Just What I Kneeded

Life on the other side of a tibial plateau fracture, a tibial tubercle osteotomy and a DeNovo NT graft.

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The burrowers

Burrowers. Not to be confused with The Borrowers. Never saw that movie, but I know it’s out there.

The last few weeks–ok, about 10 or 11 or 12 at this point–have been a bit difficult. In a protective measure, I’ve unconsciously drawn in to myself. I’ve spent more time alone in the last two months than I have… ever, really. I can count on one hand the times that I had someone over or I went to someone’s home. Both scenarios on one hand. And I haven’t been out in all that time.

This is unusual for me. To spend SO MUCH time with only my own thoughts to occupy my mind. There are actually a number of good things that have come from this time, but what’s on my mind tonight are what I’ve decided to call the burrowers. Though, even as I write this, I realize that’s not the nicest sounding name/description.

What I’m referring to are the people who have burrowed into my life and who refuse to leave. Even when I’m disengaged. As I slowly start to actively engage again, I can’t help but be immensely thankful for these people. The ones who reached out and leaned in. The ones who sent inquiring texts and uplifting messages. The ones who told me my self-imposed hermitude (it’s a word because I just used it) needed to stop. Those who didn’t disappear under the guise of giving me my space.

It’s these people who mean the most to me. I’m humbled by the magnitude of their caring. And eternally thankful that they choose me.

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Slogging (my version of running)

Slogging. Short for “slow jogging.” It’s what I actually do when I tell people I’m going on a run. I never go fast enough to legitimately call it a run, but I do go slightly faster than a fast walk.

As soon as I crossed the finish line at the Little Miami Triathlon, my tri partner and I started making plans to do the HUFF 50k trail run in December. Not sure why since I barely made it across that particular finish line… It’s fine. You can say it. I’m nuts.

I’m not going to defend myself. I tell myself I’m nuts every time I step out on to a trail to start a training run. But I’m not totally insane! I will be doing the relay version of the race. It’s 50k split three ways, so I only have to do roughly 10.8 miles. Since I did basically half that in the triathlon, I figured I could work my way up to be ready by mid-December.

I am not now nor have I ever been a runner. I don’t really know that I enjoy running all that much, but I do enjoy the feeling I get when I get to the end of a training slog. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Not sure what, exactly, because I have nothing tangible to say I did anything at all (MapMyRun app stats aside). The only thing motivating me at this point is the finisher medal that comes with completing the race. I made it a goal to earn a finisher’s medal this year, and this is my chance to make my goal. Yes, I could have picked something a bit easier (read shorter), but that’s not really how I roll.

The tricky part to training for an actual race is how to do it without angering the knee. I sat down and hobbled together a training plan that incorporates sage wisdom (don’t start by running 5 miles at a time 5 times a week), my PT exercises (keep doing those leg presses and deadlifts) and cross-training (just keep swimming, just keep swimming). I’ve never had a training plan for running before, and I don’t have a coach now. It’s on me to figure this out, and it’s been a little rocky so far. Lots of stretching, rolling and icing that I don’t regularly do anymore. Until now anyway.

The one problem I didn’t foresee was the pain I experience in my “good” leg. Pain right down the shin and to the outside of the ankle into the foot. Problem is, you see, I don’t have a perfectly even gait when I’m walking, much less when I’m running. I put a lot (a LOT) of pressure on that leg when I’m going up/down hills, so I’m currently working on how to even out the load and not cause any real damage to my one good leg. It’s a work in progress. But it’s forward progress! I managed to do four miles on hills in under an hour last weekend. It’s not record-breaking pace, but all I’m hoping to do is complete the race. I think I can. I will.

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An ending

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
-Shel Silverstein

As we were casually eating brunch one lazy morning in late September, I said to a friend that I felt this fall was going to be a season of change for me. I could feel that there were decisions to be made, steps to take and change to experience. I didn’t know at the time how big at least one change would be.

We were going through photographs a few days after my dad passed away, and I was surprised to realize that I’d never seen photos of him as a little boy. I’ve seen pictures of him when he was in his 20s, 30s and so on. I’ve seen pictures of him on the day he married my mother. I’ve seen pictures of him cradling his newborn children. But I’ve never seen pictures of him when he was a tow-headed little kid.

I was struck by just how much one of my nephews looks like he did as a kid. So similar, in fact, my brother-in-law was like, “Where did you find that old-timey picture of N? No, seriously. Who is that?!”

A photo of my dad when he was about 5 years old.

My dad. The photo wasn’t dated, but I’m guessing he was around 5 years old.

Grief is an interesting thing to experience. At first, there are few other thoughts. It’s impenetrable. Then when you get your wits about you again, there are subtle reminders in quiet moments every day. Then there are some good days followed by days where you have to find an empty conference room because the tears won’t stop at work. It’s fleeting and hard to pin down and ignores your attempts to tie a neat bow around it to put it away on a figurative shelf.

