Sunday, February 24, 2013

RIC Gym Experiences

Well now I have been to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) gym three times and it has been an eye opening and positive experience. I know of many people who look at going to the gym as a dreaded but necessary action needed to stave off excess weight, help promote good health or any of a number of other reasons.

As we know I have always enjoyed going to the gym, working out, and feeling good about having done so. The obstacles that many of the RIC gym patrons must overcome just to get to the facility speaks volumes about their conviction toward working out.

I had some misgivings about going to the RIC gym,  not the least of which  a myriad of excuses as to why it was so difficult. With the encouragement of my friend, Bruce, I finally decided enough with the excuses, bit the bullet, and went.

I will admit that RIC gym does not have all of the equipment or machines I am accustomed to having at Cheetah Gym, however, the equipment they do have is adapted for use for by people with special circumstances. Things like swing out seats that allow you to perform exercises while seated in a wheelchair.

It will take some time before I learn all of the necessary adaptations I need to utilize the equipment to my best advantage. I am confident that over time I will adapt and this gym will be an even more rewarding experience that it has already proved to be.

It is a truly inspiring place with patrons suffering from a wide array of various disabilities. There are people who are morbidly obese, stroke victims, multiple wheelchair users, a blind man, and those who appear to have suffered traumatic head injuries.

One gentleman I will call Jake, is truly inspiring, he is in a motorized wheelchair and has little control over the movement of his head, unable to look directly at you and his speech is somewhat distorted. This guy exercises five days a week, his main exercise is lifting a ten pound ball with handles on it, over his head, ostensibly to prevent his upper torso muscles from becoming atrophied.

Jake knows every one's name and is a real joy to be around, always happy and welcoming. I look at him and feel invited into his world  as he jokes, talks and spreads good positive vibrations throughout the entire gym, a true example of triumph over tragedy.

There is an older lady, perhaps sixty five or so, whom I believe has suffered a stroke, and I watch her out of the corner of my eye as she tries to lift a five pound bar above her head. Even though her "form" isn't great, it does not matter, she is trying with all that she has  to lift the bar. A testament to human resilience and dedicated determination.

I was in the locker room getting ready to leave when a gentleman was seated on a bench across from me began digging in earnest into his gym bag, searching for something. He asked me if I could see his socks anywhere, it was then I realized that he was blind. After giving him his socks which had fallen a couple of feet away from him, I asked if there was anything else I could do for him. He politely said no. I said between the two of us,  we make up one complete person. He asked me what I meant, I told him I was missing both of my legs, and with my eyes and his legs we would be a complete person.

He laughed and said at least you have not lost your sense of humor. I told him we have to keep our sense of humor, because sometimes the situations in which we find ourselves, despite our losses, are in fact, funny. He agreed and I left the gym with a smile on my face, happier than ever that I finally decided to go to the RIC gym.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gaining Momentum

It feels so good to have things to report that demonstrate my renewed conviction toward living my life more fully. As I stated in my last blog post, I have moved forward toward joining the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), this is a workout gym designed specifically for persons with disabilities.

It was through the encouragement from my new friend, Bruce, that led me to finally follow through on something I had been thinking of doing for over a year and a half. I am going to the gym for the first time in two years and I am looking forward to it with great anticipation and expectations.

Normally there is an evaluation process to determine what programs are suited to a particular person and their situation. A lot of people use RIC as a means of recovering from debilitating illnesses such as a stroke or learning how to deal with Parkinson's Disease and the like. However, as we know I have been working out at home for the two past years, and after having spoken to the RIC manager we determined that such an evaluation would not be necessary in my circumstance.

So, I will be going to RIC as a gym patron. I have decided that I will be wearing my short legs to the gym, as the long legs (C-legs) could prove to be a hindrance rather than an aid. As you may recall, about this time last year I was so self conscious about being seen in those legs that at first I would not even wear them into the physical therapy gym, instead remaining in the exam room. Eventually I wore them out into the physical therapy gym, similarly, it has followed throughout other areas of my life.

Now I have decided that I will wear the short legs from the onset at this new gym. In the not so distant past, I would wear the C-legs and change into the short legs when I arrived, but not this time.

I really believe that the influence that my new mentor, Bruce, has had on me has made me rethink my entire approach to wearing the short legs and I am learning that this feeling of self-consciousness is a self inflicted constraint that I would be well served to discard.

Sometimes it takes time to develop a mindset that will allow you to realize you are only hurting your own progress by being overly concerned with how you look to others and that your own personal gains are what really matter in the scheme of your life. This mindset may come easily to some, take time for others and there are those who will never reach that point.

