Everything I Needed To Know: One Foot In Front Of The Other

As I write, the bone of my kneecap is bruised. The vastus medialis in that same leg has stopped firing, the adductor longus has atrophied, and the patellar tendon thickened and swelled. Both arms are limited by what's called tennis elbow, my right more than my left.

The situation could be much worse; there could be sprains, a tear, I could need surgery. However, I'm a person who discovered something she enjoys and is good at, right when people are settling into middle age, and this something requires the use of these body parts.

But let me tell you why I have hope.

In this second installment of Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In My 41st Year, I'll explain the two sides of achieving a goal, based on my experience.

one step at a time
It started in November. I thought about how far I'd come athletically, from a chiropractor calling me everything but The Elephant Man, to tackling the sport ESPN has deemed most demanding. In the past year, especially, I'd seen significant improvement in endurance and agility. When a coach was convinced I used to play soccer, I shook my head in amazement and vowed to keep up those ladder drills.

Then I put two and two together. If the awkward bookworm could do this, anyone can do anything, and also the bookworm boxer can do a lot more. I vowed to take baby steps to reach two important personal goals: finish my book project, and compete in boxing.

Baby steps. No problem.

The book project went according to plan. I dedicated extra hours each week, and in a short period of time brought the manuscript to a nearly finished point. The book has always flowed well once I could bring myself to work on it, but I rarely would--the nature of its structure demands immersion in the material, and I never had that kind of time; too, the story is an intense one, and holding the writing often required a tissue in the other hand.

Kevin, whose story this is, has been nothing but patient and trusting in me, but I felt I owed it to the people I interviewed to finish it. They trusted me with their stories. Even now, people call or write to talk and cry with me. It's a beautiful story, and I'm privileged to work on it.

Right now I'm waiting on some documents, and with a few more hours should be ready to send it to the agent who showed interest.

Baby steps. As planned. So far.

acute trauma
As for boxing, I had my training plan in stone, leading up to a match in February or April. And then my knee went from feeling funny to being out of commission (my doctors say "acute trauma"--that there's no way I don't remember it happening. A guy at the gym is convinced I drink heavily). My tennis elbow(s) had been a major problem I'd been avoiding, so I figured I'd get therapy on them, too, while working on the leg.

That's both upper and lower body, you may have noticed. Suddenly there wasn't much of anything I could do. Of course, the situation could be much worse--there could be a tear or strain, a need for surgery. But I had goals to reach! How quickly one loses ground.

i'm not actually in control
Thus commenced a brief existential crisis. Who am I without what I can do? I'd be at the gym doing the little things, and I'd become angry. If there's one lesson to be learned in the gym by trainers and trainees alike, it's this: you've got to be doing stuff that suits your personality, or you'll lose motivation. I like a challenge. I like heavy stuff. I'd do one set of these pseudo exercises and then try one set of another boring thing and get annoyed, get nowhere.

And then I remembered my lesson: baby steps. One step at a time will get you there, even when you're thrown back to start, at which point you'll start again.

so start again
I've lost a lot of ground. I can't have any impact on my knee, which means it's very difficult to keep up my endurance. And right during the months when I can actually breathe (no allergies).

But after a few hours wasted in physical therapy, I'm seeing a chiropractor who is also a trainer and a strength coach. Jason Ross knows bones and muscles, and he's a miracle worker. Where the PT had me avoid all lifting, Ross told me the first day what to do while doing pull-ups--he assumed I'd be doing them. 100 squats a day to get the VM firing again. Moving into single-leg squats this week. I love this guy.

I can see progress in my arms and my leg. I've lost a lot of ground, but I know I can get back. It's an opportunity to reevaluate what's important, and also for something else I haven't learned yet. I can tell there are still a few more lessons my knee and my arms want to teach me.

accept where you are before you can travel further
There is an acceptance to moving on and growing. Part of my early crisis was due to the feeling I should be doing something, but not yet knowing what--waiting for the MRI, trying stuff and getting re-injured. But once you know what you're dealing with, you can make your choices.

It reminds me of when Theo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and people were mailing me lists of scripture verses to pray for his healing. While well-intentioned, this gesture only served to make us feel like it's our fault that he still had the disease. If we did all this praying, we would make the healing come to pass, seemed to be the theory. The power was ours, and since he still was diabetic, clearly we weren't doing our part.

But no. We needed to spend energy on how to manage his care. We needed to accept and move on.

The point that we're not really in control was brought home then, and when my November plans were foiled. But I can try again. I now have accepted that I can't run or jump, but I can do squats. I can't presently do front raises with 25s, but 15s, finally, don't hurt my elbows. I have accepted these limitations and will not jeopardize my recovery. I will take one step at a time.


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