The Power of Adversity

December 13, 2019      Athletics, Health Tips, Motivation

It's pretty common by now to hear motivational statements like "Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life" and "life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it".  These statements are bumper sticker, cliche, overdone, wallpaper statements.  They start to lose their meaning after awhile.  But they are over stated for a reason.  Every person that said them has been in a place of rock bottom.  They developed grit and perseverance to pick themselves back up and keep going.  They keep going, possibility in a different direction, but same focus. 

We all have our stories like this in some way or another.  After all, we did learn to walk as a baby.  How many times did we fall only to get back up and try again.  There was no thought in our mind that we wouldn't one day walk.  We had a goal.  A focus.  A purpose to get back up.  We didn't let fear of failing and our tender ego get in the way.  As we get older we tend to get more fragile.  Especially with social media and public profiling, we perceive our mistakes as having a bigger ripple. 

What if we took away that barrier?  What if we decided where we wanted to go and we continued to get back up learning with every misstep?  What if we targeted our focus and stopped listening to the falls?  Unstoppable!  Everything would be possible!  I have not yet mastered the art of this simple method but I'm getting there.

This is my story of perseverance...

When I was 11, I was weeks away from getting my Black Belt in Hapkido and I decided to try out for cheer leading.  I practiced like any other pre-teen hoping to one day be on the side lines of the football field cheering for our Bulldogs.  It came time for try outs.  I was so nervous I could barely remember the routine.  But I did it.  I cheered my heart out in that empty gym with only the cheer coach and her assistant.  The wait after my tri-out seemed like forever.  But I did it!  I made it!  I was so excited to be on my way to the cheer squad!  Next step, pass the mandatory physical.  No problem, I was in great health. 

A week later I was in the doctor's office getting the normal testing that any 11 year old would go though.  Except this exam didn't go the way I expected it to.  I was diagnosed with scoliosis.  What is that?  My parents did extensive research on the diagnosis to educate themselves before going in to see the specialist.  Fast forward another week and I was sitting in Dr. Johnson's office.  Ex-rays showed a 66* curve that was so far gone no brace or other treatment was even considered.  I was schedule for surgery 2 weeks later. 

As fate would have it, my Black Belt test was 2 days before my schedule sugary.  2 days!  I was more nervous for this than trying out for cheer!  But with years of practice leading to this point, I was more ready than I would ever be.  I flipped components, grappled my way out of holds and broke bricks and wood.  I did it!  Going into surgery as a Black Belt! 

I was not prepared. The recovery process of getting your back sliced open, bolts and rods screwed into your bone, getting bone taken out of you hip to then fuse your spin together was not something anyone could ever prepare you for. Not only could I not move from the physical trauma, I couldn’t talk due to the breathing tub being stuck in my throat for 5 hours of sugary and to top it off, I had a reaction to the anesthetics. I could go into further detail but I’ll just say that the following 3 weeks in the hospital were the foundation of what promoted me to be in the wellness industry.

Had I not had to relearn how to walk, go through years of physical therapy, had 2 additional follow up full back surgeries, followed by more physical therapy, psychological therapy and treatment, I would not be where I am today.

Looking back, I am grateful for the, at the time, awful experience I went through.

It was that trauma and back pain that lead me to yoga for the first time. That and the fact that I had free time since I was so restricted. I was no longer able to participate in Cheer or Hapkido. I remember following along to a Yoga VHS tape in my room. I couldn’t believe how wonderful it made me feel. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew that I had to keep practicing.

My home yoga practice continued into college when I started my running journey. I remember running for the first time when I wasn’t being made to run. It felt so freeing! And the feeling afterward was clarity, happiness, joy! I had a runners high!

After a year of regularly running I decided to sign up for my first race ever. A full marathon. Yes, a full marathon was going to be my first race! Go big or go home right?  Keep in mind that I was a Personal Trainer at the time so I was strong in many ways but a racer I was not.  And as a Personal Trainer, I should have known better!  But really, I had no idea what I was doing. No idea! I had never experienced the pre-race jitters, the nerves that cause all types of bodily functions, the athlete phycology of getting over fears. Never.

