I'm Too Young to Be This Damn Old: Strong(er)

TAGS: Extraordinary resolve, elitefts gear, Jeff Guller, empowerment, strong(er), Rehabilitation, powerlifting

I love my elitefts™ gear. I love to wear it and I love seeing others in elitefts™ gear. Train, driven, hard, empowerment—I love it all. I just wish I had all of it. Strong(er), however, is the word or phrase that speaks to me the most.

I wear my strong(er) everywhere, not just to the gym but to the doctor, cardiac rehabilitation, the mall, the grocery store, everywhere. Isn’t it terrible that my everywhere involves such few places? Be that as it may, my strong(er) wear helped me feel and be stronger every day after heart bypass surgery. It made me stand a little straighter when it hurt to do so. It put a little snap in my step when that was the last thing I felt like doing. I'm stronger today because of it, and now as I begin to train, I know I’ll get stronger more quickly. Strong(er) is my mantra because, after all, that’s what we do. That’s what our sport involves—exhibiting strength on the platform. However, strong(er) is much more. It's the extraordinary resolve that captures my imagination.

What is it? Who has it? How does one get it? Why do we want it? The fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary (1987) defines "extraordinary" as beyond what is ordinary, exceptional, or  remarkable. It further defines "resolve" as firmness of purpose, determination, and decision. This is an elusive definition at best, not unlike the legal, mythical, reasonable man. While difficult to define, we often know it when we see it. To make a determination about one's self is very difficult. It's much easier to make that determination about others.

I've been told that to have obtained world records at age 71 requires extraordinary resolve. I don't see it that way. I simply do what I do. I set a goal, I make a plan, and then I set out to do it. I don’t always succeed, but I always learn something and I give it my best shot. I now have a new goal. It's to break my world records in December 2013 at the same meet in which they were set in December 2012. I have a plan and have started to execute it. Whether I make it or not, I will have given it one helluva shot. Does this require extraordinary resolve? I don’t know. It's for others to judge.

We've all seen extraordinary resolve in others, the greats in our sport and in all other sports. Though they have great natural talent, they've all had extraordinary resolve. However, I've had the privilege to observe and experience extraordinary resolve up close and personal. This story is very involved and complicated. It's full of sorrow and tears, recovery and joy. It's the subject of its own book. In as few words as possible, I’ll tell you the bare facts.

I have an adopted son, Gary, whom I raised since he was five. He was an exceptional athlete, but he excelled at tennis. As a Boy Scout, he got involved in climbing and it became his passion. Rather than accept a tennis scholarship, he opted to go out west (Arizona) to an outdoor school. During the Christmas vacation of his second year, he and two friends decided to climb Mt. Orizaba in Mexico, an inactive volcano covered by a glacier and the highest peak in North America. The three were roped together as they climbed. Near the summit, the young man in the middle slipped, pulling the others into a 2,000-foot fall that left them bouncing down the mountain. One young man died. Gary and the other man were severely injured. When we got him home, he had a broken neck, a broken ankle, severe frostbite, and a brachial plexis avulsion, which is a very serious injury. You medical people may know what it is. For us non-medical folks, it's essentially a pulling loose of the nerves from the spinal cord. It is permanent.

He spent many months in the hospital. When he was as well as he could get, he was released with permanent paralysis in his left arm and in the left portion of his upper body. He recovered from all the other injuries except his arm and the loss of his roommate. We began some rehabilitation playing racquetball together. With his arm strapped to his body to keep it out of the way, we played. At first, he fell down when he tried to hit a ball without the arm for balance. We played and practiced through the fall, and the following February, we won a racquetball doubles tournament. (I told you he was a good athlete!)

Shortly thereafter, he entered Duke Hospital for experimental surgery. Orthopedists and neurosurgeons were going to attempt to attach a nerve from his chest to his arm so that when he breathed a certain way, his biceps would flex. The surgery lasted fourteen hours and took months of recovery, first at Duke and then at home. When at last they were able to test the results of the surgery, it was determined that while the surgery was successful, the amount of flex in the bicep wasn't enough to move the arm. The doctor said that he could take the arm off below the elbow to see if that would work. If not, he would need another amputation above the elbow. Gary decided to have the arm taken off above the elbow and be done with it. It was the only voluntary amputation in the history of Duke Hospital. Now what? More tears, healing, and rehabilitation.

He tried running a camera store, but that didn't work out. He moved to England, got a very good job, married a very beautiful Englishwoman, and seemed to be settling down. But it wasn't to be. The bug bit him again. With a friend, he started climbing all over England, then Europe, and then, of course, Nepal. His wife vehemently objected. So the decision to start climbing again cost him his wife, his job, and his friend. On an attempted assent of Mt Everest, his friend died. He choked to death. That didn't deter Gary from more climbing. He moved back to the United States to Austin, Texas and later tried another assent of Mt Everest. Within view of the summit, his Sherpa called it off because of an impending storm. In May 2003, with the aid of Americans with Disabilities, he launched his third attempt. Success! Gary was the first person with a disability (limb) to climb Mt Everest. Extraordinary resolve? I think so!

Courtesy of www.GaryGuller.com

In June 2012, my stepdaughter Paige, a forty-something mother of twin 15-year-olds, was with her family at her sister’s house in Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. She woke up one morning unable to move anything. She was taken to the hospital and examined from head to toe over and over again. They found nothing. It was thought that it might be psychosomatic. However, before discharging her, they performed a spinal tap. She was found to have Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disease that can paralyze all or any portion of a person.  This is another complicated story, but I’ll give you just the bare facts.

GBS is a rare disease (1 in 100,000) from which there can be complete recovery, partial recovery, or no recovery eventually leading to death. It usually involves a long stay in the hospital and/or a rehabilitation facility with hours upon hours of physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, recreation therapy, and any and all other therapies that exist. Paige endured them all with as good of a humor as anyone I’ve ever seen.

Week upon week in the rehab hospital helped restore her upper body function and she could finally eat on her own. More weeks and weeks resulted in the ability to stand, albeit with support. That's how she was discharged, with some upper body movement and none below the waist. Damn! She kept on with physical therapy on a regular basis, week after week. She was fitted with special boots that offered great support and allowed her to stand on her own. Eventually, she was able to take a step and then two. Of course, a step or two led to more, and with constant practice, faith, perseverance, and good humor, she can walk again with the aid of a walker. I'm certain that one day soon she will walk unaided and what a great day that will be. Extraordinary resolve? I think so!

Now enough about my damn kids. It's back to me. There isn't anything that I can say about me except that my kids are a huge inspiration.

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