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

(Photo by Thomas Laukat on Pexels.com)

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.

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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.

Monday’s Meander/Photos: Skate Wedding

Our son, Josh, married Christine 8-11-19 at Burnside Skate Park, Portland, OR.

They had their own unique Portland-style marriage ceremony. This is where they met five years ago. Since Josh got involved when just 19 with the skaters developing this gritty city center park, it is special to him. That was over two decades ago, and the place attracts skaters from around the world. About 25 veteran skaters stood beside him during the ceremony. Josh being who he is, he remained cool, calm, going with the flow while also in command– until the vows when tears came. Christine was ebullient with joyous excitement, near combustion point. All went well.

It was one wedding experience I will never have again! (The last adult child had a forest wedding.) And I pray they keep building happiness and faith in each other and life for many, many years.

And then Josh skated. After all, she married a skater.

The sequence below was planned–I think; she seemed ready!

I’ve added random shots of the gathering. (The young woman in the yellow sweater is my granddaughter, his daughter. Time, how it flees.)

Then on to the rest of the celebration.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Young Strength to Greater Strengths

Photos copyright 2019 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

 

Way back then it began with

big energy of desire behind arcs

of movement through flowery air,

your flash of bravado like

(at 2 you jumped in the pool and swam),

some cellular lightning rising off head and feet,

arms outstretched for the world and beyond.

No one knew in ’86 what was coming,

that such play and work with those wheels and board

would crest and carry into mainstream places.

This was strange outlaw living then–

you weren’t trodding a middle way,

alive at deep edges, the high heat of competition

never greater than when against yourself.

 

Heart of warrior, alchemical dreamer,

adventurer’s sinew and bone,

mind swinging open sizzling with joy:

you were so young and wildly brave.

Slight and intense, admirer of sport, I followed your progress

(breath held, police watch), cheered

each feat–more so incandescence of hope

as your passion reshaped air, time, thought.

 

You are older, braver, stronger, wounds knit

together into tattooed tales of loss and discovery.

You’ve expanded with things endured,

a richer faith, and every time you test bonds of gravity

that essence shouts, flies as you rise, fall, rise.

A circuitry of life imbues you by sculpted

propulsion of fire’s calm– your daily devotionals.

Still out there, and I yet watch (going grey now)

you skate with zero regret and a fine crackling of

laughter and sweat, mastery of gratitude, sheen of wonder.

(And still I hold my breath then let it go with the winds.)

 

Many still do not understand the allure and respect for skateboarding but it is a demanding athletic endeavor (it became an official Olympic sport is 2016), beautiful and fascinating in motion. My son, Josh Falk, has been a pro skater for over 20 years and has been on several teams. I have never regretted encouraging him in his passion. You can find many photos, videos, film and magazine feature info as well as his Northwest Skate products online if interested.

   1986-Josh and me

Joshua’s Fourth of July

Fourth Of July Fireworks

For most Americans, the fourth of July is a beloved national holiday, a time to once more note pride in our “can-do” attitude as we kick back and bask in the pleasures of summer. Families and friends make merry and enjoy an age-old thrill in firework displays that remind us of our country’s hard-won independence. But for my family, this date holds other meanings.

In summer of 1997 my son, Joshua, and youngest daughter, Alexandra, had already arrived in suburban Detroit to visit family and friends. I flew from Oregon to join the clan. We gathered together my five biological and non-biological children plus three grandchildren. A photo shows five children (most in their twenties) who grew up together squashed on a couch, smiling, a motley beloved crew.

Joshua (23), Alexandra (17) and I then travelled to mid-Michigan to my mother’s. My father had passed and my mother, in her mid eighties, was considering selling my childhood home. We enjoyed one another and reminiscing. Joshua was going to visit his father farther north when Alexandra and I left. He would be water skiing, boating, doing all the things he loved outdoors and catching up with his father and paternal grandmother.

It was two days before the fourth of July. We had finished eating another good meal at the round, umbrella-topped table in mom’s pleasant back yard. I was sad to leave but my vacation days were few so I readied for the airport.

