Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Body and Mind (Olympic Athletes…and Me)

(Photo by Thomas Laukat on

Last night as I watched videos of athletic competitions, precursors to the Olympics, I pondered my general well being as I marvelled at the athletes. I know professionals have to juggle many needs as they rigorously train as well as cope with injuries and pain. They have to take good care of their mental health, as well, as we have heard increasingly–not a shocking admission, and it’s good they’re speaking up about it. They motivate me as I admire their power, their beauty, and wonder how they do manage to do it year after year. They’re gifted, yes, but profoundly disciplined. They don’t give up or not for long– or not that we can see. I’m pulled into their performances and submit to the spell. And studying the astounding forces of concentration. How can they do it all under constant pressure and enact a semblance of everyday life? I conclude they are extra human mentally, as well.

Or did they have unusual talent (as do more people have than we estimate)–but worked the very hardest? I ruminated about my various past endeavors, some perhaps semi-athletic. Despite my desire to be a really good athlete, I never got there for lots of reasons. But I dreamed some.

And as I considered all this and stared at the TV, I readjusted the hot/cold pack placed under and around my right knee and moaned a bit over twinges resulting from changing position. Back to earth…

If you’ve ever enjoyed being active, then had an injury–from spontaneous play or engaging in sports or daily exercising, perhaps running down a sidewalk– you understand why pain, healing and maintaining good self care habits does matter. Though I’ve never been a truly fine athlete (though I studied figure skating for 10 years and loved it–I did well enough), my state of health is important, too. It includes the daily maintenance of body as well as intellect and emotions. Balance internally/externally is a goal I work on– ah, that well-oiled working state of being, comprised of hidden and visible parts. It sustains and satisfies. And it isn’t simple to achieve.

There is the dilemma of pain. It can slow anyone down. We most ordinary earthlings also have to live with it, keep on although our reputations or careers don’t depend on it. It is present for a reason so we pay attention to the alarm– at some point. (I’ve a little knowledge of it after a lifetime of medical issues.) And if a person doesn’t use prescription pain medication–I do not as I’m in recovery plus dislike the entire effect–it can wear on the mental state as well as the body. Acetaminophen does little to ease the sharp ache of injury. I can’t use an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen as it’s discouraged for heart and GI patients. I use simple meditation and prayer, distraction and heat/cold.

This morning I had an x-ray of my knee, then a consult with the orthopedics doctor. This, because I re-injured the area after Christmas. It didn’t seem a big deal while on a snowy hike with a daughter and her partner, though my right knee and leg began to fuss at me as we returned. It was worse after a slip I had on my own–not a real fall–I have good reflexes–but limbs were at odds with the ground. This sort of stumble occurs occasionally; the problem recedes soon after. However, over the next days it didn’t get better with rest, was painful after I’d walked a half hour or pivoted or descended a steep hill. Or got up too fast from a chair. The discomfort has slowed me for a month. I’m grateful for the strength and energy I have; I am better off than many my age. But after two weeks it began to gnaw at me. It has made me feeluncertain of my physical capabilities. And where is the healing?

I have little patience for this. If I am physically restrained by illness or pain for a longer period that expected, I feel all constrained inside, too. It feels jail-like. I am not a sitter, unlike some who are serene as a cat in sunshine, remaining inert for hours. I don’t understand that way of being; it works for them, but not for me. I get antsy sitting for twenty minutes. (Writing for hours is the exception. I schedule 2-3 loads of laundry so I must get up. Time dissolves; I tend to “leave” my body as happens when deeply absorbed.)

The good doctor–congenial, set me at ease–manipulated knee and leg to discover how/where the pain got worse. He did an expert job of eliciting strong reactions from me. Then he pronounced the x-ray “good news!”–no bones are harmed and there is no arthritic degeneration of interest. No major tissue damage that showed. The diagnosis at this point is a lateral and/or medial meniscus tear. An MRI would show other or deeper views–but he decided to wait until later for that.