It’s been a little over a month now since my dad died, and every day is a little bit better than the last. Life goes on, and there are still decisions to be made, steps to take and change to experience.

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Tri, tri again

(Little Miami Triathlon Fall 2015 Recap)

Triathlon montage.

(clockwise from top left) Me and my super awesome tri partner before the race. Icing the knee(s) in the car on the way home. Headband that appropriately says, “This isn’t sweat. It’s liquid awesome.” The kinesiotape configuration that makes a world of difference with swelling. Us post race–we still look pretty good!

Facebook reminded me the other week that it’s been three years since my DeNovo transplant and Elmslie TTT (surgery was on 9/18/12). Three years. I would never have recognized the anniversary if it weren’t for the FB memories that pop up at random. That’s a great thing because it means I don’t worry about the knee quite like I used to the first two years after the surgery.

How to better celebrate another year down than to complete a triathlon?

That’s right. I had no grand ideas that I would be able to COMPETE in the venture. Especially not with everything that’s happened over the last six weeks. Through all of that, I managed to run only once (for about 2 miles), bike three times (for a total of about 30 miles) and kayak twice (for a total of about 18 miles). That was the full extent of my “training” for this triathlon. Well, I do still swim fairly frequently, but perhaps not surprisingly, swimming is not a great training plan for a triathlon that does not include a swim leg.

I thought I’d back out after my dad passed away. I had an understanding partner who didn’t pressure me and said we could try again in 2016. But I decided to go ahead with it because I really needed to focus on something else.

I did the Little Miami Triathlon the first time four years ago. My goal then, too, was simply to finish. I’d broken my leg the year before and had my first knee surgery only five months before the LMT.

This time, I’m about 20 pounds heavier, so that’s not an awesome start. I had also been running quite a bit leading up to the 2011 event and biking 20 miles a couple times a week. In short, I was much better prepared then than I was this year. And it was brutal.

But I finished. And damn did it feel good.

I struggled mightily on the run. I knew it was going to be the tough leg. But there were SO many people out there motivating me–all of us. There were kids with parents manning the water/aid stations, and they would cheer us on. There was one kid kneeling in the middle of the road with both hands flung high in the air, “Motivational high fives! Right here! That one’s for you!” There were people along the route clanging cow bells and cheering us on, “We’re so proud of you! Good job! You’re doing great!” I couldn’t help but smile when I passed one kid dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow. There were cyclists (not with the race) who flew past us as we ran on the trail toward Killer Hill, “Awesome job!” Other racers would pass me and tell me to keep it up. It’s kind of hard to stop when you’re getting that much awesome support from strangers.

I didn’t do so well on the bike either. At least I can blame a constant headwind for the trouble on the bike; it seemed like it was blowing straight in my face no matter which way I turned. Tons of people passed me on the run, so I felt better when I passed a number of people on the bike. That didn’t stop the negative self talk that started up when I found myself fairly alone on one uphill stretch that went directly into the wind. “Ok, well, you’ve gotten this far. That’s ok. No one will blame you if you stop. Oh, look, that guy got off his bike to walk. That seems like a good idea. No, don’t get off the bike. If you get off the bike, you’ll never get back on. Wait. Josie [my friend/driver] has the car key. If I stop here, I can just call her to pick me up. Where the hell am I? I can’t even give her directions to come scrape my body off the side of the road. Shiiiit. Better keep pedaling.” Like I said, it was brutal.

Last time, when I rounded the final corner and saw that the last little bit of the bike course was all uphill, I started crying/cursing. This time, I was so focused on simply turning the pedals, I didn’t even realize that I was on the last hill until I saw the flags marking the finish line. Holy shit. I was almost there. I had one last surge of energy that put me across the line. My time this year was considerably worse than last time, but I don’t know that I really care. I finished. My friend told me, when I started lamenting the time, to knock it off. She said that doing what I did with virtually no training made me that much more of a badass. I think maybe it just makes me insane, but I’m going with her version.

The one really good part of the race was the canoe. We didn’t do very well in 2011 (in fact, we did so poorly, we had other participants laughing at us). We didn’t want a repeat of that, so we practiced a few times and watched THIS amazing video that was clearly filmed off a VHS tape from the 80’s. The people in it are perfect, mullets and all. It was entertaining to watch them, but more importantly, the video was pretty informative. It helped! We had compliments from other teams about how well we navigated the waters, and we had at least one other team following us because we were doing such a good job picking routes downstream. We passed people! That was pretty cool.

After the race, I crawled across the back seat of my car so that I could prop my leg up. We stopped at the first gas station we saw to buy ice that we then put in a couple plastic sacks and packed both my knees in ice. I stayed that way for the two-hour ride home. I’m happy to say that, while there are parts of me that are very sore, my knee is ok. In fact, it’s responded better than I’d dared hope. There is some residual pain, but it’s completely manageable with the normal measures of ice and elevation.

