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.

New connections or stronger relationships?

Over the past 10 months, the progression of my recovery has been dependent on two major things: #1 Waiting for my damaged nerves to regenerate and form new connections and #2 Building strength in all the body parts that are functioning to compensate for the ones that aren’t.

Among many damaged nerves, the biggest issue lies on the lack of feeling and movement in my feet and ankles. One of the biggest reasons I cannot walk without a supported device is that I don’t have complete dorsiflexion (ability to move the foot up) and plantar-flexion (ability to move the foot down). You need these movements to take normal steps. You also need your ankles to hold your balance while standing. My ankles don’t have that control; they are wobbly, and I’m beginning to get muscle atrophy from not using my calf muscles.

Waiting for this function to recover has been painfully slow. Although I’m getting subtle feeling back, like the top of my 2nd left toe, there is still a very long ways to go. In January 2017, I was able to move both ankles up slightly for the first time in 4 months. That following March, I was able to spread my left pinkie toe apart from the others. Although these are subtle breakthroughs, they present hope for more future recovery. However, at the rate I’m going, it feels like this can take over 20 years.

When I ask doctors if I’m ever going to feel or move my feet again, they respond with an “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, Western Medicine does not have conclusive answers when it comes to the recovery of Spinal Cord Injury. There is no cure to make the nerves regenerate faster. I’m told that I have to just wait and see what happens, and that there is no guarantee that it will ever happen.

That being said, I’m giving 90% of the credit to #2 for helping me get to where I am today in my recovery.

If I didn’t have the arm strength I gained, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my body up with crutches. If I didn’t have the hip and quad strength, I wouldn’t have been able to walk around with 1 crutch. If I didn’t have the abdominal strength I have now, I wouldn’t have been able to walk with a cane. All of the activities I do on a daily basis to get me through the day such as crawling on all fours, waddling, taking the stairs, even standing on my own head have been attributed to the build-up of every muscle, every crevice of my body that has always been functioning before and after my accident and saving my ass through this surreal part of my life.

My new gains have enabled me to go hiking through extremely steep trails. They have allowed me to surf beach waves and swim in the deep end of swimming pools. They have allowed me to continue my yoga practice and adjust other bodies as a yoga teacher. I can ride a bike (although clumsily when starting and stopping). I am making the most out of life and enjoying the thrill of every moment, because even though sometimes I feel like Mr. Potato Head with missing body parts, I still have so much that is working.

No, I am not losing hope in the redevelopment of connections in my feet, ankles and calves because I do believe there are answers out there that Western Medicine has not yet solved. But in the meantime, I will continue to strengthen those connections that have never lost sight and have always had my back.