Evolve to adapt, adapt to evolve

Ever since I was interviewed, I had received some mails from fellow spinal patients and they all wanted me to share some of the therapies I have been doing. I feel so much for all these people because, I really do know what it feels to be in such a state and I often admire those who have not given up even when their current medical conditions are worse than mine. This road to rehabilitation is one tough road.. I have tried everything possible, medications, botox, physio, massage, OT, cranial osteopathy, all the works. But recently, I have started a new exciting treatment.

So recently I have been visiting “this evolved place” which many has asked me about. Thought I might share a little more about this evolved place.

Evolved Exercise Solutions (aka Evolved) is the name of the clinic I have been visiting and it is a physio/personal training center. Whats most distinctive is that it has an anti-gravity treadmill.

A what? 
Anti-gravity? 
you sure? 
How does that work?

So.. let me do a simple introduction to the anti-gravity machine.

Step 1. You are given a space suit. Only the bottom though. 

Step 2. Put on your space bottom OVER your pants/tights. Lets try to be hygienic.

Step 3. Step into the space machine.

Step 4. Zip up, Suit up, get ready for take off.

Step 5. Reduce weight, set speed and inclination (fastest weight loss ever. I swear)

Step 6. Gentlemen, start your engines. *vroooom… brr… vrooom 

Step 7. Take a break in between if you feel like dying
Step 8. You huff and you puff and go harder and faster to better your best.

 

Step 9. Prepare for landing and for gravity (again).

It is that simple. Sci-fi technology that isnt supposed to be on planet Earth. ha.
I have heard of this machine in the past and it was then only made available for the world’s most elite endurance athletes. The elites would clock in their 42km long run on this machine to “spare” their legs while concentrating on the high turn over rates or when they are coming back from an injury and needed to put in some extra mileage. I have always wanted to try this! Little did I know, I would be using it in this “new, evolved” body.
negative thoughts go away*
negative thoughts go away*
negative thoughts go away* 
 =x
Ok. on a serious note, this stuff has worked well for me. I think it is a synergy of how this ties down with all my physios, strength work, gym, running drills, running sessions, biking sessions all work together. Yeah. Thats alot of things I do for a week.
I did a 2:41:21 half marathon back in Singapore before visiting Evolved and just 2 weeks later, 3 sessions in, I did a 2:38:40 at the 21km mark for my marathon. 
I guess what is so special about this is the fact that I was able to run at higher speed without putting on the weight on my knees. The “lightness” allowed me to focus on my techniques and also for me to get in some body awareness while being strapped on at a spot, not falling over even when my left stop moving and gets dragged along the treadmill. 
During my first session, I realised that I have been missing out on the flight phase of my run and I worked on it.
Subsequently, I realised how uneven my stride lengths are, with my left foot stride being smaller than my right foot stride.
I then realised my left hamstrings have not been “kicking in”, making that nice small circular motion it once produced.
I also realised that I am not using my left glutes.
and the list goes on and on and on.
hate it when running isnt natural. grrr.
we were born to run! right ? right?
Just need to get this thing back on track so that I can once again enjoy running.

and… I have resumed running training with my team.
SO DAMN AWESOME TO BE BACK.

Got totally dropped off during the warm up (Shit happens). But somehow, it made me really happy. It reminded me of the first session I ever had with the team, around 1 year ago. Got smashed and dropped off by 15 year old girls and I worked and worked till I caught up, started dropping the girls off (i know this sound damn sad. but hey, my team mates are that good alright? serious.) and starting to catch up with the boys and BAM! comes my famous bike crash…
Its ok. I told myself that I will work my way back (again). I know it is unlikely that I will ever catch up with the boys ever again. I know it will take a long time, not forgetting how tough it will be, just for me to run a decent race again.
I ain’t throwing in the towels.
Looking at doing a good 10km road race this coming September. With all the help, encouragement and love I have gotten, I might just surprise myself. Who knows? Only way to find out, is to work my ass off NOW.
Totally smashed from today’s training at the Lake. Gonna check in to Evolved tomorrow for a tempo run. Just to learn and understand my body more. To make do with what I have left and to start improving from there again.
Just to share something I learnt from training this arvo. We often set boarders for ourselves because it we think that it keeps us “safe”, so that we will not be too smashed. We set a running distance or a running pace in our minds even before we attempt to do our very best. I am currently trying to clear all the “limtations”, “pace”, “restrictions” out of the window and just focus on something really simple. 
Just got to be better than yesterday’s me. Concentrate on being BETTER.

Ending off with my favourite phrase…

Nil Sine Labore

another look at the space machine

High tech treadmill yo

Perth Marathon 2014

This is one run that I wanted to do real badly yet this is the one run that I had actually feared.
I have always believed that the marathon is an honest race, you get what you sow. Having only my longest run post injury (21km half marathon) 2 weeks prior, I know I will be battling myself on this day.

I have been taping myself up with RockTape leading up to the race. Many might argue that these “colored tapes” are nothing but placebo. My take, try it to believe it. I was introduced to this particular taping technique “spiral” on my leg as it was previously shown to help kids with cerebal palsy. I gave it a try and found that it helped me alot. Now that I am all taped up, I am ready for the run.

Did some spiral taping on my left leg to prevent the spasms from kicking in. Believe it or not, this works for me.

Using the “spider” technique to recover from the bruise I had a couple of weeks back. Should have done this earlier =x

Before I knew it, the race flagged off and away everyone went. I had a plan this time round. 3 min of running, 2 min of walking and I was seriously determined to stick by it this time round. My girlfriend was my “support team” for the day and it was her very first marathon. She took the exact same footsteps as I did. No 10km race, no 21km race, went straight for gold. Doing a full marathon (42.195km) as her first ever race. Mad, you must be thinking. Daring is what I call it. ha.

All smiles. Because it is finally marathon time again =) 
photo:proflanders

Whenever I walked, people started passing me and no matter how fast I went during the 3 min run, I fell to the back of the pack and I literally meant the back. Last 10 runners maybe? Probably. I started to feel pressured as I had never been so far back ever before and it was probably just 5 km into the race. I felt so stressed that I might be lapped by everyone when they turn around for their 2nd lap. I had no choice but to be discipline and to carry on with my strategy and hope that there are just lots of people who are bad at pacing. Afterall, this is a marathon, its about pacing and knowing yourself. So I told myself to hang on and hope that things will get better in a bit.

