Post-transpalnt day 48, pulmonary rehab #22. Every one an athlete.
"The difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank." I first heard this phrase on Phedippidations several years ago. It is true enough in its strictest sense; but when applied to include all athletic endeavor, the sentiment becomes clearer, crisper and sharper; the truth of it forming like an old Polaroid slowly developing in your hands.
Last Friday was not the best rehab day for me. I had knee pain, I was rushed, I had blood sugar issues. And I questioned myself: Am I an athlete? I certainly didn't feel like one. I asked myself what makes an athlete? I certainly have the training and knowledge of an experienced athlete - I know a bit about good nutrition, training cycles, race strategy, and recovery. I know from hard experience what over-training is, how long a sports injury can sideline you, what it is like to pour hundreds of hours into getting ready for a single event, the thrill of crossing that finish line. But am I yet an athlete? I mean, I haven't truly RUN a race in years. Even when I was running, it was....poor. My best finishes were mid-pack.
And yet - I must remind myself - I finished. Always. Better yet: I started. Because no matter how many races entered, no matter how many training miles, I never felt like an *athlete* until I crossed the starting line. And me being me, I usually finish what I start. I have plenty of races I entered but didn't attend due to injury, bad scheduling, or inadequate training; but I have yet to fail to finish any event I started.
But does finishing a race make one an athlete? Does starting it?
Today, in rehab, I looked around at my fellow patients with pride. Most of them are not fast; most are not wholly capable. The pre-transplant patients work their butts off despite being crippled by an inability to oxygenate or blow off CO2; the post-transplant patients can breathe, but are crippled by the massive bodily trauma of the transplant itself, not to mention the secondary surgeries and procedures that leave us festooned with implanted tubes of various kinds long after we've left the hospital. Every single one of them is fighting for survival and every single one is doing so by getting off their asses, brushing off the Cheetos dust, and making *motion* happen. They do so to the best of *their* abilities. They don't just talk about training; they show up and they do it.
Does that make every gym rat in every Gold's Gym an athlete? I'm not so sure. I surmise that a lot of what makes an athlete has to do with willpower. If it takes little willpower and even less effort for you to do 20 minutes on an elliptical, then I have to doubt your commit to personal fitness. But if the task ahead of you requires great amounts of willpower, 100% effort and you still are doing it every day - then you've stepped into the arena with everybody else properly termed "athlete". For I have seen the strongest of men laid low enough that 1 pound hand weights were too much by the end of 12 reps - yet. he. still. lifts.
I have a lot of athlete friends who perform at a very high level - Boston Marathon qualifier types; triathlon regulars; Ironmen and Ironwomen. But their drive for achievement physically is no greater than many of the patients at rehab - it is just applied to different activity and at a different level. I cannot properly call them athletes without also deeming my fellow patients as such, too.
But am *I* an athlete? Today I did not feel energetic, after an early morning start at clinic. But buoyed by good news (getting cleared officially by my pulmonologist and assistant tx surgeon each for light jogging, light cycling, rock climbing, and - eventually - even SCUBA), I tackled today's rehab the best I could. And - to my surprise - did a little better than I thought I would. The bike, for instance, was supposed to be 17 minutes on Level 3, 3 minutes on level two.... but the athlete in me just shrugged and burned through a full 20 on level 3.
That effort brought back to me a conversation I had with Piper Beatty when I mentioned getting my bicycle back out of the closet and going on that test ride yesterday. "You're a badass, as usual," she texted. My reply was that I am merely a reflection of the company I keep, meaning that my own efforts are nothing more than an emulation of the best of what I see in my friends. It's a question not of present physical fitness, nor inate ability, but of willpower. I see it often in rehab - patients suggesting to their RTs, "you know, I think I could try the heavier ankle weights today" or "this theraband has gotten too easy; can I try the next color?"
My rehab friend Kyle had his first day back today after being released from the hospital last week. He did not have an easy transplant course - his was one of the most convoluted cases I know of. Kyle required an additional kidney transplant and had many complications. He spent six weeks in the hospital, most of it ICU. And yet today there he was happily chipping away at the physical tasks before him. And when we saw each other and I approached, his first words were, with a smile: "Cris! How's your recovery going?" Well, Kyle, that's what I was about to ask you, buddy...
Today, I was reminded that being an athlete is not about the level at which you perform, but about how you perform at the level you're at.