You Gotta Have Friends

(The Time of My Life, Part II)

When we left our gallant hero

In June, I set out on a new journey—a journey that would not only test my physical abilities, but also force me to face my demons.

If you’ve followed my columns dealing with how I live with my disability, you know that I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) nearly two decades ago when a driver struck me from behind while I was riding my bicycle.  Never one to let the “little things” get me down, I’ve been a very active person ever since, because (or perhaps in spite) of it.  Until recently, however, I’ve avoiding any leisure activity that involves wheels and the road (except, of course, for driving, but that’s more a necessity these days).  But I’m in a position now where I’m strong enough to tackle my fears and venture into new and exciting activities—like rollerblading.  Learning this, like everything else, is a process and requires the utilization of goal-setting.  I set a goal and drew a concrete map of easy-to-follow steps that would take just a few months to complete.  Then I’d be skating around Lake Calhoun.

There are times when flexibility is key.  This summer I’ve figured out that learning to rollerblade is going to be tougher than I originally thought.  I figured I’d just strap on the skates, learn to compensate for my decreased sense of balance, and roll.  Let me just say there’s a lot more to it, especially when you have a disability.  Remember when I talked about the concept of goal-setting?  About how it’s a process in and of itself?  How you set a goal and then design or map out the steps you’ll take toward accomplishing that goal?  Mini-goals, those steps are called.  Well, the reality is, sometimes mini-goals become goals themselves, requiring mini-goals of their own.  And, though this potentially drags the process out longer, the learning experience is much more fulfilling.

I’ve spent the majority of this summer, so far, figuring out why it is that I’m still so wobbly on the wheels after all this time.  By my estimation, I should’ve been a lot more secure on my blades by now.  And yet I find myself trembling every time I put them on.  Part of that, I know, is psychological and something I’ll just have to get over.  But why do I have a problem just standing?

The first time I was ever even on my skates, Alex, my wonderful, imaginative and resourceful physical therapist, had the notion to compare the experience of teaching me how to rollerblade to when she taught her own children how to ice skate.  It’s the same concept, really.  With her daughter, she told her to hang on to the back of a chair and kind of push it along in front of her for support.  My situation was more like a scene from “I Love Lucy” (you know, the one where Lucy and Ethel get into trouble).  Alex took the first thing she found in the gym we were using—which happened to be a large, Rubbermaid garbage can on wheels—and stuck it in front of me.  If someone nearby had been standing ready with a video camera (nobody was, thank God for small favors), the footage would’ve been a shoo-in for the $10,000 America’s Funniest Video award.  But at least it gave me a feel for what I was up against.

The second time we tried it on a treadmill.  This was my idea.  I wanted to see what it felt like with the “road” moving under my feet – with, of course, something to hang onto.  I’m covered in padding every time I put on my skates, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to get frisky just yet.  It still felt like something wasn’t right.  The weird thing was, I really didn’t know what it was “supposed” to feel like, but I knew it shouldn’t feel like it did.  I just knew I didn’t feel secure enough to even think about trying it on my own around Lake Calhoun.

That night it hit me.  I realized what was wrong.  My left leg (the weaker and less stable of the two) was turning in and making me unable to support my body weight on the skate.

The next step was back to Alex.  I needed her advice on the muscle groups I would need to isolate to overcome this new dilemma.  Together, we looked at the program we’d put together a couple months previously and, to both of our surprise, there were no specific exercises assigned that would target my groin muscles, which are the ones that were turning my leg inward.  So we worked together and added four new leg exercises to my regimen, which should help in that area.  They’re killer, but that only means they should do the trick.  And the way I figure, they really, really hurt so I must be doing ‘em right!  I just have to keep moving forward now, take the winter and continue to work out at the Y to strengthen my muscles.

My roommate, Peter (y’know, the one who eats my food out of the refrigerator), deserves a special acknowledgment at this point.  He’s been such an positive force since I started this endeavor.  He goes skating nearly every night and he never fails to ask me if I think I’m ready to join him.  I know, too, that if I were to say, “Sure, let me grab my skates,” he’d go easy on me and be as patient as a father would be with a son.  So far, however, I haven’t felt up for it and he’s cool with that, too.  Still, he’s with me every step of the way, waiting, and when I’m ready, he’ll be there, holding my hand if necessary.

The other special mention I have to make is that of Alex, my physical therapist.  The next time I would have seen her is in six to eight months for an evaluation, since I’ve been discharged from her care.  (We’ve either accomplished all the goals we set together or put me on the road to accomplishing those goals myself.)  Unfortunately, Alex is leaving sometime this fall, and they’ll assign me a new therapist for any future evaluations.  So I’m going to take liberties and step out of character long enough to wish her the best of luck.  Alex, whatever institution you work for next will be lucky to have one of the best.  You’ve been a joy to work with.  Your enthusiasm and encouragement has inspired me to work my heart out to make you proud.  So long, Alex.  You’ll be missed

So, this is where I am, folks.  It’s a long, hard climb, but I’m gonna get there.  Maybe just not as fast as I originally planned.  Bear with me and keep reading.  Someone told me that this endeavor would, no doubt, be an inspiration to someone.  It’s an inspiration to me, if no one else.  I’m learning a lot about myself during this journey.  This is something I really want and I’m finding out that the best things in life really do come to those who wait.  But it’s more than just waiting.  It’s wishing and waiting and wanting and working. 

To be continued