As the year was drawing to an end, I was looking to stay on top of my health, my rehab, and keeping Mary active and nourished. One big thing I wanted to tackle was walking more on snow and ice. I was now committed to walking Mary three times a day in the backyard. I could do this pretty consistently in the summer. But the maintenance crew didn’t shovel snow behind the building, so the back patio was inaccessible most of the winter. It soon occurred to me that I could work on my balance by walking around out back in the thick snow.
The next time we got a few inches of snow, I called a neighbor and asked him to come downstairs with me. When we got to the door, I handed the leash to him. I let him go out with Mary first. Then I walked out after them. There wasn’t much ice to slip on, so I was able to walk out safely to a patio table. Once I was seated, I watched him walk Mary up and down the yard until she used the restroom.
Once Mary was done, I pulled out a bag and walked gingerly out into the yard. Since there was no ice or pavement, there were no slick surfaces for me to slip on. With each step I took, I gained more confidence. When I was standing over the poop, I lined up my feet, letting them sink down in the snow. This gave me more traction. I bent down, sure I wasn’t going to fall over. I scooped snow around and beneath the poop, getting all of it with no problem. I raised my head and stood up. Without having to hold Mary’s leash as well, it was easy to carry the bag in my left hand to the trash can.
Mary and my neighbor walked up the hill so she could continue to explore the snowy landscape. I used the time to practice walking in the snow. I practiced pacing across the snow covered grass, letting my feet sink down, then lifting them and moving on. It wasn’t lifting weights, but it was the same concept: I wanted to make my legs work with every step they took. Walking would be a simple task next spring.
Mary and the neighbor soon came back down the hill. She was panting and clearly happy. I let the two of them go back ahead of me as I stepped back onto the pavement. Knowing that it might be slippery beneath the snow, I clenched my inner thighs and took smaller steps. With each step, I planted my feet with more force. My left leg was obviously growing stronger from all of the leg presses. There was no chance of falling so long as I concentrated. When I was back inside, I took off my hat and wiped sweat from my forehead. It’d been hard work, but I was still getting stronger.
I almost always feel like I need to do more for Mary. While I know that, due to health or having to work full-time, many people exercise their dogs less than I do, it’s hard for me to shake the guilty feelings. I think it’s because I used to be so active. So when it snows too much for me to take her out back, I take out in front of the building.
I often let her out four times a day to compensate for the fact that I don’t like walking her too far from the front of the building, even in the summer. We live on one of the busiest streets in the area, and I don’t want to fall and have her run into the street. It’s even worse in the winter. We’re often out before the maintenance crew can shovel snow and salt the ice on the sidewalk. Mary wants to walk all over the neighborhood, but I’m still limited in how far I can go.
So in the winter, Mary goes out more often than normal and gets more treats than I normally give her. I have my neighbor take her for walks. Even the people at the security desk give her treats. When I went to the pet shop to buy food for her after Christmas, all of the Christmas treats were on clearance sale. I bought snacks for Mary, eager to see her wagging her tail and chewing blissfully.
As with every New Year’s Eve since 2015, this one was a quiet one for me. In the past, this would have been a somber time. I would have sat around pondering what level of recovery the new year would hold. I would’ve spent the next day wishing that at least one restaurant was open for delivery. It would have been 24 lonely hours spent feeling something that was a mixture of anxiety, hopelessness, and optimism.
This year would be different. On Monday, I had just found out that I would be entering this year 19 pounds lighter than last year. I had a workout planned for New Year’s Day, where I would be pressing 55 pounds for four sets of ten on my stroke affected leg. I entered this year with concrete goals that I was already on the road to achieving.
I got up around 5:00 in the morning and went easily through my morning routine. When I got to the gym, I was preoccupied with keeping my heart rate above 100 while riding for 10 minutes. My heart rate was over 110 for the entire time. I was constantly mopping the sweat from my forehead the whole time I was riding. So I climbed own from the stationary bike feeling energized and wonderful. I could tell that I was going to start off the new year with a solid workout.
I began with leg curls. Although I didn’t use more weight than the minimum amount, I was now able to lift it much higher. I also did the exercise for four sets of ten. I really wished that I could do full leg curls. It would mean that my leg would be more flexible when walking. As it was, I could only bend it slightly more than I could at the beginning of last year. But at a time when other measurements were trending positively, I had to remember that any amount of progress was movement in the right direction.
I now moved on to leg press. Although I had only been able to do the bare minimum on this exercise for years, once I started adding weight my lifting capacity quickly shot up. I sat back on the machine and started my warm up of 25 pounds. I normally do one set of 12 reps, but this time, my leg felt so good that I did 15 reps. Now it was time to lift in earnest. I felt so pumped that I easily put up 55 pounds ten times. This took a lot of effort, and I had to rest for over a minute before easily doing three more sets. After completing the four sets, I did one bonus set of eight. I got up and went on to my next exercise, confident that it was going to be a great year.
My most pressing 2020 goal, after rebuilding my leg strength, was reactivating my arm as well as I could. So after I finished my lower back workout, I tried to do machine bicep curls. I had tried using this machine the week before. Although I hadn’t been able to move it, I had let the machine pull my arm downward, stretching my arm out more than it had been stretched in years. Now I was ready to try again. It was very difficult, but I did curl it a few inches, squeezing out three sets of ten. Although this didn’t feel like much, I would soon be doing more and pairing it with other bicep and tricep exercises. While brain damage from a stroke can be permanent, my arm did seem to be responding the more I challenged it.
I stopped working out an hour before my ride was set to arrive. I could’ve done more, but I wanted to stop while I was still felling pumped. I walked over to the snack bar and ordered a smoothie. It was rejuvenating, the fruity flavors vibrant against my tongue after such a rewarding workout. I had no idea what triumphs the new year would entail, but I would try to savor every moment.
While I was on the way home, my neighbor texted me, asking if I felt like walking with Mary and him to the local coffee shop. I had just had a hard workout, but I wanted to try it. It would help me to develop more balance and energy. I let him know when I got back to the apartment, and he came down to go out with us.
I let him hold Mary’s leash again so I could concentrate on my footing. I noticed right away that my left foot no longer had a problem clearing the sidewalk when it was on the side that sloped upward. Instead, I could fully step up with my leg, thereby walking more normally. When I got to the other side of the street, I had to walk through some of the uncleared snow.
The more I walked, the more snow and ice seemed to cover the sidewalk. This might have been a problem a year ago, as I’d relied on my cane for supporting my weight. But with all of the leg exercises I was doing, my left leg was getting a lot stronger. The stronger the leg got, the more erect I could walk. Improving my posture meant that I no longer leaned on it. I was now able to use the cane for balance and probing. As I got beyond the ice, I was able to casually stroll into the coffee shop. Everything I did would continue to get easier this year.