“Because I can.”

I checked off a bucket list item on Labour Day Monday morning.  I swam with the Triathlon Club of Burlington (TCoB), in their annual Pier to Pier swim.  This swim is 2.8km, across Lake Ontario, from the Burlington lift bridge pier to Burlington’s downtown pier.

Usually on Labour Day Monday, you can find me in my happy place, along the Lake Ontario shoreline, on a long solo run to clear my mind and get myself mentally prepped for the upcoming school year.  With a teacher husband and two school-aged children, Labour Day is like my New Year; a fresh start, new goals, big dreams.  And every year, I’ve noticed the TCoB crew climbing out of the water with big smiles and high fives, and sunshine on a glassy lake only adds to the appeal.  Always up for a challenge, I wanted in on the fun, so a little over a week ago, I signed myself up.

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2.8km looks really far from this finish-line vantage point; that red circle is the lighthouse where we jumped in.

IMG_9438My husband thought I was crazy; 2.8km and I haven’t swum a stroke in almost a decade.  In fact, I’ve never even put on a wetsuit before, and I didn’t have time to test my borrowed suit out before yesterday’s event, so it was a jump-in-and-hope-for-the-best situation.  But, I used to be a lifeguard, and a decade ago I did a handful of triathlons, including a 1.9km swim in my 2007 half-Ironman.  So while I haven’t swum in many years, I hoped my previous experience, swim technique, and fitness could carry me through.

Monday morning at 7:15am, two of my girlfriends met me at home, and the three of us trekked down to the pier.  They were rookies too, although one is a regular lap-swimmer and one had just come off a great triathlon season.   They gave me tips on getting into my wetsuit (a workout in itself!), BodyGlide advice, and how to loop my zipper string.  I was woefully underprepared, and felt like I should personally introduce myself to the kayak support boats.  Deep down though, I knew that sheer determination (stubbornness?) would get me across the water.

It did.

I finished in 58:36, just under the one-hour mark that my obsessive Google calculations of “open water swim times” told me I could do.  And while I don’t plan on adding swim training to my schedule, I truly enjoyed the experience.  I enjoyed the nerves, the challenge, the friends and family, the sunshine, the sense of accomplishment, and the gratitude that I am physically able to do things like this.

“Why would you want to do that?” someone asked me.  “Because I can.” And oh how I love a challenge.

In fact, this just may become a new tradition.

 


Consistency.

A key to health is consistency.

Consistency in diet.  Consistency in exercise.  Consistency in sleep.  Consistency in self-care.  I could go on…..

A few months ago, I had a new patient come in.  He had Googled “sports doctor” and wound up at Burlington Sports & Spine Clinic.  He was in his late 40s, worked long hours at an office job, and had a downtown Toronto commute.  He spent nearly twelve hours per day sitting at a desk, in a car, or on the GO train.  He was a high school athlete, played University intramurals, and participated in adult sports leagues through his late twenties and early thirties, but he’d put the brakes on his activity levels over the last fifteen years, as the demands of children, work, and life began to build.

Let’s take a minute to think about what his body is capable of these days.  Is it reasonable to think that after fifteen years of sitting twelve hours per day, eating take-out lunches, and making no attempt to build strength or mobility, that his body might start to break down?  Is it reasonable to think that his healing rates might be lower?  That his heart’s efficiency has decreased?  That the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in his body have become accustomed to lack of movement?  I think so.

But he didn’t.

You see, he’d run a 5K the day prior; it was a fundraiser event that he participated in with his work colleagues, and when he came to see me, he could barely walk due to knee pain.

I explained to him what’s involved in an overuse injury.  We talked about tissue tolerance, what happens when physical demands exceed the body’s capacity, and how he’d simply done too much, too soon.  I drew diagrams, I used analogies, and I’d like to think I’ve become quite good throughout my career at explaining injuries to patients.

His response: “I know this is bad, but I’ll pay you extra if you can fix this today.  I don’t want to have to come back.”

Ahhhhh, the quick fix.  Fifteen years of neglecting his body and he wants to be “fixed” in half an hour.  Here’s the reality: I can very likely get you feeling better, faster.  But I can’t undo what you do the other 23.5 hours of the day, for years on end.

Here comes the cliche:

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Consistency.

Being-consistent


Bob said “anytime.”

My dad has a friend who’s been in his life for many decades.   Let’s call him Bob, to maintain some anonymity; Bob is a bachelor, never been married, no kids.  I’ve known him for more than 25 years.  And now Bob has Alzheimer’s disease.  

I struggled about whether or not I should write this post, about whether or not I’d be violating Bob’s privacy, about whether or not he would approve or disapprove, should he be able to make that decision.  And as my thoughts rolled around and around, I thought I’d ask his sister, who is handling his affairs these days.  She said yes.  And so I wrote.  And as the words came, so did the the memories.

Bob was diagnosed a couple of years ago, and just this past Spring, his sisters helped him to relocate to a Retirement Home in Toronto.  His deterioration was progressing, so within months, his house in Calgary was cleaned out and sold, and Bob was back East, closer to his sisters and extended family, and also to me.

For much of his life, Bob lived in Calgary, just over an hour from the small town of Sundre, Alberta, where I grew up.  He worked downtown, in the oil business, and had a mind for math and numbers and a personality for order and specificity.  He was a perfectionist through and through, and gave of his talents generously to many people in his life, myself included.  When I was a new University student applying for a waitressing job, Bob helped me get my resume in order; he made my experiences of babysitting and lifeguarding sound like formidable accomplishments and he went over my revisions again and again with a fine-toothed comb.  Every sentence perfect, every statement clear and concise, every opportunity explored.  He must’ve spent hours behind the scenes, thinking about how to best present my 18-year-old self to restaurant managers, while I rolled my eyes on the other end of the phone line as he got me to rewrite even the smallest details.  I got the job, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I moved to Toronto to attend the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 2002, Bob’s hometown.  Way before the Facetime era, Bob arranged for his nephew to scout my potential apartment for me.  Moving solo across the country to The Big Smoke was a daunting endeavour for my 22-year-old self, but his nephew gave me a full report via Bob.  I remember that he commented on the water pressure being strong; attention to detail must be genetic.  I got the apartment, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

School took over my life and I immersed myself in my studies and my friends, my running and my new city.  I was working occasional hours as a personal trainer when tax time rolled around.  I called Bob and asked for help with my personal taxes.  He filed them via paper and pencil, long before QuickTax, with me on the other end of a long-distance phone call, answering endless questions, sorting through paperwork, being as thorough as Bob demanded.  I got the taxes done, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I was a newlywed in 2006, back in Calgary with my husband for a Summertime visit, and needed a place to spend a night in between dinner parties and brunch plans.  He toured us around his neighbourhood, took us for a walk, made us feel welcome.  We had great conversation, marvelled at his tidiness, commented on his home’s precision.  He gave us a place to stay, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

My family went to visit him last Sunday.  We told the kids that his brain was sick.  That he’s a smart man with a big heart and a big, awful disease.  He was having a good day and he was the Bob I remembered in many respects; the Bob who likes to talk, except this Bob had trouble finding words.  The Bob who loves children, except this Bob couldn’t interact with them the way he used to.  The Bob who loves showing people around, except this Bob got disoriented in the middle of his tour.

But this Bob still remembered me.  This Bob was still happy to see me, my husband, my kids.  This Bob still smiled, still laughed, still has a positive outlook, a generous spirit, a fierce loyalty, a kind soul.

I gave him a long hug, he said thank you, I said “anytime.”

 

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