Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Walk to Remember

Yesterday, as I had done so many times over the last few years, I strapped on my Garmin watch to record by GPS my time and distance. In preparation for marathons, keeping diligent track of each mile served to motivate me for the next one.

This time all I wanted to do was prove that I could walk more than the few feet allowed in and around my house. With Sally by my side--and sometimes in front of me--I did it. Exactly 0.75 miles, time immaterial.

A week after back surgery I have, for the first time in almost two months, walked. That's only a slight exaggeration. Yes, I could walk from my bed to the bathroom, from the parking lot to my office, from outside a doctor's office to the inside, and, finally, to the surgical waiting area. But, for this whole time, exercise of any kind was not an option. In a matter of just a few minutes, time on my feet meant tremendous pain in my left leg, the only relief was sitting or lying down.

I can't believe how amazing it feels not to feel that way anymore.

Each time I've ventured outside over the last few days I have remarked how bright it seems. I think my senses adjusted to indoor environments so thoroughly that everything is more intense outside. Sounds, sights, smells, everything. I missed a whole summer season, but maybe that will make the fall even that much better.

Yes, I'm still pretty stiff and sore, but I'll take it for now. Physical therapy is ahead, and full recovery may not be in sight yet, but I'm gaining some optimism that it's very possible.

I have renewed and immense respect for the elderly and the infirm. So many people, I'm afraid, deal graciously with greater pain than I had to and the world does not accommodate them readily. I won't ever be impatient when someone in front of me is moving slowly. I've been there. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn't move any quicker or farther. Sometimes, too, I hope to offer assistance. It was nice when people did, even when I didn't accept the offer.

Marathoning? Only time will tell how much running I can do again. I always wanted to run a marathon, and I'm glad I did my three when I could, so I have no regrets if I can't do another. I wouldn't mind being able to run a decent 5k at Thanksgiving, but I'll be okay if I don't.

Cycling? Not sure about that either. I'll have to be more aware of my limitations and what positions have the potential to hurt my back. Maybe I'll try a recumbent. That seems safer and maybe a less-harmful position. We'll see.

Living well? You bet. And I have lots of people to thank for getting me back to that starting point.

Of course, I don't know how to thank Sally enough for what she did for me over the last several weeks. She literally had to wait on me hand and foot, but never once complained. I'm serious, and I'm not sure that I could do the same so well, but I'll sure try. Our anniversary came and went two days after surgery, and the flowers I ordered for her dried up quickly, but my gratitude remains.

Anyone who knows my mom knows that she is a gift-giver extraordinaire. She arrived at our house the day after surgery toting more shopping bags of food than a Christmas Eve haul, and each one was filled with thoughtfulness. It wasn't the best day--because that's when the recovery pain set in--but it was as good as it could have been thanks to her.

Carvel Ice Cream used to make "Fudgie the Whale" cakes, and we'd get one for my dad every Father's Day. Inscription: "to a Whale of a Dad." A terrible pun, but one that made us laugh every time. You'd probably have to know all of us to get why we thought that was funny year after year, and my sister re-purposed the joke sending a bouquet of cookies to "a whale of a brother." "Get Whale Soon," I loved it.

Our friend Elaine sat with Sally during surgery even when it was rescheduled at the last minute from 11:30 to 7:30 in the morning. Later, she made two evenings worth of a spaghetti dinner for us. Pidge made chicken and rice and the Coles brought fish tacos for us. At first, I thought the latter wasn't going to be a good recovery meal, but it turned out to be delicious and just right for that night.

Lots of other people did little things once they heard I was sick. The phone calls, eMails, text messages, well, they won't soon be forgotten. I don't kid myself that the road to full recovery is going to be perfect. I have only just begun to test my limits, and I'm going to take it slowly. But, thanks to our friends and family it is off to a good start.

And I won't ever forget that first walk. In a way, I hope I have learned to appreciate each walk I take as a special gift in and of itself.

Walk on.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Slowing Down for a Bit

A year ago this time I was running my last 20-miler as I prepared to take part in the 2011 San Francisco Marathon. Now I see the ads for this year's event and I know I'm not even close to being ready. I missed my long run today as I have missed all of the short runs, too, over the last couple of months. 

