Sunday, January 30, 2011

Head Games

A visitor to this blog made a comment this week that really touched me. First, because I'm thrilled that anyone is patient enough to read my ramblings, but also because she was so gut honest.

She wrote about feeling like she was being judged when she went to the gym, because she's pretty overweight. My post was about how much I respected the very overweight man I had been next to at the gym that day. I'm glad she could see that not everyone thinks negatively about an overweight person who's brave enough to exercise in public.

So I decided I'm going to share my philosophy about 'what people think'.

I've had many years to feel like I was being watched in public. For most of my childhood I had a twisted foot that hid in my shoe. As long as I didn't get crazy, and try to wear sandals, or walk barefoot, it wasn't too hard to hide it.

Once I got married to a man who judged me on the 'content of my character' and not the deformity in my shoe, I was able to relax a bit. He loved and accepted me. What the people in public might think didn't seem to matter so much.

Then, in my third pregnancy I was fitted for a leg brace. My wise midwife suspected my intense fatigue was caused by hauling my uncooperative foot around, not so much by hauling the baby belly around. She was right. I welcomed the support that came with the ugly plastic brace.

But it meant I could no longer hide my disability, especially in spring and summer months. I refused to wear long pants, just so people wouldn't see my brace. I'm a very warm bodied person and I don't like to be hot. I get crabby when I'm hot. So I wear shorts whenever I have the chance. To make it more interesting, I happened to be working part time at a Joanns Fabric store, smack dab in the middle of 'the public'.

I had to learn how to battle the stares and suspected stares that came my way when I was on such public display.

That's when I came up with my own, custom made 'public judgment philosophy'. It goes something like this:

People are going to look. For whatever reason you might be different, people will look. Some will be subtle. Some will not. Kids don't even know what subtle means. So the ball's basically in your court.

Ironically, very few of the people who look, or those who try to hide their looks, will ever have a verbal exchange with you. Most will walk on, thinking whatever they're thinking. And you won't ever really know what they're thinking.

So this is where you get to choose. You can choose to think the very worst. You can imagine they are ridiculing you, pitying you, thanking God they aren't you. Or you can choose to think the opposite.

Now that I have a prosthetic leg, people have even more reason to stare. My kids love walking ten feet behind me in crowded public places (like county fairs) and counting the number of people who do their double take after I've walked by. They think I won't know. They don't know I have my own posse, watching them.

So I do what works best for my mental health. I assume they are intrigued by my leg. I assume they are curious, as I still am when I see someone with a prosthetic arm or leg. I assume they respect me, for my journey, whatever it might be. And I assume they are indeed thanking God that they are not 'like' me, which means they are being grateful for the blessings they've been given.

I walk on, head held high, knowing I'm doing the best I can with what I've been given. And unless they give me specific evidence to assume otherwise, I instill only encouraging, caring thoughts into the heads of those who stare.

To my friend who battles the feeling of being judged for her weight, especially in an athletic setting, like a gym, I offer a challenge. The next time you go, play the mind game I play. Assume that every person who looks your way is on your team. They are all people who feel for you, and respect your struggle.

Assume they all hope the best for you.

I know that's what I was thinking, the other day, when I was riding my stationary bike next to the overweight man. And if I'm thinking it, I'd bet that many others are too.

I know for a fact my sister Terry would be cheering you on in her head, if she saw you. And she's a really fit person, who runs marathons. There are many of us out there. People who respect another man's (or woman's) journey and wish them well.

And let me share just one more mind game I play, that might help you out a bit. It doesn't apply to what others think of you. It applies to what you think of yourself.

Many times when I'm on the bike and feeling pretty soft and pathetic, I make a decision to sit up tall. I roll my shoulders back a few times and reboot my mental picture.

I'm 100% sure a fit woman lives inside of me. I've seen her before. I've lived in her body before. So I do a mental picture of her, still there in my core. She just happens to have a little extra insulation that's keeping her from coming out. So I sit up tall and pretend she's already busted out.

I pull in my abs, roll back my shoulders, take a deep breath, and pedal even harder, feeling that other me from the inside out. Sometimes I even close my eyes. It's easier to imagine myself as the person I will be, once I reach my fitness goals, when I'm not distracted by gym mirrors. I imagine that strong me, that 30 pounds lighter me, riding tall on the bike, and for a small bit of time, I can be that me. It's all in my head. I'm telling you, it works for me.

Take it from a one legged woman who's not the skinniest girl in the gym. People are going to look. And they are going to have opinions. As a gift to yourself, always imagine that those opinions are the most positive kind possible. It doesn't hurt. And sometimes it helps a whole lot.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I got to the gym today. I really, really wanted to stay home and 'get stuff done' but I had to do the pep talk that goes like this, "the highest priority is your health...get moving!"

