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Maitland Wilson always dreamed of playing football in the NFL, but his promising football career was cut short by a C1 vertebrae fracture and Stage 2 Non-Hogdkin's Lymphoma. However, just a few short years after beating cancer, Maitland found a new passion in fitness and bodybuilding, and recently won 1st overall at the 2015 NPC Ironman Naturally competition in Los Angeles.

Maitland, who is 24 years old and currently resides in Oakland, California, credits his passion for fitness and working out as one of the reasons he was able to beat Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. His story is the latest inspiring tale in our 6 Pack Fitness Features series.

Growing up in Florida, Maitland had always been an athlete. By the time he was in high school, he had found a passion for football and played as both a running back and defensive back. Though it was roughly an hour away, Maitland went to Florida's Osceola High School, one of the best football schools in the state, to follow his dreams of playing football professionally.

“Football was my sport. I thought I was going to play for the rest of my life and become an NFL player," Wilson said. “I never thought I'd need a fallback plan."

Maitland excelled on the field and started to draw interest from an array of top tier football programs, including Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, New Mexico, and more. However, during a kickoff drill at a summer practice before his senior year, everything would change for Maitland.

“The last practice before my senior year, I hit somebody and ended up fracturing my C1 vertebrae and almost became paralyzed," Wilson said. “And all I remember from that day is waking up in the hospital and the doctor telling me that I would never be able to play sports again. It changed my whole life."

While going through rehabilitation and wearing a brace, Maitland was still convinced he'd be back on the football field one day.

“I was rehabbing my neck, and every Friday, I'd go back to the football coach and ask if I could please play," Wilson said. “And, of course, he'd say no."

While Maitland couldn't play football his senior year because of the injury, he found another sport that he excelled in: track. Maitland would eventually run his way to a scholarship to Warner University in Lake Wales

“I told myself, ‘I'm going to go run track, but I'm just going to take a year off and then go play football somewhere else,'" Wilson said. “My neck ended up being fully healed, and one of my friends who played in high school with me ended up going to (Junior College) in California."

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Looking to get back on the football field, Maitland prepared to transfer to Mendocino College, a junior college in Ukiah, California. However, a week before leaving, Maitland went to the doctor's office to get a lump inspected under one of his arms. After the doctors expressed concern about the lump, Maitland eventually got more bad news about the future of his football career.

“I got a biopsy done and the doctors ended up diagnosing me with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was hurt, but I still wanted to go out to California to play football," Wilson said. “Me not knowing about cancer, I didn't know what to expect with chemo or anything. Cancer doesn't run in my family, so it was really surprising,"

Maitland still made the trip to California and practiced with the team before his cancer treatments started. However, after the second round of chemo, Maitland didn't have the energy to run with pads or participate in full practices.

“After the first treatment, I still felt okay and was able to play football, but by the second chemo treatment, I was done," Wilson said. “I started losing my hair. My energy was just gone. I mainly just couldn't believe that I couldn't play football."

“My life was kind of in shambles really. I didn't know what I wanted to do in life," Wilson said.

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Working as a model at Abercrombie in nearby San Francisco, Maitland found a new passion with some of his work friends: fitness and working out. Unable to do intense cardio at the time, Maitland spent most of his time in the gym weightlifting and doing calisthenics.

“I remember being at the gym one day and getting really tired when we were doing cardio and weights, but they all would push me and clap and make noise," Wilson said. “I feel like hanging out and working out with those guys, it was almost like I was on a team again."

“I feel like fitness and my friends are what got me through my chemo treatments," Wilson said. “To this day, I'm still friends with them and all we do is work out, but fitness gave me another path and really helped me through chemo."

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Through treatments and his active lifestyle, Maitland managed to beat Lymphoma and finally put his health issues in the past. After putting on a lot of muscle through his training, one of Maitland's friends suggested he should consider competing in bodybuilding events.

“My body changes really fast so I am able to make gains pretty quickly," Wilson said. “One of my friends who I always lift with told me one day, ‘you should compete man.'"

Taking his friend's advice to heart, Maitland toned up his body for competition and started to take his diet more seriously. After competing in his first show, Maitland wound up getting a 6 Pack Fitness Innovator 300 and 6 Pack Backpack to help regulate his diet and gym routine.

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In less than a year of training for NPC events, Maitland Wilson found success with his newfound passion for bodybuilding. As the overall winner for men's physique at the 2015 NPC Ironman Naturally in February, Maitland's passion for fitness is already paying off.

“I got a Six Pack Bag after my first show and I actually won the second show I competed in," Wilson said. “It gets me excited to pack my meals away in the bag and makes dieting that much easier. The bag is amazing."

In the upcoming year, Maitland plans to compete in national NPC events after qualifying through his win at the NPC Ironman Naturally, but he also has unfinished business with the first NPC event he ever participated in. After taking second place at the last NPC Contra Costa Championships in Hayward, California, Maitland intends to go back again this year for another try at first place.

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In addition to the promising bodybuilding career ahead of him, Maitland has also been modeling and preparing some other ideas with his friends, including a line of fitness products and supplements and even a T.V. show. Despite giving up his dreams of playing football, Maitland found a new passion in fitness and bodybuilding.

“It's different in a lot of ways than football, but (working out) is still something that makes me feel great," Wilson said.

With the motivation, perseverance, and drive to put his health issues behind him, we're sure that Maitland isn't going to let any weights stop him from reaching his goals. For more inspiring fitness stories, check out our Fitness Features or Transformations Series, or if you're looking for a Six Pack Bag of your own to help control your diet and routine, you can find our meal management bags, gym backpacks, and gym duffles on our website.