Repairing Panther Paws, Overcoming Obstacles

Hey fans, sorry for the lack of updates. As a lot of you know, my journey towards functional fitness hit a few snags a few weeks back with aches coming from my ankle, where I had a 7 pin titanium plate installed 20 years ago. 300 mountain climbers done, I found that I was limping around for a few days. X-Rays suggested that pins had backed out, but that was just a shadow. The reality was that bone spurs had started growing up and around the plate, and my dynamic exercise habits were causing inflammation. Bottom line, bones flex, ti plates don’t. Ouch.

I was given 2 choices: a steady diet of ibuprofen for the rest of my life, or surgery to remove the plate. Surgery would mean a month or more off of running and dynamic exercise, but I had to think long term. A week and a half out of surgery my cast is off and I almost look like a human as I walk. Nasty side effects from anesthesia  included an ER trip for an EKG and a CT scan (both negative), but as nasty as this trip was, I am still thankful that I made the decision to move forward. Recovery mode: activated.

I often get questions about where the plate came from and why I still had it 20 years later, so I thought I would slap up a narrative here to try and explain (since my current workouts are somewhat limited and sad for a few weeks). Unlike my normal posts there’s no workout here, just history. My workouts resume in 3-4 weeks, in the meantime I’ll be sharing recipes and book reviews. But first, the way-back machine.

20 years ago I was a professional inline skater, sponsored by Rollerblade, Hyper, Harbinger, Senate and a slew of other companies. I was the captain of a bay area inline skate team (Team Nuvo) that often performed as “Team Rollerblade” even though technically we were just the Northern California version of their main team, which was out of LA. #marketing

Our shows generally consisted of ramp jumping, where we would huck ourselves off of 2-3ft tall wooden ramps and perform various tricks, like spins and flips. As a finale, we would do those tricks over expensive sports cars and vans. It was, to put it mildly, rough on the body. No landing on downhills here, we used our legs to suck up the impacts.

My usual finale trick of choice was the half twisting layout front flip. On a lovely summer day 20 years ago, my team was on day 2 of a fantastic show that we were doing at a roller-hockey finals tournament at Oakland Arena. We were hired to do a big halftime show both days, and day 1 went off without a hitch. Instead of a sports car we decided to jump our van, and I nailed my first in-show flip over a mini van. I was stoked.

On day two we got there early and decided to practice. One of my skaters asked to do the front-half over the van, and I decided I would bring out another first for me instead, a “flat-ramp” front flip. Usually flips are done off a curved ramp, which acts like a spring-board to pop your feet up and over your head. A flat ramp front forces you to kick one leg back to get motion going, meaning you are taking off on one leg. It is just as hard, and dangerous, as you might think. I had it down onto a mat and decided I’d pop one off onto the hard stuff in today’s show.

I set the ramp up and put in a mat for a warmup, just to make sure I got it around. It was easy to under-rotate this flip. As I hit the ramp, something felt off and when I kicked up I immediately knew I wasn’t making it around. I’d stalled. Now, stalling in a flip sucks, but if you’re going to do it, do it when there’s a nice thick landing mat waiting to cradle you on the way down. I laid out the flip, tucked my head in and got ready to turn my flip into a dive-roll.

Unfortunately, I misconstrued what had happened. Even  though I’d stalled, my kick had popped me way into the air. I made the cardinal sin of flips: I closed my eyes. I figured I was rolling out, so there was no spotting. In reality my slow rotation combined with my height (apparently I could have easily cleared a car off the 2ft ramp) got me around to my feet, which were not ready for it. I collapsed into a ball, straight down, landing squarely on my right ankle.

You could imagine what happened. The toe of my right boot slammed into my right shin, causing a grapefruit sized bruise right under my knee. The fibula snapped and the ankle joint shattered. But I didn’t realize that. The skate boot had popped the ankle mostly back into place and it immediately began swelling. I figured I’d just dislocated it. The fantastic crew at Oakland Arena got me some crutches and some form of devilish pain killer (much love), and I spent the rest of the day rolling around on one foot while I watched my team absolutely kill that show. I went home to recuperate, imagining I’d be out of commission for a few days, maybe a week. Tops.

Then, the next day while laying in bed I felt the bones in the right leg move. An ER visit and X-Rays confirmed the fracture, but the doctor suggested a cast only. Considering the extent of damage we got a second opinion from Stanford Ortho and, long story short, the guy who suggested not to do surgery cut me open and put things back together as best he could, including a 7 pin ti plate. In hindsight I should have known not to trust his work, and the ankle was never the same. The entire process soured me on doctors for a long time, the surgeon was not very good at his job, and the idea that he would have to go in and remove the plate didn’t sit well with me.

Rebuilding the muscles took over a month, then I started getting offers to skate for money again, which I took on. I trained a team in Virginia Beach. I performed in SF. I competed in multiple skate competitions. As a certified inline skating instructor, I taught hundreds of people how to skate. Life was good, and the plate didn’t bother me half as much as the thought of having to recover again did.

Skating led to skiing, and 20 years later, to dynamic exercise. Except now I was trying to build distance in running and build a functionally fit body. I’m still working on that, but to get there, I had to make a choice. Live with pain and drugs or hit a speed bump, knowing that the road gets much smoother later. I hit the bump (and a few more I didn’t see afterwards) and the road is smoothing out. I’m already making plans for 1/2 marathons, fulls and beyond.

When I talk about my workouts with people, I often immediately run into blockades from them about why they can’t do what I do. Knees. Back. Hips. They’re too heavy. They’re too weak. They don’t have time. They don’t know what to do. I know how hard it is. I was 260 not so long ago. I was 220 very recently. I’m 200 now and I have at least another 20lbs to go. When the choice is pizza and NBA or an hour at the gym, most people get pepperoni.

Hitting obstacles really sucks, especially when you’ve been so focused and committed. Just getting started can be the hardest thing when all you see around you are roadblocks, excuses and people who long ago stopped thinking about becoming the best version of themselves they can be. I wish there was an easy answer, an elevator pitch that can flip the switch, but the bottom line is that the only one that can flip it is you. You have to choose to flip it, then never look at the switch again. It is on, forever. Fitness becomes like breathing, not like a dream or a wish, but a real thing, something to grasp. It is both the hardest and easiest thing to do. Sorry for the Zen kōan, but once it happens you’ll know exactly what that means.

Life is about priorities. Family, work, food, pleasure. Everyone can take the facets of life and assemble them into a hierarchy. In my experience, unless health is at the peak of that pyramid, alongside family, alongside all those things that you choose to focus on, it will fall by the wayside. Maybe not today, maybe not next week, but eventually something will come along and derail you. It might seem selfish, but in reality the people who depend on you, who love you, want you to be healthy. It isn’t selfish to want to stick around a while, to want to have a quality of life where you can socialize, play with your kids, be active with your spouse and just generally enjoy all the things that make being human a kick in the pants. It is the way we were meant to live.

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