In the shop

So it’s been a while.

No, I haven’t been running. Not for a month or so. Haven’t been swimming, either, for about 3 weeks. There’s been problems. With both legs. Well, one prosthesis, and one leg.

The ankle on my swimming leg really wasn’t performing satisfactorily. The mechanism that allows me to extend the foot into a swimming position didn’t work as smoothly as I would like it to. Sometimes it wouldn’t unlock from the extended position, which meant that I couldn’t get the foot into a standing position–unless I wanted to stand on my toes like a ballerina. And sometimes when it was in the standing position, it would then unlock itself while walking. So, after my swimming class ended, I took it to my prosthetist, who was stumped by it, so he sent it to the manufacturer, who was stymied, so they sent it to the inventor, who said when he sent it back it was working fine. I picked it up this afternoon, and although I haven’t had a chance to swim with it today, it really didn’t seem like it was fine. It seemed to have the same problem as before. I’ll have to get it into a pool though to see what I think.

The other leg that’s been giving me problems is not my running leg. It’s my left leg. My real leg. Real leg with a real problem. The last time I ran was the day of my last post–April 5. Almost 40 days ago.  I decided to give my calf a nice long rest. One of the reasons I felt confident about the time off is that those physical therapy students I’ve been working with have decided they want to keep working with me. It gives them a chance to learn more, and gives me a bunch of pretty high-end education as well.

That seven-week session we had ended last month, but on their own initiative they contacted another PT professor who is also a running coach, and we’ve just started another session. The last session was a full class, with all the students working with amputees in groups of 4 or 5 per client. This one’s just me and my five guys. Okay, four guys and a gal. And this professor.

I showed up ready to start running.

Didn’t run.

Didn’t even walk.

Barely stood.

Sitting. He had me do a lot of sitting.

Slightly less sitting than laying down, though.

Best. Training session. Ever.

Turns out the reason my calf’s giving me problems is because of my ribcage. Or something. He spent a lot of time talking about my ribcage. Making the students look at my ribcage, too.

Apparently the position of my ribcage relative to my hips is important. It showed him–pretty much at a glance–that I’m overloading my left side (the side with the whole leg) not only when I walk, but when I sit, lie down, stand up, ride my bike, and swim. (Probably when I take a dump, too, but thankfully he didn’t get into that area.)

Furthermore, I don’t really use my core muscles on either side. Not only when I walk, but when I sit, lie down, et c. et c, which means that my left leg muscles have not only been compensating for my right leg, but for my core muscles as well.

No wonder the calf was cramping.

So, he had the students teach me some little exercises–essentially pushing my ribcage down towards my hips and then pulling them back again. I think much of the purpose of the exercises are to get me to become aware of the muscles and how they move with each other. And to notice the difference between how they react on the left side of my body as opposed to the right.

I got the movements figured out pretty quickly on the left side, but they had to literally guide me on the right, pushing and pulling so much that I felt like a lump of sourdough. But I eventually kindasorta got it figured out, and so the rest of the day I’ve been practicing such difficult maneuvers as sitting up straight, leaning to the left and right, and lifting my hands up into the air.

Seriously. I was doing most of those things wrong. And don’t get me started on standing up. Sheesh. I looked like an amateur in that department.

But I don’t want you to think that just because I haven’t been running or swimming* I haven’t been training. I have. I’ve been doing a lot of core exercises, and a lot of  balance work (yes, I’ve been standing and sitting on my balls), and an increasing amount of riding. After all, the Tour de Cure century ride is only a month away.**

One cool thing that’s happened with the riding is that an acquaintance of mine is also doing the century ride, so we’ve been getting together and getting some miles in. He’s in his thirties, and this is his first real venture into cycling. Which makes me, by dint of having maybe 18 months more experience, the leader of the rides. Which is kind of neat.

Last Wednesday, he met me for one of my 5:30 am rides. Near the end of the ride we went up Pinnacle Hill, which is a short but pretty steep ride. It took a lot out of him. As for me, well, since I rode up a mountain, this should be nothing, right? Wrong. It was hard. It’s always been hard to ride up Pinnacle. The only difference is that I know I can endure the difficulty.

We took a breather at the top, and he asked me “When you rode up Mt. Washington, how much of it was like this?”

I smiled. “All of it.”

Which was an awesome thing to say. Because it was true.

It’s pretty fucking awesome to be awesome.

§§§§§§

*Interestingly, this session helped answer a question I had about my swimming, namely, why was I always swimming in circles when I wanted to go straight? It’s because I wasn’t extending my stroke nearly as far on my right as I was on my left, even though it felt like I was. Makes sense now.

**A century ride is a bike ride of 1oo miles–although when I mapped out the route that’s planned for us, I discovered that it’s actually only 94.6 miles long. I immediately decided that I would make up for the discrepancy by riding to the ride, rather than strapping my bike to my car and driving it there. Luckily, my anti-moron defenses wrestled that idiotic idea to the ground rather quickly. Because, while riding my bike from my home to the event may not be a bad idea, riding my bike from the event to home is a worse idea by several orders of magnitude.