As the run continued, I caught a handful of people and I didnt feel that much of a pressure. At about 12ish km, I saw my coach running past me (he started 30mins later) and that actually made me really happy and I told myself to dig deeper and follow through with my plan. Came through the 21km mark at 2:38:40 feeling really fresh and all ready for another 21km. My sessions at Evolved, on the anti-gravity treadmill must have paid off.

Somewhere after the 24 km mark,my girlfriend turned to me.

GF: I knew that the marathon is extremely challenging but never have I expected it to be so tough. My knees are just feeling so smashed right now and my glutes and back are hurting so much. You would have finished this marathon long ago by now if not for this injury right?

I nodded. Smiled a little.
A part of me died when she told me that. What she might not know was the tears behind my Oakleys. I tried to put on a brave front, looked away and I kept going.

The marathon has been such a special race to me. It was the race that suited me the most. A race about consistent hard work, the determination, discipline to push through training daily and most importantly, to have the hunger for the love of pain. I love the pain it gives. I enjoy it so damn much because I know the more pain I feel, the more pain my competitors are feeling too. It all boils down to who has the capacity to tank this all down and to fight through it. I LOVE THIS. At this present moment, not only am I not able to compete, I have lost the ability to run at an intensity that made me felt like my lunges are bursting. If not for this injury.. If not for it, I will probably be doing a sub2:50 at this very same race.

GF: How do you even race through all this pain? This is … 

Me: By doing 30km on every Sunday before attending Church.

Her jaw dropped.

Me: Yeah. And I had to do the first 25km within 2 hours because that what my coach told me to. I will then finish the last 5km with some hills at King’s Park.

My girlfriend went silent for a good few seconds.

GF: no, seriously… … you are crazy.

I started to feel even worse about my situation. All the hard work.. all the time I spent pounding my body.. the way I have devoted the last 4 years into running.. all gone because of a bike accident. I felt really shitty at this point in time.

Thankfully, I woke up my freaking idea.
If I had not taken up marathon running, I might not have had the will power and determination to come back from such a severe freak accident. It is a miracle how I can regain the ability to walk, let alone started running. The marathoner in me never stopped “running” even when I was paralysed. The love for pain and challenges made me pull through all the therapies and the competitor in me has yet to give up hope on racing. I want to do it again. I want to do another PR. I wanna smash my own marathon timing. I will make it happen. Even if it takes me years. I want to make it happen. I will make sure it happens back in Japan where everything started.

I completed the marathon later feeling surprising good about the situation. 42km worth of talking to myself, talking to God, searching deep within myself to make peace with myself and cried a couple of times during the run (good thing I had my big sunnies). The things a marathon does to one’s life. *grin

Post race, I did some recovery taping for my girlfriend and I had lots to think about. Now that I had covered the full marathon, my mind was already thinking of ways for me to get back, to be better, faster, stronger. Mixing and matching all the possibilities of everything I can think of. All the different workouts and drills that I will have to do.
Gotta keep this going. Can’t wait to run till my lunges burst, to feel the lactic burn before throwing up. I remember promising myself that IF one day, i ever get to run again, I will give my all, no holding back. No more hiding from the dreadful lactic workouts. I will enjoy it.

Looks like Avatar. heehee

Recovery taping! Pretty nicely done by me eh? *proud*

Trying to go for a good 10km race soon. Gonna challenge myself by stating the standard now.
sub 50 min for 10 km by the end of this year.

Nil Sine Labore
The only person that can give up on me.. is me. And I will never give up.

For sure I enjoyed my run. Hope it feels like flying soon.

Sundown Marathon (half marathon) 2014

I was back in Singapore to do the Sundown Marathon 2014 2 weeks back and it has been quite an experience.

Was really honored to have the opportunity to be one of the ambassadors for the race and I had a couple of opportunities to talk to the press to share with others my unique story.

I was really nervous and excited about the run. Im excited because I am back at Sundown Marathon, officially taking my first step back into running and I am really nervous because I do know how brutal the distance can be. I have always told others why I love marathons and it is because it is the most “honest” race. How much hard work and how well one is prepared for the race is almost certainly to show on race day itself. There will be no “miracles”, no excuses, no gimmicks. It all boils down to how much hardwork were put on a daily basis leading up to the race and I just love it for being so. So, a 21km (half marathon) is honestly a huge challenge for me, especially with my longest run being a 12km which resulted in me limping for 3 days after. Doctors have told me how much damage this run could cost me and how this could set me back and hinder me from improving. I was told to “know my limits” and be smart about it. Ermmm.. the problem is.. i know no “limits”. I have been told and wired to go beyond what I think I can, to continuously outdo myself, to perform one after another “limit-break” to become the best I can be. Hardwork, discipline and determination. My eventual conclusion was: whatever, lets do this run.


Before I knew it, I was at the starting line of the half marathon. This was a very familiar feeling. This adrenaline, this sense of unknown, this fear of what is about to come.. just makes me feel so alive again. I remember making a promise to myself when I was still in rehabilitation hospital that I will treasure every single moment I have while running. I will enjoy and be thankful for it because it was something that I have taken for granted. I have been chasing this “personal record” thingy that I have forgotten how fun and enjoyable it is to run, to feel the wind in my face and feel free from this social rat race we are so damn involved in. And, I told myself at the start line for the first time that “today is a good day. This is going to be a good run. Just gotta give my best”.

Priority entry to the race thanks to Hivelocity and Sundown.

I am sure people have heard about my miraculous healing and how i defied all odds to be back walk/running 7 months post to a C1 incomplete spinal injury. What no one knows were the struggles, the amount of help I have gotten during this race and the build up to it. (Of course, I did lots and lots of praying).  I had two wonderful friends who decided to do a half marathon with me as my “support team” to help motivate ma and to keep me safe during my run. What no one (except for my support team) knew was that I fell while running the day before the sundown race and I dislocated my shoulder. I got it fixed soon after the fall but i did not have much of a shoulder movement due to it. It was really painful. Shit happens. Nevertheless, I am back at the starting line, with my support team, embarking on my first step back into running. 