My son and I briefly embraced. He said good-bye, his engaging smile a flash in the sunshine. He was twenty-two, tan and toned like the natural athlete he was, at ease in his skin. Clear blue eyes glinted with liveliness and mischief as they had since he was born. He wished me a safe trip and I, the same for him. Then, deep within me I felt a deep quiver of fear, an alarm. I studied him, held his gaze, spoke again the words I often said to my children, a mantra, a prayer, a blessing: “Be wise, be smart, be safe.” I shook off the anxiety and left, wondering. Praying as I flew home.

Two days later in Portland, Oregon on the fourth of July, my home phone rang. It was Joshua’s paternal grandmother. There was an accident. A motorcycle accident. Joshua was riding, not even that fast –his father heard it happen from the house–but as he rounded an easy curve on the gravel road, the motorcycle had slid, hit an electrical post, then flew up so he was thrown from the bike.

In critical condition. Taken from the rural hospital by ambulance to a major city trauma center well over an hour away. He had many unknown internal injuries, had a crushed jaw, tongue bitten almost in half. But the helmet had protected him from more grievous ruin. She didn’t know more yet but it was so much it barely sunk in. I suppressed a scream.

I got on another plane, numb, trembling, then calmed as I prayed, my mind filled with images that I tried to banish. I knew he was hanging on at that time. I didn’t know how he would be if he survived.

And when I first saw him, he was my son and yet not exactly, his broken body not yet as familiar to me, while his inner spirit held on, even severely shaken. He lay in the intensive care room strapped to a bed that was in an elevated position, his lean length swollen and bruised, his jaw barely moveable. I understood specialists were waiting to see what would develop, that a clear prognosis was not offered. There were lost and broken teeth, chin and jaw; the rest of the damage was internal. His eyes were changed by pain and confusion that rolled out in waves to me. I touched his hand, shared all the love of my heart, carried in a message from my soul.

In the waiting room everyone was together again. My children but also two ex-husbands, Joshua’s oldest friends, my mother, other family members. We embraced. Wept. Mostly we were devoid of words, beyond expression of feeling. We were terribly still, then restless. Prayerful and stunned.

I thought over and over: I should have warned him. I knew something was not right as we parted ways. I thought: Joshua, you must bear this and you must recover. I thought: I will be here no matter what. The prayer was simple: Hold him close, save his body, salvage all who he is.

Anyone who has had to keep watch over a loved one in a hospital for a long period knows the contradictory features, how time vanishes yet feels like molasses. How misery takes turns with a stalwart calm. Fear runs high only to be overcome by love and hope. And when the days become weeks, it becomes a familiar routine, oddly adaptable, a pattern imprinted so all that exists is those rooms, that child, the patience you gain in order to endure and have faith can go forward. Beseeching God, accepting there are things you cannot comprehend. Each moment faced as it arrives. The soothing moments melt away in sorrow. Peace finally arrives when one more day passes without more bad news.

Joshua, the child who had boundless vigor and curiosity and high spirits, was altered partly by his own stillness. We talked a bit but often we all just sat, watching a little tv. Massaging his feet. Helping him drink water. I would read to him, hold his hand. Music sometimes played. My mother came every day she could manage to be there. Joshua’s father and ex-stepfather visited daily. No one left him alone any longer than could be avoided.

Over the next few weeks Joshua hung on, went through rounds of x-rays, MRIs, blood work, IVs, endured indignities and countless consultations. There had been damage to the spleen, a bruised pancreas, a kidney injured that was now dying. He had fractured and lost many teeth and his jaw required surgery and a metal band to hold all together. His tongue healed more quickly. But after three weeks he was wasting away, weakened, his blood sugar haywire due to pancreatic malfunctioning. He was unable to walk alone more than a few steps. If he didn’t have more sustenance, did not metabolize better, he would grow even weaker. His doctors and surgeon didn’t speak of the future, much less with optimism; they were surprised he had survived, at all.

I was not. I knew his fiery stubbornness and passion for life, how he felt God. And I knew God’s healing power never stopped working. Many prayed for his recovery, kept vigil. The presence of Christ was about us; I felt the warmth, that strength of love.

One day I came to visit and Joshua shared something that changed everything.

“I had a vision, mom.”

“You did? What sort of a vision? Or was it a dream?”