Crap

So last night, I tried running again. I did the shortened stride thing, as it was suggested to me. I carefully landed on the ball of my foot, or flat, as was suggested to me. And the pulled muscle on the inside of my calf did not get injured.

Instead, I got a pull on the outside of my calf this time.

Am I going to have let every muscle in my lower leg complain to me before I can start running?

Crap.

Five Ten Fifteen

So last Friday (aka Ballday) my PT crew asked me if I was available on Tuesday for some additional work. There was going to be some sort of competition within the PT class, and they wanted to know if I could make it. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to, because it would be right during my work day. Fortunately, my schedule had been rearranged, and I was available, so I agreed to it.

Maybe ‘”fortunately” is too strong a word here.

When I left on Friday, I was told that the competition would be held outside on the track, so I dressed for outside work: sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt. When I got there on Tuesday, there were complaints that field was too cold and wet, so we were moving the competition inside. No problem, I thought: this was going to be something that amputees were going to be doing, so I should be able to do it without getting too overheated.

Except, I noted, I was the only amputee there. In fact I was the only person over 50 there.

Well, maybe the professor of the class might have been close, but he’s one of those extraordinarily fit dudes who have so little body fat that he might be in the negative percentiles. Yes, he could actually absorb minute amounts of your own adipose when you stand too close to him. I swear you could bounce a quarter off of any part of his body.

“Okay,” he said to the class (and me) when we started, “we’ll start out by doing a little warm-up and stretching. One hundred jumping jacks, and then stick the big toe of your left foot into your right ear.”

Yes, I’m exaggerating the stretch. But only a little. And I’m not exaggerating the jumping jacks.

One hundred jacks later, he put us through a number of stretches, the purpose of which, he said, were to prevent injury. I didn’t know preventing injury was so painful. But if stretching my groin would prevent me from pulling it, hey, I’m all for it. “How ya doing Brian?” asked one of my PT guys. Actually, they all asked that. Constantly. I’m not used to attention, and I know they’re only asking because they don’t want me to get hurt, but it gets a bit annoying at times. On the other hand, they’ve just spent four years busting their asses in order to help people become as physically capable as possible, so screw the bad attitude, big guy. “So far, so good,” I replied with a smile.

Actually, that was a bit of a lie. I pulled my calf when I did the jumping jacks. However, I didn’t want to lame out on the very first part–the freakin’ warmup for chrissakes–so I continued, promising myself that if it started to twinge more, I would stop. Fortunately, my calf stayed quiet for the rest of the competition.

Again, “fortunately” may not be the best choice of words.

We were doing a cycle of exercises: five burpees, ten pushups, and fifteen squats counted as one cycle. We would be seeing how many we could do in fifteen minutes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with a burpee, here’s what Wikipedia says about them:

The burpee is a full body exercise used in strength training and as aerobic exercise. It is performed in four steps, and was originally known as a “four-count Burpee”:

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground. (count 1)
  3. Extend your feet back in one quick motion to assume the front plank position. (count 2)
  4. Return to the squat position in one quick motion. (count 3)
  5. Return to an upright standing position. (count 4)

Except we were doing six-count burpees, where we added a pushup after count 2, and a jumping jack at the end. And we would be doing five in a row. Not so tough.

And the pushups were modified too: We were to lower our chests to the ground and lift our hands briefly off the ground before pushing back up. (This was only for the ‘pushup’ pushups. The burpee pushups were done normally. At least, I was doing them that way.)

“How are you doing, Brian?” asked one of my PT peeps.

“We haven’t started yet,” I said.

“Well, if you want to do the pushups from your knees, go ahead.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I’m probably going to be doing them that way myself. Just about everyone does, eventually.”

In the writing business, that comment is known as ‘foreshadowing.’

The one part of the exercise where I really wanted to keep my form as proper as possible was the squats. For them to be counted, the back must be straight at all times, and our heels needed to be on the ground. Ever since my days as starting catcher for the Allens Plumbing Pony League Red Sox, my heels came up when my butt went down, so I did my best to be aware of this change.  Another disadvantage for me was the fact that I have no ankle on the left side, so balance was even harder. I compensated for this by holding on to one of the many weight room appliances. I wondered idly what I would have held onto had we actually been outside. This would be the last idle thing I would do for the next 20 minutes.

Just before we started, the professor gave us another break: if we could no longer do either the burpees or the pushups, we could replace them with ten situps. Although that sounded a lot like being told I could choose to be punched in the throat rather than kicked in the groin, I could see how a few knees in the nuts might get me to appreciate having another option.

So we started. I went smoothly into my burpees, making sure my calf didn’t hurt on the jump up. It didn’t. The pushups were good, too, and I stood to do the squats.

I heard a voice call “How ya doin’ Brian?” It was the female member of my PT pals. She was just about to start her pushups.  Wow, I thought, I’m ahead of her! Then I realized, as she burned through the pushups, that she was already on her second cycle. At least. As were all of the rest of them. I felt like the coyote expecting to snack on a roadrunner, but instead getting a mouthful of dust.

