Before getting sober in 2017, Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller spent years struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.
As he has previously discussed, Waller struggled to fit in at school as a child, which eventually led to feelings of stress and his battle with addiction. Waller, who sustained a hamstring injury during Week 5 of the NFL season that has kept him on the sidelines, says he’s now found a way to channel any stress or discomfort he may feel into his recovery routine – so he can tackle it.
“I was addicted to painkillers, and I want to find different ways of not having to go that route again,” Waller tells PEOPLE.
Waller says getting sober helped him realize that “nothing good really ever happens in your comfort zone.” That mentality is why he continues to explore new ways to challenge his body and mind.
But his journey to this point has already been filled with many obstacles. In 2017, Waller nearly lost his life after overdosing on drugs laced with fentanyl. Di conseguenza, the NFL suspended him for one year for abusing banned substances.
Grateful to have another chance, Waller now prioritizes the “mental and spiritual elements” of his wellness with his physical fitness.
The 30-year-old NFL star and Icy Hot recently invited PEOPLE to Las Vegas to experience his recovery routine firsthand.
After a morning workout with his trainer Dr. Zaki Afzal, Waller receives a full body massage, asking the masseuse to incorporate Icy Hot products that’ll relieve his sore muscles throughout the morning.
The relationship between Waller and Icy Hot is about as organic as brand sponsorship can get. He and Afzal say he uses the products routinely, namely the brand’s latest Icy Hot Pro, and the contrast of hot and cold temperatures shows up throughout Waller’s recovery routine.
Weekly, the Raiders star visits IMR Float, a float center in Henderson, Nevada. He starts in the infrared sauna, which will reach 150 gradi.
Immediately from the sauna, Waller shocks his nervous system under a cold showerhead before plunging into a cold tub chilled at 49 gradi. He’ll stay immersed in the tub for about five minutes.
The goal of the cold plunge is to forget being cold, and while the physical demand after a few seconds is shocking, the mental challenge keeps Waller coming back.
“One thing I remember was John Harbaugh, when I was in Baltimore, he would always say, and he made his t-shirts said, ‘Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable,'” Waller recalls.
“You have to push yourself, you have to strain, you have to go past what you may think your limit is in order for you to see something different; get a different result, go to a different level,” Aggiunge.
Waller says he’s realized “from getting sober to getting back into the league, to getting to where I am now in my career, there have always been challenges, there’s always been adversity there and you had to rise above it.”
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While Waller’s under the cold water, a guide from the spa helps him tap into the mental toughness he’ll need to take with him on the field.
“You have experience of sitting in that discomfort and allowing yourself to feel all that and surrender to it,” Waller describes. “So it’s just like you breathe and you surrender, Va bene, this is what it is.”
With the cold, Waller says, “You go to Green Bay or a Buffalo or somewhere like that, and it’s just a mirror image, just very uncomfortable.”
Infine, “you can tap into that,” lui spiega. “That’s pretty much like the basis of my recovery – believing in a power greater than myself.”
The Pro-Bowler insists that the practice benefits all aspects of his life. “It shows up on the field, it shows up in relationships, it shows up anywhere that I go, so I got to make sure that’s in tune,” lui dice.
Waller also utilizes meditation, yoga, and reading as part of his wellness habits. And his commitment to recovery and mental wellness is also evident in his book selection. He says he’s recently enjoyed The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by Christain Pastor.
Waller says the book is “basically about how in society we always go, we’re always in a hurry to get something done or get to the next thing. And it’s like we never really stop and allow ourselves time.”
He smiles when he makes the connection between the book’s message and his own values, before remarking, “It all comes together, eh??”