My Two Days a week of training has been downgraded to One Day a week, all thanks to my body finally rebelling and rearing its ugly head on to me.
February 20th was my Day 3 of Competitive Swim Training. I expected the upper shoulder and neck pains or swollen fingers and hands, but my body shocked me with absolutely NO PAIN the day after. However, my complete high on life and euphoria mode of that ONE PAINLESS DAY came to a screeching halt when my body went haywire on me with two days worth of aching and cramping pain after my last strength and core training session on February 25th.
My last Day 2 of Strength and Core Training was truly nothing out of the ordinary. As usual, my Strength and Core Trainer was a bubbling broken record with saying: "You keep kicking up and putting too much effort into your knees and upper body, but you have to keep your center body still, steady, and stable." She paused, looking pensive, and then asked: "What is your condition again?"
I felt like a parriot with repeating my condition to her again, especially when she asked again: "So, what is avascular necrosis?" I explained as patiently as I could as my neck strained to face her: "Avascular necrosis literally means death of the bone. The blood supply stopped going to that area of my hip because of Prednisone and so the bone is dead and it is just going to keep on breaking down. Nothing can stop it from breaking down."
"Hmm...I guess that is why you keep putting so much work into your knees and upper body. Your body is compensating."
I wanted to tell her: "Tell me something I don't know," but then I realized I was getting unnecessarily cranky, bitter, and angry, and all of these negative vibes were really more so towards my body's inability to do these strength and core training exercises that I was demanding from my body.
So, as usual, I smiled and continued with the drills of working with the cable weight machines to strengthen my arms, leg and back extension exercises to try to improve my core, and the "killer planks." I hated these planks with a vengeance. I hated the leg and back extensions, because my right knee always ended up cracking or popping when I did the movement. When my core and strength trainer first heard the pop, she said to me: "Is that your knee?"
I nodded, red in my face. "My left hip is breaking down and now affecting my right knee, remember? The right knee is only going to worsen over time, too," I mumbled.
My core and strength trainer nodded sympathetically and, trying to stay focused and happy, she said for me to focus on the "killer planks" instead. She effortlessly showed me these planks that required major upper arm and truly entire body strength. When I tried to mimic her flawless plank efforts, my belly literally quivered like cherry-flavored Jell-O and I dropped to the exercise mat in a heap.
She gave me an evil half-smile when she said and then wrote down the exercise on my personalized training sheet: "What your experiencing is normal, but it isn't normal for you to feel pain. I want you to do 10 of them."
I gaped at her with saucer eyes and said: "You have to be kidding me! I can't even do three!"
"You've already done three! Keep going!! You can do it!!" Strength and Core Trainer cheered on.
I wanted nothing more to collapse right then and there as well as give her a good smack as she conducted her "killer plank" countdown. Lying facedown with the dustball scent of the exercise mat in my face and Strength and Core Trainer cheerfully counting, I felt as though my muscles and body was burning and seering. I was wobbly and twisted when we finally finished and reviewed my personal list of core and strength training exercises that I had to practice for this week.
When Strength and Core Trainer asked: "Should we set up something next week?" I could barely answer her. The pains and pangs in my body and visions of cable machines and weights that were swimming in my head were making me dizzy.
I paused for what seemed longer than usual, took a deep breath, and chose right then and there to listen to my body by saying honestly to her: "Well, I only have about 19 sessions left. I think these two days a week of training might be too much for my body to handle. Let me practice these and then get back to you."
Thankfully, she nodded nonchalantly and said: "OK, I'll wait to hear from you! Just make sure you practice!"
I breathed a sigh of relief that she had not yelled in my face to get my body back in there this week.
While getting ready to leave the gym and with the remnants of aches and soreness tingling all over me, I knew that I had done right by my body by telling the strength and core trainer that I could not see her this week and that contuining two days a week of training was and overload for my body. My priority now was the competitive swim training with the strength and core training in the backdrop. Believe me, that it had taken a lot out of me and from me to finally admit that limitation of the physical inability of my body to handle two days a week of training. I was feeling angry and frustrated with my physical limitations. I felt like a failure to my cause and mission as an organ donation and transplant advocate, the impending Transplant Games of America that awaited me going above and beyond at the 50 free and 100 free swim competitions, and especially to my organ donor families. Even after all these years of dealing with the ins and outs of my overly sensitive body that could and would spasm and leave me bed-bound when I pushed it took hard, I still had the feeling that listening to my body was giving in and giving it control over me and that I was some loser and quitter to realize and fulfill these physical limitations. I was dejected and down by the time I left the gym after the strength and core training. Worst of all, I was feeling sorry for myself.
