I am a gym rat and I’ve seen a lot of amazing athletes there. I’ve seen one-arm pull-ups, jumps onto a Swiss ball, and dead-lifts that bent the bar. But the workout that I’m thinking of was a few years ago. I was feeling sorry for myself because I’d had tennis elbow surgery on my right arm, which rendered my right hand and fingers useless for the time being. Due to Hurricane Irene, we had lost power for a week after the surgery, so I was doing everything one-handed and lefty. Try putting on a bra with one hand. Or cutting anything with a knife. Or even opening mail. Woe was me! It was about the same time that a movie came out about the surfer whose arm had been bitten off by a shark, and previews showed her tucking her surfboard under her good arm, happily running back into the water. I felt so sorry for myself, but there she was, a story of the triumph of the human spirit. “Show-off,” I thought. She was made me look bad, so I turned off the TV. “No one is that good.”
During that time that I would stoically go to the gym and do whatever I could with one arm. I had already done a year of physical therapy before the surgery, so I was used to the single-arm workouts, but I was in a full blown state of mental martyrdom after the surgery. “Unable to even hold a pen,” I would tell anyone who asked about the sling. As I started my warmup, I saw an empty wheelchair, and nearby there was an older woman face down on the floor! I thought she had fallen, but as I looked a little closer, I realized she was with a trainer, who was guiding her through a barely perceptible motion with her leg. The trainer counted, “Eight, come on, come on, nine. That’s it.” You could see the determination in her eyes, and you could see her leg shake as she lifted her foot just a few inches off the floor. She was so proud when she got to 20! Heck, I was proud of her, too. And a little ashamed of myself.
When I thought of not just the physical strength, but the mental fortitude it took, I was blown away by her. God only knows how she became wheelchair-bound, or what she had gone through just to get to this point. I could only imagine that this was probably an improvement from wherever she was before. Just think of her sustained determination: to make the appointment, arrange the ride, and then go out to a public gym to work out with a trainer! Later the trainer helped her back into the wheelchair to do some more exercises, and she was still there when I left the gym.
There were a few lesson there for me. The first was that I am only a victim if I choose to see it that way. The other way to see it is that I was fortunate enough to have an excellent surgeon to restore proper function to my arm and hand. I was also lucky enough to have a hand with five fingers that would work properly again one day; for me, this was only temporary. The final lesson was never to underestimate the power of mental strength. I will always remember that woman when I say to myself, “I can’t do that.” The question really is, “What CAN I do?” That’s where I’ll start. That’s the only place to start. And then I won’t quit.