Had a real hard time getting myself to sit down to get this blog entry in. I just didn’t want myself to look back at this and get reminded of how negative I felt during this period but yet, I wanted something for me to look back years later. A real story of myself, going through part and parcel of life experiencing what life should be: filled with ups and downs. So, as negative as this may be, I have decided that this entry can wait no longer.
I had been having left shoulder issues since March and it has been getting from bad to worse. First, it stopped me from swimming. Then I couldn’t sleep at night due to the pain it gives. A while later, I was not able to put my body weight through my shoulders while riding. My shoulders hurt so much that I couldn’t even lift my elbow above my shoulder level and I just can’t seem to get my range of motion (not that I had much left after the accident) due to the pain, the stiffness of the deltoids and impingement. Funny how such a small muscle group actually stopped me from doing ALL 3 components of triathlon. Shit just continues to happen doesn’t it. An ultrasound was done on the shoulder a few back, checking for tendinitis (which was what the medical team thought was the issue), only to find out that my tendons are PERFECT. However, they did find my barsa damaged and I am currently still waiting for my injection at the end of this month. All in all, this shoulder pain took 5 months just to get treated, giving me 3 months of sleepless nights and taking me off swimming and running cycling. Shit.
So I went into the doctor’s room 2 weeks back and we had a little chat. He seemed so happy about how far I have progressed since the early paralysis days and was really amazed and proud that I actually completed a marathon within 7 months of my accident. I just couldn’t resist but ask:
Me: So, what is your take on my spasms and stuff? Likely to improve any time soon?
Doctor took his glasses off. There was silence for a couple of seconds as he looked me in the eyes.
Doctor: Let’s revisit your initial CT and MRI scans shall we?
He took out the pictures and we had a look at them again.
Doctor: Look, this your spinal cord. Look at these white patches, they represent the damaged portion of your spinal cord. Blah blah blah..
Whatever he said, didn’t really matter to me. I was just waiting for that one conclusive sentence which I would so love to hear. “Yes, you will get better” “yes you will be better” “hell yeah it will be alright”.
Doctor: *blah blah blah* .. So in conclusion, No.
My heart sank.
Doctor: It has been 8 months going 9 and the spasm hasn’t really improved has it? This is going to be with you for the rest of your life.
Time froze. My heart went cold and .. I just felt like crying. For life. He said it will be for life. And it wont improve. Man.. I just wonder… if I could have done anything differently to have avoided this accident. And the answer was no. shit happens. And it really did happen, for no apparent reason.
Doctor: Lets go for another round of scans just to be sure. I would love to be proven wrong but don’t get your hopes high. If the scans showed that it has improved but your spasms haven’t been then its not exactly meaningful either.
Ok. So in conclusion, whether I do the scans or not, I am stuck for life with this spasm that will restrict my movement as a normal human being and I will be highly unlikely to run normally again. Period.
As I felt the hospital, I felt lost. I thought to myself, this must have been what the other patients felt when they were told they would never walk/stand/move for the rest of their life. This… despair.. this cruel truth.. this sadness from deep within.. is something I have never felt before in my life. I tried to pick myself up, I tried to be cheerful, I tried to hit the gym, I tried to run a little.. But nothing works. I was in a slump. A deep dark dirty slump. I need to climb out of this shit hole as soon as possible before I become more of a negative ball of energy. But. I just couldn’t.
I went for training the next day, running as hard as I can. And That’s how I usually do it.
Go as hard as I can, till my lunges can no longer take it.
Go as hard as I can till my legs is filled with lactic and it goes numb.
Go as hard as I can, hoping all my troubles will be blown away, just like the wind on my face.
Go as hard as I can, to feel that I am alive.
I did feel better briefly after training but as soon as I started breaking down my splits, I heard this dark voice coming from within “You will never be the same again. Spasms FOR LIFE. Bad gait FOR LIFE”. And I crashed again. I just couldn’t stand the thought of fully abled body people who do not strive to better themselves, but “choose” to allow themselves to deteriorate slowly, rotting their lives away. Here I am, working my ass off every single day, just in hopes that I will get back near to where I once was. This is seriously screwed up.
Went to Evolved the next day, wanting to “spin” my legs a little, to work on my mechanics and to get rid of the lactic from the hard training the day before. Its not to my surprise that I did not follow through on that, instead going in as hard as I ever hard and smashing my body yet again. This time, it felt better. Way better. Seeing that magical 16km/h on the treadmill just feels so awesome. Yes, I was only running on 40% of my body weight (25kg) but still, at least my legs spun that fast to keep up with the treadmill. Gotta start somewhere and from what I feel, this is a good start.
Bumped into one of my spinal mates the following day and we had a little chat.
Friend: Everything good?
Me: not really. The doctors told me I will no longer improve.
Friend: hey look mate. You did a marathon.
Me: yeah. But.. I walked for majority of it. And I literally came in 3rd last.
Friend: Yeah, but none of the runners who completed ahead of you had a serious injury and I am pretty sure none of them had a spinal cord injury and that none of them was paralysed. And lets not forget the people who dropped out of the race mate. In my heart, you came in 1st. 1stspinal patient.
I have never thought about things this way. I never wanted to use my “disability” card because I want to aim for the sky and to be the best I ever can be. But what he said really made sense.
Friend: Zac, one day, I want to be where you are now. To complete a marathon even if it means for me to walk 10 hours just to complete it.
Here I am bitching and feeling sad for myself when I am the fortunate one. Whatever happened to “count my blessings”?
The conversation left me thinking. It got me sorted out and I am ready for my next challenge.
So just when things seemed to be better, my shoulder got worse and I can no longer run due to the pain during the arm swing. To be honest, swimming and cycling really aint my thing (yet) but running is. Being taken out of running is a big blow to me (AGAIN). Just makes me wonder how many times I will be stopped from running. When will this retarded cycle ever end?! Its like.. Here I am training hard and BAM! I have to stop running again. And there goes my plan of doing the Fremantle 10k run. How on Earth am I supposed to do a sub 50min 10km run without training for it. So now, it is official, my shoulder has officially taken me out of swimming, cycling and running. Shit happens.
Know what. I am not giving up yet. I shall not give up on myself.
I did a 6:30 marathon this June. I will cut it to sub 5 next year. Then sub 4 then I will work my way back to sub 3. I don’t really care what the hell diagnosis it was. I am gonna grab life and make every day count. I will treasure every single session I have in the gym, in the physio, on the road with my teammates and get myself back on track, even if it means I have a much lousier gait than before. I am no longer racing to break the Singapore national record. I am racing against myself. And should have been the way right from the start. Running is about doing my best, out-doing myself and conquering my inner demons. To tell these dark voices to SHUT UP when I feel smashed.
I might have been stopped from running for now.
It will not stop me from training hard.
I will continue to work hard and one day.
One fine day. I will be back running, feeling the freedom and smashing it.
Hard work pays off.
Nil Sine Labore.
prepared and written by Zac Leow