Menisci are two cushions of cartilage-like substance that cushion the knee joint, between tibia and femur. And this is a fairly common injury, generally not traumatic over age 40, as then they get softer so aren’t damaged as easily or much. Younger people, then, can have significant problems with a harder mesicus; more trauma occurs. I had this diagnosis about 5 years ago so suspected it. The treatment is 6 weeks of physical therapy followed by a revisit of the knee’s status. If it remains painful surgery may be indicated but this is not usual. It’s just that this kneee and leg have weakened over time; incidences of discomfort and pain occur more, and last longer.

Needless to say, I made a PT appointment immediately–despite a Covid shadow looming in medical offices…I have every intention of denying the doctor’s surgical instruments access to my knee.

Meantime, I can walk despite the ache of it–as long as it isn’t excessive. I amused to walking fast up and down steep hills as well as uneven woodsy paths. Or have until lately. Now I’m re-learning to be careful with small, discrete movements. I try to think in terms of a dance warm up done in earnest by an amateur–“do it, but easy does it” to borrow a phrase. It may seem counterintuitive that movement helps healing increase, but it keeps blood flowing and joints better lubricated. (I’ve generallybeen of the mind that if it hurts, move more but with caution.) The activity helps the frayed part–pain occurs as bones create friction– get “sanded down”, as he put it. Thus, torn bits can self-repair, pain diminishes and the knee is back to business. One hopes.

Best case scenario: healed up and going at it again in another month or more. Give me a challenge and I will rise to it. I love being physical; the terrific hormones produced, the pleasures of sensory input and the miracles of movement. The fun of it, really. What is given me (us, of course) is a gentle elation arising from a sense of unity and freedom, whether dancing, stretching thoroughly, walking and hiking, ice skating, playing various outdoor games, swimming, and so on. I don’t do nearly enough–held back by money, partly, for equipment or courses, occasionally health. But what I want is a kayak; to take rowing lessons; to cross country ski again; enroll in various dance classes (had ballet and explored modern dance as a youth); ride horses on the beach; hike more on Mt. Hood. If I can be outdoors, greeted by nature (or the curiosities of cities), I am happiest with the activity. Even if it’s a hard one. But indoors will do. Turn up the music, let it all go!

Covid-19 has restricted group actitivies and that includes useage of our recreation center. The reality is, I’d need to do much more alone if not in a group, as my husband is not a willing participant in much activity–he is one of the happy sitters if he has his choice. But I can get him to jooin me on a reasonable hike on week-ends, as he likes nature’s ways. Thankfully, there is my daily walking, too–free and accessible. We are blessed with abundant pathways in my area, and enjoy countless Pacific Northwest trail systems.

This body was born to move–we all utilize the human body’s genius. Even with limitations we explore and make good memories via interactions of our internal systems, our senses and minds. We have such capacity for adaptability. I am grateful to have been born strong and fearless enough to keep getting out there. Age isn’t so much an issue for me–at least not yet. But my mind can stop me is I face a hurdle.

Or this knee might…Can I hope to ice skate this year? I wince imagining a skate blade going other than the direction intended.

Much of any healing derives from learning to accept limitations without letting them rule. There are reasons it is better to pause. That impatience–that I have to get going–has to be calmed so I can concentrate on expending energy on restoration. It takes peserverance and honed skills to keep on when the way is not clear or easy. I talk to myself: do not give in, do not slip into the haze of malaise, do not think of youself as older or less than but, soon, better and stronger. Otherwise, health issues do their dirty work emotionally and can make me feel almost useless, a has-been, a woman who has lost all her edge. It firghtenes me to think I might become a person without stamina enough to live in the world well. With endurance and verve. May it never be so– if I can help it.

I have some experience holding on and keeping at it. But I admit there have been days the past month when covers yanked to my eyes felt better than chill air outside my cozy cave. There was the prospect of wrenching the stiff, achey knee when getting up. then taking one step at a time down our steep stairs, facing another shaky body day. But it is what it is whether I am grumpy or cheerful so I get to it. I must simply do it as this saves me from self pity-partying, keeps me forward-looking. I am reminded there is plenty to enjoy indoors while healing, as noted bfore. I enjoy reading, writing, drawing, talking to friends and family, listening to music I’ve neglected or am just now discovering, going outdoors to pick up the mail, looking at the mountains beyond the trees. And a short walk, with careful deliberation, chin up.