I took a book, which I never do. My usual M.O. is to put in the iPod and ride hard. I think I feel like if I'm not sweating like crazy, I'm not doing any good. I have a play list called "Mom's Work Out" and another called "Mom's Mellow Work Out". The second one is the one I pull up to get the warm up going. Slower songs I love. Then, about six minutes in, when my muscles feel looser and warmer, I switch over and dial up the serious work out songs.

A good rhythm is so inspirational to me. My current favorites are Her Diamonds, by Rob Thomas and Nothing Better to Do by Leann Rhymes. I love the beat on those two songs and I find I can push harder when I'm matching their beat.

But today I put on the mellow list and opened my book. I rarely read fiction because I love reading about real things, things that really happened. Memoirs are my favorite category. But every now and then I find a fiction book that intrigues me and I have to dive in. I thought maybe taking the latest one to the gym might help my hour on the bike go by faster.

I have practically memorized the chart on the bike for heart rates. I know that if I'm in the 120s I'm at 'fat burning' and when I get up to the 140s I'm into the cardio zone. To really sweat, I need to be in that cardio zone. That's where I feel like I'm doing something. I'm making a dent. If I'm not dumping sweat out of my artificial leg in the locker room after my ride (seriously, I do that, and hope it doesn't offend anyone)then I haven't really worked out.

But the fat burning zone kind of intrigues me now. I was able to read quite a few chapters of my new book, keeping my heart at that 65% today. And the hour flew by.

I've consulted with my fitness guru, my sister Terri, to see if it still 'counts' if I dont go home dripping with sweat. If so, I might alternate my work out days. Every other day I'll do the hard core, full on ride. The other days I'll read my book and do an hour of what I truly hope is 'fat burning'.

This is an important distinction to me because of the whole shower thing. For girls in general I think it's harder to do the shower ordeal. We have hair to worry about. It's why I never took to swimming. Re-doing the hair is a hassle. And I have simple hair. I brush it out and it dries. But the whole drying it part takes time.

In the past I've justified not exercising because it meant I would have to allow an extra half hour for a shower. An hour on the bike was really two hours, when you add in drive time to gym, then shower time.

Showering with one leg is a pain. I do it because I personally like to be clean. It also helps with the marital relationship, to not smell like a hot camel when you go to bed at night. But honestly, it's labor intensive.

First of all I have to sit down. I have a great shower stool, but I have to have everything set up before I sit down and take off my leg. The handheld shower has to be taken down so I can reach it. The towel and clean clothes have to be positioned correctly so I can reach them from my stool when I'm done. The soaps have to be in reach, if a husband or child has used them and put them on high shelves. The shower curtain sometimes doesn't want to close smoothly, and I can't reach the top, while seated on my stool, to fix it.

You get the idea. It's a pain in the neck. So showering once a day is enough for me. Going to the gym and walking out soaking wet with sweat, means I have to go through the ordeal twice. Kind of makes smelling like a camel more appealing.

But if I can ride at the lower pace some days, and get a decent work out without the gallons of sweat, I could be more optimistic that this fitness thing might stick.

Now I'm off to watch a movie with my kiddos. Fortunately they are all healthy, fit and active. I've started a new family habit, that part of the time we're watching TV we have to play catch with the weighted ball. I feel like every little bit of muscle building helps. The more muscle I build, the higher I can get my metabolism.

My ten year old loves that something as fun as 'playing ball' with me is helping me with my fitness goals. He's standing by right now, ball in hand, ready to play. Guess I'll be going now.

Once again, it's time to start.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Huge Inspiration

I rode the bike next to a large man today. A very large man. He was there when I walked up to the bikes at the gym and I was forced to take the bike right next to him because it was the only one that had straps on the pedals. I have to have straps or my plastic foot gets nutty and flies off the pedal at random intervals.

I didn't want to crowd him. But it really was inspiring to be next to him. It wasn't long before he was working up a sweat. I didn't peek at his difficulty settings or his time, but it was obvious he was working hard. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows. I don't watch The Biggest Loser every season. I rarely see it consistently in any season. But when I do watch, I get inspired.

Those people have a lot of weight to lose. Minimally they need to shed twice what I do right now. Some need to sweat away a couple hundred pounds. I can't even comprehend that.

I would love to only have ten pounds to lose. But the reality is I need to be thirty to forty pounds lighter by summer. Sometimes it seems like a lot. If I look at thirty pounds worth of flour, or rice, I can see that it is a lot. Relatively.