My awesome friends =)

Cant wait to start my run after the bag deposit!
Taking every step with you Lachy

I had a strategy going into the run. 3mins of running, 2 min of walking. I set my watch on repeated intervals and it beeped at the start of each intervals. I tried my best to follow the intervals but at times I just got too carried away and I refused to do the 2 min walking, which I eventually paid a pay for it later in the run. As I was running, mixed emotions were running through me. I knew this is a big step forward for me and I am really happy and thankful for it, but at the same time, it just feels so frustrating to see people over-taking me, seeing the 2 hour pacers run further and further away from me. Goodness, I would have never thought of doing a half marathon this way prior to the injury. I guess, life changes and it is up to me to adapt and make the best out of it. My team mate Steph once told me: Every race changes, condition changes, situation changes. But that’s what triathletes do best. We adapt.

Watching other runners go pass me as I walk.. is a bitter pill to swallow.

Yes! finally my 3 minutes to run!! Wheee..

walking my 2 min off

At certain portions of the route, there were lots of opportunities to cut corners or even run across a field (which will save about 400 m +). I was tempted to cut the corners to get a faster timing, but I thought to myself: I have never cheated on a distance before, why start now? My support team and I were probably the handful of “idiots” who followed the route strictly and run along the long windy congested roads to clock the full 21 km. Pride. That’s what it is. Pride. I did not cheat and I completed a real 21km. That’s my pride talking, right here, right now.

I started to feel the fatigue kicking in after 15km and uncontrollably, started to drag my left foot. Although I could run a little now, there are a lot of spasm going through my left body (arms, legs, back and abdominal) and these are things that I cannot control. I just have to live with it, deal with it, understand it and adapt to it. These spasms are the reasons why I have not been back riding my bike on the road. I have gotten too many falls just traveling from home to uni (1.6km) and these falls just aint pleasant. (bad for my bike too). Sundown Marathon was so kind to include the Shears Bridge this year to make a hell of a climb. THANK YOU FOR THE TOUGH COURSE. No. seriously. Thank you. I wouldnt have wanted it easy. It is because it is so damn tough, it makes the finishing more worthwhile. Maybe I should start learning to do things the simple way. Make life easier… hmmm.. NEH!

At the top of Shears Bridge! Took me freaking 20 mins to walk up.

My buddy who raced her own 21km race, did a u-turn after her race and came back to meet me 2km away from the finishing line. What a babe =) So, the 4 of us slowly, steadily ran towards the finishing line and I told them that I wanted to finish the run in style. I started to pick up speed going into the last 1 km of the run, doing this is the last stretch.

The run was seriously a struggle.

I started to lose my running rhythm.
I tried to keep my focus.
My left leg started to drag,
I used more of my right leg to carry through.
My left shoulder gave way and started to spasm,
I began to lose control of my body and I was about to fall over.
Just 20m more…
Just 10m more..
Come on!
And.. I crossed the finish line just in time before falling and having spasm kicked in all over my body.

Definitely not a nice finishing photo.

I completed the run in 2:40:21.
Just not too along ago, I would have covered 38km in the same time. How life has changed for me as a runner.

One day, I hope to start a race at the front of a pack again, focused, to run a best race of my life.

Will be doing the Perth Marathon this coming weekend. Hopefully I will be able to complete it. Just gotta get a bench mark and start improving from there. Nil Sine Labore.

Channel News Asia Interview

Just thought I might share some of the questions and answers that were not aired on the tv. =)
1)      Was the decision to get back to running after your accident a tough one and did you get any support?
I don’t think it was a tough decision. As a matter of fact, it was a natural decision for me. On the day I did my first walk and was told that the session had ended, I told my physio that I wanted to go for another walk because these are my first steps back into running. Running is my motivation to go through all the gruelling  rehabilitations.
The impression I got was that all my friends, team mates,coach and family members wasn’t against me attempting to run again. However, they were not totally supportive at the beginning probably because they didn’t want to give me false hope. I guess the most important thing was that I did not give up on myself. I kept faith. So when I became better and all, I could sense the support was no longer a “show” but it became genuine. The first people who showed that to me were my girlfriend, my uwa tri team mates and my coach. 

2)      Was it difficult to make a comeback despite the fact that you had competed in the Kobe Marathon?
It sure is a difficult process. It was even tougher knowing that I was actually training well for Gold coast 2014. At times I feel blessed to be able to run again, at times I feel so disappointed having lost all I once had. I had to acknowledge the fact that currently I am not able to run a sub 3 hour marathon and I had to be at peace with the situation. I try to use the Kobe experience as a goal for me to work towards. I often visualise myself running on the race course, trying to beat my personal best and to feel the adrenaline of racing again. In fact, I have told my Japanese friends that one day, hopefully soon, I will be back racing in Kobe. So at this point of time, I would not consider this a comeback yet. The best is yet to be.

3)      Is the training and competition part of your therapy?
Well, some of the medical staff told me how “unrealistic” my goals were and that I should be contented with being able to walk. So training and competition were not part of the hospital’s therapy session. But i refused to agree. So my answer would be “Yes!” training and competition are part of my therapy.
Because I am an exercise physiologist, my physio and myself have great mutual respect for each other. She allowed me to plan my cycling workout during rehab and I take every one of these sessions seriously. I work as hard during my rehab as I would be while competing.  I would often cycle till I wet the bike, doing extra sessions on the bike. I even blacked out a couple of times from pushing my body to its limit. I always competed against the “yesterday me”, making sure I gave my all every single session. I hold on 3 phrases everyday when I do my rehab: 
1)”Always challenge yourself” – Grant Landers
2) “My race begins during my training” – Zac Leow
3) Nil Sine Labore (nothing without labour) – Victoria School

4)      Besides proving your doctors wrong, do you think you will inspire others like yourself to take on such a challenge?
I guess I have not considered myself as an inspiration. I think I represent that little bit of resentment in every patient, the bit that wants to tell the doctor that “hey. I can do better than what you think”.  Every patient has their own challenges and in fact everyday is a different challenge. I remembered the days when standing up to use the toilet felt like the biggest challenge of my life! I guess when hardwork meets opportunity, great things do happen.  If you don’t try, you will never know if today is your lucky day. So i hope others will give it a shot at overcoming their challenges. Nothing to lose, but everything to gain. 


