Last year I tore a ligament in my left ankle that put me in a big, clunky, stinky boot for a few weeks. With the boot on, I didn’t get to ski, hike, or run, and it made me tremendously sad. But my ankle healed, and I ended up skiing 41 days last season, so it was all good.
Then the other day I was running on the track after class, running 50 yard sprints (my former track coach would be so proud) when I felt sharp shooting pains in the ankle and had to stop. I realized I had probably strained the ligament, and limped away from the track with my head down. I iced and elevated it while frustration washed over me. I probably won’t get to run for a week, and for a former athlete that’s some sort of torture. Any athlete that’s ever been injured can attest to the aggravation that comes with being injured. One stupid tear or break keeps you on the sidelines for however many weeks or months, and you watch your friends and teammates playing, running, hiking or skiing without you. It sucks. You count down the days till that cast is replaced by a cleat, the crutches are out of sight, the padded clunker boot is replaced by your beloved ski boot. Then soon enough, you’re back at it, happier than ever to be active on the field or mountain, and you have a much deeper appreciation for the activities that bring you to life.
Sitting in my room with ice on my ankle, wallowing in my sorrow of a minor injury, guilt hit me like an oncoming train.
How the hell do you think dad feels?
I think my dad has played nearly every sport there is. I’ve heard the most ridiculous stories about swimming, boxing, basketball, track, biking…everything. He’s played football since what, 8 years old?, all the way up to a D1 Air Force Academy player. The guy surfs hurricane waves, hikes whatever is in front of him, and apparently shuts off his reading skills when ducking bright red ‘CLOSED’ ropes on ski mountains. I watched him dangle off a cliff in the middle of the woods with skis on for heaven’s sake.
He has obviously had his fair share of injuries, but he’s always bounded back from them. Now he’s faced with any active person’s worst nightmare, a sort of permanent injury that he might never recover from. ALS is literally robbing his body of the muscles that have carried him through his best life experiences. He went from swimming 2 miles across the Narragansett Bay to not being able to swim without a floatie. He went from running double digit miles to hardly being able to walk the dogs around the neighborhood. This isn’t meant to degrade him and I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but I just want to show some perspective of how nasty this disease is. As far as ALS diagnoses go, he’s actually pretty lucky. His digression is moving at a slower rate than normal, and we are so lucky that it is. This summer he and I hiked one of our absolute favorite trails, The Lonesome Lake trail in Franconia, New Hampshire. If you saw him power up that mountain you would never believe he has ALS. He was moving at a quick pace that I was astonished at, and that’s pretty impressive seeing as I’ve been hiking in Colorado for the past two years now.
But simple tasks are now extremely hard or even impossible. Brushing teeth, holding a glass of water, buckling a seatbelt, tying shoes, and cutting food are all amongst those things. So we are adapting. My dad can no longer run like Bigfoot on the treadmills in the gym with footsteps so heavy the whole floor would shake and everyone would look, but he is in physical therapy working to maintain some strength and mobility. He has undergone several different treatments to attempt to slow the disease, and we are hoping he’ll be involved in an incredible stem-cell trial at the end of this year called Brainstorm (http://www.brainstorm-cell.com/). We’re doing everything we can to fight this, and just trying to make the best out of whatever we can’t control.
He bought a pair of sick lightweight Black Diamond skis and minimalist Dynafit bindings, and he is determined to be cruising down the mountain again this season. Whether it’s on his own two feet or someday in a sit ski with me guiding him from behind, we’re gonna keep him doing the things he loves.
Sometimes life sprains your ankle. Other times, it deteriorates your entire body. But I guess the moral of this story is if you can’t hold a glass of your favorite beer, stick a straw in it. No chance he’s giving up beer, that’s for sure.