The Gimpy Athlete
In the words of Bob Marley, “Lord I’ve got to keep on moving.” I could have quoted Kellie Pickler or Matthew Wilder, too, but Bob Marley is definitely cooler.
Of course with MS, one must pace oneself while moving. There is nothing like exercising in the midday heat to exhaust you or bring on an exacerbation. Try to keep on moving through that! Why do we push ourselves beyond what we reasonably should be doing until our bodies put on the brakes? Because once you slow down, once you give in and give up some physical activity, it is almost impossible to get it back. We don’t shed any tears over this, we just know it’s true, and fight to put it off as long as possible. That’s why there are so many of us walking unsafely without canes, using canes when we should be using walkers, and struggling with walkers when any reasonably intelligent person would be riding a scooter. This is why our long-suffering spouses hover over us waiting with the first aid kit for the next traumatic spill. Deal with it; stubbornness is a real virtue.
While most of the regulars at the gym (health club, fitness center, whatever) have gotten use to seeing me park my walker and climb precariously onto the cross trainer, I think everyone is less nervous seeing me using the new sitting cross trainer. Is this giving up on the standing machine, making a sensible switch for safety, or a good choice that allows me to get more real exercise out of my workout? I don’t know. Do normal people waste mental energy on this kind of internal debate? I don’t think so.
Now that it is summer, I don’t get my money’s worth out of my gym membership. It is too nice to be indoors. Of course outdoors can be problematic if it gets too hot, but if we get out early enough, or if the pool water remains around 80° F I can get by. But keeping up with Laura remains a challenge.
Laura gets out of bed no later than 6:30 AM (we don’t set an alarm, it just happens) to start her day. My children refer to this time of day as the ass-crack of dawn. Her first order of business if the weather cooperates is a 40-minute walk/run/jog in the neighborhood. Her criteria for cooperating weather have kept getting more liberal (about the only liberal aspect of her persona). When her office moved this winter, and she lost access to the free employee exercise center, she discovered that with the right clothing she could handle a brisk walk at much colder temperatures than she had once thought possible. I on the other hand mostly work at home, and could make good use of another hour and a half of sleep in the morning. However, once it warms up enough to go out without gloves, I join her on her morning constitutional.
How, you might ask, does a gimp with a walker go out on a 40 minute walk? I have a hand powered tricycle. Picture a low-to-the ground recumbent configuration. My feet go into brackets on either side of the front wheel. The two back wheels are splayed slightly for stability. Power comes from a pair of handles at shoulder level in front of where I sit (both hands move together, not alternating like bicycle pedals). Steering is done by turning the front wheel with the arms and the legs. The 21 gears give a wide range of speed vs. difficulty. It provides a great upper body workout. This hand-trike was not inexpensive, and I had great trepidation that I would not be able to use it when I finally bought it seven or eight years ago. Words cannot convey the feeling of freedom and the exhilaration I feel moving with speed under my own power. In retrospect, I have never spent money more wisely. I have since purchased a hitch-mounted specialty carrier that allows us to transport the hand-trike and Laura’s bicycle (also not inexpensive). Our wheels have followed us to local parks, Harrisburg, PA, and Prince Edward Island.
During the summer, a morning walk is just the start of my wife’s day. She feels that morning exercise really puts her in the right frame of mind for a productive day at work, and takes pleasure in telling me, “I’m dragging your sorry ass out for a walk!” After work, only thunderstorms keep her from swimming a kilometer at the Mountainside Community Pool. She has been doing this for years. The lane lines go in at 5:00 PM, and by 6:00 she is in the pool. Last year I started joining her a few days a week. I can no longer swim the distances I once enjoyed, but with leg floats I can usually manage 300-500 meters a few times a week. When I join her after work the children tease me, “Coach has you doing two-a-days.” I haven’t done two-a-days since football in high school.
When I was first diagnosed with MS 35 years ago, I was advised to cut down on my extracurricular activities and rest. I tried. It didn’t work for me then, and it is not working for me now. Fatigue, shoulder pain, and a sore wrist on my mousing hand are mitigated by an afternoon nap, wrist brace and an occasional vigorous massage. To quote Satchel Page, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."
July 6, 2011