In the video, it says:
28-year old Zac Leow is another inspirational runner who hopes to beat the odds. The avid runner was partially paralysed from a spinal injury due to a cycling accident in 2013.
Doctors said he will never walk again, but Zac is not accepting that as he tries to complete the half-marathon.
He said: “It is more of a process. To me, the whole idea is to get back to where I was before I got into my accident and in fact. I want to better myself.”
I wish to make some amendments to the report. Doctors told me i will not be able to run, let alone race. They did say that I was able to walk. This is the least I could do to deliver some justification to the medical team back in Perth. 

I would also take this opportunity to thank my family, girlfriend, unihall mates, UWA staff and friends, UWATRI team mates and coach, singapore friends, especially my VS bros and my band mates, Asics Japan and Hivelocity for their continued support through this tough period. and you know how i will end this post don’t you?

my determination has no equal.
Nil Sine Labore.
Zac

My first walk

Was having this conversation with Shina and we started talking about the videos and pictures of me during my injury/recovery phase. So we took out our phones and started comparing the files that we had and guess what, I discovered pictures and videos of myself that I have never seen before!

So this is a video of me taking my 1st walk ever since the accident. Literally my first walk.
Its funny how I don’t really recall this. Judging from my expression, I could tell that it was hard work and I must have been focusing real hard. Maybe my brain was still in the “shut-down” mode or maybe the brain just wants to “block out” this part of the memory. I am not too sure, but I am sure happy to find this video.

Looking back, I wished I had taken more photos and videos of myself during this journey. It would have been such a great story to share with my kids or even with anyone else. I even remember my first ever photo was taken by Jason and he was scolded by others because this was some kinda bad omen. At that point in time when the photo was taken, I was 99.9% paralysed, with only the slightest of movement coming from my right thumb. I remember Jason telling off the others and said “Come on man. This picture is gonna be great one day. Zac will be able to tell everyone of his amazing recovery and how he makes his brilliant come back. We should take more photos!”
Such positive and encouraging words. Jason Tex Ah Soon, Thanks for your faith, belief and love. Indeed, this is one great story. It would have been better if I make a full recovery. So, I shall continue to work my ass off, to ensure I have the best possible ending. The cherry to top of this story eh.

Loving the “one tough cookie” bit. Thanks Tex

Its really good that I have been able to keep track of my progress. Makes me appreciate how much I have gone through and probably I dont have to be so hard on myself all the time.

On hindsight, having the ability to go some like jogging is really a blessing now and I thank God for my second chance.

 
BTW. I have a secret adventure coming soon.
Its gonna be legend-wait-for-it-dary! =)
Stay tune to this space. I am gonna surprise everyone. Hopefully even myself. haha!
Nil Sine Labore
Zac 

Shocking announcement of my injury

So here I am back in this familiar place, to do all these familiar test on my left hand.
Something was different today, I could tell before I had a chance to speak to my OT.

“Today is the day you will be discharged from OT till you get the next bout of botox.”

Good news! This meant that I have officially graduated from the system, so-called there was nothing more the OTs could have done for me. At the same time, I felt a little sad. I knew that there were still alot of work needed for my left hand and arm. I am still far off from where I once was. So does this meant that the OTs think that this is  the end of the journey for me? I don’t know. I try not to think too deep into this and probably just have to keep my head down and work hard (once again) and hope for the best. fingers crossed*

My OT then recapped my whole injury journey with an intern and it made me realised how long and cruel this journey had been.
On day one, i couldnt use my left hand and legs.
Some days later I managed to stand, then transfer myself from bed to chair/wheelchair, and bit by bit, my right hand got stronger, till finally, one day when my left hand decided to wake up and we could actually do some quantitative test for my left hand. I sure love quantitative tests, part and parcel of being a scientist i guess, totally sucked in by numbers. Hey. Numbers don’t lie. That is the beauty of things. Then came the shocking news.

OT: So, Zac, you are actually an official C1 incomplete spinal patient.

Me: Huh? What? I thought I was a C4 incomplete.

OT: Nope. You had a C4 fracture but you are really a C1 incomplete. This is how we term things. The lowest vertebrae that is unaffected by the injury will be reflected. Because you have deficits starting from your C2, you are then termed as a C1 incomplete.

My jaw dropped. Never did I know it was THAT serious.

OT: So, do you know what are the implications if Zac’s C1 would have been affected?

Intern: Zac would have only been able to move his head after the fall?

OT: Nope.  He would have died.

I felt cold from within, all over again.

OT: C1 controls the respiratory system. So, if it was damaged, Zac’s respiratory system would have stopped functioning and unless someone were to perform CPR on him immediately, his journey would have ended there.

I felt so thankful to be in the position I am in now. To be able to live. To be able to be given a second chance at life. Literally, a second life.

Intern: My goodness. You must be really lucky Zac. How many years ago did this accident happen?

Me: 6 months ago. Almost exactly 6 months ago.

The intern was shocked. I can see it in his eyes.

OT: And I will have to be honest, Zac is a fighter. He comes in smashing the workouts daily, never giving up and till today, I have no idea why he is recovering so fast and well. Nevertheless, I am happy for him and I am sure his family is.

This OT session will be embedded in my heart. This conversation has reminded me of this near-death accident I had. Often I hear people saying “If i were to be paralyzed, I would rather die”. Let me tell you know that is a lot of bull. I would rather be paralyzed than to die. I am really thankful.

After all the rehabilitation, I could not help but ask myself “what if”. I could not help but think about the accident. I could not help but think how badly things could have gotten and this, made me think about my accident very differently now. Like very differently. I know i almost died. I know i could have been paralysed for life. I just did not know I was this close. I would say a differences of 1 mm would have been the end of chapter on earth.

SO, me being me, I just had to drive by the accident site again.
“FACE IT HEAD ON” I hear it screaming in my head.
I stopped the car, took a real good look. Let the memory replay the accident in my head.
I took my time to ensure I was able to walk away from here knowing that I am undefeated. I know that I have to be at peace with the situation, with myself.
I embraced the crash. the pain, the helpless and the near-death. I think I did.
I was ready to go.

