Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Nordic para style

A month or so ago I received an invitation. It came at a time when things were piling on top of each other on the calendar and I was just about to leave for Cuba. I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to make it work, but I knew that I needed to try. This was my chance to learn how it all worked, if I was capable and if I really wanted it. It is being back on skis. The invitation was for a dryland training camp for Para Nordic skiing. It was a weekend St. Catherine's, meeting at the YMCA and using the Welland Canal trail to ski on. Being at the Y at 8:30 am required a couple of overnights so I decided to take a traveling companion with me - someone who also loves to ski.

Michele Studhalter and I. Sporting our matching buffs - thanks Erin :)
Michele is one of my former student athletes. Freshly graduated from Laurier Business she has found herself a position as a marketing specialist in the start-up soaked city of Waterloo. She also has some serious training goals - competing in the Mt. Tremblant Ironman this August. So when I picked her up in Waterloo she piled all of her training gear, including her bike and her roller skis, into my car. Off we went, in the rain and the wind, all the way to Niagara where the fruit trees were all full of blossoms - so beautiful.

Michele has always been my video girl - when she was on the team at Madill we always had great end of the year videos to celebrate with. She has since upgraded to using a gopro - which was exciting and here is the YouTube of what she put together.

In true Nordic Skiing style we were out in all weather. The first day was, shall we say, damp? After that it got a bit nicer, but I was reminded about the difference wind makes - best to start with it in your face and return with it at your back - not the other way around!

Just like downhill skiing, Nordic requires a sit-ski that attaches with a regular ski binding to the skis. If you look carefully you will see a couple of different sit-skis that I used over the weekend. None of them were actually designed for me or fit me properly...so make-shift materials were used. The duct-tape is the most obvious but you may also see a car seatbelt, foam from a floor mat, a pool noodle, foam pipe insulation and lots of velcro. Red Green eat your heart out.

The tighter the bucket is attached to the user, all the better for maneuverability. In order to make turns  you almost need to throw your body in the direction you want to go, lifting your skis up off the surface (pavement in the case of roller skis or tracks in the case of snow). This was the part that I found quite difficult and I was grateful for all the coaches (especially Michele) who were there to keep me going in a relatively straight line. The second day I skied while seated in my wheelchair (instead instead of the sit ski) it was much easier for me to go where I wanted.

The best part was the feeling. Strapping on ski poles and just going. It was like coming home - hard to explain. With very few exceptions I have skied every winter since I was three or four. Not knowing if I would get back to it or not, this weekend was very revealing for me. I saw what others were able to do given the limitations their bodies had placed on them. I met women the same age as me who were not just skiing, but also kayaking! I completed a baseline endurance test on the ski erg (like an upright rower). I also got to be coached rather than be the coach (which at times was tricky!) Having someone to guide me, remind me to breath, the importance of rest and giving me permission to do so. It was so welcoming.

I came home with a new perspective, an understanding that I can push my body a little bit harder than I have been. If it were possible I'd say that I had a spring in my step. Michele and I both made new friends and connections - not just to skiing but to other sports and to our shared interests in coaching. It was like I was returning to a family that I had been away from for a long time, and I hope that I will be able to see them all again soon.

Speaking of perspective, Michele writes her own blog, and it just so happens we were thinking along the same lines! Michele's Blog

I'm not sure where this will all lead me, but you know I am going to try it again - even on snow :)

Sunday, 21 May 2017


I have been getting behind on my posts. Too much going on and not enough time to keep up. I'm still working on a post from two weeks ago...but wanted to get this all down while it is still fresh in my head!

57 minutes of walking; 2443 steps!
I broke my own record this week. First, I drove myself to Parkwood, by myself. Usually, I have a friend or Theo or even one of the kids (but not behind the wheel) come along, but today I thought I would fly solo. It was one of the rare "high energy" level days - where two hours of physio doesn't completely knock me on my butt. I even managed to pick up the StopGap ramp paint (the first batch of ramps are nearing completion) and a few groceries for the long weekend.

It was an Ekso day, and because I got there early (interesting...) I was able to walk for the longest time ever. Boy was I exhausted (yes, Barry, I was tired).

