I’d love to join your gym…if I could get in your building!

January is traditionally the “Fitness Frenzy” month of the calendar.  People are either rushing to the gym to work off the holiday few pounds, or rushing to the gym to jump start their new year’s resolutions.  Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer or a newbie, you count on being able to just walk in, sign a membership form, and get your fitness on, right? Most people do. But what if it’s not that easy? What if you find that the gym down the street doesn’t have the welcoming, arms wide open feel it boasts about on every single tv, newspaper, and online ad? Let me tell you a bit of my story.

I’ve been an avid gym goer, spinner, and overall group exercise (mainly of the Les Mills variety) for the past six years.  I also have CP.  Yes, I know most of you know this, but just in case someone is stopping by for the first time, which I hope happens. I’m telling you this not because I’m looking for praise or kind words, but because there is a distinct purpose to this post.  During my four years of college I was fortunate enough to be a member of an amazing local fitness facility.  It housed amazing instructors, motivating classes, and exceptionally kind members. It might have helped that the facility’s owner was a pediatric physical therapist, but it was truly one of a kind.  This facility was my refuge–from the stress of a rigorous college load, the drama of living with five other girls, and the general daily grind.  At my highest point I was going to the gym 4 times a week.

Two years later, I am back to living home while saving money and going to graduate school full time.  This gym has now merged with another gym in the area.  It is not far away from where I live, but far enough that I am no longer a member because I wouldn’t be able to go as often.  Two years have gone by and I know I am not as physically active as I was then if you don’t include PT appointments.  Not only can I tell from the fit of my clothes (or lack there of!), but also from how I feel. I am not as happy. I am not eating or sleeping as well. The list could go on and on.

About two weeks ago (wow, there are a lot of twos in this post!) a friend and I decided to join together and change this! We set out to check two gyms in our area, both no more 10 minutes from our houses.  We had some really high hopes for our first visit as we’d heard rave reviews. We pulled into the parking lot of gym #1 around 5pm and that’s when we encountered our first problem. No parking! We didn’t think anything of it and circled the building again. On the second go around I noticed a few things: they only had about 10-15 spots in the whole parking lot and there was NO accessible parking space, marked or unmarked. This probably should have been a giveaway, but no.  We went in, talked to staff, and were pretty pleased with what they had to offer and went for a tour. Only I couldn’t tour the facility because it was completely inaccessible. Machines were bolted down, placed too close together, and throw rugs were covering areas making it very difficult for my walker to navigate. We politely left. I won’t go into detail about the second facility, as it was much of the same.  However, gym #2 had something gym #1 did not, that wonderful staff member that gives your assistive device a once over  while asking “what kind of class are you looking to take?”. Translation: What can of classes can you take?

My whole being was drained by these two experiences. Quite frankly I was angry, but more than anything I was saddened.  Saddened by the fact that the fitness and wellness world as a whole is so closed off to those with special needs.  Yes, I know that there are some exceptions, like the facility I belonged to in college, but by and large society only plans for “typical” people to come and work on their physical fitness.  Which is silly when you really think about it. Everyone needs to be fit. Everyone needs to keep their body functioning at an optimal level. Most importantly, everyone needs to feel good about themselves.  We all have more in common than many people choose to believe, and it’s time the world starts adapting to that.

Note: My story has a bit of a happy ending, as I just took my first spin class at my local YMCA tonight and found it not only accessible, but also accepting!

Why I don’t mind that “I’m (not) in it” for the 2011 New York City Marathon

I wasn’t sure how today was going to go when I woke up and found out that tonight’s spin class was already full before I got the chance to sign up, but things quickly started looking up when I didn’t have to work and got to go to the beach for the day. I’m not the biggest fan of the beach since it’s not quite the most accessible place in the world, but every now and then with my crutches I don’t mind.

I love the moments when I can just sit and stare out at the water and let the answers to my life’s questions float into me with the tide–and today just that happened.

