“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”
I was reminded, once again, this morning of how important it is not to judge any one, single moment. It’s been seven and a half months since my spinal surgery, and the ups and downs have continued to roll on. I was feeling more than a little bit sorry for myself recently, as the discomfort in my back flirted heavily on the verge of actual pain again. Because of this, I had decided not to make an attempt to run – opting, instead, for an evening of “NetFlix and Chill”, lying supine on the couch with ice packs and pillows strategically placed beneath my back.
They always say that it takes an entire year to recover fully from a surgery such as this… and thinking in terms of the surgeries that I have had to repair my arm/wrist, I wholeheartedly agree. But the one thing they never really seem to tell you is that, even though an injury can be “repaired”, your body will never quite be the same again.
I continue to realize this difficult fact, time and time again – even after all this time and despite all the progress I have already made. Recovering from a significant spinal injury isn’t like flipping a switch. The body recovers in a haphazard way. Some days, my muscles respond. Other days, they just don’t. I experience this in the gym, on the treadmill, in the bathroom, as well as the bedroom. It is what it is, and I am incredibly lucky that it hasn’t been much worse. But it’s frustrating, nonetheless. I draw comfort from the similarities in my experiences and that of our very own Pittsburgh Steeler, Ryan Shazier, as I read about how hard he has had to fight to recover and come back from his own devastating injury.
“Fight through it, Ryan. You got this. Fight through it.”
In the past, that’s what I’d say to myself during two-a-day workouts in the hot sun, when I couldn’t see because of the buckets of sweat cascading down my face off my forehead, when every breath felt like it was the last I had to give. Now, I was saying it while walking on a treadmill.
That’s the funny part: it actually took more fight and will and stamina to walk on a treadmill in the six months after my injury than it ever did to leave it all on the practice field as an NFL player. That’s because, on the treadmill, I was fighting my own body. My muscles, which had gradually awakened in the first three months after the injury, now had a short shelf life. I’d have to push them to exhaustion and then beyond. I had to work them into shape before even thinking about the process of recovering their lost memory.”Ryan Shazier, “Walking Miracle”
This is where I, too, find myself today. Fighting my own body, which inevitably craves the path of least resistance. Pushing my muscles to activate and move through workouts, yet being very careful so as not to reinjure my spine. Re-wiring my brain to remember what running looks like for me now is also a daily, diligent task. Because everything has changed. And no matter how hard we work, nor how much progress we make, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it will simply never be the same. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good… because, back to the original start of this blog: “I was reminded, once again, this morning of how important it is not to judge any one, single moment”.
Within hours of yesterday’s gym workout, which was heavy on hamstrings, core, and the engagement of my lower back muscles, I was quite sore. Yet, after icing and stretching and a full night of restful sleep, I woke up feeling practically brand new.
The body is often tired, achy and sore, yet movement is often the remedy. Which is a prime example of why we should never judge the moment that we’re in. If I were to base my decisions on how I feel in the hours after my workouts, I’d wipe my training calendar clean and never run again. Instead, I choose to give myself some grace, as well as adequate rest, and it is finally beginning to pay off immensely. When we started this journey, back in November, I could only run for a few minutes out of a total 17-minute workout. Today, I ran for 100 minutes, out of a 120-minute workout!!!
We are just 50 days away from running the Pittsburgh Marathon, and this race means more to me now than it ever has. More than the first time I ran it, unsure if I even had what it takes to complete such a distance. More than the last time I ran it in full, and PR’d the course by nearly 10 minutes. Even more than last year, when I ran the half with a friend – my spine wrapped tightly inside a brace, stabilizing multiple fractures, immersing myself in gratitude for the simple sake of my ability to run, and the sights and sounds of our incredibly supportive city.
Anyone who has ever known me knows that my will has always had a way of showing up on race day. But some things just go far beyond the power of your will. Like the physical limits of the human body – especially one patched back together with scar tissue and bone cement. I know I still have a long way to go in order to truly be ready… but my faith has most certainly been restored.