YOU HAVE TO SHOW UP TO WIN!

It sure feels good to be back!

Ironically, just after submitting this article to Swimspire, my body decided to crap out on me all at once. After putting in several months of good training in the pool where I was feeling great (and racing my best breaststroke times in four years), my body rebelled. One day I felt great after a terrific workout, and the next day, I didn’t. That following day, an elbow injury from February and a shoulder repetitive stress injury from March—both land-based injuries that had not affected my swimming at all—decided to join me in the pool.  For the trifecta, I aggravated the scar tissue in my hip—again.  (Oh, and did I mention autoimmune issues returning with a vengeance?)

A visit to my orthopaedic surgeon resulted in a diagnosis of elbow tendonitis, shoulder bursitis, and a knowing smile about my hip.  We both knew that it took two months to heal last time I aggravated the scar tissue, and it will take two months to heal again.  “Don’t sweat it; you’ll be fine,” we both said with that smile to each other.

Meanwhile, I kept thinking to myself, “How do I listen to my body if it doesn’t give me any warning?”  It sure makes training iffy.

It has been over two months since my body took a dump on me. I’ve been very diligent about doing the PT exercises Dr. Andrachuk prescribed.  (Knowing I’ve had quite a past history in physical therapy over the years and was always diligent about doing my exercises, we both decided I would be fine on my own.)

Fortunately, I have mostly recovered– perhaps about 80%. I saw Doc at the end of June and received a positive report. Other than wanting me to lay off full butterfly and backstroke for awhile longer (I just started back at breaststroke), he said my prognosis was good for a complete recovery.  “Let pain be your guide,” my past physical therapist always told me.

Although I missed the National Senior Games and will not compete at U.S. Masters Swimming National Championships, I did a few test swims in the pool to see if I could handle swimming (not exactly “racing”) an open water 1K race.  I was fine, so I competed in the 1K at the Georgia State Games Open Water Meet, today.  (I usually swim the 3K and 1K; however, I knew not to even THINK about that yet!)

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What a blast!  It’s always one of my favorite events of the year; I LOVE open water swimming!  It felt great, and I was able to kick it up a notch to about 75% race-pace effort without repercussions.  What a glorious feeling to be back in the groove again!  I won a gold medal, too!!  (I will admit, however, that I was the only one in my age group.  Hey, you have to show up to win!)

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It has been tough (both physically and mentally), and I am still very unsure what my body will be able to handle in the future. I am fearful of injuries– especially since they almost always come without warning.  (For example, I’ve had two spontaneous floating rib dislocations and one at the sternoclavicular joint.  WTF?)

Whether I will be able to TRAIN to RACE in the future remains to be seen, but even if my future means “swimming” my races rather than “racing” them, it feels GREAT to be back!

GETTIN’ MY KICK ON

Farewell, pull buoy, it’s time to get my kick on!  You became my new best friend on January 3 when Dr. Andrachuk said I could return to the pool after hip arthroscopy surgery, “…but NO KICKING!”

On February 9th at my follow up appointment, Doc gave me the green light to start working with my physical therapist, Chip Ransom on a more advanced strengthening-focused program.  Still, though, I was told I had to wait another month before I could add hip extension with resistance to my program.  My blue and white-striped pull buoy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pull_buoy) would have to continue being my pool buddy for another four weeks.

Is it March 9th yet?”  Not to rush time (It’s already going by fast enough!), but that was the question I felt like asking each day leading up to the magic day my legs would be allowed to do their horizontal happy dance.

Don’t get me wrong.  Any day I can be in the pool doing anything is a happy day.  It has been pure joy, even if I had to create an entirely new framework for what a “best time” was for a practice race.  Swimming a best time with only my upper body is entirely different than having all four limbs running full steam ahead.  My pull buoy best time for my 500 yard freestyle is 50 seconds slower.  It didn’t matter, though; it was just as exciting to hit the wall and look up at my watch at a new best pull buoy time as it was when I was running on all four cylinders.

In memory of my last two months of rehab, here’s a look back by the numbers:

2,000 – The total number of yards I swam each day, averaging six days per week.  Even if I felt like swimming more, I limited my yardage to protect my shoulders.  (Swimming with a pull buoy and no kick is ALL shoulders.)