I got into my car, and unknowingly, I drove myself to McGilivary, the place where I was heading towards when I had my crash.

The view that greeted me at McGilivary. “Come get me” it says.

The sky looks so clear. The grass felt soft. How I missed the 400 m track.
I had just finished a big rehabilitation session with the physios and I had just done a 30km time-trial yesterday. I should have known better than to start running. As everyone would have known by now, I couldnt care less.

Off came my jumper and I started running. This familiar place, this wonderful place where I had so many wonderful memories together with Grant, Gab, Alex and James. As i was running, I recalled the first session I had with Grant. I could remember the exact workout that was done that night and unfortunately how I was dropped by everyone. When I came back on the 100 m bend, I remembered how Gab, Stuart and I used to do the intervals during the winter with them doing 1000 m and me doing 900 m. This very line on lane 8 was where I stopped while I watch Gab fly off to complete his 1000 m. I even remembered Gab grumbling saying “why does Zac have it easy? its 100 m shorter than me”.

The ending of my first ever 900 m repeats.

As I took my rest between the 400 m, I could “hear” Grant telling me how I should have as little rest as possible between the repeats because I need to learn to function with all these lactic in me. I took off and gone for another 4 sets before I threw up. Amazingly, I threw up at the exact same spot as I did on my first training with Grant. I smiled to myself.

It feels bloody good to be alive. 

Never felt so happy to be throwing up. 


Today was the first time I actually ran with ease. I could actually think of all these while I am running. I felt free for the brief moment. As i ran my last 800 m, I prayed and gave thanks to God. Thank you for keeping me a little longer.

Hopefully I will be able to build up more sets and speed in time to come.
Hope to be back training, throwing up, building all the lactic in me.
I am not going to back off. Life is too short.
I will join you on the 1000 m repeat again Gab. No short cuts this time round.

I will be back.

prepared and written by Zac Leow

Discharged and its new challenges

My daily breakfast at 6am. Good spread of meds
Come 3rd weekend leave, I was given “homework”. My OT has requested for me to cook my parents a meal. Well, my parents had never eaten a meal prepared by me and that is because I didn’t know how to cook when I was back in Singapore. Let’s just say they were probably afraid of being poisoned by me. Convincing my parents that the meal was edible and nice was the least of my concern. Preparing the meal, in a wheelchair, would have the #1 challenge. Cutting and cooking the food with only my right hand was another big task (my left arm was still paralysed). Due to the muscle wastage, carrying the wok was a weight-lifting task. It was heavy, bulky, hard to manoeuvre and I dropped food all over the table. At the end of it, I managed to produce a couple of Asian dishes for the family. I even taught Shina how to cook something simple. No burning of food or my body. No cutting of my fingers. THAT’S GOOD NEWS. Like real good.
My parents were pretty amazed with the meal I cooked, insisting that they would have never imagined it being so delicious. Zac 1 – Parents 0. 
 
Lucky for me, the height was alright. Still, it is really different
The food which surprised my parents

Finally came the long awaited day of me getting discharged from the rehabilitation hospital. Its been a day I have looking forward to. Not only was it because I was getting really bored back at the hospital but also for the fact that being discharged meant that I have moved on to the next stage of rehabilitation: to be put back into the real world.
There was also something else that I have been looking forward to: to put my helmet back at the crash site. On the day I was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital (ironically, it is located within 400m from my crash site), I knew I would be able to be discharged one day. What I did not know was if I were to be leaving this place in a wheelchair or on my feet. Nevertheless, me being me, I told myself that I will be walking out of this place, with my own feet and I will, go to the crash site and place my helmet there. I want to have the courage to see that exact drain, to walk down that exact path and put that helmet there. Because, I am UNDEFEATED. I wanted to close this chapter in my life, in decisive head-on rock and roll style (looking back, this is so damn me). And so, that’s what I did. I walked down the crash site, cold chills running down my spine, slowly but surely, I wanted to absorb this moment, to remind myself I am undefeated and I will continue to fight hard, to recover and to live my life to the fullest. I told myself “one day, I will ride down this exact same road towards McGilivary and I will then go and do the next race. It is not over yet.”
 
My physio room, the place where I worked hard, day in day out.

Torture chamber that comes by the name of OT

Didnt get discharged with a good score. But to the nursing staff, probably one of the best they have ever seen.

 
all packed and ready to leave.. with my wheelchair. I insisted on walking out of the hospital regardless how long it may take me.

Closing the chapter.

Upon discharged, I was put onto the Rehab In The Home (RITH) program where the OT and PT would visit me a couple of times a week to have rehab with me. I was really looking forward to RITH as I have heard so much about it and how challenging the sessions were. I am always looking forward challenges in rehab. If it doesn’t challenge me, its not helping me. “always challenge yourself”- Prof Landers.
So came the day when I first met my PT. WE did a couple of assessments and we did some exercises before me mentioning to her that I had gym access to the school’s gym across the road. She then decided to have a final exercise with me and that was for us to walk to the gym to see if it was “safe” for me and also assess my fatigue level walking from my room to the gym. Away we walked, walking side by side.
Me: What do you think is the best for me? To increase the distance or to concentrate on my walking gait?

PT: So what are your aims?

Me: I want to recover and run marathons again. In fact, I hope to compete again.

PT: Compete in a marathon?

Me: Yap. I was training really hard before this happened. So I want to work really hard to get back to where I left off.

PT: Zac, you have to be realistic. 42km is a long distance. You might not ever complete it again. Even if you do, you will most probably be struggling. So it might be best for you to realise the reality of things and give up on competing. Maybe completing the marathon will be a good goal to have a couple of years down the road.
I froze. Looked at her and was really saddened.

