By Casey Ek

Those closest to Chudier Dang have come to admire the towering man for his sage like wisdom. When he experienced a life-threatening brain aneurysm and resultant stroke in 2019, many, including close friend and personal trainer Alex Murphy, feared they might lose an invaluable peer.

While traveling to Seattle, Washington, with his then girlfriend, Dang suffered the stroke as a result of an arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal interlocking of blood vessels in his brain. The episode put Dang in a coma for five months and left him paralyzed on the left side of his body, setting off a lifelong journey back to personal freedom.

In the aftermath of the stroke, Dang’s friends rallied to his aid, raising over $17,000 on GoFundMe to offset medical costs. The page is still active and can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/dang-lets-all-help-chudier.

Well, now I got a second chance at life, so to speak. I am really appreciative that I am still alive. Chudier Dang

Dang and Murphy’s mutual friends urged the pair to come together to speed Dang’s recovery process, which is entering its second year. So, for the last three months, the two have been undergoing sessions with the blessing of Dang’s physical therapist. The sole proprietor of Murphy Training and Wellness, Murphy had been rigorously studying body mechanics for a few years prior to the pair working together.

This collection of photos documents the days in the life of the Dang and Murphy’s friendship and training sessions as well as offering a small window into Dang’s life. Dang’s story is being documented on Instagram and can be found at https://www.instagram.com/chudisrecovery/.

Dang and Murphy are both graduates of Mankato West High School, and currently reside in the Mankato area.

