Tuesday, October 4, 2016

You CAN Do Anything

After an amazing freshmen year academically and socially, I was very disappointed athletically.  I spent the entire year trying to rehabilitate my ankle and in my mind, failed.  I was in the training room three or four hours every day in the beginning of the year.  By the end of the year, my treatment time was down to one hour but I was still in pain.  The Achilles tendinitis was unrelenting.  By the time summer rolled around, I was burned out. I didn’t want to do gymnastics anymore. I loved Ball State and my teammates but competing in gymnastics scared me.  I had lost the joy.  Everyone got hurt. I was in pain all of the time. Nevertheless, I went back to Clinton for the summer and got a job coaching kids with Mr. Douglas.

I started work at seven for in the morning and we would train these little girls, who are now 35 years old, sadly. It was so refreshing to watch Mr. Douglas train. He was happy to be teaching them stuff they had never known before, bringing them up and making them strong. I would coach in the mornings with him and then I would do some conditioning training for myself.  I would have a break midday and coach at night. I was just around gymnastics all the time and around Mr. Douglas motivating these children all day. It made all the difference. His happiness just wore off on me. I coached alongside him that whole summer and he rejuvenated my whole love for gymnastics. Even if he was tough, he was still pretty moderate. He’s obviously stayed healthy his whole life without ever being extreme.

I remember I was trying to train a four year old to do a cartwheel that summer. I kept telling her to kick up her legs and throw them over at an angle and then over your head and we just weren’t getting anywhere. When I told this to my college teammate Kris, she erupted in laughter.  "Patty, man.  That four year-old has no idea what you’re talking about when you say angles. She's  four. You need to tell her that her toes are crayons and  to draw rainbows on the ceiling."

The next day I imparted this wise advice from my teammate and it was like a miracle.  All the kids were doing cartwheels really well.  I lost that fun amidst the tedium of training and the constant injuries my teammates and me would sustain. Sure, Mr. Douglas was tough and he wanted to win, but he was also into the joy of it.

I think and I will always call him my coach primarily because he made the largest impact on me. The fact that he let me train in his gym and devote extra hours, often unsupervised throughout my entire middle school years is what helped me achieve what I did.  He was always very encouraging to me.  I've applied much of what Mr. Douglas taught me to all aspects of my life. I try to model myself on him and his passion for athletics. Much like him, I didn’t get into Pilates because I expected to become a millionaire (although that would be nice). I do it because I think it is fun. I know I am going to teach Pilates until I’m 80 at least. I will never quit. In that sense, I try to be the Mr. Douglas for Pilates.

    Even still, I will always default to him as my example for motivation. One year, my family and I vacationed in the Dominican Republic where I was able to train in the mornings and cover the expenses of our trip by working with a fitness travel agency. That year, we were determined to try surfing. We hired a photographer to document the day. My daughter, Brooke (seven years old at the time) got up on the surfboard on her first try.  And then, in some of the pictures, you can see my son brooding in the background behind the rest of us. He is sitting on a piece of dogwood in the same position as The Thinker. In other pictures where we are drinking from coconuts, my husband and I are kissing, you can see Seth’s morose face looming in the background. For the most of that morning, he was pouting on this piece of dogwood. Eventually, I tried to coax him from his perch and ask him to come and take a few photos with us. He exploded and started shouting, “No! I don’t care! I hate this! When are we leaving?! I want to go back!” I decided to let him cool off, but returned within ten minutes to try again. He continued to argue and beg to go back in. I crouched down to him and said, “Listen up. We came to the Dominican this year just so that we can do what we’re doing right now. This is why we didn’t go to Jamaica or anywhere else. We came to the Dominican Republic because we wanted to surf. We pulled you out of school. Your classmates are sitting in school and there’s 10 inches of snow on the ground outside. You're sitting at the beach and crying about it. We are not leaving this beach until the end of the day.”

“But I can’t do it!” he whined. “Surfing sucks and it’s not fun.”

We’re here because a 68 year-old client learned how to surf five years ago and he was sedentary for thirty years before that. I’m not asking you to do something you physically can’t do,” I said. “Before I leave, I’m just going to tell you one more thing. Your sister is out there surfing, (long dramatic pause) and what are you going to tell your best friend Cole when you go back home? Brooke got up on her first try and you sat and cried on a tree all day?” and I walked away. Sure enough, Seth got up from the dogwood about ten minutes later, got onto a surf board and was riding waves for the rest of the day. For the next two days, he managed to surpass us all in skill, even moving on to intermediate waves further down the beach. It was a real Mr. Douglas moment.