And soon watching Olympics events.

Whenever I think of how tough it is to live in a human body I think, for one, of my son, Joshua. (There two other children who’ve overcome unusual health difficulties, but keep remain mostly silent due to their need for privacy. Joshua has been written about by others often, so is an open book.) He’s a pro skater, has been for about 25 years, but not before a life-threatening motorcycle accident. After that he achieved far more than anyone ever imagined possible. It was made clear he might not survive, as internal organs were damaged, his jaw and teeth crushed, his head injury significant even with a helmet….The visits to critical and intensive care for almost three months are a series of mental images that remain vivid. That he was unlikely to walk out even close to well, much less get back on a skateboard was a medical given.

But Josh believes in Divine Love and how it enables self healing. The surgeons and doctors watched in astonishment as he grew strong when they predicted near-invalid status. Within a couple of weeks walked out and started anew–and there were future reconstructive surgeries to jaw and mouth (amazingly, quite successful). He defied all expectations: he’s appeared in hundreds of skate magazines, videos/films and continues to inspire people in diverse ways. Yes, it changed his life–mine, too. But he believes it changed him for the better. Was I afraid he’d injure hmself again? At first, of course. But before long I saw this made him happy. His living expanded spiritually and emotionally; entrepenuerial at heart, he began to develop various businesses. I have stopped fearing; he is an amazing athlete. A loving son, a good man. He does what he must do. (And skateboarding is an Olympic sport now. Josh finds that pretty strange but good; he grew up “radically” street skating.)

Whatever is this poor little bum knee to whine over? I’m embarrassed by my annoyance. But he texts me: Love and healing to you, mama, you’ll be alright, keep going.

This week I so look forward to the Winter Olympics–a fascinating experience to share with millions of others. I may have wanted to become an athlete along with other goals I harbored, sure. It wasn’t the top choice, clearly. But I understand to a minute degree the rush and freedom that comes after intense work and reaching a pinnacle. It’s a natural response to enjoy spectating as the great ones share passion realized as perfectly as possible. (Don’t we love a success story?) What a good time for me to do so. I observe young adults pushing bodies and minds to far edges. Such artistry; those skills. They do what they do best.

My own resolve to live well is increased by heroic human examples to admire. How I think about challenges makes a transformative difference. It makes me want to just go hiking, likely not climb an entire mountain peak–all the while praising the body I was given and yet enjoy.


Below, one of Josh’s earliest magazine articles (sorry I cannot identify it but it was posted by his wife)–shared with love and gratitude. If you care to read more about what happened and how he changed his life outcomes, please find link below for a post I wrote in 2014.

5 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Body and Mind (Olympic Athletes…and Me)

  1. I think back over injuries—almost all self-inflicted (the time I sat on the floor for hours, legs wide, basting a quilt; the timeI tried to keep up running with a dancer thirty years younger than myself—never do this!) I have broken my little toe and my little finger, but the worst was sciatica. I had to sit down on a curb at one point and cry. …so these days I like to think I am more careful. Ha!

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your injuries, no matter how they came to be. It’s easy to overextend ourselves, I think, at any age. I am certainly not in a small minority re: knee injury, a vulnerable part. I also know the misery of sciatica; I got a great new bed and worked on the area and no longer experience such pain! Thanls for the response.

      (PS I keep on proofreading and revising the morning after I post something–does that happen to you or do you blog like it is more important to get every single thing right on the day you post? How embarrassing to see more erros whiloe trying to go to sleep. I am up late at night writing and finally can’t edit any more after midnight…)

    1. I appreciate that, Derrick. Yes, I do know you empathize. I’m pleased for you that you yet explore on foot, shoot photos and enjoy the interesting scenes! You were more an athlete than I was, that is for sure. Good thing we have writing.

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