PT: Just look at you walking from the room to this underpass, you have been limping, struggling to walk, its really not that likely that you will ever compete again. Allow me to be honest to you, you might not walk like a normal person ever again. You will always walk with a limp. So going back to your question, you should just go as far as you can and as you want because I doubt you will get a good walking gait pattern again.
For the first time, I teared. Even now as I type, I can feel the pain, the disappointment and the emptiness in my heart. And she didn’t end there.
PT: We are only half way to the gym and you are already panting and the legs are cramping up. There is no point in working out in the gym. Walking to the gym will probably be more than a workout you can handle. I hope you understand where I am coming from. You should really re-consider your aims and be realistic.
Ouch.
The goal that had kept me going all these while was vanishing right before my eyes. The goal that had made me worked my ass off, performing “miracles” week after week. Is this the end of the journey for me? Is this the truth that I will have bear and to live with, for the rest of my life?
..
I know life isn’t fair. But this is.. really too hard for me to swallow.
It took me a couple of days to allow the feelings to sink in. Luckily I always liked to prove others wrong. Luckily I have such a big ass ego. Luckily I don’t know how to spell “gife up” (see. I cant spell it).
One night, while I was crying myself in bed, the inner demon within woke up.
“STUPID PT. WHO IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?! I HAVE PROVEN THE DOCTORS BACK AT SHENTON WRONG TIME AND TIME AGAIN, I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG.
So what if you are an expert and have years of experience?
You have not met Zac before.
I am meant to achieve what others can’t. Just because others can’t make it happen, doesn’t mean I can’t. DO NOT GENERALISE ME.
I will defy all odds. I will make it happen. Because I can.
I will make you eat your words. I will make sure I am an outlier in your many years of being an “expert”. I will make sure I will walk properly, start running and do a marathon and send you my freaking timing sheet.
You dare to make such a statement about me on our first visit? Seriously?
My school has taught me never to give up. Nil Sine Labore. Nothing without labour. Hard work triumphs all. I WILL BE BACK.
You know what? MY DETERMINATION HAS NO EQUAL.
Even if I were to crawl across the line, I WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. I will do a marathon this year. 2014. I will do it.
I will make you eat your words.
ROCK AND ROLL IS NOT DEAD.”
Ps. Lots and lots of censorship were made. Probably at least once between each sentence.
On Christmas eve, I gave myself the best present ever. On the day of my accident, I set off from my office at Sport Science, towards McGilivary. So I decided to walk myself back to Sports Science. I left after dinner, telling my parents that I am going for a stroll.

1 hour later, I finally reached sports science. Just 2 days ago I was told I couldn’t walk normally. Just 2 days ago, I couldn’t even walk 500m. Today, I managed to walk to Sports Science (~1.6km) and I am going to walk back. This was probably the hardest and longest “endurance exercise” I have done since my accident. To think I was doing 28km within 2 hours just 2 months ago and here I was doing 3.2km in 2 hours. How sudden life changes. Its ok. I was feeling fired up. I had taken my first step. I am going to make this happen.
This will not be the last of me.
Off to my secret training on Christmas eve 2013
The reward? The nice welcome sign I first saw when i came to UWA. I made it back on my own, walking.

My Beloved King’s Park

King’s Park (KP) has always been special to me. KP was also where I had my first unofficial race (I crashed a 10km race with no number tag) and also my first official race (city to surf) gave me a good 10km of KP. KP was a challenge. I ran everyday to overcome it. But, most of the time, KP wins. And that’s the beauty of it.
Before I came to Perth, I have heard so much of KP, what nice view it offers and also how hilly it gets, making it a perfect training location for my marathon training. Living right in front of KP has been a blessing to me. Waking up in the morning, to enjoy the fresh air, nice view, good hills has become something I really enjoy doing.
So on my 2ndweekend leave, I told my sister that I want to go to KP. I wanted to have a bird’s eye view of the city once more. I wanted to feel the strong wind during the long winding road. My sister agreed and she drove me up after my acupuncture in the morning.
Now that I am in KP, I wanted to be out of my wheelchair. I wanted to stand with my own feet. I wanted to walk around this place independently. Thinking back, whenever I ran KP, I felt that I was racing against myself and often I will aim to overtake whoever is in front of me. I had never truly slowed down to have a good look at the scenery it provides. This time, I was able to enjoy KP to its fullest. Strolling (or rather walking as fast as I can), looking at the sun set and also to sit along the park is an amazing experience for me. I cant believe how much I have been missing out. It is indeed true that sometimes we really need to slow down to fully enjoy whatever we are presented with. Life in the fast lane really isn’t that amazing afterall.
I want to run along KP again. Looking at all the people running in KP, makes me so sad. Not too long ago, I was doing my long runs here, on this exact same footpath. Not too long ago, I was actually feeling awesome, blazing through this exact ground, knowing that come June I will be a PR in Goldcoast. Now, it all seems like a dream.. a dream that will never come true. There was so much mixed emotions as I stood there.
I wonder who could ever understand what im going through.
I wonder what else I could have done to improve.
I wonder if I could ever start running again..
I wonder..
All these thoughts go through my head at least once a day and it is a mental torture and mental battle which others do not see.
Whenever someone tells me that I will recover, my brain subconsciously tells me “yap thanks. You are just being nice. How I wish it is true”
When someone tells me “You have improved so much”, my brain tells me “ya. But look how far I am away from being back to where I was”.
When someone tells me “You will be about 90% of who you were, its good news!” my brain says “90% is not good enough”.
When someone tells me “you will not be normal again” or “you will not be able to run again” i will naturally be cursing at you.
So how, regardless of what others say, it just doesn’t make anything better. Not even 1%. It is MY fault that I feel this way. I know it. But. I cant help it. Till today, I battle with this.
As I am typing this entry now, I once again ask myself when will I be able to compete again.

Will I be able to qualify for Boston again? Will I ever do a sub-three again? When will all this happen?

There are so much doubts, so much questions and so much hardships. Nobody said recovery is gonna be easy, but no one will be able to understand how hard it is, unless, you are going through it.
Good days, bad days.
Happy moments, sad thought.
Being happy for others while being jealous and envious.
All these can happen within 10 seconds of my life now. Talk about mood swings. Sheesh.
Dear King’s Park. I will be back.
To enjoy the fantastic view you offer.
To take up the challenge your hills provide.
And one day. Hopefully, I will be able to defeat you.
Till we meet again.
I will not give up.

Nil Sine Labore

 

Lets go Church.. and then to King’s Park!

Happy just to be back, standing here, enjoying the wind.

prepared and written by Zac Leow

Back in Rehab hospital. again.

“Our brain requires glucose function.” Pretty sure everyone came across this. I personally experienced how important glucose (sugar) is to my brain and bodily function during OT.