“A vision,” he said firmly. “I was in the desert. I met a shaman who offered me a peace pipe. We sat before a fire and he told me I needed to hunt for meat. I can’t just lie here. I have to change things. In order to heal I must eat meat and other good foods, not just what I am given. I have to tell the doctors I need meat and vegetables. I must gain strength to get up and walk or I won’t make it.”

His eyes were weary with chronic pain but luminous. He was adamant about the vision’s instructions. He had been fed via IVs, more recently had some soft food and more liquids–that was all he could manage, they said, due to damaged major organs, mouth and jaw. When his doctors came again, Joshua informed them he would now be eating what he knew he needed. Or he would leave. I didn’t say anything to discourage him. I knew all his life he seemed to display unusual capacity to heal himself and that he prayed for his own and others’  healing. He was so certain. I believed, mostly, and I definitely trusted in God’s wisdom.

He also refused surgery to repair injuries to pancreas and spleen and to remove what they insisted was a dying, shrivelled-up kidney.

He contradicted them. “My second kidney is hurt but alive. It’ll function fine again someday. No cutting. Let my body heal itself. Let me eat.”

The surgeons and internists listened. They debated and then they agreed. When do hospitals accept that a young man has a vision of healing? But they did not refuse to use regular menus. They pureed and blended ingredients and he fed himself. Each day he seemed more energized. The room lost its shroud of sadness.

Within less than a week he stood on his own, walking with difficulty but with determination, IV stand in hand. Slowly he made his way up and down the hall, longer and farther each time. I witnessed one moment as the full reality of his injuries hit him, tears coming, questions about his choices voiced. And I was overcome with my private grief about not insisting he not go up north that day. I knew I couldn’t have stoppped him but it haunted me. He was living in the present yet worried he might not manage all he wanted to do in the future. But it was clear he was on his way back.

I left when he was eating and walking more confidently. He told me he expected to be back in Oregon before the end of summer and his doctors began to see it his way. After five weeks in the hospital, he was released and after recovering a bit more at his father’s, he returned to Portland.

There were a few phone calls between us and his surgeon. She told me they had never witnessed such an event before, how Joshua simply stated his vision and what to do. The faith. His healing. She said they all admired his spirit and she expressed sincere caring and best wishes.

This is not quite the end of the story.

Before Joshua’s accident he had worked as a commercial painter at a big company. But he had also been pursuing his dream of becoming a well-known skateboarder for years. Constantly active since childhood, he was attracted to individual sports such as snow and water skiing, BMX biking and karate. He had practiced tricks on his skateboard when it was not yet a mainstream sport but considered an edgey rebel’s way of life. He had made great progress, his name ws circulated, but not as much as desired.

After he came home, he stated he was going to become an outstanding skateboarder. He planned on being sponsored by sports companies, competing all over the country and being in skate videos. It gave us pause. It seemed less than likely he could carry on with life without further health issues. He’d had a head injury. More surgery was due for jaw, teeth. He was still healing internally. (We wouldn’t know about the badly damaged kidney for years until he had a minor snowboarding injury that required an x-ray. They found both kidneys, though one was a little smaller, functioning well.) He had a great deal of strength, balance and flexibility to regain, in time.

But my son took charge of the dream and succeeded. He has competed many times, has sponsors including Nike, ACE Trucks, Roughneck Hardware, OJ Wheels, Diamond Clothing, 151 Skateboards. He has appeared in countless skateboarding videos. Photographs of him skateboarding have appeared in over forty national magazine issues. He has had nine skateboards emblazoned with his own name. He still skates today and is, yes, a residential and commercial painter. And a devoted father, a music and art maker, a nature lover. One who still prays for others’ healing, too.

So another Fourth of July is coming up, seventeen years later. We don’t much speak of it though I see him often, so I asked him if I could write about all this. He was fine with it. He has lived other interesting experiences. Life goes on. And whenever an alarm goes off within me, I pay attention. I speak of it. If I am wrong, it matters little. If I am, it might save someone regrets or worse.

My son, who goes by Josh Falk, is getting older but not slowing down much. When he teetered on that precipice above life and death he found a way back to solid ground. I know all prayers upheld him. His faith in Divine Love has deepened as it has informed his living day by day. And his heart? Strong as a warrior’s, tender when it matters most.

Joshua's smile

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