Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Method Fan’s First Jog

Some might say my method of fandom is sadistic—subjecting myself to painful surgeries and even more arduous recoveries.  Yet as I explained a few weeks ago in my "Story of a Method Fan," in order to truly understand the undulation of emotions it takes to be a part of a professional sports team, one must immerse him or herself in the events that shape our heroes.  For many fans, they can channel their method fandom through overindulging in ostentatious sports cars or homes.  For others, it might be the exhilaration of catching an alley-oop pass from a friend and slamming it down in their backyard like LMA.  For me, I wanted to experience what life was like as a modern snake-bitten Blazer…so I had surgeries.

To help Blazers fans grasp the mental and physical side of recovery, and to give motivation to my brother by another knee (aka the Manchild with a 100 year old face), I will be writing periodic posts to update you about significant events during my recovery process.  There have been many significant steps during my recovery thus far.  Weaning myself off of pain killers.  Walking without a cane.  Removing the immobilizing brace.  Taking my first steps without the brace.  Gaining full range of motion.  Riding a bike.  Jumping.  And yesterday  Jogging.

No matter what anybody says, the hardest part of recovery is the mental side.  That is why Oden has admitted to seeing sports psychologists during this round of recovery.  If an athlete does not believe they will get better, they won’t.  Before yesterday, I wasn’t sure I would be able to actually run again.  Three months after surgery I was recovering at a phenomenal rate with my quad and hamstring regaining their shape after severe atrophy.  My physical therapist told me I was a week away from jumping and two weeks away from running.  Then I had a setback.  A big one.  Because my job required me to stand all day, my legs grew tired, and days before I was going to start jumping, my leg gave out on me when walking down stairs.  My knee swelled and set me back six weeks in my recovery.  I had to convince myself I wouldn’t experience another impediment if I started over and strengthened my leg again.  I needed to stay mentally strong.

After successfully jumping last week, I was given permission by my physical therapist to start jogging this week.  I hadn’t run in almost two years because of my knee problems.  I have been an athlete my whole life (with a sabbatical during part of college and for a few years after grad school), so not being able to be active was devastating.  At my high points, I was confident I would be able to one day run a marathon (albeit slowly) one day again.  At my low points, I resigned to the fact I would never be able to run, play basketball, baseball, or any other sport again.  And when I stepped onto the Duniway Park track to attempt a feat unthinkable by my feet even a month ago, I was scared.  The last time I had been on that track was when I could run a sub six minute mile as a member of Lincoln High School’s mighty cross country team.  (That was also 13 years ago when I was in the best shape of my life, and the last time I lived full time in Portland.)

I was scared I would attempt my first step and collapse, my leg giving out on me like it has so many times since the surgery.  For emotional support and in case I need actual physical support, I had my wife “run” with me.  We walked a lap and stretched before I garnered the strength to jog.  My first step was weak.  My legs were unbalanced.  I felt off.  I felt sore.  I felt a lot.  By the end of my first 150 meters of running I was too focused on not falling and how hard each step was to realize I was running.  I may have been running slower than an out of shape Shaq on the second half of a back to back, getting lapped by runners 30 years my senior, but I was running.

Each interval I ran (one minute of running, one minute of walking) got easier.  By my last interval, I had my old competitive running focus, staring down the Nike clock trying to cross the finish line before the clock reached :00.  I had twenty seconds to cover 50 meters to reach the line.  I told my wife my goal.  I tried to channel that final kick.  When I reached the clock, it read :01, one second short.  It was the perfect metaphor for this major step in my recovery process—I had overcome so much, pushing myself to my limit, but I still wasn’t there.

I struggled to walk for the remainder of the day yesterday, but it was a good soreness.  My knee didn’t hurt, just everything around it.  I had succeeded.  Today I continued with my other exercises and tomorrow I run again, hopefully more seamlessly, less painfully, and faster.

More than the physical triumph of yesterday, it was a huge mental victory.  I no longer fear not being able to play sports again.  I know I will succeed.  I know I can regain my strength.  I know I can dominate.  And through knowing I can be an athlete again, I know the injured Blazers will return too.  Oden and Roy will learn to accept and push their bodies to perform at a high level.  They will learn to dismiss the haters who are screaming to the world that both are done.  They will learn there is more to being a Blazer than being injured.  The best is yet to come for me and for my friends over at One Center Court.  When we reach the pinnacle of excellence people will not talk of the injuries, they will talk of the achievements. 

After successfully jogging, I know that day is not too far way.  Keep the faith!


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