Speaking of tired, I have changed up my physio schedule to reduce driving time so I am now doing one and a half hours with Bill and Mark once a week. One and a half hours is a long time - especially with the RedCord system - but it's working. I am on a roll with my new found ability to upload videos and make use of YouTube. This was from two weeks ago. I am using the support of my knees against the bed but am able to hold my hips pretty steady with their own strength. Look closely and you can see how I can shift my hips from side to side. 

Since then, the strength of my hip flexors has improved tenfold. The most exciting thing of all...my new muscles! They have been identified as the quadratus lumborum (QL for short) and are a part of the hip flexors group of muscles. I realized they were working last weekend when while laying in bed on my side I was able to roll my hips front to back. Just like that, all of the sudden they were working! As you watch this look carefully at what my right knee is doing. The left side also works :)

All this work I am doing to get the message through and get the muscles going - well, it's working! Patience, slow and steady and hard work on a whole new level. I feel like I am panning for gold, one tiny nugget at a time. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Mountain Trike

Yesterday I came home to this in my pile of mail.

Outspoken is the publication from Spinal Cord Injury Ontario - the Not-for-Profit that works to advocate and educated for people with spinal cord injuries. I had written the article back in January (they publish quarterly). I attended the Abilities Expo with my Mom and Dad and thought it would be good for others to learn about some of the new devices that are out there. I am pleased with how the article turned out (with the exception of my misspelled name) - the layout is great and the pictures really add to it. Nice to see Jeff Adams (Canadian Paralympian) in them too - I had a great chat with him at the Expo.

I had not expected to see my face on the cover of the magazine. The photos were taken in November on a rare sunny day. I am sitting in my Mountain Trike. It was something I purchased to be able to get around on my property (10 acres is rather large when on wheels). It is made in the UK and took some time to finally arrive, but I'm happy with it.  This is what it looks like in action in fall and on snow. The wheels are connected to the push handles by bike chains and the steering is on the right handle connected to the third wheel at the back. The breaks are on both handles. It doesn't move as fast as I'd like it to, but it does well on uneven terrain.

This will be my first summer with it so I hope that I will be able to get out into the garden and around the property more than I did last year. I did get out in the snow, but it had to be pretty light and fluffy to get through it!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Spread the word, share the road.

Perhaps is is because of the turning of the Earth toward the sun, but most likely it has to do with the people that have surrounded me in this season of spring. Those who have given me new ways to inspire my body to keep going and those who are determined to band together to make changes for the better. I will save the adventures of this past weekend for another post - where my companion and I travelled to make new friends and learn how duct tape is sometimes not enough. It's what happened yesterday that requires the most immediate attention.

This is the first of 60 share the road signs that are going up in Huron County. It is one of the initiatives put forth by the Cycling Strategy presented to the County back in January. These signs are going up in locations around the county where visibility may be tricky and as reminders that cyclist will be on the roads. We all came out to celebrate this sign going up and what a show of support we had! Not only did we have members of the cycling committee and people on bikes, we had the County Warden, and staff from the departments of planning, communications, works, the Health Unit and Scott Miller from CTV made a great story of the event.

It was a show of strength, that we are a team working together to make change. Spread the word, share the road.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Everywhere I go, there I am

 Even though it was only two weeks ago, it seems like a faraway place and time. This photo was taken in Santa Maria, Cuba where I went with my Mom, sister and sister-in-law, Karla. Girls only. It was a good time to get away, but boy was it hot! I spent most of my time in the pool - which was necessary, as was drinking mojitos - how else would you cool off? Lots of helpful people, good food and fantastic live music.

Not a lot of crazy stories to share - which is a good thing. Other than Sunwing trying to make me use an "out of service" chair to get on the plane resulting in me being the last one on...that was at the Pearson end. In Cuba we had wonderful service at the airport - nothing like four strong, good looking, Cuban men to carry me and my chair down the steps to the tarmack. Sorry, no photo. There is also no photo of the Cuban lifeguard who scooped me out of the ocean and carried me back to my wheelchair - total Baywatch moment - where are all the smartphones when you need them?

