Healing Spinners Brotherhood

July 28th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Barry and I are messes, but we’re working on it. He has a newish hip and I have that leg with the titanium bolt knee to ankle.

For a couple of years, we were just middle aged guys who saddled up on bike-like objects in spin classes at the West Roxbury Y. There and then, Dulce, Wendy and other perky sorts cranked out the rock music and choreographed our sweat sessions.

To be candid, after taking spin for a couple of years and teaching it for a few more, I find these classes sort of sissy. My first spin leader was the legend, the martinet, Marta Weinstock. While she went on to drop the h from Martha and become a yoga goddess, she was the best and most demanding at spinning. When I got my Power Pacing certification and started teaching, I carried some of her philosophy, including, “If you didn’t leave a puddle under your bike, you weren’t working!”

That was at a FitCorp. I’ve never taken a class at a Y that was anywhere as tough as hers…or mine.

Regardless, any flavor of spinning is great cardio and something we older guys can do without grinding the knees or ankles. Many of the same of us men and women would show up before 6 a.m. three times a week to do our do.

A couple of years ago, maybe three, I was bike commuting to tech-writing contracts in South Boston. I didn’t go to spin. I had the exercise, plus the adrenalin of trucks and cabs chasing me in Boston traffic twice a day. Then I broke a wrist when a pickup driver jumped a light and knocked me off the bike. I was commuting in a cast a couple of weeks later, but still not back in spin classes.

More seriously, this year with my broken leg — and walker, crutches and cane for months, I was in no condition even though I’ve been unable to find contract work in this recession. So I was surprised and a little ashamed in mid-April when I looked over from my stationary bike in the gym to see Barry.

He and I had spent a lot of hours on nearby saddles, up down, up down, sprint. I was pretty feeble then though. I had just returned to the gym after six weeks crippled, four of those eating hydromorphone (opiate analgesic) for pain.

 Two Lame Guys

The idiot, scripted physician’s assistant from Harvard Vanguard had told me by phone that healing would be better if I lost some weight. Her brilliant and repeating mantra was eat less and exercise more. I initially asked sincerely what exercises I could do when I used the walker and could barely stagger from bed to toilet. She said (ta dah) eat less, exercise more. She only had one answer.

At the Y, the staff was concerned but of little help. They said I’ve have to wait, that there weren’t any classes or equipment for the likes of me.

It turned out to my delight that they were very wrong.  I cruised (ha, figuratively) the machines rooms to discover the SciFit arm machine for physical therapy. Then I found that I could use the crutches also to thump over to rowing machines. So long as I left the leg in the cast on the floor, I could use that. Both were slow and painful, but they made me sweat and breath hard. I cranked up the resistance and time settings on both.

Finally, eight weeks after the break and surgery, I thumped over to the Expresso Fitness stationary bikes, resting my crutches on the floor. They used to be so easy, but it was all I could do to hoist the bad leg over the saddle with two hands and keep my balance climbing on. I was slow, dog slow, and with tears from my uvea.

It was from that vantage a month later that I saw I was sitting next to Barry. We were each out of context for the other. The spin room was maybe 50 yards away by the entrance and where we knew each other.

By then, I could sort of bike. The maddening, taunting ghosts of rides from when I had two working legs haunted me. Yet the ankle had finally loosened enough that I could push the pedals. An actual bicycle seemed long off in the future though.

Barry could one up me though. As we compared sad tales of absence from spin, his story was more powerful than mine.

He had heard speculation in the locker room (no one asked me or the staff) that I had been in a car wreck or a ski accident. Falling on the sidewalk lacks the flair of those.

He on the other hand got a replacement hip the previous August. It did not work as advertised. He doubted that he’d ever be able to go to spin class again. Moreover, his wife had been quite ill at the same time. While she healed, he was not driven to his own concerns.

It happens that several gym rats I didn’t know by name had eyed my progress from walker to crutches to cane to limp and from SciFit to Expresso. The staff too was fairly effusive, praising the various advances and supposed speed of transitions.

The surgeons meanwhile were glum, even grumpy. I had a one-month and then a nine-weeks follow-up, with x-rays and indifference. In the hospital, the head of the orthopedic trauma department and his residents had a hearty chuckle at my bedside when I asked, “When can I get back on a bicycle?” In the follow-ups, the surgeon and residents did not openly ridicule me, but all but one were not helpful or hopeful.

At nine weeks, the head of trauma for Partners thought it over and figured September, but added that I wouldn’t feel like riding until maybe December (just the month you want to hit the streets on two wheels after 10 months off). However, his young resident is a cyclist and had a different answer. He said despite the pain and stiffness, there was no physical reason not to start…slowly and cautiously…as soon as I could balance. He eased another concern, saying I shouldn’t have trouble kicking out of the pedal clip with my SPD shoes, despite the fact that the fibular bottom was still in tiny pieces.

Barry and I see each other regularly at the gym, but not yet in spin classes. He says he sees me as inspiration, because I push the recovery so hard and clearly did the physical therapy and more. He adds that since his wife is better it’s his turn to take care of himself by imitating me.

I’m not often a role model. It’s painless, as the expression goes. Now Barry tells me I’m his inspiration to do his exercises. He thinks when I go back to spin, he’ll try.

Except for the worst weather days or when my wife and I can go to the Y together, I bike to and from. I do various machines and weights while there. When I do the Expresso bikes, the ghost may or may not beat me, but I’m just old-man slow now.

My message for those recovering from a broken leg or something similar is to push it. Don’t get emotionally involved with the pain, just think about what you want to be doing and do it. In my case, it was the puerile delight of a two wheeler.

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One Response

  1. Uncle says:

    You really need to work up an impressive back story for the accident; it helps with the “ooh, ahh” factor from the groundlings. In my case, they take one look and wonder how I could ever have been in condition to race bicycles.

    I have taken a break from the machines and gone back to the pool. At least there, the puddle precedes you.

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