This is an essay from my 2006 book, "Run, Run Because You Can" about winter, spring, and recovery. Happy Friday!
Winter is long. It feels longer.
The snow blows long and hard, and sometimes freezing rain upgrades the walking conditions on the sidewalks from “somewhat dangerous” to “treacherous”. For a person like me, who for a long time after the stroke relied on walking as my only form of cardiovascular activity, winter seemed the kiss of death to anything resembling an active lifestyle. And as my weight continued to creep up and up, while my body got more and more able to move and stay upright on its own, I began to get restless.
A number of women I knew in the community had joined a Curves gym. I had seen commercials for the US-based chain on television, and knew it was an all-female gym. Members did a circuit of alternating cardiovascular activity and hydraulic strength training on machines in 30-second intervals for half an hour. I asked around about the Curves gym, heard nothing but glowing reports, and was given a guest pass by a friend.
I didn’t think that I’d be able to get in and out of those machines that I’d seen on the commercials for Curves Gym, but I figured that even going in and doing some sort of cardio would be beneficial. So I went in to the Curves gym in my community and talked to the owners, Kelly and Heather. Kelly took me through the gym, cane and all, patiently helping me in and out of (almost) all the machines to show me how they worked, while the other ladies who were working out smiled and just moved around me if they had to. Kelly suggested that I avoid only two of the machines at first, for safety reasons, but was confident that I’d use them eventually. She didn’t seem daunted at all by my medical history. She merely suggested that I work out with supervision for a while to be sure that I didn’t fall, and even gave me a free month to see if the Curves gym was going to meet my somewhat specialized needs.
I went two times a week for a month, and joined.
Being able to move like that again, to swing my arms and move my feet to music and use the rhythm of the machines to make my arms and legs strong again, was one of the best things that anyone could have given me at that point in my recovery. It wasn’t long before I was exercising without supervision, and even using one of the machines that Kelly had originally suggested that I hold off on.
Kelly and Heather had told me not to necessarily expect any benefit in terms of physiotherapy from my exercise at the Curves gym, but I saw them; my strengthened muscles made me faster, steadier, and that in turn made me move with more confidence. And for the first time in my life I was becoming physically fit - even more so than I was before the stroke.
But there was still that one machine that I couldn’t use. I just didn’t have the physical dexterity to get into it, and my weak foot would not stay in proper position once I was there. So I skipped the machine, doing extra reps on other leg machines to compensate. It was a matter of acceptance - just as there are some days in the winter when the sidewalks are simply too dangerous for walking (for me, at least), there was a machine at the Curves gym that it wasn’t really safe for me to use. No big deal.
However, one April day, Kelly came out of her office and looked at me thoughtfully. “You wanna try the leg press today?” she asked.
“I don’t think I can get into it,” I said.
“I’ve been watching you, I think you can,” she said. “Come on, I’ll walk you through it.”
And she did. And I did, beating ten months the two years that she and Heather had expected me to take to conquer all the machines.
Curves gym was giving out that day, of all things, packets of wildflower seeds. It was Spring, but still too early to plant anything outside, so Kelly suggested we plant in the seeds window boxes for now and move them outside later. On the way home I stopped at the hardware store and bought medium-sized clay pots and a tiny bag of potting soil. I just about put my back out lugging my purchases up the hill to my apartment. But it was worth it to sit on my floor, hands in the soil and gratitude in my heart, celebrating all the little Springs in my life.
More about Curves gym: http://www.curves.com/