So I did the squats. And then back to the burpees. And the pushups…and the squats…and…the burpees…and…the…push…ups… and…and…ohmygod…the…squats…

When I exercise, I tend to sweat. A lot. Under the best of circumstances I sweat. Doing these exercises indoors in my outside clothes wasn’t helping anything. By the time I started my second set of pushups, I was sweating heavily. By the time I got to the squats, there was a puddle underneath me.

“I’m about to say something you don’t want to hear,” called the professor. “You still have ten minutes to go!”

Ten minutes?!?! Ten minutes more of this? Are you sure you’re measuring minutes correctly?

The professor came over to me, and my waistline became a sixteenth of an inch slimmer. “How ya doing Brian?”

“Any better and I’d think I was at Disneyworld,” I replied between gasps.

“Haha! That’s the spirit! Good form!” he said, and bounced off to encourage someone else.

Where’s a punch in the throat when I need one? The only reason I’m getting up from the pushups is because I don’t want to drown the newly formed Lake Briansweat!

After the second cycle, I did pushups from my knees. After the fourth, I exchanged them for situps.

At the end of fifteen minutes, I was five squats shy of 8 cycles. They generously rounded it up to 8 for me. That’s nice of them, I thought. I should do those last five squats, just to be honest.

Then I thought, fuck it.

So, in fifteen minutes I did 40 six-count burpees, 40 pushups, 40 situps, and 115 squats. That’s an accomplishment. I felt pretty good about myself.

Until I realized that the next thing on my schedule that day was an 8 hour shoot.

Balls

…are playing a big part in my training right now. I’m sitting on them, standing on them, throwing them, and catching them, all under the watchful eyes of a group of senior physical therapy students at a local college.

For young men and one young woman. They’re all so earnest. And young. And fun. Plus, they know what they’re doing. Or at least, it seems that way to me, but what do I know? They could be making this stuff up just before I walk in the door.

I’ve been spending parts of my Friday mornings with them since the beginning of March. It’s part of their training to become accredited in physical therapy. There’s a group of ten or 12 of us, and we’re divvied up amongst the members of the PT class, each of us getting our on little pod of proto-PT’s. After they weighed and measured me and got some basic information together about me, they asked me what I wanted to get out of the sessions. “Core strength and flexibility,” I told them, and they nodded sagely. I nodded sagely too. It’s what you do when you talk about core strength and flexibility. I just wish I knew what the hell those words meant. I overhear them a lot at the gym, so I figured they must mean something.

I kid. I do know what they mean. And I need them. On most tests of flexibility, I rate someplace between a bridge support and a Fox News Commentator.

So they work on different stretches with me. They don’t show me how to do them. They grab various parts of  my body and bend them in ways they think they’re supposed to bend. And I know they are supposed to bend these ways. I know this because I’ve seen football players in warmups being bent these exact same ways. And I’m pretty certain the expression on my face matches theirs. It’s just that their ankles are much closer to their ears than mine are when they make the same faces.

Then they have me do some exercises. At one point I thought burpees and planks had to do with gardening and construction. I was silly back then.

And then we got to the balls. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with balls. I sit on a big one while they throw a little one at me. Well, not so little. But smaller than the one I’m sitting on. It’s a heavy ball, too. I grab it and throw it back, using just my back and abdomen muscles.

Then they have me stand on a ball–well, half a ball, at least, and I’m supposed to do squats while on it. Right now I’m just working on standing on it without falling over.

Balls, balls, balls. And then they showed me a way to run on my balls.

Um.

I mean the balls of my feet. Yeah.

Their theory is: since my calf hurts when my heel hits the pavement on the run, I should try shortening my stride. So I did a lap doing a light jog, using small strides so that I land flat on my feet (or on the balls) rather than on my heel. It feels sort of weird, and a bit silly, and like I’m not really running at all, but at least it’s getting me on the track and running, rather than sitting around making excuses as to why I’m not running, right?

After the session was up, and I changed back into my street clothes and regular leg, I ended up walking out with another one of the participants in this class. She’s a transfibial (or above-knee) amputee. Even though there’s a bunch of us in this class, we get herded off with our students for the hour, and don’t really have any interaction with each other.

“You’re the runner, right?” she asked me.

I almost said no. Not out of modesty or disingenuousness,  but because I don’t think of myself that way, and honestly thought she had me confused with someone else. But I realized she knew who I was more than I did. It made me laugh a bit.

“I dunno if I’m a runner or not,” I told her, “but I’m the guy with the running leg. I also have a trumpet. Doesn’t make me a musician.”

“Well, you look very fit,” she told me.

Wow. Runner. Fit. Not words I’m accustomed to hearing about me.

I thanked her, and we chatted a bit. She also keeps fit, and goes to the same YMCA as I do. Well, one of the ones I go to. I split my time between four. And as I talked to her, I realized that this may be the longest conversation I’ve ever had with an amputee.

Just because I am one doesn’t mean I know any.  I had to get back to work, but I told her I looked forward to seeing her next week (it would have to be two weeks, she told me, since she was going to be away this Friday), but she was happy to meet me too.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve spent my life hiding the fact that I’m an amputee. So this is something new to me. If I have a chance, I think I’ll try to at least say hello to some of the other participants when I can.