Which means… I’m looking forward to the HUFF 50k relay in December.


Fresh air

Do you ever get the feeling that you can’t breathe? That no matter how hard you inhale, no matter how much air you pull in to your lungs, it’s not enough? A feeling that you’re suffocating, even when you’re breathing? That pretty much sums up how I felt for most of September. I need October to be different. To be better. I need to be able to breathe in the fresh, crisp air of fall and feel that my lungs are finally satiated.

I started the month with a nasty staph infection. The infection and double antibiotics used to treat it knocked me on my ass for weeks. I felt awful. I was exhausted. I took more sick leave in the first two weeks than I have in the last 10 years (excluding time off for knee surgeries). When I did go back to work, it was exhausting. I would go to the office, work for eight hours, come home to sleep for four hours, get up for dinner and go right back to bed for the night. It’s only been in the last 10 days or so that I’ve really felt like myself.

Somewhere in there, my little brother–someone who is so much like me, it’s scary– and his wife suffered through a miscarriage. It was devastating. I hate seeing people hurt and knowing there is not a thing on earth I can do to ease their pain.

Then. Then my dad passed away early last Friday. It was unexpected. And it blindsided me. Even after I got the call that he’d been admitted to the ICU, I didn’t think the end was near. But he was there barely more than 48 hours before the doctors told us he’d suffered extensive and irreparable brain damage. He was not breathing on his own. I watched and wept as they removed the life support, and he took his last breaths. Now, I find myself tearing up at the most random times. When I see a guy with a grey beard standing in front of me in the grocery store. When I hear a certain song on the radio. When someone softly says, “Oh, I just heard…”

I know that things will get better. I know that time will march on and the pain of the last week will eventually fade.

But right now, I need a chance to catch my breath.

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The Barre Code

I’ve been all about trying new things this year. Testing my limits in new spaces. With new activities. One thing I tried is barre class.

A friend of mine asked if I was interested in accompanying her to a barre class. I was interested, but I didn’t really know anything about barre class. I don’t really do group exercise classes other than yoga. I prefer to work one-on-one with a trainer or on my own.

For those of you who have about as much knowledge about barre as I had, it’s an exercise class that combines elements of ballet, Pilates and yoga. Here’s a pretty in-depth description of the history, benefits and possible pitfalls of barre from Greatist.

I went to a studio here in Indy that appears to be part of a larger chain–The Barre Code. It was a super nice studio. Not off-putting for a germaphobe like me. That’s a great start.

I admittedly walked into the studio with a bit of a laissez-faire attitude. I didn’t think it would be all that hard for someone who is a regular in the gym and enjoys 20-mile bike rides on a week night. We used super simple equipment. Obviously, the ballet barre. We also had light hand weights and a circular resistance band. None of this made me lose the idea that this wasn’t going to be much of a workout.

I walked out with a different appreciation for the barre. The class definitely made me sweat. There were many, many small movements that I’m certainly not used to making, so they were difficult. I also had some difficulty with the poses because of the knee, but I was able to adapt fairly well.

I’ll probably go back because it was fun to work out with friends. I don’t think that this will replace any of my current activities, and it certainly won’t replace any strength training that I do. I was kind of tired after the class, but not the same kind of tired that I am when I finish up a strength training session. I can barely make it to my car to sit down after strength training. This was not that way at all, even though I did manage to make my legs shake during the class.

I haven’t yet, but I plan to take a Pilates reformer class. My PT used to have me do exercises on a reformer, and I always thought it was kind of awesome. I want to take a formal class and see if I still think it’s awesome. I think I need to work on my flexibility a bit more before I do that. I seem to have time to only do so much. If I focus on the strength training or gaining miles on the bike, the stretching and rolling suffer because I don’t have time for everything. I really need more hours in the day.

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Stick (to) it

Due to the infection that ruined my holiday weekend, I’m on three different meds. Two are to be taken twice a day, and one is to be taken three times a day. Two have to be taken two hours apart, and both have to be taken at least an hour before the third one. This makes sticking to a schedule difficult. I feel for the people who are on meds that require this kind of discipline for long periods of time, and I’m thankful that I will be done with this in only two more days.

The (tiny) silver lining to being laid up for the last week or so is that I’ve had time to jot down a few updates that I’ll post here soon. Life has been busy and full this year, and I’m very grateful for all that I’ve been able to do.

For now, I’ll leave you with this #tbt picture. Can you tell which kid is me? Probably not. My mother thought it was a good idea to give me the same haircut as the boy down the street (ok, not just the boy down the street; we were solid friends).

A picture of me when I was maybe four or five.

That’s me there on the left.


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