Every now and then, my OT would challenge me with some tasks that were a little different, a little more challenging. Most of these challenging task would result in me almost fainting or having lost (whatever’s left) my body movements. I would often turn pale, head would start to spin and I would just become sleepy. I would want to ignore everyone, I would want to stop whatever I am doing and I just wanted to sleep. Th therapist would often have to remind me to provide them with verbal feedback “Zac, speak to me. everything ok mate? speak to me”. It kinda made me step out of the sleepy zone just by answering them. This is pretty dangerous for someone who is on a wheelchair and even more so, for that person to be unable to use the arms properly. I have never liked sweets or chocolates (probably due to the athlete’s diet) and surprisingly, I have been really dependent on them to get me through all these rough days and hard task. So, apparently, focusing really hard on a task requires a lot of glucose. So when I am focused, trying my absolute best to complete a task, I run low on glucose and results in giddy spells. Yes. All these occurred because I was trying to move my fingers 10 times. Valsa maneuver included. 

Thanks Phil and Grace for your wonderful sweets which got me through every single giddy spells. Thanks Zi for the top up of sweets from your secret stash.
 
Magic bouquet of energy supply! <3 nbsp="" td="">

Daily snack from the hospital. Biscuits, crackers and cheese. Emergency energy supply.


First Goal Setting
After my return from my first weekend leave, I had a meeting with the medical team. We sat down and we came up with my first goal setting. Well, I have done numerous goal setting sessions for myself as an athlete and also as a coach for my team. So this was no stranger to me. What was unique to this session, were the goals. In order to have a realistic yet challenging goal, one has to let go of all ego, pride, self-worth, self-pity, self-denial and admit to the world what an individual is incapable of doing. There was no hiding. Lucky for me, these were long thrown out of the window because I came to peace with my situation pretty quickly (although my psychologist believes it was all a façade). This goal setting session was just a written goal for everyone to know. I have been setting my own goals ever since I was admitted into Shenton Rehab and it sure felt good to be smashing them week after week but its time I get everyone to be on the same page as me.
I wrote:
  • To be able to pick up a 1/4 full cup and bring it to mouth using left hand
  • To use (L) hand when typing on computer
  • To use (L) to complete grooming task including: washing, drying and brushing hair
  • To be able to walk 200m with no hands-on assitance
  • To be able to cycle on the upright bike for 20mins on L4 resistance
sounds simple? yes.
was it easy? nope

I was determined to make it happen.
I know I can achieve them if I try hard.
Perth has taught me to: BELIEVE in MYSELF and be RESPONSIBLE.

I used to work really hard (that’s a given), but I would find excuses whenever I fall short, telling myself its not my fault, its because of weather, marathoners are bad at lactic workouts, the hills on course, my shoes, because I am not Japanese blah blah blah.. loads of BS. 
Coming to Perth, seeing how hard my team mates work, seeing how fast a 15 year old girl can run, seeing with my eyes how I would get smacked by them on a daily basis has given me the belief that if I believe, I would be as good as I wanted myself to be. I had to believe in the program my coach had provided. I had to believe that good things will happen when hardwork pays off.
I started to believe in my capabilities more and I started to improve and I was getting better till this accident happened.

NO MORE EXCUSES.
BELIEVE.
Everything is possible for he who believes.
BELIEVE.
Be focused, work my ass off and believe in myself.
I am who I am.
Be responsible for my own actions.
It starts NOW.
Nil Sine Labore
I have been kept alive on this Earth, surely, I was not meant to be just another furniture. 
I will make the most out of whatever I have left. 
Make the best of myself and believe that I can do it. 
No time to lose, let’s go! 
Screw the doctor who told me I won’t be able to run, lousy diagnosis. 
I will do my next marathon by the end of 2014. 
My determination has no equal.
The end of the week came, let’s just say it is not a fairy tale ending for my goal setting. I achieved some, I missed some. Most importantly, I achieved everything that was strength based or speed based. It is important not because I am a muscle head, but rather it meant that I did everything I could, physically, to achieve it. Neurological changes, spasm, movement of my severely impaired left side were a little out of control for me. So, it’s alright. I will try again next week. No regrets.
Just got to keep going.
The world doesnt change because I am a spinal patient. yeap. It sure doesnt change.

Visit from Joel and Stephen
Visits were exciting. They were something different which made the mundane rehabilitation life that bit more exciting even if it is just for an hour or so. One morning, when I was having my horrible breakfast, I was told that I had visitors.
Who would come so early in the morning? Hmmm..
My church mates from Singapore came! It’s so nice of them to fly in to visit me and to bring cards and gifts from the others back in Singapore =) So much love. 
It has definitely renewed my strength and reminded myself that I am not alone in this.

Well, I live to fight another day.
Money is not important when you are bed ridden.
Branded stuff aint too.
Family and friends are my new found strength through tough times.
Not forgetting, having more faith in my Lord
They sure were stoked to see me standing up for this photo. I sure am glad I was able to stand =)

My new ward mate =)

