Sunday, July 1, 2018

I've Been on the Disabled List - That's Why I Haven't Been Writing

How It Happened

Just another weekend drinking
and watching the grass grow.
A numbing fire blazed within my leg as soon as my foot folded over. With all my weight shifting back to my now useless right leg, I curled my body and tucked myself into a protective roll. Tumbling in a painful heap onto the tennis court, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, the unnatural bend in my ankle. All this from mis-planting my foot while making a last second adjustment on an easy forehand.

"Here it comes." That was the last sentence I said before spraining my ankle. It wasn't directed towards myself or the ball, it was directed towards Lexi; a sort of vain attempt at predicting what I thought would be a winning shot. Misfortune seems to always wait for the height of hubris when doling out punishment.

I can't beat Lexi at tennis. Even though she no longer plays competitively, her years of focus in her "pre-Mason" life are more than enough to draw on when going up against my still developing tennis skills. But I still enjoy hitting the ball back and forth with her, like we were doing on that cool Sunday morning. It was June 10, the second Sunday in a row I had chosen to pretend to be a tennis player instead of riding my bike. I had ridden the previous two days, and after Saturday's punishing ride up Millcreek (the first 4,000’ day of the year), a mellow Sunday of tennis and brunch seemed nice.

There was another reason I wanted to get back out on the court – my serve was improving. The reason Lex and I never play a full game isn't just because I'm not good, it's because I really can't serve; that underhand "bounce and bunny hop it over the net" shit doesn't really give you much of a chance against your opponent, so mastering an overhead serve has been on my checklist since Lexi started teaching me. And thanks to her tutelage, I sensed I was getting closer to consistently serving. I still couldn't do the full wind-up, (instead just starting with the racquet in "back scratcher" position), but more and more of my serves landed in the "box" (yeah, I'm still not up on the nomenclature), I found myself getting more competitive. There's something about putting all the elements together and seeing the “shape of create” (my term for when something you are creating starts to faintly resemble what you picture in your mind) that makes me a little giddy. So it was that during a Sunday morning rally, initiated by a somewhat acceptable serve by me, my excitement grew (not like "I'm good enough that I think I’ll buy a headband and multiple racquets" excitement, but more like, "Wow, maybe I could like actually win a game against Lexi" excitement) and I made that fateful misstep.

And it’s that excitement that produced the "Here it comes," utterance. And if there was ever a tennis themed metaphor for the value of humility, it would have been a scruffy faced Bjorn Borg, standing over my crumpled body with a flaming Wilson racquet in one hand and a walking boot in the other saying, "You thought you were better than your wife? You must have lutefisk for brains,” because I'm sure that's an insult where Borg is from.

So Now I'm Walking in a Totem Pole

Can you believe I have cankles
of this quality at 42?
Thanks to the torn ligaments on my ankle, I get to spend 30 days in a walking boot, which does allow you to be mobile, if your idea of mobile is a tree trunk strapped to your lower leg. I was told this was the best prescription for ensuring my ligaments heal correctly. So, while it seems like a miracle of musculoskeletal regeneration, apparently ligaments should reattach on their own. Our bodies do pretty amazing things. I picture my ligaments, in the moments after the incident, whipping around and flailing like downed powerlines, just completely set loose and chaotic. That can’t be reality, but it is kind of funny to think of them like those inflatable crazy armed promotional men outside mattress stores and auto dealers.

Maybe a cosmic reason for this was that I couldn't let my friend, Jared, who was scheduled for knee surgery at the time, blow his summer solo; I could at least bear some sympathy pains. I'm going to put myself on the DL for a bit in solidarity with my riding/skiing partner. Although, when he told me he was "weight bearing" out the door of his surgery when I remembered how I went through 2 weeks non-weight bearing after my ACL/meniscus surgery in 2013, I’m thinking, “Fuck you Jared!”

“If It Doesn't Stop You, It Doesn't Have to Stop You”

Here’s the “Revenant” moment for me. [After seeing Leonardo Dicaprio somehow self-heal while evading bears and Indians, I compare every injury recovery to that ordeal.]
“If it doesn’t stop you, it doesn’t have to stop you.”

That's what I said the Friday prior to the High Point Park incident. [I like labeling my major injuries with the locations at which they occurred, it gives them a somewhat historical feel.] The context of that Friday mantra was after I got all the way down to Corner Canyon to mountain bike and realized I had a broken spoke. I could have just headed into work and made up the ride later, but I wanted to ride, and I didn’t want excuses. So I went back home, got Lexi's mountain bike, jacked up the seat and struggled through my normal pre-work mtb ride.

First of all, let me say that riding a 27 after years on a 29er meant I will never again complain about my bike choice (which I don’t do often), but for all those times I struggle on a switchback with my monstrous wheelbase and question if I made the right choice, I just have to remember that ride. The 1.5 inches less of clearance had me hitting roots and rocks that I usually cruise right over. I even fell over at one point -- not crashed, mind you -- FELL OVER because a root essentially stopped me in my tracks.

As I neared the top of the Clark's climb, thinking about all the excuses I could have used not to ride, and how I fought them off, I thought, "If it doesn't actually stop you, it doesn't have to stop y0u."

The Trauma of Being Stopped

Well, a sprained ankle did stop me.

I've had moments like this before, where within an instant of making a mistake in the saddle or on skis, you realize you've crossed the boundary between broken pride and a broken body. As soon as I felt that inferno in my leg, the sensation of my ligaments tearing, I realized that my casual Sunday now had a trip to the ER in the cards. I haven't been so certain that I was headed for the DL since a road bike crash shredded a hole in my knee in 2005 (now known as the Melon Valley Incident). As soon as that realization hits you, the trauma comes from realizing you have been stopped. I remember in 2005, one of the most traumatic thoughts of that day was, "Shit, I was going to ride Fisher Creek tomorrow."

It's in those quick moments that your mind goes into a hyper-bargaining mode with any spirit that will listen, "Please, let me go back. Let me change this. Can't I just hit the rewind?”

Then there is faux optimism: “Is it possible it could look worse than it really is?"

It's now 21 days since I sprained my ankle playing tennis with Lexi. All the goals I had for the summer were gone. A year ago, Lexi and I were camped on the banks of Ross Lake, finishing a long day of hiking from our camp at Lightning Creek to Devil's Creek. Now, spending 5 nights traversing the Cascades with 55 pounds on my back seems so impossible.

11 more days with the totem pole. And then physical therapy as I try to get me anemic right leg back into form. Here it comes.

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