Updated on December 7, 2016
Back in the game, again
Usually about midway through a swim workout, I’ll start in on a set of freestyle with a pull buoy and after 100 yards or so I have a moment where I forget what I’m doing. Everything’s blue and my body is just moving, gliding weightless through liquid space. It feels like I’m flying.
There’s no resistance, and I’m seeing the lane lines blur past as I breathe to one side and then three strokes to the other. My hands are sliding through glassy water one after the other, scooping and pulling with ease. As I find the wall and turn, pushing off to head the other direction for another 25 yards, there’s no feeling – no pain in my back or legs.
Last night I swam a fast 2,000 yards – one of the strongest swims I’ve had since jacking my back up (the second time I’ve done this in the past 6 years) on a boat last July. Afterwards, I stretched out and did some yoga and felt like I could do another workout. I’m feeling strong right now, and it’s no accident.
It’s easy to remember just four months ago, being in agonizing pain 24/7. Pacing the house at 2 or 3am, crying to myself because sciatica down my right leg hurt so badly. Two herniated discs, afraid to go back to bed, thinking I wouldn’t be able to find a position that offered less pain than another. Stack some more pillows around my legs to find some comfort. Dark thoughts enter your mind as you sleeplessly wonder whether or not you’ll ever feel normal again.
Going online to look for therapy techniques doesn’t help as you enter a rabbit hole of forums and stories shared by people that have been suffering from chronic back pain and surgeries over many years. You wonder if you’ll be like them and ever get better. Will I need surgery? The doctor says I might. So you get to work. We were losing a dear friend to cancer during this time, and I drew inspiration from her. My pain was temporary and was nothing. Her fight was real. Mine was just an inconvenience.
My doctor first said to get in the pool daily and walk, in chest-deep water. That felt stupid, but damn it was working. I started doing some slow swims again, and if my leg or foot was too painful, I could pull carefully and slowly with the buoy. Just get in the pool every day. Spend time floating on a lane line or kickboard and let your legs dangle, he said. The feeling will come back eventually and you’ll be doing laps again soon. The weightlessness will relieve pressure on the spine, and the endorphins from the effort have a curative effect that will revive and re-invigorate the spine and body.
It worked better than any pill. So here we are, almost exactly five months after injuring myself on a stupid ski boat in an Oregon lake. Fun day, but won’t be doing that again!
Tonight I said goodbye to the physical therapy doctors and staff that have helped me battle back. I’ve been cleared to surf and to do most stuff in the gym and almost anything else I did before… just more carefully and thoughtfully.
The outside and bottom of my right foot is still a bit numb, thanks to nerve damage from the original injury. It often feels like I’m walking on pebbles. It’ll go away with more time, they say. When I started PT I could barely do anything without pain. We started slowly and progressed exercises carefully, yet aggressively, over time. Last week at PT I was doing advanced planks, then box jumps, and even burpees on a Bosu.
My docs have been trying to get me strong and in shape to move and surf again. They gave me high fives for getting strong and attacking the program. There’s nothing else they can show me, and I’ve got a plenty of tools to keep me fit.
In addition to the miles of pool laps, I’ve spent countless hours before dawn and after dark on the floor of my house and gym. Mountain climbers and spider men and planks with adduction/abduction and bear crawls all while stable as a board. I’ve been working out with rubber resistance straps and TRX straps and swiss balls and the Bosu. A few weeks ago I started doing pushups again. Even simple exercises like these have me conscious of how I’m positioning my spine, balancing my hips and core. I was fairly strong and fit when I hurt myself last summer, but two months ago I couldn’t have done a pushup.
I’ve mastered enough core strength exercises to make a YouTube exercise series. I’ve lost a few pounds thanks to the daily/nightly strength workouts – it’s amazing what burning off dinner can do. Fighting weight: 182.5 lbs.
Last month I drove to SLO and sitting three hours in a car was no problem. That’s when I knew I was well on my way. Just three months ago driving 20 minutes to work was complete agony. I haven’t taken a pill in at least 6 weeks. You should see the medicine bottles in my cabinet, and all that junk was to supplement three steroid injections in my lower spine. It’s necessary, I guess, but it’s gross.
Now I just want to feel my foot again. I’m thinking of acupuncture to see if it might speed the nerve recovery further. I want to paddle out again, snowboard with my son, and take some trips in a car without pain. I’m planning all three, and I promise to be smart about it all.
An injury like this is similar to a wicked hangover after a night with a bottle of tequila. You vow never to be so stupid again, and swear you’ll be more careful. I’m very active but I’ll do my best not to end up in this spot again.
The recovery has been a good challenge, but it hasn’t been much fun. My family has been incredibly patient, helpful and caring during this ordeal. This was only one of the many ways this year has been difficult. I’m hopeful for good health in 2017 for my friends, family and self.
Last time I tweaked my back, I climbed Mt. Whitney as my final recovery challenge. I need a new one now. Tropical surf trip? I’m not getting any younger…