Because once I work hard for a week or two, I will be able to lose five pounds. And my clothes will start to feel different. It will inspire me to keep going, and lose another five. Then my clothes will feel great, even right out of the dryer.

But if I had eighty, or a hundred pounds to lose, it would be hard. The guy on the bike next to me can work like a dog, like he was today, for a full hour, every single day, and when he loses five pounds, he won't really feel it. I would suspect that when he loses ten, even fifteen pounds, he won't feel a difference in his clothes.

He has to trust that it's working. He has to cling to the little changes he might be seeing. Maybe he stands a bit longer without feeling fatigue. Maybe he feels stronger as he hauls himself in and out of his car. But the immediate, as in within weeks, results, he won't have the luxury of enjoying.

It really motivates me at the gym, to be next to such a fitness warrior. I'm sure he doesn't feel like a warrior, but that's how I see him. He's doing all the same stuff I am, and his road will go on months longer than mine. Maybe even years.

I think everyone is inspired by different things. I've had people approach me and verbally pat me on the back for 'doing so well'. They see a woman at the gym who's hobbling around on one bionic leg, and they assume a lot. I've learned through the years that people put me in the box they know.

If they've had experience with an amputee who had cancer, they assume that's how my story goes. If they've seen a recent news story about a lost leg caused by a car accident, that becomes what they assume of me. I've even been mistaken for a military vet amputee (To be fair, I was wearing my favorite work-out shirt,from the Marines. I love the saying on the back - "Pain is just weakness leaving the body").

Somehow I get assigned points of courage, or honor, or valor, that I really didn't earn. I dragged around a withered foot for way too long, then chose to have it cut off so I could upgrade to bionics. When you put it that way, I don't sound so amazing.

I'm aware that some people might look at me, pedaling away on my stationary bike, or sloshing back to the dressing rooms after a good work out, my leg socket full of sweat, and be inspired. They might have the same thoughts I do when I ride next to the extra large man. "Boy, if he can push that hard, you'd better bet that I can!"

I know the truth. I know that the metal foot that scares them so much, as they can't imagine living with one leg, is the reason I'm able to work out. It's the powerful limb I yearned for. But if it helps them push harder in their work out, more power to 'em.

I get my inspiration from the people who have huge mountains to climb, but start the journey anyway.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Start

Seven years ago last week I was wheeled into an operating room and, three hours later, I was wheeled out with one less foot. It was all my choice. Even my doctor wasn't sure he wanted to do this radical sugery. But I was ready for that foot to be gone.

For most of my life I had fought it. It would be years before I knew why, but when I was ten or eleven my left foot stopped working. It continued to grow crookedly through my elementary, then middle school, then high school years. From fourth grade on, I could not run. I could only jump using my right foot. I got very skilled at hiding, not only its deformity, but my deteriorating mobility.

Then, in my mid 30s, with the help of a wonderful thing called the internet, I was able to see for sure that I could have a better life without my left foot. The field of prosthetics had advanced to a place where a bionic limb would give me the active life I yearned for. But first I had to go through the mental and physical journey of having the foot literally sawed off.

I was not scared of the surgery. I had no doubts it was what I wanted. I was 99% sure I would like the life I found on the other side. But when that 1% started to chew at my confidence I pulled up one of my many internal pep talks.

I had a whole slew of them.

One centered on all the sports I might be able to try. One focused on the way my kids would see me - able instead of disabled - once I had a limb that worked right. And one of the most exciting to me was the fitness pep talk.

I'd never known what it was like to be athletic. There aren't many sports you can participate in when you can't run or jump, and have a withered foot hiding in your sneaker. I signed up to be the basketball team manager. Then the track and field team manager. But taking down stats and hauling equipment to the bus is not even close to being on the team.

I would have given anything, finished last in every race, if it meant I could be on the team.

But in college I accidentally found fitness. A friend who lived next door to me in the dorm invited me on a bike ride and on a borrowed bike I realized that this was something I could do. My sorry excuse for a foot could make this motion. I felt a freedom like no other when I was on that bike.

I bought my own bike and started to ride every day. Soon I felt strong and able. I learned how to push myself physically and get to the top of that steep hill, digging deep as my muscles burned. I felt athletic for the first time in my life.

At the end of that semester my bike was stolen. I never replaced it. School, and friends, and life got in the way and I never really found my way back to that place. For years after I graduated, got married, and had a handful of kids, I'd go to the gym. The stationary bike was my equipment of choice. It was what I could do.

As I grew older, and put more stress on my tired limb, my foot deteriorated more and more. I limped a lot. In my early thirties I started wearing a plastic leg brace that gave me much needed support, but it was a wake up call to how little time I had left with that limb.