The self-pitying worsened the next two days when every movement I made from walking, sitting, standing, and even laughing and breathing inflicted reverbrating pains all throughout my body. I felt like a zombie that could only feel when there was pain. I thought what I needed was a good and relaxing swim without any thought of competition of practicing in my brain, so I forced myself to go swimming yesterday. The comfort and serenity of water and lap swimming without the constant reminders of what stroke to do and how to do it beating upon me from training certainly did give my body and morale the boost I needed, but not enough to completely lessen the physical pain and especially the mental exhaustion that had gripped me and was not letting go of me since the last Strength and Core Training.
I was still feeling exhausted and actually dreading Day 4 of Competitive Swim Training for the first time. At least the physical pain after the Strength and Core Training had finally subsided, but the mental drainage and especially the limitation barrier that I could not physically handle two days a week of training was hammering at me. For the first time since I underwent Competitive Swim Training about a month ago, I was off my game.
Swim Trainer wanted me to do the backstroke, while practicing my arms in a fluid backstroke motion. I took a deep breath and went for it, but she kept stopping me and yelling: "No, No, Mary! Fluid motion! Smooth motion! Too robotic!"
My arms felt like they were giving out on me and the familiar pain in my left hip caused me to finally slip under the salt and chlorine-infested water. I swallowed a mouthful of the water and broke the surface, coughing and struggling to come up for air. I tore the my hot pink goggles off of me, cold from the icy air that was hitting my face, but steaming on the inside that I just could not master this backstroke with these stupid and oversized cement block flipper fins and the weak spots in my left hip and lower back. And, for the first time since training, I was not smiling. I was angry. I was pissed off and frustrated at my body and myself.
I must have looked very numb and upset at the same time because Swim Trainer said to me: "Okay, let us regroup."
Swim Trainer told me that we were going to go back to basics of working on kicking, arms, and breathing in freestyle motion. When she told me to focus on kicking with the flipper fins, I kicked effortlessly. When she told me about the arms of "eye, thigh, and then to the sky" and "scooping hands" to slice in and out of the water, I did all of that as perfectly as possible. When she told me to come up for full gulps of air and not little gasps, I did as she said. And, each time, we would break, she asked: "How's the hip? How's the knee?"
"Okay....better than when on land with those core and strength exercises," I admitted.
But, I finally failed when she told me: "Now, put that entire freestyle stroke together!"
There was so much to remember with constant flutter kicks, staying steady in the center, breathing, turning, arms outstretched and hands full scoops. There were just pieces of me struggling, working, and trying desperately to put the entire me together when I swam. Trying to put everything together was a disaster. I was like a flailing and uncoordinated oaf, rather than a fluid and effortless dolphin slicing through the water. I just wanted this session to be over and done with. I was extremely thankful and breathed a huge sigh of relief when Swim Trainer finally instructed me to get out of the swimming pool.
It was when I finally sat side by side and the cold air enveloped me that I felt the aches and soreness all over again in my left hip and lower back. I confessed to Swim Trainer: "I was off my game today. I just want so badly to put all these pieces of me together, you know? Well, I guess I'm being hard on myself, as I always am."
"Stop that," She said with such firmness in her voice that the self-pitying that was taking over me just seemed to vaporize.
She said: "First of all, you will get it! You just have to stop being hard on yourself. You just did all of this for an hour. You've been training for about a month now. You have a lot of physical limitations, but you are doing soooo good in spite of it all! Before you did this, you could only manage 30 minutes of swimming, and now you swim for at least an hour! Also, remember that you have a goal. The Transplant Games."
I took a deep breath. I nodded slowly. She was right.
Just because I had an off day did not mean that I was completely off, unless I let myself be completely off with all this self-pitying, frustration, and anger over my body and its limitations. It now had to be my expectations and not limitations. Just because I could not physically manage two days a week of training did not mean that I was a cripple. It was already amazing and a miracle in itself that I was handling a day a week of training when I also had to juggle my other doctor appointments, work, family/friends, and all my other advocacy projects. I really did have to give myself more credit, but why was I always so hard on myself?
That is when the internal pep talk turned on for me. I had to focus on the work in progress at hand. I had to keep practicing. I had to keep reminding myself about the Transplant Games of America, the organ donation and transplant community, the transplant candidates and their families, organ donors and organ donor families, and especially my organ donor families. This was not about my swimming and me. This was about what my swimming was going to show to people about organ donation and transplantation. This was about a bigger picture and how I was contributing to it. I had to find a way to put all the pieces of me together as one when I swam and would continue to swim and with the way I continued to think.
So, as I finish up this piece, the self-pitying, anger, frustration, exhaustion, and even the pain is beginning to wane, as my positive attitude and peace with my body is beginning to fill me. Tomorrow's another new day. It was now a matter of putting the pieces of me as one from here on in. I was going to keep going, and there was no way I could or would stop now.
Signing off for now "Keep smilin',"
To Register as an Organ Donor: www.donatelifenewyork.org