Believe it or not, that will take some balls.

 

In The Moment. Or Not.

Things have been really, really busy in my life. Hence, the lack of activity on this site. And on top of that, I’ve been beset by problems in my training. Both physical and technical. And mental.

Physical: My calf is still causing me problems. I’m doing an 8-week session with a local college, where there are a group of eager Senior Physical Therapy students who are working with me to increase my core strength and flexibility. They’ve got me on a series of stretches and exercises that are helping me out. But still, my calf acts up.

This past Friday, at the PT session, I did my first running in three-plus weeks. I stretched, and the students stretched me as well. But even with that, I only managed about 650 meters before my calf twinged again. Frack. So, more RICE and stretches for that, and another week of no real running. It’s frustrating, because the rest of my body feels ready to do this, and I’ve got to wait for one measly strip of muscle to get myself on the road.

Technical: My swimming leg has some issues. The ‘active ankle’ feature is supposed to allow me to quickly switch the foot from a ‘walking’ position to a ‘swimming’ position, which will allow me to actually start propelling myself along with my kicks.  While it goes into the swimming position relatively quickly when I get in the water, it seems to get sticky after it’s been used for a while.

Having a swimming leg that doesn’t work well when it gets wet is sort of problematic. Plus, when it does go back to the walking position, it tends to unlock itself as I walk. My prosthetist has talked to the manufacturer who wants us to send it back. I don’t yet want to do that. I’ve done some workarounds for the situation, such as bringing my regular leg to the edge of the pool while I swim. That way, if there’s a problem, I can just swap my leg there. While everyone is watching me.

Yes, that’s  uncomfortable for me to do. I feel very self-conscious when I do stuff like that. But it beats not doing the work.

Wow. Did I really just write that?

Mental: I’m just now getting an idea of just how much work this is going to take. While the amount of work doesn’t really scare me (see above graf again), the amount of time it will take to do the work is a bit daunting. I usually work 50-55 hours a week between my regular job and my freelance gigs. And right now, I need the freelance work. I dropped a lot of it last year to concentrate on riding, and my finances really took a hit. I would love to get a better-paying job, but that would mean I would need to know what I want to do instead of the job I have.

Actually, I do know what I want to do. It’s going to take some work and some luck to get to a point where I could do it for a living. And that work is going to take some time.

And then there’s the issue of my kids. I want to spend time with them I need to spend time with them. They are the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t want to end up taking all the time I spend with them away.

So far, I’ve been able to avoid that. I get up at 5 and exercise then. Or I do it during lunch. Some days–like today–I do both.  Some evenings I also do some workouts, but not every night. But there’s going to be a time in the not-too-distant future where I’m going to need to spend more time on the road or in the water, and less time with them.

I’m not looking forward to that.

Water Logged

I took my first swim class last night. Well, not my first ever. I’ve had lessons in the past, you know. Most recently I took swimming lessons at the Stewart Park pool in 1967, with my brother and this kid named Joey who must have always had a fever because whenever I swam through an area he was just in, the water was much warmer.

No, this wasn’t my first swim lesson. Just the first one with the new leg. Which will take some getting used to. I had a bit of trouble setting it to the fully extended setting in order to best swim. And once there, I had further trouble getting it go back to the walking setting. But I suppose this will get easier in time. And this wasn’t my first time in water with this leg. I did make splishy-splashy with my kids in a pool down in Florida last month. Where I promptly ripped off one of the toes.

But I got in the water and I swam. No, I didn’t. Yes, I got in the water. No, I didn’t swim. Not yet.

I learned to breathe. I learned to kick. I kicked a lot. I spent a lot of time kicking. With my arms out in front of me at first, then with my arms pressed down with my elbows in my ribs. I don’t get very far with just my kicks. I don’t know if that’s because of my leg, because of how I kick, or if no one goes very far with just kicks. I pretty much had my head in the water all the time. And I learned to make myself lean. In both senses of the word. I kicked, and I rolled, and I flipped, and I breathed. And not a single stroke was stroked.

Welcome to the world of Total Immersion swimming.

I first heard about TI* at the top of a mountain, of all places. Specifically, on top of Mt. Washington (I know, I know…I’ll tell that part soon. Promise.) by a triathlete who suggested that, should I ever want to consider doing a tri, it might be the way to do the swimming part. I assured him that I would never do one, but thanks for the information.

According to the website: “TI teaches you to swim with the effortless grace of fish by becoming one with the water. TI emphasizes the same patient precision and refinement taught by martial arts masters. We start with simple skills and movements and progress by small, easily-mastered steps. Our students thrive on the attention to detail and the logical sequence of progressive skills.”

So, I started at the bottom. Well, not the bottom. I always floated to the top. Karen–the instructor–started showing us the basics: hand position in the water, how to properly kick, how to exhale under water, how to align our head and shoulders.

It’s a lot coordinated physical movement. This is not my strong suit. I’m great when it comes to the whole left leg/right leg thing with cycling. One’s going down while the other goes up. Pretty simple. Anything past that gets to be a challenge. If I put my left hand in and take my left hand out, it’s an accomplishment. Shaking it all about is a bonus.