Because of many surgeries and long spells on crutches, my left calf was also deteriorated and no matter what exercises the physical therapist assigned, I could never get those muscles back. When you have a bum foot, you don't walk right. And when you don't walk right, you don't use your leg muscles the way you're supposed to. So my bum foot really translated into a bum leg, from the knee down.

And when you have a bum leg it tends to dictate your life. It's hard to get motivated to get off the couch and go to the park with your preschoolers. It's not enjoyable to walk the mall with other stroller pushing moms. Even a simple walk around the block after dinner has bigger implications.

One of the main things that drove me to having my foot taken off was the thought of being more active. The videos I received from prosthetic companies showed people in bionic legs playing golf, and walking across the golf course, not riding in carts. It showed regular people, not just super athletes. I wanted what the people on the video had found.

So I had the surgery, then I waited (sometimes patiently) as my stitches healed and swelling went down. In six weeks I was fitted with my first leg. It was love at first step.

It had energy return. My left side participated when I walked. I no longer had to drag that foot around. It was exhilarating. I was ready to get back to the gym so I could find my inner athlete again.

I hit the gym hard. I pushed myself on that bike until I could hardly breathe. I stepped on a treadmill for the first time. (when you don't walk correctly to begin with, you don't walk for exercise) I played with the range of motion with my amazing new leg. The stiff, awkward flesh and bone ankle was gone. In it's place was titanium that moved exactly how I needed it to.

That spring I lost about fifteen pounds. But more than that, I got strong. I felt stable for the first time. I enjoyed going outside and joining into the adventures that my archaeologist husband drummed up. I loved wearing shorts because it showed off my new hardware on one side, and my strong, stable real leg on the other.

That was seven years ago. As much as I dreamed about that surgery, and knew it would offer me a chance to be the fit person I always wanted to be, I have come to a place I'm not happy with. I'm soft again. I'm not stable anymore. I have a roll around my middle that I have no excuse for.

We made a huge cross country move a few years after my new life began. It was fun, but stressful, as we settled into a new state. We took on huge renovations to our house, doing the work ourselves. We had new teens in the house, who were trying to find their way and introducing a new kind of stress to our household.

I did what I always do when life gets complicated and hard. I ate. Not big stuff. But little stuff adds up. An extra soda here. A quick zip through the drive through there. A candy bar at the check out. I justified them all with the excuse of reward. It was a reward for making it through an exceptionally hard day. It was a treat for getting the check book balanced (finally).

And I stopped exercising. I gained back that fifteen pounds I'd lost after my surgery and then some. I got soft and found myself at the weight I was in the ninth month of every pregnancy. Except this time there was no baby to blame. Every pound was my own.

It's just more fun to be lazy. It's more fun to eat what you want and not worry about how many chips you dip in the complimentary dip at the Mexican restaurant. There's always an excuse. The big game's on TV, we have to have chips and soda. My throat hurts, a cold soda makes it feel better as it goes down. And it was easy to just not pay attention.

But a few months ago I realized I'm cheating myself. Not just because it's dangerous to be carrying around this extra 30 pounds. I'm very aware that I carry it in the worst place possible, around my middle. I don't need any more news reports telling me I'm at a higher risk for a heart attack because I have a fat stomach, not a big butt. I know, I know.

My mom died at 50, of a stroke. She was overweight most of her adult life. She lost 60 pounds in her mid forties and finally began to enjoy her life. But the stress of decades of obesity had already taken their toll. Her blood vessels were weak. It only took one bursting to take her out of my life at a time I really needed her still. I don't want my kids to live that story too.

I'm cheating myself out of health, and possibly a longer life, but I'm also selling myself short by not taking full advantage of this new technology I click on every day. I have no more mobility excuses. I can snap on that leg and I'm a regular person. I'm a person with two working legs. I can't hide behind a withered foot anymore.

It's time for me to step up, literally, and get in the best shape of my life.

So I'm starting this blog spot to keep myself motivated. It's not a journal of what I've eaten or how many miles I've biked. It's a place to explore this issue of weight and fitness, and why it matters so much to me. I've never been a vain person. I couldn't afford to be. To care about what people thought put me at too much of a risk. If what they thought mattered, I didn't have a prayer. I'd never measure up, so why try?

But I do care about my fitness. For myself I care. For my kids and for my best friend, who I happen to be married to, I care. So today I start.

It was literally twenty degrees below zero this morning in our mud room. I wanted to skip the gym today. I actually planned to 'just wait till tomorrow'. But then my 19 year old daughter came downstairs and said she was headed to the gym at eleven, did I want to come? This beautiful girl who happens to already be my height, and walks around at my ideal body weight, motivated me to change into gym clothes and get moving.

It's time to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of me. It's time to start.