icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


Muscle memory

It’s Halloween and I did something that really scared me. I started working with a personal trainer. It’s been almost exactly 19 years since a car accident turned my life into a before and after. Before the accident, I cross-country skied in the winter, once shocking a New York City editor when she found out I was pregnant while on lodge-to-lodge ski trip for the magazine. The editor was “scandalized,” which made me feel brave and athletic. What I liked about cross-country skiing are the curving hills, kneeling into the descent, poles tucked behind me like retracted landing gear. I learned if you think about falling, you will fall. I got really good at not thinking about falling, so much that I trusted myself to go cross-country skiing through the hills while a couple months pregnant. I was never much of an athlete, and maybe that’s why I miss it. I haven’t been that person for a very long time.

The accident left me with permanent damage in my right wrist and arm, and a significant amount of hardware in my left thigh and ankle. I healed enough to bike, skate, and practice yoga, which for a while seemed like a pretty good comeback. I tried cross-country skiing again about ten years ago, but faced with a hill, all I could think of was falling. I saw myself in the snow, my leg broken again, the rod that runs along the femur bent and exposed. It was a fairly graphic image, and a far cry from emptying my mind of the possibility of failure. Even though my orthopedist told me long ago this was an unlikely scenario, that the rod actually added strength, that image took hold in my head.

And so I became one of those people who don’t get enough exercise. I spend too much time in my comfort zone, at the computer. Lack of circulation makes my arthritis pain worse. As the weather gets cold, I’m less likely to go for a walk or a bike ride. I can easily go for days without exercise. In fact, it’s the easiest thing in the world, if you don’t pay attention to the pain or the number creep on the scale.

Recently, for some reason, I started paying attention. I realized I need to figure out how to be more active in this body, the after-the-accident version. After almost two decades, I feel like it’s time to commit to the new-old me, even though I don’t have much confidence in my ability to be anything but a klutz with a limp and a floppy wrist.

This morning, the personal trainer took me through some strengthening and balancing moves. I was glad we were in a room where no one could see me. She started me off slowly, but it was a challenge. Without realizing it, my brain has worked out its own means of coordinating the body. The ankle with the screw in it is iffy and not to be trusted. Never lead with that foot. On the other side, the right hand will hold a weight as sportingly as the left, but constantly reminds me I’ll pay for it later with pain.

The trainer had me balance over something called a bosu ball, lift an arm and the opposite leg, and then switch to the other side. Anything that requires me to balance on my right hand and my left foot makes me nervous, but the trainer said we were building muscle memory and it would get easier. It became clear that my mind has spent years building its own type of resistance training. While I was making a conscious effort to balance and lift, I was also telling myself I couldn’t. As I lifted and switched, lifted and switched, my internal dialogue went something like this: Muscle memory. You can’t. Muscle memory. You don’t. Muscle memory. You look effing ridiculous.

And I did. But I could. I’ll try again in a couple days.
Be the first to comment