Starting Over – Could you do it?
Dave is a professor at the university in Spearfish. He’s in his fifties with a barrel chest, a graying beard and a worldly air which gives him a striking resemblance to The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercials.
A few years ago Dave took off on his adventure bike for a trip with some friends to the Arctic Circle and back. On the last leg of his 6,000 mile trek, Dave called his wife from Wyoming to tell her that he’d be home in a few hours and took off through the darkness towards Spearfish.
Traveling at around 75 miles per hour, Dave came over a hill and the beam of his lights suddenly filled with a herd of deer crossing the highway in front of him.
The impact sent Dave flying over his bike and down an embankment. His shoulder blade was shattered into five pieces like a broken dinner plate and most of the ribs on one side of his body were snapped near his spine.
It was late at night on an isolated road, but a passing motorist somehow saw the wheel of Dave’s bike glinting in his headlights in the ditch and called 911.
Once the medics arrived, Dave asked to borrow a cell phone so he could call his wife, tell her that he was going to be late and try in vain to downplay the severity of the incident.
“What do you mean a little accident? And why do I hear people in the background? Honey, let me talk to someone else please.”
After being released from the hospital, Dave spent around a year in rehab trying unsuccessfully to restore function to his shoulder.
He was at a turning point in his life. His body was aching and even after the rehab he still couldn’t lift his arm over his head. Most of his colleagues from his doctorate days had stopped living physically strenuous lives and had contented themselves with fast food, insulin-managing medications and television. Their active days were over.
Dave’s wife had been training with us for several months and talked him into coming to our facility one day.
We checked out his joint function, his health history and assessed his strength and conditioning levels. Pullups were out of the question because even if he could get his arm over his head, he didn’t have the strength anymore. He wanted to be able to do pullups again and set this as a major goal. He hadn’t worked out nor had much physical activity in several years and his age automatically put him in a higher risk category. He was, to put it simply, a tough case.
He wasn’t the sort of guy to give up though, and we saw in him a capacity for suffering and a willingness to work that few people have. The program we started him on was arduous. Every day, we pushed and tested him in some way. Something I identified immediately with him was that he shared a trait that many of the guys who successfully made it through special operations selection had. When it started to hurt, he started to laugh.
When he was doing painful PNF stretches for his shoulder or cranking out sets of rows or pushups on the rings until he couldn’t continue, he would drop to the ground laughing in between breaths. He accepted the suffering and was able to take it as an integral part of the process.
Several months later, Dave’s work capacity had drastically improved. He was competing for time on the rowing machine with people half his age. His body was taking on its old athletic shape as muscle built up and fat melted away and his shoulder was back to roughly the same range of motion as the uninjured one. He could jump up to a pullup bar, stretch both arms cleanly overhead and knock out multiple sets of pullups. He was back.
Now, he no longer needs specialized rehab based training. He works out in one of our conditioning groups in Spearfish and when new people come in and find themselves being outworked by the guy from the Dos Equis commercials, they have no idea that a year ago he was in the worst physical condition of his life.
Dave hit a crossroads that almost everyone will eventually reach. He could have resigned himself to a comfy, low exertion life and looked back on his years of physical activity as fond memories. This is what many people at his age do, even without breaking most of the bones on one side of their torso. Or, he could have gritted his teeth, started over from the bottom and rebuilt himself into a physically active, strong, capable person, which is exactly what he did.
What would you have done? Could you start over and laugh at your pain?