Ha! Don't you wish CT beaches looked like this?? Photo: Carillon-Beach.com

I’ve obviously been doing a lot of thinking (and writing) about the things that make me happy and the things that I do for me, but I never really shared what led me to question that.  So, here’s a bit of the story…a few months back I became a member of Achilles International a group for people with disabilities who run, bike, do all sorts of sports.  I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it sounded great. At the start, I got in touch with the head of the CT chapter of Achilles who told me about a handcycle (like a regular bike pretty much, but pedaled with your arms). We also talked about how the New York City Marathon has special spots for handcyclists/Achilles athletes. I was already getting my hopes up!

A few months later, I met Tony, an above knee amputee and all around great guy. He brought one of his handcycles for me to try out and it was pretty awesome. But let me tell you, these things are not for the faint of heart! They take some serious arm power.  I left that day feeling like I had made a pretty cool connection in the adaptive athletics world.

Tony and I right before trying out the handcycle

Fast forward to not getting a lottery pick for the 2011 NYCM and I wasn’t all that upset. Why? By the time I got home from that day, I knew the handcycle was awesome and that I liked it, but I had this tiny voice inside of my head and heart that was telling me it just wasn’t quite right for me. It wasn’t involving my legs enough, challenging them, or allowing me to tap into my true motivations.

In true Molly fashion, I ignored the voice and kept plugging along until I reached a point where that voice got so loud I could barely hear myself think. At that point, I removed myself from the 2 races I was scheduled to do with the handcycle, and went back to the drawing board.

What does all of this have to do with the beach? I’m almost there I promise. About 2 weeks ago, a friend (hey Lor! 🙂 ) approached me about helping to create an adaptive category for a 10k race she helps run in September for the Mari Hall Foundation. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately felt like everything was going to fall back into place.

What I’ve come to realize over the past few weeks is this: I don’t do races to win. I don’t even do them to place. Or for the attention, the one girl in the crowd who is overcoming this challenge known as CP. Because every single one of us has challenges; whether they’re visible or not. I do races because of the challenge; because of the mental and physical push it requires me to commit to as soon as I step on the start line and even before when I’m stretching and spinning and doing whatever else to get ready.

For me, the only way I know to tap into that challenge is on foot because, whether this is fair or not, I equate CP with my legs, not my brain. Actually, that’s not fair at all. Sorry legs, my bad!! And that’s why the handcycle didn’t feel quite right to me.

Okay, okay, back to the beach. Water. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too. Many of you might know, how great water therapy is for people with various disabilities. Well in my own head and heart, I’m finally jumping on that bandwagon. (Sidenote: I can’t believe I even just thought, let alone wrote, this sentence given my previous detest/downright refusal to even try this for years!!) As I was watching my 2-year old niece play down by the water today, I swear I heard that same voice that told me the handcycle wasn’t right, tell me water was.

Here’s what I know:

  • I can’t “get out and train” everyday like many other runners/walkers/I don’t even know what category I consider myself do. It’s not ideal right now given that my streets have no sidewalks and tracks are freaking boring.
  • When you’re in the water, you tend to not feel fatigued as quickly, allowing you to possibly get more out of your exercise time.
  • Water holds you up, meaning that I can practice movements without worrying about falling over. Drowning? Eh, a friend once told me I have 4-5 minutes to be rescued if I drown. I’ll risk it.
  • I can walk in water. I mean really walk, without crutches or walker or anything. Do I really need to explain why this is a plus?! Come on! What are 90% of my post about? Okay, you may argue that I can totally do that on land too. I won’t disagree, it’s just way easier in water.

(Disclaimer: These aren’t facts. I’m just a 20 something blogger on a mission to make a change.)

