“It’s All Relative.”

I recently got a new chair, so we kept the old one upstairs in the aerobics room at the gym. This is so I can get my cardio in without waiting for Brian to take me up the steps. But, even though there’s a chair at both ends, I still have to get myself up the steps. I don’t view stair crawling as a terribly big deal, but some people really have a hard time seeing me physically crawling around. Not to mention, there’s a step and a landing outside that I have to get on and pull my chair up, so that it I can sit inside the door instead of outside in the rain and snow. One particular day, there happened to be small piles of snow all over the landing. I got out and crawled as quickly as I could so that my pants didn’t get terribly wet, knowing that if they did, I had an extra pair in my car. As I was pulling my chair up onto the landing, I thought to myself, “I really don’t know what the big deal is. I’m just going upstairs, like everyone else, in the only way that I am capable on my own.” Almost immediately after that, as I scooted backwards, I stuck my hand in a big pile of snow and I spoke out loud to myself, since no one was there.

“Ya know, this really sucks!”

Then I thought, so which one is it? No big deal? Or does it suck? Pretty much both! Ha!

About a year ago, I met someone who was recovering from surgery on a brain tumor. She lost a lot of functions because of the surgery and not all of them returned. She can’t write checks, or keep a checkbook. She used to be a teacher and can’t teach anymore, but she does have a very good job now. We were discussing similarities and differences in our disabilities. I told her I was jealous that she didn’t have to tell anyone what was wrong with her until she was comfortable and ready to do so. She looked at me from across the table and said, “Well, ya know what? I honestly am a little jealous of you because at least your problem is blatantly obvious and doesn’t need explanation. Try going to a store planning on using a credit card, but their machine is down and you have to explain to them why you need help writing a check out. Especially when you look perfectly normal and seemingly comprehend things just like everyone else.” I’d never thought about it like that before.

Not that long ago, I talked to an older gym-goer that teaches ballroom dancing. He sat with me and told me about having arthritis in his knees and some other painful condition in his feet. He was describing it to me and how it hurts so much at the end of the day when he's done dancing. Sometimes he had to cancel lessons because it hurt too badly. I was listening to him describe his condition and I said “Hmm...interesting.” I never heard of what he was talking about and was intrigued. The weekend came and went and he came back in a few days later. I was filling up my water bottle at the fountain when he walked in. I said hi to him and asked how he was feeling. He walked over to me, leaned against the cables and said “I really have to apologize. I felt horrible for the last four days. I’m so embarrassed.” I looked at him with my nose crinkled up and said “For what?”

He said, “I left here after talking to you and thought, ‘you big jerk. How dare you sit there and complain to her about how your knees and feet hurt when you dance. There she is, unable to even feel hers or get up and walk around.’ I'm sorry.” I looked at him and laughed.

“You know what I thought when you left? ‘I’m so thankful that I was BORN with a condition, so that it's the only way I know, rather than being able to do something that I really enjoy and having it taken away from me, whether slowly or abruptly in an accident.’”

He laughed and he said “Then why did you say ‘Hmm….interesting.’?” I said, “Because I thought what you were telling me was interesting.” We laughed at each other and discussed the differences in perspectives.

When the rack height needs adjusted on the bench that I use, I line my shoulder up with the bar so that the bar will rest on my shoulder. I shrug the bar up off the rack, pull the pin to adjust the rack and relax my shoulder to put the bar back into the rack. It’s really not a difficult process at all. There is a guy that used to insist that I needed help with it. We had a couple of go-arounds and finally one day I said, “Listen, just because it doesn’t look like how you do it, doesn’t mean I am struggling with it.”

I’ve been given outs by people all of my life, and they sound really legitimate…especially to the people giving them to me. The hardest thing is to refrain from taking them on and believing them. If I didn’t do everything that people thought was ‘hard’ for me to do, I’d probably never leave my house. People have always asked me if it was ‘harder’ to drive with my hand control. I always tell them, “I’m not sure, since I never drove any other way. I guess it was just as ‘hard’ to learn as it would have been for you to learn to drive with your feet.” It has always seemed like no matter what route I chose to take, someone thought it was ‘hard’ or the ‘harder’ route. When I walked with my braces, people thought it looked ‘hard’. When I switched to a chair full-time, people thought it would be ‘hard’ or ‘tiring’ to push all the time. When it was time for me to drive, my dad got me a van with a lift. I hated driving a van. I hated waiting for the lift (for various reasons). I wanted a car. But, it took me a while to break my dad down. He thought it would be ‘harder’ for me. I’ve driven a Monte Carlo for the last 8 years since I got my license. I love it!

