Monday, October 6, 2014

Blessed: Another Epic Moment on the Summit

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield is a special place our family has enjoyed hiking for over 14 years since Lizzie was a baby and Gordon was a preteen; a place where amazing things have been accomplished.  There is one part of the trail that is particularly challenging because it reaches ~1,000 foot elevation in one mile and offers amazing views of Atlanta and Stone Mountain.  We would frequently see runners buzz by us running up the mountain and them see them running down.  I thought they were crazy.

Lizzie almost 1 with Dad

Gordon almost 13 with Grandpa
Jeremy became one of those crazy trail runners and was soon summiting in a pretty fast clip.  He casually mentioned, "You should try it." That got me thinking and a little while later I asked Gordon if he would train with me to run up the mountain nonstop.  He agreed and our training started.  6 weeks later, Gordon and I reached the summit running nonstop, he a bit further ahead of me.  As I closed in on him, he stretched his hands upward in the classic Rocky pose and yelled, "Adrian!" I was brought to tears of this epic moment in my life for two reasons.  #1:  I witnessed my son achieving a goal he was hesitant about.  #2: I experienced achieving a goal I was hesitant about that was made so special by sharing it with Gordon.

Today another epic moment occurred on Kennesaw.

First summit postop!

I walked nonstop to the summit for the first time since my surgery with Lizzie by my side!  Such a blessing to experience these milestones with my kids.
I didn't know what to expect heading to the mountain, other than I would give it my best shot. We no sooner stepped onto the trail when Lizzie spotted her friends, Sarah and Annie, behind us.  My hiking crew grew from a party of two to a party of four.  There were a couple of spots where I slid on the gravel, but with the help of my new cane, Lizzie's arm and Annie's back (I slid downward and Annie's back stopped me from going further), I managed to stay upright.  It was a crisp fall afternoon filled with beautiful sunshine while a lovely breeze swirled around us.  Thanks, ladies, for making my day extra special!
I'll train a couple more times without my pack and then crank up the training intensity.
Hike hard, hike strong!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Off The Grid - John Muir Trail Expedetion

Lizzie, Jeremy and I decided to create an unique experience for our family during the summer of 2016; thru-hiking the 220 mile John Muir Trail (JMT) in California. This trek will take us from Yosemite National Park to Sequoia National Park, on thru King's Canyon National Park and summiting on Mount Whitney (14,000+ elevation) which is the highest peak in the continental US. Cross training begins now since I need plenty of time to acclimate my body to both carrying a backpack and hiking at various elevations.

You may ask, "Why would you want to do this with a fused spine?" Because I believe I can.

My marathon training is the perfect complement to the JMT training. Our 2015 summer is already mapped out with activities, specifically, things Lizzie wants get under her belt before graduating. She will take a gap year 2016 and this will certainly be a memorable event during that timeframe.

The three core basics of hiking are the pack, shelter and sleeping system... let's not forget boots!
I talked with my surgeon and he cleared me to backpack since I am almost 3 years postop. He told me to be sure to get the right pack, don't overload it, and don't bend or twist. There has been a lot of research going into the right pack for me. For those of you new to my blog, this is what I'm working with:

3 pounds of hardware hold me up after my spine collapsed; unable to bend/twist because the hardware is anchored into my sacrum. Small price to pay putting complete faith in God to pull me through the time when I was bed ridden with pain for one year. Since my hardware is so close to the surface of my skin (you can see and feel it), I needed to find a pack that doesn't touch my spine. How does that work?
There are LOTS of choices!

The Deuter ACT Lite 60+10 has a channel of space located between two padded areas that are designed to reduce sweat by keeping air flowing across the back. Amazingly, this channel is the perfect space for my spine that in no way touches the pack. Who knew?!

So not only is there nothing touching my spine, but because most of my back is numb, the only place I feel some weight is the upper thoracic area and on my hips. The Deuter has an internal aluminum X-frame that is designed to distribute weight off the back. Happy Camper!
I've had 3 milestones occur in the past 24 hours:
1. Carried a backpack with 10#
2. Managed to get down, crawl into and sit in a tent
3. Lowered myself to lay on the ground for the first time in 3 years to practice getting down into a sleeping bag.
My back is a little tweaked today from waking up some sleeping muscles.
We decided to go with the Sierra Designs Flash 2 person tent for me and Jeremy.  Lizzie will either get the same tent or the Lightning 2UL, we haven't decided yet.  The big appeal is I snatched a great deal on the Flash 2 for almost half off!  While it's 9 oz. heavier than the UL (ultralight) model, I couldn't pass the savings.  The Sierra Designs tents have the fly sown into the tent and set up is super simple and super fast.

