2canez on ice

When I visit my doctor, he is often stunned yet not surprised by the kinds of physical activities I pull off with an L3 Spinal Cord Injury disability.

When I was in a wheelchair, and could hardly walk or do anything, I was relearning all the basic things we often take for granted like bathing, taking a dump and walking up and down the stairs.

Once I got to a point where I was comfortable doing all those things myself, I started practicing yoga again on my own mat at home. Still in crutches, I fell in love with Pigeon Pose and was increasingly more flexible. I wanted to face my fear and take class at Yoga to the People, where I was practicing for 9 years before my injury, but I was afraid of what the instructors and students would think of my new condition.

I asked a PT I was seeing at the time what his opinion was about me going back, but he wasn’t in favor of it. I ultimately decided not to take his advice and instead follow my intuition (I also stopped seeing him). Ever since the day I returned, I was taking class multiple times a week until I decided to do Teacher Training that summer and become a yoga instructor. I believe it’s so important that I followed my instinct instead of the reasoning of others. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I chose to ignore the little voices inside.

Since I wasn’t new to yoga, the experience of relearning it with my new body wasn’t completely foreign. I already knew the poses, I just needed to modify them. Today I make use of the wall and hold my shamanistic wooden stick under my armpit for balance in poses like Warrior I/II.

After Teacher Training, I started taking self-defence classes in Krav Maga, which utilizes martial arts techniques from the Israeli military. This was really foreign to me, since I’ve never taken any marital arts classes in my life except for a few Karate classes when I was a kid. Not only did I face the mental challenge of learning these techniques and memorising all the steps, but I had to figure out unique and clever ways to modify them for my unique body. I’m so lucky to have met the most amazing instructor, Mike who gave me very personalised attention in the beginning and helped me modify certain moves on the spot. He told me my sticks were the best weapons he has ever seen, and that I can use them to hit people in the groin. He has been one of many role models throughout this journey of recovery.

When I walk into new pilates, yoga or barre studios, I am confident I know what I’m doing after having the experience of being in several similar classes weekly with ClassPass. I no longer feel the need to prove myself to any instructor who may doubt my ability.

But ice skating was a whole other trip.

Initially, I didn’t want to do this alone. I wanted someone there for support. As badly as I wanted to do this, I wasn’t fully confident about it.

I tried finding a friend to go with, but a lot were unavailable and/or uncomfortable with the idea. I grew too impatient waiting for people to change their minds or free up their schedules, so I just did it alone, on my own time. I figure, just like going to the gym or going to work, you can’t expect people to go with you. Looking into my reflection of a train window, I told myself “If you want to go ice skating Hannah, just do it.”

Of course I chose the most crowded day of the year to experiment. I arrived in Bryant Park on a Sunday night a few days after the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on an hour-long line behind 500 ice skaters. I immediately felt that all the odds were against me. Not only was the rink extremely packed, but I wasn’t even sure how to skate with my condition or if I would find skates to fit my braces in. I also feared getting rejected by the staff.

As I waited on line, I felt all the stares of people wondering what the hell I was thinking. One girl asked what the sticks were for and I told her I use them for walking, climbing mountains and now ice skating. I showed her the metal contraptions I bought from Amazon that I screwed to the bottoms of my sticks to grip the tips into the ice. Normally people screw these contraptions to their canes to prevent slipping on the ice on the streets, but I was about to use them for ice skating. People eaves dropping on line looked very intrigued.

When my turn was up, I had already anticipated what to expect. I walked up to the window and casually requested a pair of adult skates. The girl looked at me and then looked down at my two sticks.

“Ma’am, there are no objects allowed in the rink. You will need to check those.”

Me: “I need these to skate.”

“You can’t skate without those?”

Me: “No, I use them to walk…”

“Do you have some type of medical condition?”

Me: “Yes but it hasn’t stopped me. I climb mountains, I do Krav Maga, yoga, etc…”

“Hold up– let me find the manager.”

