Photo by photo nic / Unsplash

A fellow badass takes a couple of horrible falls. What now for the ultimate athlete?

Kevin IS the ultimate athlete. Born with the mesomorph's naturally muscular body, with speed, power and drive burned into his DNA, he developed into a decathlon champion. His records are still on the wall at his local gym.

He's been a dedicated personal trainer, turned himself into a very good chiropractor, has put grit, determination and dedication into upping his personal best numbers year after year.

He's Superman to his kids, and frankly everyone else, because on top of everything, he is an extremely nice guy.

What he could do at 47 far exceeded his personal best in his twenties. Deadlift, sprint and high jump, all carefully practiced and measured, kept creeping higher and higher. As one of his patients, I heard regularly about all his focus and discipline for the better part of nearly three years.

He really is quite remarkable. No steroids, all natural, incredible work ethic. We're cut from the same cloth as it pertains to work ethic, albeit this author wasn't born with that kind of body.

To put this into perspective, Kevin, now fifty, is still trying for personal bests while the sport considers a 33 year-old an ancient:

Kevin loves big sports like I do, just different ones. Of course he does, especially with two growing boys in a state full of trails, lakes, coastline and mountains. And he loves to push his natural-born Superman body to its limit.

Until his intense nature got him injured. Again, again and again. His  shoulders demanded repairs.

Then one shoulder lost a repair component, and had to be redone.

Then, on a mountain bike ride with his two sons, he took a horrible header and trashed his knee. And his shoulder. Again.

Those had to be repaired. Again.

Suddenly he couldn't do chiropractic work any more. Both boulder-shoulders damaged, a knee causing him to gimp, he is now working in the office at the back of the practice, managing instead of doing.

My god, do I know how all this feels. What I described above is pretty close to precisely what happened to my body over the last several years.

What happens when a natural-born Superman can't leap tall buildings any more?

I really missed seeing him at the office. His mother, also an athlete and just as driven at 70, just had her knee repaired, too. She's had her hands fixed as I have.

There's a reason I really like these people; they are fun and funny and athletic. We have all lived hard and our bodies are showing it.

These good people have run into precisely the same walls I have. That many of us have, albeit for perhaps different reasons.

A few days ago, newly released from my knee scooter, after nearly a year of not being able to do much at all,  I moved a slew of heavy wood from my living room to my garage.

Kryptonite, on a small scale.

HOLY COW. At midnight, my quads, underutilized and in need of that wake-up call, had quite a bit to say about that forty minutes of hard schlepping. I had to locate my favorite muscle cream and Tylenol. I lay in bed waiting for the pain to subside. Holy moly. Then I grinned.

Last year before all these repairs got underway, I'd announced that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro again this year.  I can hardly do laps on my own stairs without nearly collapsing.

Does Wonder Woman need to retire herself?

Has Superman been downed by too much kryptonite?

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

Yesterday I ran into Kevin in the office just as I was leaving. Tanned, tall and looking like he could still beat anyone in a decathalon, we spoke for a few minutes about his health. He mentioned getting back to his high jump.

"My claim to fame," he said.

That's his primary focus, if that short conversation is indicative of what's on his mind in terms of his recovery.

I really like Kevin, and his whole wonderfully intense and bright and determined family. I also believe that he may well get back to that high jump and even exceed it. But a part of me was thinking about something else.

I pointed to the wall in his office. Grit, Determination, Grind, Hustle, Sacrifice. That's Kevin all right. Me, too, for much of my life until recently.

What's missing are words like Self-love, Rest, Self-Care.


the wall in Kevin's practice

I've added Kindness and Rest to my wall.

Kevin's willing to do the Deep Work. This is part of where Deep Work must replace the intensity of the body. Hustle culture is fine up to a point. If we don't allow the art of rest, self-love and self-care to be equally important, I can already tell you what happens.

We see it all over America. Yet still, and I have done this, when we take a break or a vacay, we worry incessantly about falling behind in a race we will never, ever win. Whether that's a terror about someone's taking our place in the promotion line or a muscle not staying HUGE or losing our cardiovascular capacity, it's all fear- driven.

We are designed to need down time. Animals do it when injured.

Yet too often when we take time for recovery for some injury, we may worry about how fast we can get back up to our personal best.

As if some isolated number defines us. For me, it's my hundred men's pushups. Does some number define you? Is that really all we are?

My hand is up. I do this too.

I finally got to sleep that night. Ten hours later I got up refreshed and ready to take on the day, and the next challenge of getting my poor beleaguered body repaired.

"I've got this," I thought. Yes I do.

So does Kevin.

So do you, for that matter.

Yet, I have to ask. How much does that number own us, rather than the other way around? What are we sacrificing for a number which, over the immense and unshakeable pressure of time, must finally drop?

Each of us, especially in such chaotic times, has likely had to forfeit something over the last few years. Perhaps the real adventure ahead, and I am right in the middle of that now, is having the courage to let go. Interesting, Kevin's wall tiles also don't include courage.

Part of courage is being able to embrace change, and what change brings with it.

I'm not saying give up on that number. I am saying that sometimes, it's not the number we're so attached to, like my fondness for a hundred pushups. Kevin's beloved Claim-to-Fame high jump. Those don't make us who we are.

Kevin's a good man and a great dad. I work hard to be a good woman and a great friend and writer. Our physical prowess, such as it is (as with this author, let's not kid ourselves), isn't our be-all end-all, even for those born with Superhuman bodies.

How do we release, grieve for and say goodbye to what no longer needs to define us, and walk bravely into what's next?

Isn't that the Universal question?

If you're a regular reader of mine you've seen me discuss this a lot lately. That's because it's very much in my face as I face down more surgeries, more pain, more recovery. So many of us are facing similar challenges. All of us are facing age, and learning how to dance with that particular inevitability.

All of us are handed kryptonite. What's Superhuman is what we do with it and how we master our fear about it. Then use that fear to rebound over the next tall building, whatever that may be.

That's why the missing Courage tile on Kevin's wall is so important.

I'm seeking the courage to embrace what I no longer may have, while also exploring the outer boundaries of what else is available. There are certain things I am not yet ready to forfeit, like adventure  horse riding and big mountains and kayaking, assuming I can get my hands back.

When you and I identify with our physical bodies too much, we may descend into bitterness, resentment and depression. No different from identifying far too much with youth, which by definition must recede into memory.

Is that the end of the joy of physicality?

Not at all. My lesson of the last several years has been to get just as disciplined and just as determined in my healing process as I have been in my training for a big climb. The big-ass climb this year is learning to walk again. Learning to use my hands again.

Kindly, that's big enough.

Kindness, rest and recuperation are part of grit.

For Superman, kryptonite's a teacher.

For all the grit and hustle we subject ourselves to, we need equal or greater portions of kindness, self-care and self-love. I'm quite sure Kevin's going to keep pushing his numbers.

Until someday, he can't. Even Superman has to take serious breaks, or life breaks him.

So to that, I have a big hot bath waiting.

Water floating
Photo by Hisu lee / Unsplash

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