Photo by Casey Ek - Personal trainer and close friend of Chudier Dang, Alex Murphy, assists Dang out of his wheelchair in Murphy’s garage in North Mankato. Murphy said that while he is not a physical therapist, his routines for Dang come from extensive research and with the blessing of Dang’s therapist. Responsibly repeating exercises, Murphy said, is crucial in Dang’s recovery as he attempts to rebuild muscle control and neural pathways to the left side of his body.
Photo by Casey Ek – Personal trainer and close friend of Chudier Dang, Alex Murphy, assists Dang out of his wheelchair in Murphy’s garage in North Mankato. Murphy said that while he is not a physical therapist, his routines for Dang come from extensive research and with the blessing of Dang’s therapist. Responsibly repeating exercises, Murphy said, is crucial in Dang’s recovery as he attempts to rebuild muscle control and neural pathways to the left side of his body.
Photo by Casey Ek - While the pair considered themselves close friends prior to Dang’s stroke, the rehabilitation process has caused them to grow closer still.
Photo by Casey Ek – While the pair considered themselves close friends prior to Dang’s stroke, the rehabilitation process has caused them to grow closer still.
Photo by Casey Ek - On Jan. 8, a day after experiencing a seizure, Dang and Murphy had a rehabilitation session. Dang lets out a heavy breath after repeatedly standing from his wheelchair as part of his workout program.
Photo by Casey Ek – On Jan. 8, a day after experiencing a seizure, Dang and Murphy had a rehabilitation session. Dang lets out a heavy breath after repeatedly standing from his wheelchair as part of his workout program.
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang and Murphy repeatedly walk down the hallway outside Dang’s apartment in Mankato. Murphy noted that when they began their sessions about three months ago, Dang would become winded after walking a partial stretch. Now, Dang can walk the entire roughly 150-foot stretch multiple times. Murphy is sure to stay at Dang’s left side to ensure his safety.
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang and Murphy repeatedly walk down the hallway outside Dang’s apartment in Mankato. Murphy noted that when they began their sessions about three months ago, Dang would become winded after walking a partial stretch. Now, Dang can walk the entire roughly 150-foot stretch multiple times. Murphy is sure to stay at Dang’s left side to ensure his safety.
Photo by Casey Ek - The conversations Murphy and Dang share typically remain lighthearted as Dang is not one to lament any of his life’s challenges. Topics range from the concept of personal egos to less serious anecdotes about past relationships. “At no point is he ever treating me like a professional, and that’s totally fine,” Murphy said.
Photo by Casey Ek – The conversations Murphy and Dang share typically remain lighthearted as Dang is not one to lament any of his life’s challenges. Topics range from the concept of personal egos to less serious anecdotes about past relationships. “At no point is he ever treating me like a professional, and that’s totally fine,” Murphy said.
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang hopes to one day shed his physical limitations to return to school. He also hopes to one day settle in Seattle, Washington, his favorite city. “I can’t even recall what I wanted to do back then (before the stroke), but I was moving quickly through life,” Dang said “Then the stroke hit, and it was just a break or like a wall. Now every day, I rebuild myself. I rebuilt my needs and wants and likes and dreams.”
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang hopes to one day shed his physical limitations to return to school. He also hopes to one day settle in Seattle, Washington, his favorite city. “I can’t even recall what I wanted to do back then (before the stroke), but I was moving quickly through life,” Dang said “Then the stroke hit, and it was just a break or like a wall. Now every day, I rebuild myself. I rebuilt my needs and wants and likes and dreams.”
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang rises from his wheelchair with Murphy’s assistance. Knowing Murphy had extensive experience in personal training, the pair’s mutual friends urged them to come together to augment Dang’s physical therapy sessions. Thanks to ongoing donations from three of their friends along with contributions from Dang, Murphy can sustain an income while providing Dang with training services. “One of the things that drew me to personal training in general is helping people overcome obstacles, and most often those are mental barriers,” Murphy said. “I would say this is a very exaggerated version of the personal training I’ve done in the past,” he added.
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang rises from his wheelchair with Murphy’s assistance. Knowing Murphy had extensive experience in personal training, the pair’s mutual friends urged them to come together to augment Dang’s physical therapy sessions. Thanks to ongoing donations from three of their friends along with contributions from Dang, Murphy can sustain an income while providing Dang with training services. “One of the things that drew me to personal training in general is helping people overcome obstacles, and most often those are mental barriers,” Murphy said. “I would say this is a very exaggerated version of the personal training I’ve done in the past,” he added.
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang and Murphy walk laps around Murphy’s North Mankato garage in early January. The pair along with Dang’s physical therapist have determined that walking above all other activities will serve the greatest utility in Dang’s life as autonomously walking will provide him the most possible freedom.
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang and Murphy walk laps around Murphy’s North Mankato garage in early January. The pair along with Dang’s physical therapist have determined that walking above all other activities will serve the greatest utility in Dang’s life as autonomously walking will provide him the most possible freedom.
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang extends his left arm as part of a punching exercise designed to train his weak side. He has no feeling or control over his left-side fingers, ankle or foot, so the pair hopes exercises like this will over time build the muscles and nerves needed to give Dang control over his left side. Dang said that while he is optimistic about progress, he understands the process will be a lifelong struggle. “Well, now I got a second chance at life, so to speak. I am really appreciative that I am still alive. I know things matter a little more, but I am still laid back.”
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang extends his left arm as part of a punching exercise designed to train his weak side. He has no feeling or control over his left-side fingers, ankle or foot, so the pair hopes exercises like this will over time build the muscles and nerves needed to give Dang control over his left side. Dang said that while he is optimistic about progress, he understands the process will be a lifelong struggle. “Well, now I got a second chance at life, so to speak. I am really appreciative that I am still alive. I know things matter a little more, but I am still laid back.”
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang clears sweat from his forehead after walking a stretch of hallway outside his apartment. The 15-minute walks Murphy has built into his workouts tire him out to the same degree as a full day of pickup basketball or bike riding would have prior to his stroke.
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang clears sweat from his forehead after walking a stretch of hallway outside his apartment. The 15-minute walks Murphy has built into his workouts tire him out to the same degree as a full day of pickup basketball or bike riding would have prior to his stroke.
Photo by Casey Ek - Murphy offers instruction while standing amid Dang’s personal reminders. As a result of his stroke, Dang struggles with short-term memory and has now resorted to keeping notes about his days on his phone. Dang has no recollection of one of the most impactful moments of his life. “All I have from that time is the photos people took of me and videos on my phone.”
Photo by Casey Ek – Murphy offers instruction while standing amid Dang’s personal reminders. As a result of his stroke, Dang struggles with short-term memory and has now resorted to keeping notes about his days on his phone. Dang has no recollection of one of the most impactful moments of his life. “All I have from that time is the photos people took of me and videos on my phone.”
Photo by Casey Ek - Dang sweats during a workout at his Mankato apartment.
Photo by Casey Ek – Dang sweats during a workout at his Mankato apartment.
Photo by Casey Ek - Murphy braces Dang's foot as he stands up from his wheelchair. Dang’s stroke caused him to lose control of his left extremities, meaning simple activities such as standing, or walking could result in severe hyperextensions in his legs.
Photo by Casey Ek – Murphy braces Dang’s foot as he stands up from his wheelchair. Dang’s stroke caused him to lose control of his left extremities, meaning simple activities such as standing, or walking could result in severe hyperextensions in his legs.
Photo by Casey Ek - Over the course of about three months, Murphy has loosened his reins as he has built confidence as a trainer. Fearing for his friend’s safety, Murphy held onto Dang’s gait belt, a strap therapists use to support their clients, for the vast majority of their first meetings. Now, Murphy takes a hands-off approach as much as possible as Dang regains autonomy.
Photo by Casey Ek – Over the course of about three months, Murphy has loosened his reins as he has built confidence as a trainer. Fearing for his friend’s safety, Murphy held onto Dang’s gait belt, a strap therapists use to support their clients, for the vast majority of their first meetings. Now, Murphy takes a hands-off approach as much as possible as Dang regains autonomy.
Photo by Casey Ek – Murphy casts a shadow at the feet of Dang in Murphy’s North Mankato garage. Murphy will be relocating to Minneapolis in February, leaving Dang with virtual sessions. The pair is confident Dang’s progress will continue.
Photo by Casey Ek – Murphy casts a shadow at the feet of Dang in Murphy’s North Mankato garage. Murphy will be relocating to Minneapolis in February, leaving Dang with virtual sessions. The pair is confident Dang’s progress will continue.

Author


  • is a freelance multimedia journalist with regular bylines in Mankato and St. Paul. A 2016 graduate of American University in Washington, DC, Casey covers, education, culture and politics.

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