So it looks like water will be another added method of training and therapy this summer. Thanks for sticking by me, and see you all out on the road.
Oh, and for those of you who are really good at reading between the lines: YES I’m doing a 10k in September; YES on foot; YES I already got the okay; and YES I know at least 3 people reading will try to convince me not to! Did I mention I’m really stubborn? 😉

We Are Alive, We Are Strong: Pedal for a Purpose 2011 Recap

Here we are, three days post P4P2011. I want to start off by saying that this is my third time trying to sit down and write this recap. I haven’t been able to quite find the right words to fully capture everything I’d like to share with all of you, so let’s hope this time I can get it all down…

We all knew this year was going to be big. Not only because the even gets bigger every year (physically and emotionally), but also because the cause was going to touch many of us on a much deeper level. The event was to benefit the CT chapter of the MS Society/Team Jenifer. I talked a little bit about Pedal and about Jen, who the event honored, in a previous post, but I have to say something again, because Jen’s strength, determination, and all around awesomeness simply blew me away again on Sunday.

Leading up to the event, I was nothing short of extremely excited. I have, for the past 4 years, felt like P4P was my Christmas not on Christmas. It is the day I most look forward to on the calendar.  There is just something amazing about being able to take the one thing you are most passionate about and use it to do something good. That is exactly what P4P is for me. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as well. Other than the Monday before, the last time I’d been spinning (due to class schedules and lack of rides) was probably in January.  I was riding three hours and wasn’t sure how my body, or my mind for that matter were going to fare.  All that fear and anxiety immediately vanished upon entering the gym though. Jen was the first instructor of the day, and the first instructor for my 3 rides. There was something so powerful in those first 50 minutes. Dare I say more powerful than any of the other 5 hours, with the exception of maybe the group ride at the end with all 5 instructors. I honestly felt like the hour went by so fast, because the only thought in my head (after the initial “OMG. Can’t breathe. So. Out. Of. Shape.”), was how I was here, spinning with someone I look up to so much. A woman who I have found so many similarities with. A women who refuses to let a diagnostic label define her.  There were a few moments when I really doubted my ability to finish out the hour, but all I had to do was catch Jen’s eye **first tears of the day** or look at the banner behind the stage and that was enough.

The banner read:

Behind every success is effort,
Behind every effort is passion,
Behind every passion is someone,
With the courage to try.

The energy in the room was on fire all day. There was nothing stopping anyone from doing their part to kick some MS butt. I had a two hour break to enjoy the environment and take LOTS of pictures! The instructors, the riders, and the music all really spoke to this amazing cause during every hour.  The second hour I rode was taught by my cousin. Which always proves to be challenging both physically and mentally (she likes to pick songs that make me cry).  I knew that I had to save some energy during this ride because I only had an hour in between to rest before my last ride, but all bets were off when it was time to sprint and the song was Pink’s F*ckin’ Perfect. Gets me every time. The sprints were on the chorus (please look the song up if you’ve never heard it) and I had no choice, but to go all out. The song means a lot to me, for a lot of different reasons that aren’t the point of this post, but it also meant a lot to combine this song with spinning–the one thing in my life that makes me feel absolutely perfect. At the end of one of the sprints, I looked over and two of the instructors were mouthing the words to me. It all comes together. **Second tears of the day**

The third hour I rode, also the final hour, is always the most moving for me. All of the instructors get up on stage together and “team teach” the final ride.  It is also, without a doubt, the hardest ride because each instructor brings their own strength and determination, as well as their desire to push each other to the absolute limit! 🙂  This year was no different, but the last ride had a little something special about it for me this year. As I looked up to each one of those women, figuratively and literally, I was reminded of what true friendship is and reminded of what it means when you care so deeply for a person, that you will be there to hold their hand through everything. **third tears of the day**

What more can I say really? Other than the day was absolutely amazing, start to finish. This was the 4th year for the event and, by all standards, our best one yet! In the end, we raised over $11,000 to FIGHT MS!!…and had countless more memories!!

