If you’re gonna wear red shoes — in this case Adidas SL 72’s — then you better be prepared to come correct — do something extra. With red, there are no ordinary efforts. On the track, red means go — go real far — and that’s something you gotta take seriously. These days, if I’m anything, it’s that, serious… seriously committed to distance.
When I began planning for this trip, I knew above all else I’d want to get in shape before it happened. I figured there’d be a lot things out of my hands, but my physical conditioning wouldn’t be one of them. At the very least, it would be something I could do on a near daily basis that would always feel like progress. My regiment would be a split between pushing in my acoustic chair* and lifting weights (neither of which I’ve done with any seriousness in close to 20 years). The chair for my endurance and the weights for my strength.
In doing this I’ve noticed a couple of things; first, my body finds the commitment, routine and strain of working out very familiar. Before my injury, intense workouts for water polo, surfing and swimming were an everyday gig, as commonplace as eating or sleeping. If you wanted to be better than your competition, then you needed to put in the extra work — go a little bit further than the other guy (which, in my past, is another way of saying, I spent many voluntary hours in water temps that were less than comfortable for certain parts of the anatomy).
This kind of work ethic/routine served me well after I broke my neck. The familiarity of pushing beyond what was comfortable became a way — not for me to better “the competition” — but a way for me to better myself. The beauty of this being, that in my very essence I never felt my potential had limits. Exclusively using my acoustic chair and committing to a weight training program, allowed me to see endless improvements where my disability was concerned. Improvements which would carry me beyond my level of injury.
Neurologists will say, in reference to post injury paralysis, that you’re only going to get back (in terms of movement) what the unaffected neural pathways will allow. And while I won’t disagree with this physiological fact, I will say that strengthening the muscles that are receiving the neural signals, will create a surprising situation where it feels like the level of injury has dropped below the affected neural pathways. In other words, strength will compensate for paralysis. The trick, of course, is actually committing to the strength exercises, which are both time-consuming and painful. Even though this isn’t new information — its the philosophy behind physical therapy — it’s nice to reflect on how influential it is my life right now and, even more specifically, how it’s motivating me.
The other thing I’ve noticed is I tend to be a tad bit impatient when it comes to seeing visible results. I generally want to go from point A to point Z very quickly; I want to see muscles bulging on my arms and time ticking off those laps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware of the fact I’m a C 4 – 5 quadriplegic who’s been on a 20-year “vacation” from exercise and who’s become a little less efficient in the pushing department (okay a lot less efficient), and, well, a little more Olive Oil-ish looking in the limbs (yes, Popeye’s wife). But c’mon, already, isn’t two months a sufficient amount of time to see the changes I’m looking for? You know, speedy on the track, thick in the arms.
Generally, I don’t have a problem with this kind of impatience — in fact, it’s probably beneficial to this whole process — but no sooner than when I was checking myself, did I see the results I was looking for. All I had to do was put on those SL 72’s, and with a little added effort on my part, instead of the 1 mile routine I usually do, I pushed 2. Oh, it was tough, a little painful, even a little slower going than I would’ve liked, but in the end it was like crashing through a wall. And on the other side of that wall, certainty.
As I said, it feels natural to go beyond what feels comfortable and to test my limits. In doing this, I not only gauge my progress, but it also functions as a reward — a way for me to internalize the vastness of my potential and nurture my goal. Putting a finer head on it, it simply means; a). I’m approaching where I want to be and b). there’s a gun show coming to town and it looks to be something long-term.
*acoustic chair = manual chair; as in there are electric guitars and acoustic guitars. An expression originally coined by my buddy J. As musicians it seemed the natural way to go. Fellow musician’s seem to be the only folks who get the joke.