Unearthing My Inner Athlete – By Cara Potapshyn Meyers
Growing up, I didn’t exactly consider myself anything close to being an “athlete”. However, when I entered high school, my best friend coerced me into trying out for the Swim Team. We both wanted to lose some weight and she said that you burn a lot of calories by swimming (which you do). I admit that although I made the team, I was probably the worst swimmer on the team. Not because of my ability (I could do all of the swim strokes, even the Butterfly), but as opposed to my best friend who is genetically muscular, my body likes to insulate itself with fat. My muscles are buried deep down under those layers of fat. However, I did loose some weight and the experience opened up other opportunities for my “inner athlete” to surface.
When I was in college, Aerobic Classes were all the rage. I loved them! I loved them to the point that I ended up teaching the classes at my college, and later at a health club. Those were the days before you needed to be certified to teach Aerobics Classes. By the time certification was required, I was entering a very challenging Masters program. I studied night and day, every single day. Exercise didn’t exist in my life for those two years.
Once I graduated, I got a job and exercise again became a big part of my life. Only this time I could afford working out at health clubs. I was a regular several days a week. I even met my husband at the gym.
Then an unfortunate calamity occurred. Three months after I married, I was in a car accident that injured my shoulder and gave me chronic pain for over four years. I had 2 years of physical therapy (back in the days when you could get more than 10 visits covered by insurance). I also tried every therapeutic modality there was – both traditional western as well as eastern medicine. By some miracle, acupuncture did the trick! I was never cured (and never will be, I still get pain now and then), but the acupuncture allowed me to at least be a part of life. I went to acupuncture for 2 years and slowly weaned off. Since I couldn’t use my upper body extensively (I had a complicated shoulder injury), I could only do types of exercise that were predominantly lower body. I found walking.
Walking became my new obsession. I even had several pedometers to use for different walks. I walked year round. And when my husband and I got dogs, we walked them to get some of their “puppy energy” out. I even did a few of the Susan B. Komen walk-a-thons. And my best friend introduced me to trail walking (I considered it hiking). We would meet once a week for our 5 mile “trail walk.” Then I became pregnant.
When I went to my first OB visit, they found out that I had high blood pressure and was immediately sent to a High Risk group of Obstetricians. My high blood pressure somehow resolved, but the high risk doctors kept cautioning me not to do too much strenuous activity. Between the insatiable tiredness the first trimester, and the coldest winter in history during my second trimester, by the time I was cleared to do some moderate walking, it was heading into summer. And by 34 weeks gestation, I had to be put on modified best rest for the duration of my pregnancy.
Then all “formal” exercise stopped. I had a colicky, reflux, non-sleeping baby which lasted a good 6 months, if not more. My son officially started to sleep for at least 5 hours at a time right before his third birthday. I was a zombie. Add to that a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome which caused me to gain over 50 pounds in 2 years and you have a totally burnt-out, obese, slug of a Mom. I was done with exercise. And with an over-the-top, active child, my constant fantasy was a big, fluffy pillow, cozy comforter, and a straight 7-8 hours of sleep. In fact, my first two Mother’s Day requests were exactly that. I didn’t want to go out to a fancy restaurant or celebrate with family. I wanted sleep and only sleep.
Now, five years later, and 60+ pounds lighter, I still crave sleep. However both my son and my dog are bringing out that inner athlete that has been dormant all these years. My husband used to work at home and would take our dogs on 1 – 3 mile walks practically every day. I think that contributed to their longevity and good health. Eight months ago, my husband moved his office, taking our older female dog with him, but leaving our male dog at home. Coincidentally, our male dog has needed 3 surgeries in the past 8 months. I came home one afternoon and looked at my dog who had the saddest look on his face. I immediately said to him, “Maxi…we’re going for a nice walk! No more of this lying around doing nothing. You look like you are rusting.” He heard the word, “walk,” and immediately got up. He met some “friends” on his walk; He got to sniff the world and smell the Spring air. Most importantly, he was smiling! And I got a face full of kisses when we returned!
Around the time I decided to take my dog for daily walks, my son wanted to visit our local park on any nice day after school. Evidently someone had introduced him to Handball and he wanted to practice his technique whenever he could. If he made a friend at the park, the two of them would play until the other child either became tired or had to go home. Then it was my turn to be the “substitute” player until another friend came along. I must say, my son is a very good teacher. I started out trying to play tennis with the handball until my son corrected my technique. Then we became quite good competitors! I’m not sure if the other Moms who were standing around conversing thought I was a total nut. It didn’t matter to me because I was bonding with my son on a completely different level. We usually bond cuddling in his bed or spending downtime together. But here we were bonding while being active and enjoying the sport and casual competitiveness. And I admit I enjoy being outside and moving around! I am feeling really good being active again!
So, although resurrecting an exercise routine was the absolute last thing I was planning to do in my life, it’s turning out to be one of the best. I ran into a woman, while walking my dog the other day who had the same breed dog. She said she walked her dog every day…and her dog was 18 years old! Considering that our female dog is 17 years old and my husband still takes her for good walks during his lunch break, there should be no reason why my male dog couldn’t live as long.
The two best gifts of my life: Continuing to cultivate stronger and stronger bonds with my son and having my sweet dog by my side. They will both ensure that I stay healthy and loved!