A male worker returned to tell me that the manager declined my entrance. I told him this was discrimination and demanded to speak to her myself. He brought me to a corner to wait for her.

Twenty minutes later, she arrived. I explained to her that I use these sticks to go ice skating, and had to fake some confidence like I’ve done this several times before.

She said that she offers services for people with disabilities and insisted it was too crowded, that it would’ve been better for me to show up at an earlier time when there was less people. I told her I didn’t want her services, so she relented by offering to have someone wheel me around in a wheelchair. I politely declined her offer.

I couldn’t stand this lady and her closed-minded mentality. I finally had it.

“You know this is discrimination right? I’m prepared like everyone else. I have my sticks, ice grip tips and leg braces. I understand my body and what it needs.”

While I may have seemed really confident on the outside, I was silently shitting my pants. I had to fake it until I made it.

The manager gave in. “Okay, as long as you understand that we’re not liable for anything. Everything you’re doing is at your own risk.” I nodded my head and reassured her that just like everyone else, I was responsible for anything that could’ve happened to me.

After having that wasteful argument, the manager decided not to charge me for anything. Once she let me in, all the workers were very accommodating in helping me find the correct shoe size to fit my leg braces inside them.

After two hours of squeezing and shuffling my leg braces inside a women’s 9 (which was too small) and a women’s 10 (which was too big), I settled with a men’s 8. I finally had my skates on and was ready to slide around. I couldn’t believe how much time has passed and how exhausted I felt already, and I haven’t even approached the ice yet. It felt like the hard part was already done.

As I approached the rink, I saw so many people slipping and falling. I took a step forward and gripped onto the ice for dear life with my two hands grasping the sticks. I started dragging my feet forward without lifting them off the ground, using all the work of my upper body. It was so difficult. I couldn’t stop sweating.

Suddenly I fell on my ass and people were in shock, but I was okay. I got up and tried again. I was nervously steady and careful.

I practiced until I found a technique that worked for me. Opposite stick, opposite leg. 1, 2, 3, 4 (repeat). I became comfortable and made several slow rounds around the rink. I couldn’t believe how much of a workout I was getting in my hamstrings, hips, arms, abs and chest. I decided then and there to make “ice therapy” a new addition to my weekly workout regimen.

Today I returned to Bryant Park to practice again. I continued the same technique I picked up from last time. After making my way 3 or 4 times around, I became more comfortable with my surroundings. This was my jungle of ice. Once I gave up the fear of falling, I began gliding instead of “ice walking.” I fell on my butt a few times but got up, brushed myself off and continued what I was doing.

Falling is always deemed negatively by our society, but in order to succeed innovatively we must fall and get back up. If we don’t fall in life, we will continuously follow old habits and patterns that disable us from moving forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how or why I have such a high drive to push myself past my limits physically. If I was a natural couch potato who stayed home all day eating popcorn and watching Netflix, my recovery would’ve been a lot more grueling. I had to work really hard to get to where I am today, and I don’t think I would’ve had the motivation and determination if I hadn’t enjoyed the physically demanding labor this recovery requires.

This made me realize that I have other challenges in my life that I’ve been putting off. I tend to give up easily on things I don’t enjoy as much as exercising, such as reading difficult novels or keeping up with this recovery blog.

Sometimes fighting challenges includes fighting the ones that may not be the most enjoyable, but when we struggle we become better versions of ourselves.

Perks of being “disabled”

I quote “disabled” because I don’t actually call myself disabled nor do I think of myself that way in any regard. I have the mind, spirit and fierceness of a runner and a fighter. I also have the fortune of doing a lot with myself despite the outcome of my prognosis. With some creativity, I do things in my own way. However, society doesn’t also see it this way, and in many ways this has served in my favor. Here is a list of reasons why the bogus label of my condition has positively impacted my life.

