My big plan in 2020 was to be so far ahead with my physical rehabilitation by the end of the year that I could start focusing on career building in 2021. Of course that would mean ramping up my workouts. The biggest complication to this plan was the location of my gyms. There were both in the suburbs, a minimum of twenty minutes away, and that was with excellent traffic. On the days I took Metro Mobility to the gym, it could easily take over an hour each way. Trying to make it to the gym a minimum of four times a week was a feat in itself.
Then Planet Fitness announced that they were opening a club in south Minneapolis. I checked the location and it was perfect. Not only was it less than two hours from my apartment, but it is was in the same strip mall as a Target and across the parking lot from the hair supply shop where I purchased my shaving supplies. In addition to the fact that the hair supply store required a separate trip, there was never anywhere to sit when I was finished shopping there. Now I could simply have Metro Mobility drop me off at the hair supply shop and pick me up at Planet Fitness.
I was really eager to get started there because the proximity would allow me to routinely schedule other outings on the same day without running out of time or risking fatigue. I would be able to accomplish enough that I could get in five or six workouts a week. Their website said that their opening date would be Tuesday, February 4th, so I had my ILS worker drive me by there a couple of days after that. Just to be sure, I told him that I wanted to walk through the club first. Then I could plan my first workout. It was a good thing I did, too. Because as soon as we drove up to the entrance, we saw construction workers coming out. Apparently they were behind schedule.
I was relieved that I hadn’t planned to work out that day, as I didn’t waste a day of productivity. Instead, we ran errands as we’d planned. Over the next few weeks, I scheduled my workouts for the suburban locations, the same as normal. Once a week or so, we would stop by the south Minneapolis location just to see if they were open yet Every week it was the same. So by the end of the month, we just stopped going by there altogether.
I focused on my fitness goals and on getting the most out of my occupational therapy visits. Soon I was no longer having problems with alertness or cardiovascular health. In the gym or outdoors, my body warmed up easily and maintained its core temperature on the coldest of days. Walking around without my cane became easy. I was no longer focusing on just trying to stay upright; I was moving with purpose. I was quickly getting to a point where I could comfortably tell myself, “If I never recover more muscle function, I’m satisfied merely pushing the bounds of strength with what I have.”
Meanwhile, it was business as usual for me at my other gyms. I started doing more squats in Roseville so that I could line my feet up easily, making it less perilous to bend down. I felt confident that I could bend down lower, so I pushed the bench back farther to where I couldn’t sit down on it. Then I slid into place. I always adjust my feet before I begin the exercise. My left leg was so compliant that I was able to move my foot a little several times. When I was satisfied that my body was in a stable position, I started the exercise.
I squatted deeply, feeling my backside slide below the weight bench. The lower I went, the safer I would feel each time I had to pick up after Mary. Then, instead of shooting straight back up like I always did, I rose slowly. The slow movement was to give my body the ability to balance as I stood back up without the use of my cane. Any time you squat or stand, there are networks of muscle group that coordinate to take over and hand off your body weight. When you explode through a motion too quickly, you can neglect this process. The slower you are when you practice these movements, the less likelihood you have of falling in your daily life. I slowly squatted and stood up for five sets. It was hard work. There were several times when it felt like my legs would give out, but I resisted the urge to speed through reps. I didn’t want to cheat my body.
The next time I went to my other gym down in the south suburbs, it was time for me to do leg press again. When I had begun doing leg presses, I had been proud to just do anything. Now I felt as though doing more weight would only contribute more to my walking ability. I had been doing leg presses for two years, but had only been pushing the sled with no additional weight. After I had returned from Mississippi last October, I had started putting additional weight on the sled.
While I’d been in Mississippi, the modest strength gain had caused my walking to improve noticeably. I was able to walk for longer distances without getting tired. This endurance was mostly due to the fact that I could lift my leg much higher without having to think about it. This meant in turn that I no longer dragged my left foot. Not dragging my foot meant that I wasn’t fighting friction with every step. And although I still required a cane outdoors, I no longer had to dip to one side in order to complete my stride. My left leg stood straight and tall beneath me.
I devised a plan to start adding 10 lbs to my leg press every two weeks, with the goal of being able to press 90 lbs with my left leg by March. The way I would do this was by working legs three or four times per week. I would do leg press each time I went to the gym in the south suburbs, then I would do squats and lunges the one or two days a week I was going to the north suburbs. My progress was just what I had planned, and on Tuesday, March 10th, I did my first set of 90 lbs.
My leg strength was now where I wanted it to be. The following Monday, I was scheduled to have Botox injections again. During that appointment, I would ask my doctor write me a referral for physical therapy. My leg had gotten strong through my own efforts. The physical therapist would help me to refine its fine muscle skills so I could learn to walk better again.
A few days later, the governor called a statewide emergency to halt the spread of COVID-19. My gyms closed and my therapy plans were halted immediately. I would have to find ways to maintain momentum on my own.