prepared and written by Zac Leow

First Weekend Leave

My First Weekend Leave
Days were getting really boring at Shenton Rehab especially over the weekend because they were my rest days, there were no OT or PT sessions. Although there were no official rehabs, I did my own “secret training” and tried to surprise my therapist come every Monday. What drove me to do all these were simply the thoughts of joining my team mates in training again.
I want to do weights with Steph and Stuart on Muscle Mondays.
I want to run again with Gab, Alex, Tom and James on Intervals Tuesdays.
I want to start swimming with the team soon on Swimming Wednesdays.
I want to do the wind trainers on Spinning Thursdays.
I want to more lactic sessions with Grant on Fridays.
I want to more 5km TT with James and Charles.
I want to ride with Phil, James and gang on our Social-Ride Sundays.
I want to race again.
For one more time. To beat myself. Once more.
These thoughts kept going through my head as I lie in my bed, attempting to do glutes bridges, glutes clams and planks. Nurses often come back my bed and tell me to rest.
Nurse: Zac. Rest your body. This is weekend. Enjoy it.
Zac: This is how I enjoy my weekend =) I have no time to lose. There is no rest day in training.
Nurse: Still.. you need to rest.
Zac: ok. I will rest when im done with my workout. My team mates did these this week. I will finish these too.
Some nurses shook their heads, some encouraged me and most, just think im a nut case. When the physios told me to do 10, I would do 20. When the physio told me to cycle for 20min, I would do 25min. I always did more than what was expected. why? Because I believe in myself. I believe that I do not fall within the usual stereotype. I believe if I push myself hard enough, miracles will happen. So if that makes me a nut case, so be it. I will be happy being one.
There came this special day when my therapists were really impressed with my progress and they had a meeting which led to a new turn of events for me: maybe it is time to let Zac back into the real world.
When I heard of it, I was really happy. But this obviously came with a slight challenge (I found out later that this condition never exist. The therapists just wanted to have some fun with me). My PT told me: if you can get your left hand to move, we might consider letting you out on a weekend.
My left hand has been asleep since my accident. I have been trying. Just that there were no visible improvements.  I told myself that this is “game time” and I really really need to make this happen. I focused on my left hand and practiced really hard (it is really hard to do an exercise when from the exterior point of view, there is zero movement. I was literally sweating just trying to get my fingers to move a little). I guess I really respond well under pressure and challenges. I managed to wriggle my left fingers a couple of days later and was granted my weekend leave.
One of the first movements i got for my left hand. Hope you are able to see it move. It sure was damn exciting for my family and myself.
Before I was introduced back into the “real world” i had to be introduced to new “workouts” such as: learning to sit on the floor, standing from floor, getting in and out of the car. All these me a couple of days to learn it. I had to learn to use my good foot to pivot myself on the ground, use my good hand to push my body off, wait for body to be centered and then grab onto something stable with my right hand and then push off with my good foot while pulling hard with my good arm. These were things that “normal” people would do without thinking but it sure was hard work for me. Getting the correct coordination is a challenge on its own, let alone mention the fact that i need to harness the strength to propel my body off the ground. I had to stay positive and remind myself of the rainbow after the rain: my first weekend leave. It is such a huge motivation. 
Saturday came and it is now my weekend leave (well technically it was just a day leave). I had been locked up in the hospital compound for about a month now and it was the very first time I saw cars, bus, traffic lights and lots and lots of people. It was.. different. The view from the wheelchair was different. Everything seems so familiar but yet foreign to me. Nevertheless, I am greatful just to be out. No time to ponder about these useless theories. Gotta enjoy myself.
I had made arrangement with an alternative treatment with an acupuncturist (Well, considering the fact that I am Asian, I was no stranger to this). Getting in and out of the car was different. It was physically challenging. However, what was the toughest, was to watch my sister and girlfriend having to struggle to carry the wheelchair out of the car, assemble it and help transfer me onto it. It doesnt end there. They have to wheel me along the footpaths, across the roads to the medical hall. I used to be the one doing heavy lifting. Now, i am depending on two girls to do it for me. I am not being sexist here. It just simply broke my heart to see them go through all these trouble to bring me out. Deep down, I felt really bad. I felt useless. I felt broken. I have to recover soon because I dont want to be a burden to others. But for now, all ego, all pride has to go out of the window because I need help. I need help to get better. I need help to recover, to be less of a burden. I will return these favors one day. But for now, I will have to be dependent.
I think what people often forget is that disabled people have pride too. We dont feel good having to ask for something. If we are abled, we wouldnt have asked. How we wish we were the one who is offering help to others. My church mentor always tells me: It is a blessing to be able to provide for others. Regardless what it is. Financially or through physical labor. I never fully understood this till now. 
People, dont be shy to offer assistance to the disabled. You have no idea how happy i get when the bus driver waits for me, how much hope I see in man kind when they allow me to board the bus first. Simple things like this meant the world to a disabled person.
Crossing the road used to be easy, it aint anymore. Especially when I am on the wheelchair, having the same height as the front of the car. It seems like the car was about to crash straight into me. It was one of the times when i realised all the uphills/bumpy roads we have here in Perth. Life on the wheelchair is different. It is scary. Going back my apartment in my wheelchair is really different and difficult. Reaching for the sink is hard. Going to the toilet and into the rooms through the standardize door requires pin-point accuracy from the person wheeling me. Life is different. Life is .. different.
Thanks to my sister and shina, i was able to get the the medical hall safely. I received treatment from the acupuncturist and was asked what I would like to have for lunch. I told them I would like to have a MacDonald’s meal and both my sister and shina were shocked. Mr no-fastfood has requested for the most unhealthy food choice ever. 
hey. you cant blame me ok? Need some happy food yo.
So, off to MacDonald’s we went.
THIS IS THE BEST MACDONALD’S IN MY LIFE. BEST. There wont be another time close to this. I ate shit loads of unhealthy food and topped off with a dessert (well, i felt super guilty after that and went for a 40min bike ride on Monday to rectify my wrong doings). I was so excited about the meal that I actually managed to use my left hand to grab the McFlurry. Yes. This was the first time I used my left hand for something useful post-accident. MacDonald’s was that exciting.
I did receive my fair share of stares when I enter in the wheelchair. Guess I just wasnt bothered or rather I have resigned to fate to being “special”. I went about doing my own business, eating awesome non-hospital food. I didnt blame any of those people. I knew they were just curious, they aint looking down on me. It takes a positive mindset to see things this way. Hopefully all my mates back at Shenton will be able to understand this one day. 
I was really tired for the rest of the day but i refused to take a nap back home. I knew i could sleep as much as I want on Sunday. For now, time is really precious. Let’s stay awake, stay out and do something. Good times fly by quickly and before i knew it, I was well on my way back to Shenton. I had these same feelings when i was in the army and every weekend when I was returning to camp sucked. It’s like army all over again. Grrrr…
Hopefully I will get to stay out again next weekend.
Hopefully I will be able to get out without the wheelchair soon.
Hopefully I will never have to return back to the hospital.
Hopefully.
I can only pray and hope now.
I always wanted to sit on a wheelchair when I was younger. Now, i cant wait to get my ass outta this crap.

Needles. Needles. Painful Needles. 

The power of McDonald’s. My first use of my left hand. Aint pretty but it sure worked. They should set up one in the hospital. Think every patient would recover faster! HA! 

I was actually that happy to put in THIS into my body. Yeah. I was THAT happy.

prepared and written by Zac Leow