We are already talking about going next year. Aside from the lobby and restaurants being at the top of a hill, it was pretty accessible.

The one thing that I didn't expect, but hopefully one day will get used to, is that I was not able to escape my body. Everywhere I go, there I am. Although I did get some time to just chill and not think (I even did a sudoku and read almost a whole book), I always had to be thinking about my next step. How to get out of the pool, off the lounger and where the closest bathroom was. Surprisingly, the bathrooms were very well set up (better than many Canadian bathrooms - I'll save that for another post) it was just a matter of making sure I had given myself enough time (and assistance) to get there. At home I have everything set up in a way that I can manage without too much thought, but whenever I am elsewhere, I have to plan. Planning is exhausting to my brain.

I know that I am not the only one to think this. I am sure that those who have things going on in their own lives are not able to escape them just by getting on a plane - but we all (myself included) should be grateful for the ability to do so. There were people that I was listening to at the airport in Cuba on the way home - they were complaining about the food at their resort. I wanted to interrupt and remind them that they had still been away, in Cuba, on holiday. But I didn't. Instead, I reminded myself. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Atleast I got out of my chair.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Power of the Beat

I have a new muscle. I found it it a funny way, so here's the story.

I was laying on my bed in the hotel Elaine and I stayed at last week in Toronto. I was speaking at the Ontario Bike Summit as the closing speaker. I went thinking that I knew what I was going to say but then I got a better sense of who I would be speaking to and decided to take it in a different direction. I ended up speaking about being a Changemaker, encouraging all who were there to go home feeling energized about making their communities more bike friendly. I was a bit worked up about how it would all go until Theo talked me down - I realized that I was really just telling my story and I didn't need to make too many notes about it. It was well received and I was pleased with the outcome. I enjoyed myself.

I was working on what I was going to say, laying prone (physio speak for laying on my front) on the comfy hotel bed. I had Fight Song in my head, it just gets stuck there. So as I was thinking, I was also singing this song and realized that I was moving to the beat. I was moving my butt to the beat. Or at least I thought I was, I could feel that I was contracting it (just the left side) and I could feel it with my hand, at least I thought I could. Maybe it was just my head thinking that I was feeling it? So I asked Elaine to feel for it - she said she could feel my heart beating - and then I stopped contracting it and the "heart beat" went away. Then we did a little cheer. It was working. Gluteus medius? Yesterday I confirmed it with Mark - it's working, ever so slightly, but it's working.

That's what keeps me going. Knowing that the work I am doing, and all the people that are helping me, it's working. My body is relearning how to work. Even if that muscle is just barely moving, there is a message getting there and that is the first step. All the people who told me that my body would "max out" at 18 months? Well, I am past that point and it just goes to show that you have to keep going. You have to Be Brave.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Balls in the air

As I work away on my little chromebook (yes, product placement, I love this thing) I have my email, calendar, blog and facebook open. Big mistake. All those things you have heard about reduced productivity because of social media and constantly being connected - they are all so very, very, very true. I keep a notebook that is really one massive list that I just make longer as I check things off, but if I didn't have it I would have no idea what I was supposed to do next. An email will ping and I'll go to it, or I'll end up on the phone to resolve something and forget what it was that I was working on. One day Oliver saw how many tabs I had open and said "Mom, you have to close some of those, that's too many!!" I am learning to pick one task at a time, but it's just so darn hard...

I asked my Mom to sit down at the table with me the other day (a hard thing to get her to do, sit down that is) so I could show her what I have been up to lately. My Inbox was open and I walked her through all the different subjects, giving her a brief explanation of what each one was about. My 25 balls in the air. I think she was sufficiently impressed because she suggested I write about it - "not everyone knows what you are doing". So, here goes.

By far my most exciting project is our new house. We are still planning and working with the architects, but at the same time we are working on permits, so we are getting closer! We hope to start the dig in May. This sketch shows a preliminary drawing. It is going to be slab on grade (no basement), four bedrooms and lots of room for my exercise equipment. The best part will be all the windows - south facing to collect the heat and light from the sun.