200 – The maximum number of total yards I swim butterfly for the same reason.

55 – Miles I have swum since I was allowed back in the water on January 3rd.

51 – Days I have swum since my plunge back in the pool.

45-60  – The number of minutes I average each day doing my physical therapy exercises for both lower and upper body.

45 – The number of repetitions I do of each exercise.

30 – The number of different exercises I learned in PT that I added to my master list to pick and choose from on any given day.

1 – The number of shoulder-friendly stroke revisions I made to reduce stress on my rotator cuffs.  I adopted the Scapular Plane Swimming Technique which emphasizes keeping the hands and arms within my peripheral vision at all times.  On recovery, the elbow stays lower to the water but is still kept higher than the wrist.

0 – The number injuries I sustained while training exclusively upper body with a pull buoy and no kick.

HIP HIP HOORAY…!

…for my hip! Thanks to my physical therapist, Chip Ransom of Benchmark Physical Therapy (and my by-the-book daily exercise sessions); I abandoned my crutches today when I went to the pool.

Life’s little victories are sweet.

Today marks my 6th week anniversary since undergoing hip arthroscopy for a labral tear and psoas (hip flexor tendon) release, and it’s been a slow process of weaning off those crutches. Two weeks post-op my surgeon, John Andrachuk, gave the green light to start that process; so, I started leaving them in the car while I was at home. The short treks around the house were doable, but nothing more.

At first, I needed them all of the time when I wasn’t at home, but I slowly progressed to needing them only for “distances.” By “distance,” I mean the distance from my car to the pool at Club Peachtree where I swim each day, or the distance from my car into a store. Believe me; that distance is far when you are recovering from hip surgery!

Yesterday, I finally felt good enough to carry my crutches to the pool. I thought I would need them for the return trip; however, I carried them all the way back to the car. Woo-hoo, I was finally ready to leave my crutches behind today!

Last week was a big turning point in my recovery, and I attribute it to the success of Chip’s manual therapy. I appreciate that he trusted me to let him know if he was stretching me too far. It was a constant banter of, “Does that hurt?” “No, Chip.” Does that hurt?” “NO!” “Does THAT hurt?” “Nooo. I’ll tell you if you’re hurting me, Chip!”

He pushed it further than he would with most patients; however, I was fit and flexible going into surgery, so I seem to be bouncing right back.

That’s the moral of this story: If you want a successful recovery after surgery, be as fit and flexible as possible before your operation.

Oh, and make sure you get yourself a good surgeon and physical therapist.

Most importantly (that is, once you have had a successful surgery), DO YOUR PRESCRIBED PHYSICAL THERAPY EXERCISES, and don’t forget to ask your surgeon and therapist what else you can do to get better faster.

In my case, with the blessing of Dr. Andrachuk, I was back in the gym the day following surgery to work my upper body. Using the SciFit to “peddle” with my arms kept my upper body fit and the endorphins pumping. I also made sure to keep up my prior physical therapy exercise routine to keep all three of my other limbs fit and strong, while my fourth limb was on restriction.

The day following removal of my stitches, I was back in the pool swimming. I’m on a no-kicking restriction for a total of 3-4 months post-op, so I dusted off my pull buoy, and it has become my new best friend. It’s just a figure eight-shaped solid piece of foam rubber that sits between my legs while I swim; however, it keeps my legs buoyant and prevents them from kicking.

Since my upper body is stuck doing all of the work, I limit my yardage to 2,000 yards per day (six days per week) which is two-thirds of my normal training volume. Between the reduced yardage and my daily routine of shoulder physical therapy exercises, my shoulders are managing fine. I limit my butterfly yardage to 200 yards (broken up) per day, though, and I do a LOT of sculling to take the load off my shoulders and strengthen my forearms.

Some of the sculling I do is face-down sans snorkel, and it must look funny to those in the gym who happen to glance out the window while they’re pumping iron.

My body and neck stay relaxed while my arms are straight in front of me, and I’m looking at the bottom of the pool. Only my forearms move, and they make a quick figure eight pattern out to the side and back in. I do move forward, but it’s admittedly pretty slow. It’s so slow that I need to lift my head a few times in a 25-yard stretch to catch a quick breath.