It's not choice, or heat, or lack of motivation. It's pretty nasty back pain that's taken me from health I take for granted to health I wish I had. Sleeping and sitting are just fine, but walking or standing--let alone running, cycling, or kicking a soccer ball--are out of the question. Actually, it's not really back pain any more, but radiating leg pain that's the most intense.

Either the combination of physical therapy and steroids is going to work soon or it will be a quick surgery to correct a lower-back herniated disc. I'm anxious to reach that conclusion so I can get back to a life of activity, but I certainly have come to respect the challenges that people face as they age or become physically limited in other ways.

One thing that I have learned to become is more economical. I think more about what I'm going to do before I get up because I know I have a limited amount of time before the pain kicks in. I also appreciate the things more that are in range of easy reach. Conversely, the things that are not so easy to get to become less important to me. In the end, this kind of thinking might not be too bad a thing because it's resulting in some simplification in my life.

My love and affection for my Uncle Mike have increased, too, because he deals with pain like this, and far worse, constantly, yet he lives a dynamic, abundant, and kind life, a model not unlike the one my father set.

One conclusion, many handicapped parking spaces meet regulations, but don't necessarily make things easier. I got a temporary pass to use until this is over, but I have noticed the ramps aren't near the spaces and the spaces aren't necessarily near the doors. There's rarely a place to sit when you need it, and waiting for slow elevators is way tougher than I had ever realized it might be. I can work at my desk just fine, but I try to time my four-flight descent after work so I can avoid a "local" trip downstairs that stops on each floor. I'm not kidding. Yesterday, the power went out in my office and I had to walk the four flights. I made it with no problem, but I couldn't help wonder how anyone who was truly handicapped could get out of that building. 

I'm not complaining, though, because in my heart I understand that this is just a temporary setback that I will recover from. There is positive to come out of this in that I know I will have had a good reminder about appreciating what we can do with ourselves and our time. 

I'm glad to say that even with this inconvenience I can look back at my life and say that I have used my physical ability as well as possible for the most part. I've been able to finish a few marathons, climb a mountain or two, cycle lots of miles, and coach hundreds of young people in soccer. I think I will be able to do most of that again soon, and I will love it even more when I do.

I'm slowing down for a bit, but I'm not giving up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Good Guys I Sort of Know

I love team sports. Playing, watching, coaching, it doesn’t matter. Mostly, I love what team sports show us about our character and who we are as human beings.

The two NFL conference championships played last weekend were thrilling to witness yet both turned on individual mistakes. In one game, a kicker missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds to leave the Baltimore Ravens just short of the Super Bowl. In the other, a punt returner twice fumbled away glory for his team, the San Francisco 49’ers.

Read any commentary you can find about how those two teams handled themselves afterwards and you will be suitably impressed by the pride, maturity, kindness, and solidarity that the players and coaches demonstrated. Their positive behavior reminds us that amidst all of the high profile, high-flying, highly-paid, professional athletes are lots of really good young men and women.

Which reminds me of a story about two of them…

Back in the 90’s, when the Redskins were regularly at the top of the football ranks (and I was a huge fan), I was riding my bicycle literally thousands of miles each year. I wasn’t a fast rider, but I was a strong one that could easily do twenty miles of commuting on a weekday basis and fifty miles or more on weekend days.

One nice spring afternoon as I was riding home from work—on a route that passes close to the Redskins training facility—I was joined by two big men who dwarfed me and the bikes they were riding. I knew instantly who they were, but rather than get overwhelmed by their fame, I did what all good cyclists do. I let them grab a wheel and then I paced them over the next four or five miles.

In my mind I was giving them a good, hard workout, but since I couldn’t see them I had no idea whether they were even breathing hard. It certainly would have been easier on me to draft behind them, given the size difference, and it would have been simple for me to take a back seat given their celebrity, but it was a unique opportunity for me to take as the ride leader and I took it.

When we reached my turn for home, we stopped for a moment. I reached for a handshake not knowing what else to do or say because I’m terrible at brushes with fame.

“I’m Art,” said one, “and this is Monte. Thanks, man.” And we shook. And we went our separate ways. That’s it. No show. No brush off. No attitude. Just two good guys I now sort of know.

Art Monk, wide receiver, NFL Hall of Fame, Class of 2008. Monte Coleman, linebacker, selected as one of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time in 2002, the team’s 70th anniversary.