It’s kind of humbling to admit stuff like this. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been big on acknowledging my limitations. If I couldn’t do something well, I just didn’t do it. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of my life on the couch in front of the TV. I can channel-surf like a boss, yo.

But this doesn’t bother me. Again I was surprised at my reaction to the class. I think I was the worst swimmer of the group. Or maybe that was just my impression. I really didn’t pay much attention to anyone else. I just concentrated on my form, and accomplishing the simple tasks set out by the instructor, done in the order she gave them. How to kick. How to position my head, my arms. When to breathe in, and when to breathe out (hint: one of them you don’t do underwater).

I made mistakes, but I think I’m learning. Karen did a bunch of correcting of what I was doing, but she also let me know when I was doing it right. At one point, while she was working with one of the others in the class, the rest of us were hanging out at one end of the pool. One of my classmates looked at me and said “Well, it looks like you’re going to be the teacher’s pet!”

I laughed. “I certainly hope not!” I replied.

So I’ve got work to do. I’m guessing the mental part of the swimming is going to be more difficult than the physical part for a while. But that’s okay. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s been more than three decades since I’ve really done any swimming. I’m going to learn at the pace I learn, and swim at the pace I swim. Eventually I know I’ll be faster. I have no clue how fast I’ll end up, but I don’t care. The only person I’m competing against is myself, and since I’m off the couch, I’m in the lead.

§§§§§§

*Far simpler than spelling it out.

Pulling My Leg

My calf felt fine. Really, it did. No worries at all.

So, since I didn’t have to go to work Monday, why not spend an hour on the track?

I can tell you why not. Because I’ve got a muscle pull, that’s why not.

I was hoping that the pull I felt last week was due to the steep angle of the very short track at the Monroe YMCA, where I was running. So, I decided to go to the Metrocenter branch to do my running yesterday morning. The track there is much longer. Well, longer. 11 laps to the mile as opposed to 32. It’s a lot flatter, although it still has the banked turns.

So, after about 10 minutes of stretching, I did the first lap at a walk. It really is difficult to walk with my running leg, but not impossible. Imagine walking around with a 1″ thick block of balsa wood on the bottom of one shoe. There’s no real weight difference, only height.  And I keep on stubbing what would be considered my toe as I bring the leg forward. But other than that, everything felt fine, so I bumped it up to a trot. I did two laps, and then dropped back down into a brisk walk again, only partially because I was tired. I felt like I could keep going at that pace, but didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t want my calf to hurt again like it did last Wednesday.

Another walking lap, and I started to trot again. Everything felt stable. I was really paying attention to how my body was reacting to the running, and it was going fine. Better than fine. I felt ready to pick up the pace some more. So after one lap of trotting, I ran.

It felt good. It felt really, really good.

I was moving faster than everyone else on the track. Granted, everyone else on the track was in their fifties and sixties, but hell, so am I. I keep forgetting that. Seriously, I do.

I ran two more laps that way. They were easy laps. I knew I could keep going. In fact, I knew I could give it some more. I wanted to give it some more. That’s a relatively new feeling, and I wanted to encourage it. My legs felt good. I could feel the muscles stretching out, and I let them go. I picked up the pace, and let my legs stretch out some more, and started another lap.

I made it through three-quarters of the lap. Then my calf said “No, you don’t.”

I slowed down and got off the track, and just like last Wednesday, I tried to stretch it out. It’s just a cramp, I kept telling myself. It will be fine. I can work through it. After a few minutes, I got back on the track and walked a lap. Then ran a couple of laps.

Just like last Wednesday.

I did that ‘walk one/run two’ routine for the rest of the hour, never approaching anything like a full stride. My calf hurt, but I could deal with it. It was more of a dull, throbbing pain, as opposed to the sharp stabby kind that I first felt.

After the hour was up, I got off the track, did some more stretching exercises, and walked to the stairs. Then I walked past the stairs to the elevator (I was on the third floor) because my leg was hurting a bit.  By the time I got to the locker room, my calf was throbbing. By the time I got to the car, it was almost too painful to walk.

Just like last Wednesday.

A popular quote right now (at least, amongst the folks I tend to hang around) is “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”* Guess that makes me insane, because the same thing happened afterwards yesterday as happened last Wednesday: I limped through the day.

So, as best as I can, I’m doing the RICE thing (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and it’s feeling better. But I’m not going to be doing any more running soon. I’ve got some riding classes I go to, and they don’t seem to bother it, and also, I’ll be starting my swimming next Monday, so I’ll still be able to get training in.

A not-so-popular quote right now (at least, amongst everyone who’s currently alive) is “There is either growth, or there is decay. There is no status quo.”**  I guess I’m growing, because as I think back on this, I’ve come away from it with three realizations:

1. Do you have any idea of how weird it is for me to do push past an injury to continue something difficult? That’s not me. At least, it’s not the old me.

2. Do you have any idea of how weird it is for me to not berate myself for trying to run too soon after an injury? I’m choosing to view it as an earnest eagerness. Or an eager earnestness. I want to do this. I want to so much I’m too eager.  Yeah–earnest eagerness.