One of the biggest lines I’ve heard all my life is how ‘hard’ it must be for me to exercise since I’m in a wheelchair. This one, I bought into big time. You’ll remember from my last article that I struggled (especially when growing up) with anything that made me feel ‘different’. My mom had all kinds of videos of exercises for people in wheelchairs. I hated them. They weren’t anything that anyone else had to do, and they were cheesy (in my mind); and most of all, they confined me to my chair. They were very basic reaches and stretches and twists, etc. I refused to do them. I also ate like crap. I enjoyed fried food all the time. My bad habits really began to show in my weight around middle school. At my heaviest, sometime not long after high school, I weighed close to 150 pounds and I’m lucky if I’m 4’8’’, so I was not healthy by any means and couldn’t carry it well at all.

Not long ago, I finally thought of a way to stretch my hip flexors and psoas while I’m away at my meets, without Brian with me. When I came to him and told him, I was all giddy and proud of myself for coming up with it. He said “There you go, you just have to improvise. Just use what you have at hand.”

I said, “Come on, improvising isn’t my strong suit, you should know that by now.”

He responded, “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. What do you do when you can’t reach something? You improvise, right?” I laughed and nodded and thought about this. It seems so simplistic to him. I should be able to do it in all areas because I’ve been doing it all my life with my legs. But, “it’s all relative”. Some things aren’t as easy for me to ‘think out of the box’ as other things.

Brian and I laugh because of all the ‘warnings’ I get about lifting such heavy weights (all the time) and taking care of my shoulders and arms, since my arms are the only limbs that work, and I only have them to use to get around for the rest of my life. But, we both agree I’m on a much healthier track in life and much better off than I was before I started to powerlift.

I must say, powerlifting has saved my life in so many ways. Brian helps me with my diet to make weight, which taught me much better eating habits and I feel better…not only physically, but also about myself. I’ve learned to accept help more easily than I ever did before. It’s helped my attitude about life, because it’s given me a chance to ‘be just like everyone else', even though I have to do it a little bit differently. My self-esteem is (slowly) increasing. Brian’s dedication to me has taught me monumental life lessons that I can’t begin to describe. With all the new exercises that Brian and I have done over the last year and a half, the theory of “I can do anything” is starting to seem more of a reality to me than just a theory. Powerlifting has opened my mind to see things differently and taught me to carry it out into the world. It could be something as simple as new lifters vs. experienced lifters or people with different flexibility ranges. New lifters always feel badly or embarrassed when the big experienced lifters are around because they can’t lift as much. But, that’s stupid. It’s a process. You can’t just walk into the gym and immediately bench 500 pounds raw. When people see Brian stretch my legs, some make comments like “Oh, I wish I had your flexibility.” I’ve not said it yet, but I often think, “Well, I’m this flexible because I can’t feel what it’s actually doing to me. So…do you still want to trade?” (Wink.)

No one can compare themselves to what others are doing. You can only compare yourself with yourself and improve based on your own goals, needs and programs. Sure, when we go to competitions we like to win. But there are so many factors that go into it, that you can only do what you can do and just because it wasn’t as much as someone else, doesn’t mean it’s any less of an accomplishment for you. There were three guys working out at the gym recently and they went upstairs to do some kind of routine. When they came back down, only one of them had completed the whole thing. The one that quit the quickest said “I stopped 1/3 of the way through. But, I got a PR today.”

I said, “That’s all that matters. You got a PR.”

It makes me laugh when you all say you’re not ever going to let anyone complain about their workouts again after reading my story. It’s definitely not the same thing, but it doesn’t mean that what someone else is complaining about is any easier or harder to go through than me. Please believe me when I say I have my own sack of excuses that I tote around with me. My sack of excuses usually doesn't include areas that people view as my hard spots in life. The weight story is an exception. Brian’s getting real good at spotting them and cutting me off. Just because I’m in a wheelchair really shouldn’t give me a free ticket to be a head case constantly; and I tend to forget that at times. To be honest with you, the actual sport of powerlifting is probably one of the easier things I’ve dealt with in my life. Don’t be fooled either, I get more than my fair share of pampering, as well.

I’m so glad that I can be an encouragement to so many of you. I think it’s great that some of you can take my situation and use it to make yourself better lifters and/or better people. But, don’t be too hard on those around you. There have been many, many times that I’ve looked at something someone was going through and said “Thank you God for my wheelchair; because I really couldn’t have handled THAT.”