Everywhere I go (especially new places) I do a little assessment of their facilities - looking at parking, do they have buttons on their doors and most importantly, what is the bathroom like. When I think that they are not living up to standards I let them know. Doing this at a local McDonald's lead me to a most satisfying consulting meeting with the owner who was willing to make changes ASAP. When I followed up the week later, he had already met with his contractor! Thus far, my experience has been that people don't know what they need to do or that they need to do anything at all. BUT but when informed (in a nice way) what they could do to make things easier, they are most agreeable.

I have joined a couple of committees that are working toward making this community more accessible. The first is the Huron County Accessibility Advisory Committee that meets every few months. Our job is to advise those businesses or community groups who seek advice and to plan events. The second one is a group of volunteers who are working to make the Huron County 2017 IPM accessible. This is quite the challenge - making a 100 acre plowing match easy to get around! I also plan to be a part of shaping Huron County's cycling strategy and implementing more Share the Road initiatives in our area.
I am glad to be still "teaching" and got a chance to be in a real classroom last week thanks to my friend Heather. All throughout this year she has been talking to her class about me and my progress. A few weeks back she said they were keen to meet me and wondered if I would come speak to them. Of course I would never turn that opportunity down and it was FABULOUS. Now I don't have a lot of experience with grade 6s, but these guys (two full classes) were the most attentive, polite and engaged young kids I have seen. In fact, we ran out of time and I suggested that we follow up with a google doc where they could ask me more questions that we didn't get to. So that is on my list...

A while back I inquired to the Rick Hansen Foundation about the Ambassador Program. The Ambassadors are persons with a physical disability or have a seeing or hearing impairment. They speak to schools and community groups, sharing their story and in order to raise awareness about living with a disability and the barriers that exist in our society. I had an interview last week (funny, second "job" interview I have had since all this started) and I am now the newest member of the Rick Hansen Ambassador team. After I have some training I will be able to speak to schools, community groups and they have just started reaching out to corporations (which I am actually pretty excited about). So maybe my first official Ambassador speaking will be at Madill? Next week I will be speaking at the Share the Road Bike Summit in Toronto. I am not there as a Rick Hansen Ambassador, but instead to encourage changes for cycling safety and bike friendly communities. I am looking forward to this - being in a room full of people willing change to happen.

Did you all flip your calendar to see me as Miss April? It is my hope that my stint as an inspiring woman will not be over when April ends. I have been working on a project with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario - yet to be revealed - but I'll post it when it's done. Next week I'll be doing another "photo shoot" but this time for the London Health Sciences Magazine. I think this one is more along the lines of me having been a patient there in the trauma centre. I'll be interested to read what comes from that. Most recently I was contacted by a woman who runs an online publication about inspiring women from New Zealand! They want my story in 600 words or less - wish me luck with that one!

My biggest project right now is North Huron StopGap. The StopGap program has received a bit of attention in the media lately thanks to Luke Anderson, the project's founder. StopGap ramps are custom built, portable ramps designed to eliminate the barrier that one step creates for access. All businesses in North Huron (Blyth and Wingham) are invited to participate and get a ramp for free. I have the support of the Township and am looking for donations from local building supply stores. The great part of this is that the construction class at Madill is going to build them! We hope to get started surveying businesses next week. After we complete the North Huron project I hope I will have the same interest from Central Huron (Clinton) and then Goderich. I rolled around the square the other day...quite a few single steps that need a ramp!

On top of it all of course is the regular family stuff like arrangements for Easter, grade 8 graduation, orthodontics, summer exchange & camp plans and an upcoming holiday to Cuba with Mom, Lara & Karla! I am also still working on insurance and legal matters, booking medical and physio appointments, dealing with money matters and tax issues.

Some of these balls will soon come to rest and instead of being in the air they will reside in a place that I will call "message accomplished". That seems to be my mission these days, my curriculum is by design and my students are everyone.

I realize that I am taking a risk writing this. The risk that my insurance will say "if she can do all of this then she should be able to go back to work." But it's really not that simple. Most of this work does not require that I leave the house, or even my bed for that matter. It's more like having my fingers in many pies, but that's all - I am not eating them all at once ;)