3. I have a freakin’  huge calf. I found this out when I started wrapping it. It’s like 21” around in some places. I mean, it doesn’t look all that big sitting there on my leg, but it’s got some girth.

I know the third one isn’t as deep or revealing as the other two, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

§§§§§§

*A quote that’s been attributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, and a Confucius. None of them said it, or at least wrote it down. Its earliest appearance in printed English language is in Rita Mae Brown’s Sudden Death. I guess some people think it holds more weight as a quote coming from acerbic long-dead man than if it comes from a relatively modern semiautobiographical novel about lesbian tennis players.

**A quote that’s been attributed to me. Cuz I said it.

The Hard Way

I’ve received several comments about yesterday’s post telling me that it sounded self-pitying. I find that interesting, because I wasn’t aware of that emotion when I wrote it. And reading it now, I still don’t see it. I tried to write about where I am, emotionally, with nothing added, and nothing taken away, and I didn’t feel self-pity.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no self-pity there. It may be there and I just don’t see it. That’s not unusual. I spent decades being so angry all the time that I never saw it. Sort of like a man who’s lived his entire life in a drizzle doesn’t recognize when it’s raining.

I do know that right now I’m a little more emotionally raw than usual. I’m putting to rest some ancient injuries and resentments, and my morning meditations for the past few weeks have been a daily hour of tears.  And no, they are not tears of pity. It’s just part of the process of accepting myself and my life, without judgement, and moving forward. Perhaps at the end of it, I’ll see that streak of self-pity, and put it away, and move away from it as well.

At any rate, I didn’t want to go into what will be an extremely busy week with that sort of post at the top of this blog, because I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to write again. So I’m going to reprint something that I wrote several years ago that is more in line with how I feel, or at least how the man I want to become feels about what could be considered a ‘tragedy.’ Apologies if you’ve read this before, but it is one of my favorite posts.

§§§§§§

When she was 19 years old, she was just another college student in Philadelphia, riding her bike. That all changed when someone in a jeep ran into her–actually ran over her-and kept on going.

The damage to her body was extensive. Her pelvis was crushed. Plus, there was neurological damage. Cognitive difficulties. Short-term memory loss.

Her recovery was going poorly. The pelvis is not an easy thing to repair. Plus, she didn’t seem to respond well to treatment. She felt, perhaps rightly so, that the medical staff was cold and uncaring.

At 27, she walks with a cane. Probably will for the rest of her life. She wears dark glasses and ear protection pretty much all of the time, because the accident left her hypersensitive to bright lights and loud noises. She spends much of her time with a TENS unit strapped to her waist to help with the muscle pains in her lower back that are a symptom of walking around with a reconstructed pelvis. Plus all that neurological damage. All of these issues will likely be with her for the rest of her life.

In the eyes of the law, she is classified as 100% disabled as a result of this accident. Tragic.

Yet…

Two years to the day of her accident, she was in a recording studio, the co-producer of her first major album.

Melody Gardot sings with an unironic hipness. A smoky, blues-tinged voice very much like Peggy Lee at her best, with a bit of easygoing scat thrown in for good measure. I loved her music before I knew her story, and now I love it even more.

And it all happened because while she was in the hospital a doctor had an idea: He had read about music therapy, and suggested she try it. She was a talented pianist, but the broken hip made it impossible for her to sit at a piano. So she was given a guitar,and learned how to play it. The goal was simply for her to find a way to cope with the tragedy that had happened to her, and to give her a mechanism to aid in her recovery.

It worked. Not only did the music help her emotionally, she started writing songs. Let me repeat that: a woman with short-term memory loss began writing songs. She recorded an EP while she was still in the hospital.

Now, this young woman is touring Europe. A person sensitive to bright lights and loud noises is standing in front of spotlights with amplified instruments behind her.

Is her life perfect? Far from it, of course. But she’s at a place where she never would have been before that person in an SUV left her for dead on an empty street.

This is what I’ve learned from Melody Gardot: you never know from where the blessings in your life will come.

I told this story to an acquaintance of mine, who asked me if I thought Melody Gardot would trade her fame and fortune for the ability to be a ‘normal’ twentysomething woman.

That’s not a valid question, is it? Point is, she can’t. No one can change what has happened to them. All we can do is change–if necessary–the way we react.

Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.

Put that way, just about anything can be a gift. Or a curse.

What are the gifts in your life?

Some Lessons Are Learned The Hard Way

Well I’m buckled up inside
It’s a miracle that I’m alive
I do not think I can survive
On bread and wine alone
To think that I could have fallen
A centimeter to the left
Would not be here to see the sunset
Or have myself a time

Well why do the hands of time
So easily unwind

Some lessons we learn the hard way
Some lessons don’t come easy
That’s the price we have to pay
Some lessons we learn the hard way
They don’t come right off and right easy
That’s why they say some lessons learned we learn the hard way

Remember the sound of the pavement
World turned upside down
City streets unlined and empty
Not a soul around
Life goes away in a flash
Right before your eyes
If I think real hard well I reckon I’ve had some real good times

Well why do the hands of time
So easily unwind

Some lessons we learn the hard way
Some lessons don’t come easy
That’s the price we have to pay
Some lessons we learn the hard way
They don’t come right off and right easy
That’s why they say some lessons learned we learn the hard way

For The Record…

I hate being an amputee.