Inside a Lightning 2UL

Sleeping System:
We are still researching bags and sleeping pads so not much to report here.  The leading pad is Klymit brand.
There are a LOT of options!

Lizzie and I are breaking in Keen Bryce boots.

Upgraded Cane:
The more mileage I walk every week in prep for the 2015 NYC marathon, the more my cane hand, arm and shoulder hurt.  A fellow Achilles athlete recommended SideStix which have a built in shock absorber.  It comes with hiking mods so this will be useful in the woods, in races or around town.

For those of you with a disability wanting to try a new activity, be sure to consult your physician/surgeon.

Until next time, hike hard, hike strong.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Power of Positive Pressure

Today is a milestone for me because for the first time, I walked a 15k (9.32 miles) race!  Not only that, but I came in 30 minutes faster than my training pace!  How was that possible? 

1.  Training throughout my very hilly neighborhood is a perfect place in preparation for the NYC race because I'll be crossing 5 bridges.  Even though NYC is flat, the bridges provide the elevation and people say it's a tough race.  Today's race was flat, relatively speaking, to what I've been training on so what a bonus it was this morning!

2.  Having an intense deep tissue massage a few days ago really loosened things up!

3.  Having some positive pressure throughout today's race helped tremendously.  Jeremy took on a drill sergeant role and was on top of my pace the whole time.  He told me to slow down a bit when needed and really pushed me hard, after taking inventory of any pain levels.  Lizzie's approach was on the opposite end of the spectrum.  When she noticed I was lagging, she sweetly said, "Come on, Mom, let's go."

4.  God's blessing kept me safe and healthy.

2014 Iron Horse 15k
I was recently connected with a wonderful woman through Achilles who also race walks.  She's had multiple surgeries, some of which were in her sacrum.  She have given me great training advice and one of the key items was to keep eating snacks every 30 minutes starting about 60-90 minutes after the start of the race.  Jeremy, Lizzie and I munched on some awesome vegan protein bars I made the other day and the energy helped us keep moving strong.

There will be a 1/2 marathon coming up on my radar towards the end of the year, if not sooner.  Now that I have this 15k under my belt, the thought of a 13.2 race has me thinking, "That's only a few more miles than what I did today."

Until next time, walk strong or go home.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Season of Transition: College, Career and Next Steps

It's been a while since I've posted.  Let's face it, I've been living life in the most glorious way.  As I think back on the past few months, there have been some major shifts within my life and close loved ones.  I've got a lot of ground to cover, so here goes:

Archery Career - Going out with a Bang
My original goal was to compete my way onto the US Paralympic Archery Team and compete at the 2016 Rio games.  Progress was good, made some strong wins and then a shift occurred.  There is new leadership at World Archery which is the organization that sets the rules for archery worldwide.  With this new team in place, it was decided that the trunk division which I was classified in should be and has been deleted, completely removed from the rule books.  Why?  I've been told that WA felt that athletes in this division would best be served as abled-bodied athletes.  Well, that really didn't create a level playing field for those in the now defunct division. 

Despite my efforts to appeal and run my concerns up the food chain (a WA committee in Switzerland reviewed my case), the decision was not reversed.  Shortly after this decision was made, I fell again and landed on my left arm, aka: bow arm, and have not been able to get proper strength to hold the bow since then.  I wrapped up my archery career taking 1st place in the US Indoor National Tournament and setting a new National record!  I hear you, God, this chapter has closed, time to move on.

Medical Updates
Shortly after my last blog post, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and trochanteric bursitis.  It became very painful to walk as my joints were on fire.  Fortunately, I do not have RA, but the bursitis has been particularly uncomfortable.  Trochanteric bursitis is inflammation of fluid in sacs around the hips and is sometimes caused by DDD (degenerative disc diseased) in the lumbar area which is exactly what I had.  Doctors had me on a slew of meds which never really helped.  As time went on, I didn't like the idea of being on meds so I went on a quest to create a supplement routine that could replace the meds.  I've finally got the right combination and was able to toss the meds. 

Over the past few months, spasms that used to occur several times throughout the week now occur daily and last much longer, anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.  Epilepsy was ruled out last month and I'm due for another MRI.  It will be nice when doctors determine cause of these issues.

