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.


  1. You go Sister!!!! I am with you all the way!

  2. Great essay and a great beginning to something new and beautiful in your life. I congratulate you on your determination and your honesty in sharing it all here. Sending good energy your way!