It’s funny the way life works. The people you meet, the things you do, the moments that forever stay etched in your heart. I was reminded of something at P4P this year that I often forget; or at least I forget lately. I can’t let my life be defined for me. By a person, by an event, and most definitely not by a diagnosis. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. No one. So why waste precious moments letting your life be defined, instead of defining it yourself?

Live each moment. Give everything you’ve got. Feel the fire inside of your soul. Own it. Hope. Never say never. And, most importantly, let everyone know how much they mean to you…I make sure to tell these 5 women every chance I get!

And for your viewing pleasure, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone for 23 seconds and post this video (in purple):

Thanks for sticking with me! 🙂

Photo Credits: Molly Carta, Karen Butler, Ron Kochman

I’m baaack

It’s been too long since a “real” post on this lovely blog. We can all thank Pneumonia for that. It’s been reallly fun. Note the sarcasm there I hope.

What’s going on lately? School. Times one hundred. I have so many papers and projects due in the next few weeks, I’m thinking my head might explode. I’m trying to check them off of my to do list one at a time though. Then one semester of grad school will be over and I’ll be a happy camper. I’m still waiting to hear back about the grant at school, but the interview went REALLY well and I’ll probably hear by Monday. Fingers crossed, blog people!

This whole being sick and then finding out it was Pneumonia thing has really put a huge damper on my fitness situation. I’m just now starting to be functional (read not wanting to sleep 24/7) and need to get back at it. I’ve definitely kept up my stretching committments, just not much more than that. I guess that’s at least something though. I realized that, because I’ve been sick, I probably won’t be doing anymore 5ks this season, 😦 cue the violins. The last one I wanted to do is on November 20th and I just don’t think I’ll be ready for that. There is one more on December 5th, so maybe I can sqeak one last on in depending on weather and what my PT thinks. I hate asking opinions, but in this case I probably should.

If those don’t work out, I have something really exciting coming up anyway! My cousin Claudia and I will be competing in an indoor triathlon on January 15th. The way they’re run is pretty interesting. Whoever can rack up the most mileage within a 10 minute lap swim, 20 minute run, and 30 minute (spin) bike; then that mileage is converted to points. We’re splitting up the legs so, Claudia is doing the run, I’m doing the bike, and we still need someone to do the swim. Any takers?!?! Bonus, it’s for an awesome cause! The Stroup Kids for Kids Epilepsy Foundation.

I need to get my butt back on the bike though! It’s been so long since a spin class. 😦 I’m thinking of bringing my spin bike in from the garage for the winter (yeah, I’m sure my parents will LOVE that one!) because I never go out and ride it and the class times just aren’t working for me this semester. I also have no idea what mileage I can pull in 30 minutes, so I should probably start testing that out with two months to go. Maybe 6 or 7? My goal would be 9 or so.

Alright, that was a completely pointless post. I should probably go be functional now. Or maybe go back to bed. Be back soon with something more fun to write about!

P.S. I’ve completely lost count of this days thing. Better luck next time?!

Why Do I?

I may not entirely love being an unemployed college graduate right now, but if there’s anything I do love about it, it’d be all this free time I have to think up, and write, more blog posts!! What wisdom do I have to share today you ask? Well, it’s not really wisdom at all I don’t think. Instead, I thought I’d give my readers a little glimpse into my brain and what makes me tick. Lately, I feel like my life has solidified, more so than ever, around three interests–passions if you want to call them that (I do!).

These three passions are: Cycling and Spinning, Lance Armstrong and his LIVESTRONG campaign, and 5k races.

For the past 20 days, I’ve been getting up at ungodly hours (okay, maybe not, but they are for a college grad!) to watch the 2010 Tour de France. Now, my first motivation for doing this was to watch Lance Armstrong in his second year of a retirement comeback and his-really now-last official Tour. More on that later though. I’ve been a follower of the sport for many years now, since Lance Armstrong’s original comeback in 1999 after his battle with cancer, and I often get asked if I stopped watching the tour when he retired, or if I’ll keep watching now that he’ll really be done. My answer is always yes. Cycling is not just a sport that you can check yourself out of when your favorite rider is gone as you might with some other sport. I don’t just familiarize myself with the top riders in the peloton (big group on the road), I know them all. I make it a point. I’ve learned a lot about the tactics of this intense endurance sport, and see the benefits of cycling being both a team and individual sport. Cycling has truly become one of my passions.