I have repeated that story to some parents who reproached me, saying that what I told my son was mean. But it would have been meaner to let him mope all day than to try and get him to give surfing another shot. Sure enough, he was up on that board and having fun. My inner Mr. Douglas was coming out when I said, “I’m just going to say this one thing and then I’m not saying anything else. You can do what you want. It’s your choice….” And it worked. The pictures we got of Seth are just incredible. He’s there on his surf board, surrounded by bubbles of water, with these striking cliffs in the background. Ultimately, I got lucky that it didn’t all backfire and that he didn’t get hit in the face with his surfboard.

So Mr. Douglas and his motivational attitude and skills are effective even today and during that particular summer, he dramatically improved my drive just by being himself.  I don't mean that he was perfect.  Sometimes he yelled too much, he was a hyped up guy.  He was strict in every since of the word. He was still joyful.  These are not mutually exclusive.  When one of his gymnasts learned a new skill, and had their little kid smile and bright eyes light up, he loved it just as much as them.  It really was a marvel.  I don't think anyone could pay him to quit coaching gymnastics.  Due to this example, I was rejuvenated and ready to do gymnastics again. However, my Achilles was not. I still had a constant ache in it and hadn't even really done any impact activities all summer.  It was getting to be do or die time as I was going back to Ball State in a couple of weeks.  I read a couple of articles and parts of books about psychosomatic injuries and illnesses.  I recognized some of my teammates in it, but not really myself.  I gave a lot of thought to what I was gaining by staying injured.

One week before school started back up, I went to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics again to get checked out before going back to Muncie. It had been three months and I still wasn’t feeling much better even though I did what I was told. I iced it and I only did exercises that didn’t affect my ankle. The doctor took a look and finally said that he didn’t think it was Achilles tendinitis after all. I sat there motionless with a quizzical look on my face.  I was somewhat in shock. After eight months of hearing I had Achilles tendinitis, the trainers and doctors at Ball State telling me it was Achilles tendinitis, the doctors at the University of Iowa telling me it was Achilles tendinitis, me acting like and feeling like it was Achilles tendinitis, now hearing they're not sure.   He clearly said, "Well, you have something.  We're not sure what it is, but I don't think it's Achilles tendinitis." I sat there silently for an entire minute.  My mind raced to my tennis player friend and how he didn't have pain from an injury much worse than mine, it raced to my high school teammate Julie who swore her arm just didn't hurt, it raced to Jennifer Sey and her broken femur, then it raced to my mom's voice in my head say, even though she didn't practice it herself, "Mind over matter.  You can do anything in life you want to do as long as you want it badly enough." Internally, I lost my temper a little bit, I didn't yell at him or anything but I decided right then and there that I had had enough. I said something to him rather haughtily that changed my life, "They've been telling me for months I had Achilles tendinitis. I believed them.  If you don't think I have Achilles tendinitis and I don't think I have Achilles tendinitis, then I no longer have Achilles tendinitis.  I'm done with it."

I got up off the table and left his office.  My sister was with me and I walked out into the parking garage with her.  I was irate that I had spent so much time with an injury that may not have even been real.  It was definitely real in my mind and I definitely felt pain in my foot.  I was cussing up a storm, venting to my sister and stomping around.  My Achilles started to hurt.  I started to think about something else.  Anything else to think about, it didn't matter.  I started counting cars, distracting myself as much as possible.  It quit hurting.  I walked to my car, got in and drove away.

I went back to Ball State for my sophomore year about a week later.  After that appointment, whenever my Achilles hurt, I would focus my attention on something else entirely. If I were walking to class and felt pain I would start counting the bricks on a building. Or if I was passing a tree, I would start thinking about the tree’s biology and how each and every leaf is made up of these little cells that had infinitely small, porous boxes with their nuclei and chloroplasts and mitochondria. I ran into the tennis guy again, he was back at Ball State for his Master's Degree.  We discussed his leg and he said, "You know, it just never really hurts."  I adopted his philosophy.  Within a few short weeks, the pain went away and my achilles never hurt again. I just psyched the pain away. I refused to talk about it. I took care of it, I iced it, and I continued to do my therapy for it, but I stopped making an issue out of it. I started practicing at full strength without any restrictions from the trainers.  It was a great start to my sophomore year.

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