1. $2.75 cabs, free Ubers, and free Medicaid rides

Since last April, I’ve been using NYC’s paratransit service, Access-a-Ride. The driver picks me up and drops me off anywhere I’d like, as long as it’s in any of NYC’s five boroughs. It’s basically a cab for $2.75, the same price as a bus or subway. If I’m lucky, Access-a-Ride sometimes pays for an Uber to drive me around. This all means no more paying for expensive Ubers and taxis (for now). The feeling of being driven to Brooklyn or Manhattan from miles away in Queens for so cheap or free has never been so conveniently liberating.

Of course, there are always drawbacks. It’s always a hit or miss. There are times when Access-a-ride will pay for some fancy limo to drive me home directly to my destination. OR they will pick me up in a freezing cold van and pick up or drop off other people while I’m shivering for hours. Sometimes I sit in the van for over two hours. Also, there are times the driver comes late, putting me at risk of missing an appointment. And I’m required to schedule all my trips at least 24 hours in advance. That being said, this service only works for me when there’s a consistency in my schedule, such as going to work. When things come up last second, I take the train. Taking the train is always a good excuse to stay active and energetic.

Speaking of work, Acess-a-Ride has allowed me to work in a cool part of Brooklyn 30 hours a week for the past three months. Had I not been disabled, working there would have never been an option. Although I’m still capable of taking the train, the commute for even a non-disabled person would be well over 2 hours from where I live.

I also take a luxury taxi service to physical therapy two to three times a week. Medicaid pays for a fancy black car with cushiony seats to drive me to and from my destination. Although this service is only used for medical purposes, they have been able to drive me directly to my job in Brooklyn from therapy in Long Island.

2. Front row seats to shows

Last February, I decided to see one of my favorite comedians, Trevor Noah live. Tickets are free, but there is no guarantee of admission. My friend Racky and I arrived 3 hours prior to the show, waiting on line in the freezing cold February weather. When the guard saw me standing out there in crutches, he allowed me and Racky to cut the line and walk in with VIP. Not only that, but he led us to the first row. The stage was only an inch away from us. We saw Trevor Noah’s sweat and everything. After waving his goodbyes to the audience after the show, he locked eyes with both of us. Our hearts were exploding.

3. First Class Emirates and skipping airplane lines

Oh yes, talk about luxury in the skies. After being discharged from the hospital in Thailand, I got to skip every security line while being wheeled by the Thai police on my way to flying First Class with Emirates. What an experience. Throughout the entire 24-hour flight, I was served endless glasses of champagne, wine and Arabic coffee from a genie’s lantern. My chair reclined all the way back into a bed and I was able to close the door and raise the walls so that I had my own private room. However, I didn’t want to close myself off for too long; otherwise I would’ve misses out on all the 5 star meals and vegan deserts served throughout the whole trip. I was even given a free Bulgari bag.

I will probably never have this experience again unless I marry an old rich guy. But I still get way better service when I travel in general. When I’m boarding an airplane, the handicapped are always treated as first priority. Never in my life have I entered a completely empty plane. It’s not like I get to choose my own seat or anything, but it’s always a nice feeling to not be pushed and squeezed by other passengers when boarding a plane.

4. Blinged-out crutches and canes

When else in my life have I had a perfect excuse to walk around in LED lights? Clearly these walking devices serve more than just getting me aroud. They are part of my fashion. They bring out personality and unique characteristics.

I get to shine my lights that change colors when I head out to clubs. I’m like a human disco ball.

Lately I’ve been walking around with these two wooden engraved sticks that I got in a Walmart-type store in the Berkshires, MA for only $4 each. But people don’t need to know that. I can just pretend that they were gifts from the Shamanic Spirits.

5. Discounted train tix and disabled parking

Okay I don’t actually use this, apparently I need some type of card for it to prove that I’m disabled (because the visuals of my impairments are clearly not enough), but definitely something I want to consider.

6. Medical Marijuana

I haven’t tried this either because I’m so used to the stuff on the streets, but I do qualify for it in New York. Something to keep in mind.