It is because of that passion that I took up spinning-indoor cycling-in the summer of 2007. I knew that I probably could not ride a true road bike, for reasons I talked about in this post, but eventually Spinning became my road biking. It became my release of negativity that life can sometimes bring, and my hour of “me time”. I cherished, and still do cherish, my ability to spin at least once a week. I know this is not something that not everyone can make the time for and I know that many people with CP or other disabilities might have difficulty doing. I thank God that I was blessed to believe that I could take part in such a class and go out and do it. Thanks to my beginning interests in cycling, spinning is now a passion that I can’t live without.
Lately, I’ve developed an interest in another interesting endurance sport: running. Okay, so maybe I don’t exactly run, but still. It all started last October. A friend of mine called me asked me if I wanted to do a 5k with her that Sunday that was going to benefit Camp Care, the free camp for children with special needs, run by Crossroads Physical Therapy which I’ve talked about here. I could not turn down the opportunity, but 3.2 miles? Continuously? Was I nuts? Yes! Not only was this a continuous 3.2 miles, but it was ALL uphill!! Except for the last .2 miles. Either way though, I walked the entire race and finished it in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 33 seconds! It was the most amazing feeling to cross that finish line on my own and take pride in such an accomplishment. After taking part in that 5k, I realized that you don’t need to be running to have the “runner’s high”. It’s simply chasing a dream, feeling on top of the world, and in control. Run or walk. I’ve done another 5k since-the George Washington Bridge Challenge 5k across the GWB. It was an American Cancer Society event I did with my friend from college who has a cousin diagnosed with Leukemia shortly after birth. He is now 6 and in remission!! Again, it was an amazing experience. I completed that race in 1 hour, 18 minutes, and 12 seconds! I think the major time difference had a lot to do with the GWB being completely flat, but it was also the attitude. I’m doing my next 5k 2 weeks from today. The Hope is Coming 5k to benefit the Smillow Cancer Hospital. My goal is to get my time down to an hour or less (slightly irrational I know).

Okay, I’ve shared two of my passions. By now I probably just sound like a crazed “wannabe athlete”. Some of you might even be saying, “But this can’t be safe/healthy/whatever you’d like to call it, because you have CP” So, WHY DO I do this?! Well, that’s where passion #3, and the strongest passion of all comes in.

It started as an idol, moved into a hobby, and has now transformed into a mantra and a way of life. LIVESTRONG. The one word motto from Lance Armstrong after he launched his foundation to raise money and awareness for cancer research. I’ve always looked up to Lance for his courage, strength, and overall ability to fight, and beat, the odds. When he launched LIVESTRONG, I just looked up to him that much more. Whether he ever enters the pro-peloton again. Or any sporting event for that matter, he has taught me what it really means to fight, to triumph, to believe in a cause, and to make a change. THAT is why I do this. Because it’s not a matter of just living, but living strong. With every pedal stroke and every step I take on a course, I am putting the LIVESTRONG way of life into action.

If I ever doubt my abilities, or whether it’s safe for “someone with CP” to be doing these things, I look down to my left wrist where my yellow LIVESTRONG wristband sits, and am reminded that this is my life, and I will hold the same attitude I have since I began following Lance Armstrong in 1999.

I know I have a wide variety of readers to this blog, but I encourage you (and your children!) to find your own ways to live the LIVESTRONG way of life. 🙂

Photo Credits:

Peloton Photo: http://www.photosfan.com/images/2009-tour-de-france1.jpg

Livestrong Photos: Twitter.com/lancearmstrong