I’m not sure which word best fits but I have recently experienced all four. A year ago my life was altered by a collision with a large metal object. I don’t like to dwell on the what-ifs, but a few millimetres make a big difference when it comes to your cervical spine and cord. Suffice it to say I feel blessed to be alive and mobile. The memories of my months in a hard cervical collar are fading, but I haven’t forgotten the general malaise of just feeling less. It wasn’t so much the neck pain or arm weakness/numbness that made me feel this way but the loss of my former self. I found relying on others for formerly simple, mundane tasks very difficult and humbling. Exercise is a huge part of my life and I definitely identify with being a recreational athlete. Having that part of my identity taken away led to feeling weak and vulnerable. I received a small glimpse of what my life could have become if my injuries were more severe and permanent. In retrospect, feeling weak, vulnerable, and humbled is a valuable, character-building experience that I would rather have avoided but is now part of my life lessons.
One of the first questions I asked my neurosurgeon, M Squared (I have disguised Dr Mark Matishak’s name so as to not embarrass him) was about my exercise options. Initially I was limited to walking and stationary biking. However, no limit was put on amount so it is possible that I went for long walks that I don’t really remember due to the mind-altering affects of opiates. I know this because someone mentioned they saw me miles from home walking in little circles whistling to myself. As my recovery progressed it is also possible that I pushed the limits a little. I am here to testify that strange looks come your way when you jog or lift weights while sporting a neck brace. Stop the eye rolling; I swear I didn’t ride my bike outside until the brace was off. However, the brace may have had faulty Velcro fasteners and fallen off prematurely. I distinctly remember my first road ride as an anxiety-filled, sphincter-testing fear-fest complete with hallucinations of silver cars flying at me.
Things steadily improved from there and I began to contemplate competing again. I chose a triathlon in Santa Cruz, California, which was scheduled almost 1 year from the date of my accident. When the big day arrived and I lined up on the beach with my fellow age groupers, the prerace jitters were replaced by a sense of calm as I reflected on the year’s journey. I felt happy to be alive and to have a body that was up to the physical challenge of the next few hours. How many others would love to have this gift? I kept this thought in the forefront of my mind as I swam, biked, and ran. As the miles passed, my lips settled into a small smile of gratitude. As I crossed the finish line, my eyes filled with tears as the words flowed—regain, restore, recover, redemption.
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