Oh, I followed a training plan. I ran 3-4x/week, ran with a group, planned according, ate accordingly, and hydrated. Oh, did I hydrate. My biggest fear was being dehydrated. So I took care of that by over hydrating. Did you know that’s a thing? It is. I was there.

So, race day is here. I’m fully hydrated, my family traveled 3 hours to watch as I cross the finish line. Only I didn’t cross. I couldn’t finish! At mile 21 I hit the wall. My legs could not move. I had too many unfamiliar sports gels in my stomach and too much water. I was cramping up so severely that I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t walk. I was so embarrassed. I was so afraid of being dehydrated that my family took me to the hospital to get IV fluids pumped in me. Except that the IV fluid wasn’t draining because my veins were so full of fluid it had nowhere to go. Looking back now it’s funny. But then I was mortified.

I had to try again. Now an “experienced” runner, I knew how to do better. So, I set my goals to my 2nd attempt at a full marathon. I had just started my training back up and was motivated when something awful happened. I tore my meniscus. I didn’t just tear it randomly; I was training one of my personal training clients and we were doing warm ups around a track. The 2nd step I took. Boom. I heard it, I felt it, and I couldn’t walk. I was mortified that this happened, let alone in front of my client!

I had to get sugary to fix the issue. My idea of completing my marathon was once again, on the back burner.

Being so active with running and training in general, I couldn’t just stop. My stress reviler was, and still is, exercise. I had to get creative and find another way of getting that addictive endorphin rush. Enter Spinning. I discovered how wonderful it felt getting my heart rate up while cranking up the tunes with 30 other bodies all experiencing the same rush! Addicting! So addicting that I became a Spin instructor. Much better for my knees and a great method of cross training.  My dad just so happened to be and ex bike racer and encouraged me to also try road biking.  Of course I loved that too!  Being outside, going way faster than running meant covering more ground and seeing more beauty and the group of cyclists I got involved with was so supportive!

But it wasn’t enough.

I was still experiencing pain in my knees and especially in my back so I decided to deepen my yoga practice. I started taking classes from an instructor at my gym.  She was amazing! I loved her perspective, the way she interweave her message through the class. An hour of yoga made me feel like I had just gotten a 60 min massage combine with the best 20 min nap. Energized and ready to go!

So, I dove back into yoga the same I do with everything else. I wanted to learn everything I could about the practice and wanted to be able to accomplish the same results I got in a class. I went to YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) to become a yoga instructor. The single best thing I could do, might I add!

You see, if it wasn’t for two of the hardest pains in my life, I absolutely would not be where I am today. My pain lead me to have so much drive, training, recovery and push again it was becoming my life cycle.

So now, I have running and road biking. Why not complete the triad with learning how to swim? As with biking, swimming is great for the knees and a break from the blunt force of running. Instead of going the longer distances of a full marathon, I could try for a tri!

This time I learned my lesson. I trained and started small. That following summer I signed up for a sprint triathlon. It was so invigorating, stimulating, and revitalizing! And, I finished without getting injured!

Since then I have done several more triathlons of varying distances and still complete one ½ marathon a year.

Throughout this whole pain recover cycle, I have learned that pain is not necessary to get better in whatever process you choose, but getting to the point of discomfort is essential. It is never a comfortable feeling in the middle of a race but it is so worth it at the finish line! If I push myself to the point of legit pain, I run the high risk of re-injuring my knee and hurting my running career.

The other lesson I learned is that just because you have bumps, ok, sometimes mountains in your path, does not mean you can’t find your way on a different path. Sometimes with an even better result!

It’s not easy, but it is simple. You just keep going, one foot in front of another. And it is so worth it! What is your mountain? Let’s work together to get you back on your feet.