Nutrition Changes
A couple of months ago our family decided to become GF V (gluten free vegan).  Why?  I feel there may be some sort of connection between food and my neurological issues.  Also because I don't want to contribute to animal suffering and also want to minimizing my ecological footprint.  We are all feeling so much better and have a ton of more energy.  I've watched many documentaries throughout the years but the two recent ones that really clicked with me are Vegucated and Hungry For Change.  If you're not aware of how animals are processed and want to learn more about how our food choices impact not only our health but the environment as well, these are two powerful films available on Netflix.  I recently learned about Earthlings and I have to say this is the most raw and difficult film to watch.  This film shows graphic scenes, not for the faint at heart.

We made the change cold turkey (pardon the pun) and have found the transition to be pretty easy.  We've been on a few holidays where eating out away from home might come as a challenge, but with a little homework, we made it work.  Lizzie and Jeremy were both out of town recently, each in different states, and they were able to stay on course with their nutrition. 

Family Changes
Early last year, my dad started dating a wonderful woman whom both dad and my mom knew as they live in the same community.  Her husband passed away a bit before my mom passed and the two found peace and healing in their new relationship.  A few weeks ago, we attended their wedding!  It was a bittersweet day for me as I still miss talking to my best friend throughout the week.  My new mom is a loving woman and through her, Dad's faith in God has strengthened.

Lizzie is dual enrolling this school year and is taking full load.  At this pace she may graduate high school with a college degree at the age of 16!  I'm still amazed how eager and determined she is when it comes to her school studies.

Late spring this year Jeremy decided it was time to make a move in his career.  We prayerfully asked God to show him the right path.  The right opportunity presented itself not too long ago and he is enjoying his new role.  He is in the same field (IT) and has been blessed with the task to build out a new area of a fantastic company.

Next Steps, Literally
Before I became a para archer late in 2012, I was a race walker with the Achilles Track Club.  I'll never be able to jog because of my hardware, but I can walk.  I did a few races and then the severe joint pain settled in and I couldn't maintain my walk training anymore.  That's when I took up archery.  Since my supplement routine has been working really well with keeping joint pain at bay, I've returned to my Achilles family and have been training again.  Achilles is a club that encourages athletes with disabilities to participate in races by either jogging, walking or hand cycling.  Since there isn't a chapter in Atlanta, the Nashville chapter took me in years ago. 

So, what might my new goals be you may be thinking?  As crazy as it may sound, I will walk and finish the 2015 NYC marathon!  As an Achilles athlete, I'm guaranteed a slot in the NYC race with two guides walking with me.  There are a few walkers who have finished the race in several hours to 30+ hours.  I'm training so that I finish the race in 9 hours or less, basically before it gets dark and colder.  I was invited to do this year's race, but 2 months prep time to train is not enough time for me to be ready by race day on Nov 2.

If you are interested in joining me at local races, I'll post details on FB.  I may never be the fastest, but I will always finish.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tis the Season to Be Busy

It's been a whirlwind of activities the past several weeks.  I've been working with my strength coach for several weeks and my waist shrunk 4", I shed 6.5 pounds of fat and added 6.5 pounds of muscle - WOWZA!  Very pleased with my progress and we're kicking up my training to a new level.

My dad flew in to see Lizzie and me compete at the last tourney for the outdoor season.  It was an amazing two day tourney.  Day 1 closed out in a downpour while shooting the last 6 arrows of the day.  Thank God the entire day wasn't like that, but at least we were prepared with rain gear on hand.  Day 2 was beautiful sunny skies. 

One of the most surprising things was that during the rain, a drop of water landed in my peep sight which is a tiny sight close to my eye that helps my vision line up with the bigger sight down near my hand.  As I came to full draw I realized I couldn't see anything at all because of the drop of rain.  I should have let down which means to carefully turn the bow down and slowly release tension on the string to set up for a better shot.  Well, since my bow was so slippery with rain, I didn't trust my strength to carefully let down.  Instead I prayed, "Jesus, let my arrow hit the target."  Nothing worse than missing a target and losing an arrow.  Not only was my prayer answered, but I hit a red ring which is next to the gold!  Thank you, Jesus!  Now I know, if I'm shooting in the rain (which I trained for over the summer), before I draw, blow into the peep sight to remove any possible drop of water!  :)

The second most surprising thing was beating my goal.  This tourney was a full FITA tourney, 2 days, 72 arrows each day, total 144 arrows to shoot.  The last time I shot a full FITA in May, my goal was 1,000 points out of a possible 1,440 and I scored 950.  I was pretty happy with that outcome.  This time, my goal was 1,150 and I scored 1,213!!!!  Woooo Hoooo!!!!  I won 2nd place!  Lizzie won 1st place and is the GA State Champion two years running!  SO proud of her!

