of survival. I required a bone marrow transplant.

“Following two preparation cycles of chemotherapy, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to continue treatment and receive my transplant. Thankfully, after four months, I went into remission. 

“Once again, I started to rebuild my body after all of the weight loss I had experienced throughout the treatment process.”

Kearsley’s positive mindset undoubtedly helped him through the illness, and he has channeled this into a new career.

“Outside of treatment, I think my highest point was being picked up by Optimum Nutrition as a sponsored athlete and being able to travel to meet so many of the people who have supported me over the years.

“Meeting these people is honestly the most motivating and inspiring thing for me.”

Overcoming cancer twice provided the Tasmanian with a huge amount of motivation.

“The process provided me with a sense of perspective that not many people get, especially at a young age.

“After being announced in remission, a great sense of relief, joy and happiness came over me. It was a long journey, something that I am happy to have put behind me.”

Kearsley’s athletic history provided the foundations for his success, but he still worked hard to get the most out of his training.

“When I first started weight training I had no idea what I was doing.”

He set about learning what worked for him, and putting it into practice.

“I would go to the gym and just try and lift as heavy as I could, without really knowing what was working.

“Over time, I took the effort to research physiology, body mechanics and nutrition. Fitness has now become a passion I intend to keep up for the rest of my life.”

This is what Kearsley’s current workout looks like:

  • Six weight training sessions per week – following a Push / Pull / Legs split twice
  • Push day hits all the ‘pressing’ muscles such as chest, triceps and shoulders
  • Pull day directly trains the back, biceps and rear delts
  • This allows James to accumulate enough volume and frequency by training each body part twice a week

“My training is focused towards muscle size and strength, however there is still an emphasis on remaining mobile and maintaining a lot of athletic capacity.”

In terms of his nutrition, Kearsley follows a flexible approach that allows him the most enjoyment.

“I adopt a flexible dieting approach, often referred to as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). I find this method of caloric deficit works for me best as it allows me to eat whatever I desire, so long as I adhere to my set caloric and macronutrient goals.

“Having this flexibility of eating provides a lot of help with adherence in the long run, rather than ‘clean eating’ and fantasising about all the foods you are not allowed to eat – which can potentially lead to an unhealthy mentality towards food, and binge eating.”

The future looks good for Kearsley, and he has used his journey as a platform on which to help others.

“I have been in remission from cancer for nearly two years now. Within this time, I gained a sponsorship and have been lucky enough to travel to expos and fitness events to meet so many of my supporters. 

“I am now a personal trainer and coach for those wanting to better their health and fitness, or to enter bodybuilding competitions.

“I strive to show the importance of fitness for each individual, focusing on physical, mental and medical health.”

If you – or someone you know – has made an impressive transformation with a story to tell, you could be featured on JOE’s Transformation Tuesday!

Just send your nominations to [email protected]