When my head is down, the bubbles are coming out my nose and mouth in a relaxed way. It must look funny on the surface though, as my still body floats slowly down the pool with bubbles coming out on each side of my head.

Meanwhile, from my perspective, I’m just sightseeing through my goggles as I make my way down the black line. I’ve done it so many times, I am confident I have every crack in the tile and concrete memorized. I have also become quite familiar with the feet of every noodler from the water aerobics class on the other side of my lane.

It’s all good. Hip hip hooray!

GOIN’ DOWN IN A BLAZE OF GLORY

As I read in another blog post (http://goingdowninablazeofglory.tumblr.com/meaning), “…most people would describe ‘blaze of glory’ as a very spectacular downfall, but it is more than that; it’s about choosing to fight back, even though the chance of winning is very slim, and not just surrendering but going down fighting.”

That clearly describes me. In my book, it’s all about the fight. I’m not one to take the path of least resistance and give up.

Coming back to swimming after surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was one case in point, as my story on Page 19 demonstrates (http://issuu.com/kitchendrawer/docs/6_3_final?e=0/8465165).

This time around, I’m scheduled for hip arthroscopy for psoas (hip flexor tendon) release and to clean up whatever mess my snapping hip caused as my hip flexor rubbed over the joint’s labrum of my right hip. Twenty years of this finally caught up with me.

Although the cause of my too-tight hip flexor tendon is unknown, it sure wasn’t due to a lack of effort in trying to keep it strong and flexible. My snapping hip was probably the result of many factors: genetics (I probably inherited my connective tissue issues from my dad), leg length discrepancy, a pelvis that tilts forward and to the right (no matter what physical therapy exercises I do to try to correct it), a life-long habit of walking fast with long strides, spending too many years as a treadmill rat, and did I mention genetics? Surely, having back surgery at the age of 25 was an indication of things to come…

Swimming is a great exercise for whatever structurally ails you; however, as much as I love to train (and I do so six days per week, 2500-4000 yards per day), I can’t live my life as an “Aqua Dog” all the time. Too bad my body doesn’t love being on land as much as it does being on the water. (My tussle with Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome was one indication.)

My body also doesn’t love my physical therapist any more (no offense to my PT), nor does it respond to my diligent 30-45 minute post-swim PT deck exercises. I’ve run out of options, so it’s time for the operating table.

Dr. John Andrachuk was a fellow under the famed pro sports orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, so I believe I’m in good hands. Hip arthroscopy is his specialty, lucky for me.

I strategically scheduled my operation for December 17—after the U.S. Masters Swimming Dixie Zones Short Course Meters Championships at Georgia Tech. With permission granted from Dr. Andrachuk, I’m going to do in-water starts, swim my races rather than “race” my races, and push off the wall on my turns very lightly with my LEFT leg. I am also going to give breaststroke kick a big miss. This is how it’s been for me in the pool since the Georgia Senior Games in September.

Obviously, I won’t be breaking any personal records, but this meet won’t be about racing best times. It’s about participating to the best of my current ability and winning the Georgia Championship Series (for high points) for the third year in a row. (I can kiss 2015 goodbye, thanks to a 5 month ban from competition issued by the doc.)

I’m leading in points after the short course yards meet at Georgia Tech, the long course meters meet in Athens, and the Georgia State Games Open Water Meet where I won silver medals in the 3K and 1K races. All I need to do is complete one race cleanly at Georgia Tech, and I’ll have the series wrapped up with a bow (and a trophy).

Somehow that seems like a cop-out, knowing that I do more than that in the pool during my training sessions. I am still able to “race” the three most difficult races in the pool (400 IM, 200 Butterfly, and 1650 freestyle), even if they are raced at more like my 3k pace. Breaststroke kicking is really the only thing I can’t do without pain unless I severely modify the kick (or eliminate it), so I’ll make the adjustment.

I’m signed up for ten events over the two-day meet, but I’ve left the three breaststroke races off the line-up, opting for the less painful strokes instead. (I never would have thought butterfly would actually be easier on my hip!)

No, I have no chance of winning any of my races, but I’m not going to surrender. I’m going down fighting in a blaze of glory.