“Hate” is a strong word. I try not to overuse it. It’s appropriate here. I hate being an amputee.

I hate having to think about every step. Have you ever said to me–as dozens of people have–“If you hadn’t told me, I never would have known?” That doesn’t just happen. That takes work. Every step. I hate constantly having to be aware of where my prosthesis is, lest it does some damage. Yesterday, I lost about 45 minutes of work because I shifted my prosthetic leg, and pulled my computer’s power cord out of the wall.

I hate having to ask if I can sit up front when I ride with people. I hate that I can’t really sit well in the back seat. I hate that my lack of ankle movement means I can’t easily get in and out of tight spaces. I hate that the top of the prosthesis digs into the back of my knee, and cuts of circulation, or rubs or chafes when I sit with my legs bent at tight angles.  I hate that I have to grab my leg and jam it back out the door when we get out. I hate having to check the back of the front seat, to see if I’ve inadvertently ripped a hole in it.

I hate that I have to put extra thought and effort into things you do normally. Do you hop into the shower in the morning? No. No matter how perky you are, you step into it. I hop. I have to. It’s hard to bathe in my shower, where I have everything I need right within reach. It’s harder in others, where the shampoo might be way back behind me, and there’s nothing to hold on to other than a flimsy shower curtain rod in case I lose my balance.

I hate lying in bed at night wondering how fast I can get into my prosthesis if I wake up at 3am and have to pee. Or worse: wondering if that extra minute might be the difference between life and death in a fire. For me–or worst of all, for my kids sleeping upstairs.

Hate it.

That being said, in the world of athletics, I’m at a real disadvantage–because I still have one leg.

A few months ago, while my prosthetist Ron and I were figuring out what sort of running leg would be best for me, we went into the shop area to look at some literature. We were trying to decide which running leg would also be the best to use for bicycling. Over one of Ron’s work benches was a poster of Scott Rigsby, the first bilateral amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. He was using the same legs that I ended up using.

“He’s at an advantage,” said Ron. “He’s a bilateral amp.”

“That’s an advantage I don’t want,” was my reply.

But it is an advantage. For one thing, there’s the whole “leg length” issue. My running leg is built about 1″ longer than my full leg because of the compression that happens when I run. That’s an issue for when I’m walking or moving at slower speeds. If I have 2 like that, it’s not an issue, because they’re the same length.

Another issue is design. Our legs weren’t really designed to run. Especially the lower half. The long, straight shins, heavy calves, and long flat feet with long toes are much better suited for climbing and grasping in trees.  If you were to actually sit down and design a lower leg that would be more useful to running, it would look like….well, it would look like my running prosthesis. It would absorb the downward energy one gets on the heel strike of a run, hold it through the middle stride, and release it on the kick. there would be no need for a clunky ankle joint, which is useful for rapid directional changes but not so much for straight ahead running. And, when the right materials are used, it weighs less than the average lower leg.

And having one leg one way and the other leg the other…it’s a noticeable difference.

Ever heard of Oscar Pistorius? He’s known as “The fastest man on no feet.” He’s got Olympic-level speed as a sprinter. He wants to compete with full-bodied sprinters, and there’s a discussion about whether or not he should be allowed to do so, because he might have an unfair advantage, for the reasons I listed above.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, and my opinion really doesn’t matter, but I think I agree that he shouldn’t be allowed to compete. And it’s not for the reasons I mentioned above. I really don’t know if these blades are better than the limbs they’re designed to replace. I do know that it’s better for running than the prosthesis I had been using, and that’s enough for me.

I also know that there may be a perception that they might be faster, and that’s what worries. me. Becca and I talked about this last week when we were running. My opinion on this is relatively new-formed, because until we were running I hadn’t thought much about it. And my thoughts are informed more by my relationship to addiction than it is to my life as an amputee.

Let’s see if I can explain this: I remember reading the results of a survey a few years ago. It was a confidential survey asking elite athletes about their views on performance-enhancing drugs. What caught my eye was the response to one of the questions that asked them if they could take an undetectable drug that could give them the ability to set world records their sport, but would end up killing them within 10 years, would they take that drug? Most said no. A large majority did, in fact. But some said yes.

When asked if they would be willing to trade half their life for the record, some people said yes. If they would do that, how would they feel about cutting off their feet to gain a few tenths of a second?  Athletes have chosen to remove damaged parts of their bodies–in order to keep on playing. Ronnie Lott had part of a finger removed after he had it injured in a game. He could have had surgery on it and it would have been fine. It was a relatively minor surgery, but it would have kept him out for the rest of the season. And if you think it was only because he was a professional, and it was only a small part of his finger, he’s not the only one to have done this. Trevor Wirke, a lineman for a Division II school, did the same thing. Dvision II players don’t usually make it to the NFL. He was a senior. He decided it was more important to play in those two games than to live the rest of his life with 10 fingers.

