Monday, July 9, 2012

To Feel Strong

I was supposed to have my leg cut off in Washington D.C. After years of doing research and weighing my options, I had a doctor lined up at George Washington University Hospital who was willing to amputate it. Then we got the call that my husband was being transferred to Utah. So the surgery had to wait.

I truly believe it was a gift, this change in schedule. Eight months later, when we were settled into our new home in the West, I was facing my new life with an artificial limb in a place where everyone around us was outside and active. There are endless activities calling to be explored in a state like Utah. As soon as I had my first leg I was at the gym every day, riding for hours and hours to get back the muscles I’d lost after years of immobility. Five months after my amputation I was standing under the red rock arches in Zion National Park. I’d hiked up the trail on my own two legs.

I enjoyed feeling like I could be active and athletic for the first time in my life. I’d lived with that deformed foot, that deteriorated as the years went by, for so many years that I never really thought about how great it would be to be strong again. The more we explored the state, the more I sweated away at the gym, to be able to keep going.

For two more years we lived in Utah and visited the many amazing places that can be found within its borders. Then we moved to New York, again with my husband’s job. It was a welcome move. We wanted to be closer to his large, loving family. We’d lived on the East coast before and really felt at home there.

But for the five years we were there life got crazy. The first year was spent doing major house renovations. The second year I worked full time, for the first time since we’d had our four kids. Our kids went through some of their hardest life stages while we lived in New York. The youngest started kindergarten and the oldest started high school in our first year there. We had middle schoolers and high schoolers the whole time we lived there. Juggling our schedule and keeping the house afloat was a trick sometimes.

I rarely made it to the gym. I’d get motivated, work out hard for a few weeks, then the hectic-ness of life would catch up with me again and I’d give up. In Utah I had motivation to stay healthy because I loved my adaptive ski lessons in Park City and I had to be in shape to hit the mountain. I never skied in New York. The conditions were not as reliable and the cost was out of our league.

I got soft in New York. I lost my motivation. I was still deeply grateful for my new leg, and the opportunities it gave me, but I wasn’t strong anymore. I got through my days, getting everything done that needed my attention, and it was possible because I wasn’t dragging around that old deformed foot anymore. But as far as being ‘fit’, I just wasn’t.

Now we’re back in the West. A job change to Colorado last year put us back in this climate that agrees with me so deeply. I love the dry air. I love the cool mountain breezes that flow through my house, making 85 degrees feel very comfortable on a July day. I look out my windows and see the mountains in the distance. And as I run errands around town I see meadows laced with trails, calling to me. I see people outside, biking, walking, running. Everyone is active. Every car has a bike rack or a kayak strapped to the top.

I work at the community recreation center. All afternoon I greet people as they come in to exercise. I’m constantly reminded how important it is, at every age, to stay in shape and feel strong.

So I’ve started again. With my free employee membership I’m back on that stationary bike, sweating away. I’m already feeling strong again. I notice it in every hour of my day. As I’m in the kitchen making dinner I feel tall and stable. As I walk through the grocery store I recognize how much my gait improves when my leg muscles are strong.

I still have about 20 pounds to go before I’m in the governments standards for a healthy weight. But I know I’ll be there eventually. Hopefully by Halloween, definitely by Christmas. And in the meantime I’m feeling better every day. The better I feel, the more motivated I am to go back to that bike the next day, to keep the momentum going.

I watched a weight loss show last night. The 20 year old weighed close to 350 pounds, and spent a year doing her best to work on her weight. On her 21st birthday she had her final weigh in. She weighed 150 pounds. She lost nearly 200 pounds in a year. A year of sweating like crazy and being dedicated to her goal. That inspires me more than you can imagine. If that dedicated kid can lose 200 pounds, I can lose twenty.

So today I was back on that bike. It didn’t hurt that the Tour de France was on the TV in front of me. I imagined that I was next to those riders. As they pumped away, headed up the hills in France, I did too, on my stationary bike in Colorado.

I imagined that overweight girl, trying so hard to exercise, even when her own body flapped against her thighs and made her want to quit. I thought about that woman back in Utah, who had her leg cut off to get a more active life. The one who looks a lot like me. The one I see in pictures, who has my face, but also a toned, strong body.

I think I’d lost her for a bit. For a long time I didn’t even realize she was missing. But here she is, coming out again. She’s back in a place that motivates her. Back to a life where her kids are asking her to ride bikes with them and explore new places with them. She sees a ski season ahead that is a possibility again. She needs to be strong again.

And so I pedal away. I peel myself off that bike after a hard 45 minutes, and I head over to the bathroom. I take off my sweat filled leg and wipe it down, so I can walk easily again, without slurping in each step. I make my way over to the circle of weight machines and dive in. To feel strong all over I need to remember I have muscles on my top half too.

After that routine I grab a mat and lay on the floor. Stretching out my body, reaching above my head as far as I can, releases tension. Then the sit ups and leg lifts begin. It all feels so good even as it strains my abilities.

When I walk to the car I feel wiped out, yet refreshed. I feel one notch stronger. Even if the scale isn’t my friend just yet, it doesn’t matter. How I feel matters. And right now, I feel strong again.

Walking out those doors, the mountain range spread out in front of me, I feel at home.

And I feel strong.