By Diane Kukich
The gift of movement is the gift that keeps on giving.
Until it doesn’t….
Most active people have been stopped in their tracks at some point by overuse injuries like runner’s knee, tennis elbow, or swimmer’s shoulder.
We can learn a lot from each other about weathering these usually brief breaks from our favorite workouts: switching to alternative activities during recovery, trying different shoes or inserts, and sharing information about the best medical specialists.
But what happens when the challenge to our ability to move is more serious? What can we learn from people who experience a stroke, a paralyzing accident, a traumatic brain injury, a heart attack, or a ruptured brain aneurysm?
The 2018 documentary Coming to My Senses tells the story of Aaron Baker, who, in 1999, broke his neck in a motocross accident, leaving him completely paralyzed from the neck down.
Early in the movie, Aaron says that before the accident everything about him was physical.
“My uncle called me ‘grasshopper’ as a kid because I was so light on my feet and so capable. When that’s all of a sudden just gone, it’s like being in a straitjacket. The more you struggle, the less you can do.”
It’s not surprising, then, that Aaron chose not to believe those who said the odds of him being able to feed himself let alone walk were a million to one.
Over the next 16 years, with the support of his mother and clinical exercise physiologist Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, he worked his way from almost total immobility, to riding across the country with his mother on a tandem bike trip, to walking 20 miles across Death Valley unsupported.
The three also launched CORE (Center of Restorative Exercise), a unique gym that bridges the gap between therapy and fitness.
Most of us will never experience the kind of traumatic injury that Aaron did, but we still have much to learn from his experience.
He talks about the power of possibility—the idea of possibility-based outcomes rather than probability-based outcomes.
“You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’m capable of doing,” he says in response to doctors’ dire predictions about his ability to recover. Statistics are just numbers about groups of people but provide little insight into the path of any one individual.
Aaron also learns to appreciate the journey. As he walks, step by excruciating step across Death Valley pushing a buggy filled with his gear, he is stunned by the beauty of the stark landscape.
“When someone goes to the desert to race a vehicle, at least for me, there wasn’t an awareness of the beauty of this earth and this life here,” he says. “It was about crossing it as fast as we could on a loud obnoxious vehicle…. It was competition and adrenaline and aggression…. The moment you can let go and unlearn all these things that we think are so damn important, you can get right down to the basics, just breathing first and then you slowly start to move.”
Finally, this man who once soared fearlessly over obstacles on a motorbike, accepts his post-accident progression from riding on the back of a tandem bike to pedaling alone on a lightweight trike to powering himself on his own two feet.
Throughout life—whether it’s the result of being sidelined by an injury, coping with the demands of raising a family, or simply dealing with aging—we all have to accept some limitations in our fitness routines and our ability to compete.
But as CORE’s hashtag says, EXERCISEISFOREVERYBODY.
It’s a gift to be cherished in whatever form we can manage at any given point in our lives.
Diane is a retired science writer. She holds a senior fitness training certificate from the University of Delaware and a Level 2 Running Coach certification from Road Runners Club of America. She started running in her late 40s and has won hundreds of first and second place age-group awards in local, regional, and national races at distances from the mile to the half marathon. She swims, runs, or bikes every day and strength trains twice a week. Diane lives in Newark, Delaware, with her husband, Doug, her yellow Lab Jodie, and her orange tabby Pax.