Lizzie, Pa and me

I'm now training for the Georgia Archery Team tryouts in a few weeks.  My coach has me doing practice score rounds and I've done better than the MQS (minimum qualifying score) to make the cut for the team.  I'll have to shoot 30 arrows into a small target and score at least 255 points out of a possible 300.  So far my practice scores have been 274, 275, 283. 

I flew to St. Louis recently by myself; first solo trip postop.  It was a same day trip and was happy security at both ends of the trip were wonderful.  Absolutely no pat down!  Dr. Lenke is really excited about my progress with archery and plans to compete at the Paralympics 2016.  I told him about the issues I've been experiencing since I last saw him in Feb 2013.  He said, "I'm so sorry, but none of these issues are a result from what I've done."  He, along with Dr. Riew, urged me to see a new neurologist with whom I'll see Oct 14.  Lenke said, "... the hardware looks great, it's right where I left it."  He's such a funny guy!

So the updates on the medical issues are:
My balance issue is called Romberg's and I have Hoffman's Sign (using cane all the time).

Still waiting for Dr. Riew's report from three MRI's; however, his nurse said there is a bulge in my neck but don't need surgery and that I have carpal tunnel and ulnar neuropathy.

Second opinion rheumatologist said everything looks normal except for osteoarthritis.  She has me on Indomethacin which has helped better than Mobic or Diclofenac.

Dr. Lenke is the 4th doc to say he strongly believes I have MS.  The neurologist I see on Monday is at the MS Center of Atlanta and I've heard great things about him.

Oh, almost forgot, I went to my first concert postop (well... the Tony Bennett concert over the summer doesn't really count since it was so low key... you know... no mosh pit stuff happening).  I was really nervous about buying tickets for the concert because there was no seating, only general admission, first come, first served.  I called the venue to talk about possible accessible seating and explained my situation (not in a wheelchair, but unable to stand for a long time).  The general manager at the Tabernacle was super helpful and explained they have a special area for guests with disabilities and that I was welcome to sit there.  He said, "but it's right up front, you'll be in front of the front row, is that ok?"  Uh, YEAH THAT'S OK!!!  So not only did we (Jeremy, Lizzie and me) have the BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE, but Lizzie was able to get on stage with 30 Seconds to Mars too!!!  I had no idea I could enjoy a concert like this!!!   :)

Cover Photo

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saturday Night Shoot Under the Lights

Lizzie and I recently competed for the first time together at a night shoot, what fun!  The music was pumping, the football lights were on, and the dogs and BBQ were grilling!  It is interesting shooting at night outdoors because when the dew point hits, scopes fog which means you can't see the target.  :-0 

My goal for this tourney was to hit at least 750 out of a possible 900 points.  My score was 811 - Wooo Hooo!  My distances were 40m, 50m, and 60m.  I calculated that I walked the equivalent of a 90m football field 33 times (retrieving my arrows).  That a lot of walking!  Lizzie and I brought home the gold in each of our divisions.

I have to say, the shadow on my tooth is driving me crazy.  :)
Our last outdoor tourney of the season is the end of September, Georgia Outdoor State Tourney.  My distances will be 30m, 50m, 60m, and 70m.  In order for me to hit 70m, I needed to increase my draw weight again.  I bumped up the weight from 33# to 34.5# and have to say I'm shooting strong at the heavier weight.  It may not sound like much of an increase, but because I'm shooting with compromised back muscle strength, it's a huge deal to me.  I've been weight training hard the past several weeks and my first day shooting at 34.5#, I was able to shoot 84 arrows.  The last time I bumped my draw weight from 31# to 34.75#, I could barely shoot 15 arrows.

My strength coach provided me with some simple tweaks and additions to my training routine which I firmly believe are the key to me being able to comfortably shoot at the heavier weight.

Training hard and shooting straight for the big tourney!

MRI Results

I finally have the results from the x3 MRIs, but am still waiting for Dr. Riew's feedback.

Here are some of the items that caught my eye that I need clarification on:

1.  Paraspinal muscle atrophy in lumbar.

2.  Levels L2-L5 with fluid signal within the laminectomy bed... lumbar spine with fluid collection.

3.  Spondylolisthesis at C3-C4.

4.  C5-C6 mild left neuroforaminal stenosis.

Looking forward to hearing from Dr. Riew soon.