Anyway, I am finally at a point where I want my progress to supersede any other potentially disqualifying feelings of peculiarity and move forward toward my goals. I have been wearing these short legs almost continuously and now in front of people that in the past I may not have been willing to do so. I think that is progress.

My buddy, Bruce, said I should also on occasion walk on the longer legs, so that I am not out of practice. Guess what ? Too late. I walked about twenty feet and I thought I was going to die.

It is as if I am starting all over on the long legs because I have not been practicing walking in them as I should have been. Alas all is not lost as I will begin again, something I am quite accustomed to doing.

I am hoping that walking in the longer legs will be much like a person's muscle memory, it will come back readily and it will not like starting completely from scratch.

It is exciting this newly found momentum and I am determined to keep the ball rolling and in the course gain speed, moving ever closer to those goals and perhaps setting even higher ones for my future.

A quick shout out to Bruce for your continuous inspiration and encouragement, you are truly a brother. Thanks for taking the time to help me make the quality of my life better.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Found Inspiration

If you are a follower on my blog you must have realized my last couple of posts have not been as uplifting or optimistic as they have been in the past.

As I explained in my last post, sometimes you reach a point where reality is not on par with what you had anticipated. As I have been trying to come to terms with my reality, I started searching on the Internet for other bilateral above knee amputees, to see if I could communicate with someone in a similar situation.

Believe it or not I located a gay man in California who is also a bilateral above knee (AK) amputee. My new friend is a Marine still serving but in a different capacity than before he was severely injured while serving this country, resulting in the loss of both of his legs both above the knee.

I am not sure he wants me to use his real name, so for the sake of anonymity I will call him Bruce. Bruce who became a double amputee in 2011, has already accomplished so much in his pursuit of walking again.

Bruce walks full time unaided on his "short legs" and can also walk almost always unaided in his full length C-legs (c is for computerized). Of course after having spoken with him on several occasions, I voiced my concern about my own progress or lack thereof.

Bruce told me, as I had already suspected, that the environment he was privy to was a rehab gym full of amputee war veterans. This group of heroic veterans were at a great advantage over me, in that they were inpatient men working together at the same time striving to reach the same common goals. In other words they were there for each other as a support system.

He assured me that if my circumstances were the same as his, that I too would be much further down my path than where I find myself. Bruce also cautioned me against making comparisons between two incomparable scenarios.

Bruce's ability to recover as fully as he has in more ways than just walking, has been a real concrete inspiration to me and my life circumstances. Finally I have spoken with someone who not only understands what I am going through, but also has been very encouraging to me as an individual.

In the past week I have already increased the amount I have been walking on my short legs, not dramatically but significantly and he told me he was proud that I have already made "strides" in the direction I want to go.

Bruce asked me if I drove my car while wearing my short legs. I said, Are you kidding? I have never even gotten into my car wearing those legs. Suffice it to say the next day I did just that, I walked on my short legs from my wheelchair to my car and after much trial and error, figured out a way to climb up and into my car. Next, I got out of my car and walked back to my wheelchair.

This new friend, Bruce, a bodybuilder, with an incredible physique, has now challenged me even further, advocating fully for me to return to the gym. I have asked him many questions about working out and he has done all of it in a public gym while wearing his short legs, incredible.

My new friend and now mentor, Bruce has come along in my life at just the perfect time and through his knowledge and encouragement, I feel rejuvenated.

I am not saying I will accomplish all that he has by tomorrow, but now I have someone with whom I can completely identify, who has also showed genuine interest in helping me help myself.

Please do not think I am slighting all of the professional clinicians who have already helped beyond words.

This however, is a fellow bilateral AK amputee and he is a gay man also. Who better to understand me, my fears, anxieties and self doubts than Bruce? In addition Bruce is a competitive bodybuilder with vast knowledge of what an amputee can expect to accomplish with respect to working out at the gym.

It is my hope that over time Bruce and I will establish a bond that can only be formed by people brought together through this common amputation and made stronger by our shared commonalities.

I realize I have not known this guy very long but I can already sense that he cares and is capable and more importantly willing to share his time and knowledge with me, just to make sure I live a happier and more satisfied life.

Without going into specific details Bruce has overcome so many losses in his life, not the least of which were the loss of both of his legs, to become a powerful force of life.

I like one of his mottoes that is a reflection of wearing short legs, "Half as tall, but twice as strong."

Thanks Bruce for your continued inspiration, it means so much.

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