Some think this is cool and courageous, and maybe it is. But from where I’m sitting, it’s also dangerously close to addictive thinking.

I consider addictive thinking to be choosing short-term gratification over long-term consequences. I know we all do that. If you are on a diet, and you have that piece of cake, that’s addictive thinking. If you buy that new HDTV even though the money’s tight, that’s addictive thinking. If you’re happily married, yet still flirt with that attractive person, it’s addictive thinking. Does it mean your an addict if you think that way? I don’t know. How often have you done it? More often than not? Maybe you should talk to someone about it.

But back to the my reasoning: If athletes are willing to trade half of their lives or parts of their bodies for the chance for glory, what are the chances of an able-bodied sprinter who wants an edge to think about amputating his feet in order to get these blades? Is it really that far-fetched?

Anyways.

I went running again yesterday. About 15 minutes into the run, I pulled up lame. Had a muscle cramp in my calf. I tried to work it out, but it was still rather painful. I did do some running on it, but boy did it hurt. For the record, I think that’s addictive thinking.

My running leg was fine. Just sayin’.

I still hate being an amputee.

 

 

Back to New Hampshire

Continuing the story from last summer…

From August of 2008 through February of 2011 I had done a lot of work. From March through July I did a whole lot more. Now, in August, it was time to see whether I had done enough.

It was time to go back to Gordon’s.

I took 10 days off before the day of the ride, and 2 days off after. I dropped the kids off at a friend’s house  in Connecticut, and continued on to New Hampshire. Mount Washington is known for its ‘changeable’ weather, so I brought just about all my riding gear–including my winter stuff. The race has been known to be canceled–for snow. In August. But there has to be a LOT of snow for it to be canceled. Or lightning. Other than that, the race is on.

Gordon’s farm is about an hour’s drive south of Mt. Washington, but it’s still a rather hilly place. Gordon showed me showed me a few routes that he would ride back when he was competing, and even rode a few with me.

There are some people who don’t really age. They just get seasoned, like fine oak. That’s Gordon.He doesn’t look much different than when he was in college. He eats right, and life on the farm will always trump lunchtime trips to the gym. So, even though Gordon hadn’t done much riding in the past few years, it was a bit of validation when I not only could keep up with Gordon, but I could pull ahead of him at the finish.

But riding on some rolling hills ain’t climbing a mountain. So, we put the bikes on the back of his car, and drove to Hurricane Hill.

Hurricane Hill is in Conway, which is the town nearest to Mount Washington. It’s actual name is  Hurricane Mountain but it’s often called a hill for two reasons: 1) It’s a lovely alliteration, and 2) It’s in the shadow of the entire Presidential Range, and compared to them, it just doesn’t look all that mountainous.

But it’s a steep, steep climb. The road on the west side is a 1.5-mile-long 15-degree ascent. The road on the east side is nearly 2 miles, but only(!) a 12.5 degree incline. We got there around 11 am, and started climbing.

We started out slow, and I let Gordon take the lead. But a few hundred yards into the climb, Gordon moved to the side. “Don’t let me slow you down,” he said. I don’t know if I accelerated as much as he slowed down, but I started putting distance between us. About a mile into the climb there was a switchback that felt like it was going to be impossible. I got up out of my saddle and pushed. I won’t lie to you: part of what got me past that bit of hell was knowing that Gordon was behind me. I was pretty sure he didn’t think I would be able to do this. And with good reason. This was nothing at all like anything I’d ever done. He’d never see me push myself, because I never pushed myself.

Well, I was pushing myself now.

I made it to the top a good 5 minutes before he got there. I knew that he hadn’t been riding in a while, but I still wanted to make a statement. And he was impressed. For a minute.

“Now go down the east side, and come back up. I’ll wait for you here,” he said.

Oh. “You’re not coming with me?” I asked.

“I don’t have an appointment with Mount Washington on Saturday. You do,” was his response.

So I did it.

Yikes.

I’ve said it before: riding up a steep incline is tough. Riding down is scary. This time, though, I was also scared because I wasn’t sure I would be making the ride back up. I rode down until the road leveled out, then turned around and climbed back up again.

Ever have one of those moments when something you know intellectually hits you emotionally? Lots of times they’re negative. For about a year after my Dad died I would get these moments when the bottom would drop out of my soul, where I would really, deeply feel the fact that he was gone.

About a half-mile back up the hill I had one of those moments. But this time it wasn’t at all negative. I can do this, I thought. I’m ready. It will be hard, and it will hurt like hell, but I can do this.

Gordon met me about a half-mile from the top. He had started to worry about letting me go by myself. “No problem,” I gasped. “I’m good.”

And I was. Until we started back down again. Yikes.

We put the bikes on the back of his car, and drove down to a little wide spot near a bridge over what was either a small river or large stream, and we sat and ate some sandwiches and fruit we packed.

“I gotta be honest,” Gordon said, “When you told me what you wanted to do, I didn’t think you had a chance of doing it.”

Told ya.

“But watching you climb today–you’re ready.”

It felt really good to hear that. And, knowing what was coming, I’d take any good feeling that I could.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.