the journey : embracing personal evolution

well rounded wellness

roadthis very special lady below shares her unique story about facing personal physical hardship. i have considered this girl a sister for about 15 years now, and her journey has been near and dear to my heart since we were little girls. she illustrates how slowly, with time, she found ways to evolve and incorporate her challenges into her daily life from a fitness and wellness perspective. not all solutions are presented immediately in life, and often times, we have to sweat it out for weeks, months, or years, until we feel like we have a firm grasp on the hand we’ve been dealt. 

maddy: I work out for two reasons: I love food and I have scoliosis.

anyone who knows me can tell you that not a whole lot makes me happier than a large cheese pizza around 2am.  or a hotdog at really any time of day.  or a gallon size bag of haribo gummy bears…. I digress.  this wasn’t an issue for me for the first 21 years of my life as I chowed my way through anything and everything I wanted.  I was blessed with the genes of my mother’s family – tall and thin to a fault – think bean pole.  however, as the cakes continued to get more and more cluttered with candles, my superhuman metabolism started to slow down. for the first time in my life I encountered that horrifying situation of sitting down cross-legged on the couch with your boyfriend to snuggle and watch a movie and your jeans split up the bum. there is nothing worse.  literally, nothing. I had nightmares for weeks.

this is about when I realized that my body was starting to truly change in unexpected ways, and it was time to start exercising with a more focused intention. I’ve always been incredibly active, and have my family to thank for that. we have something called MFO’s: mandatory family outings. we don’t mess around with these either, we’re always up and at ’em. playing tennis,  going for beach runs, playing pond hockey, and being the first people on the chair at Sugarloaf barely scratches the surface. so I was surprised to finally be forced to accept the inevitable, I was getting older, and old issues were beginning to resurface.

I have scoliosis.  I was diagnosed when I was in 6th grade by our school nurse at one of those general health screenings all of the students went through.  at the time, this diagnosis literally seemed like the end of the world.  I was 11, had bright red hair, braces, and now a back brace.  while the other girls around me were showing off their training bras in A&F tank tops, i was stuck wearing overalls to cover up my massive plastic back brace (named Max) decked out with Velcro straps and foam padding to prevent my spine from moving any further out of alignment as I grew.

Max worked to stay the development of my scoliosis as I went through puberty and shot up another six inches over the next three years.  that detested chunk of plastic followed me everywhere through middle school – getting thrown in a gym bag during sports practices and sleepovers and hidden under baggy sweatshirts and elastic waist pants when overalls finally weren’t an option anymore.  but, what no one saw coming were the side effects of growing up with my abdomen encased in plastic.  I had phenomenal posture, but was not able to bend at the knees – all of my movements hinged at my hips.  I was not able to do a sit up to save my life because my abdominal muscles were significantly weakened by Max. Finally, after many dangerous dizzy spells at band practice and even a few ER trips during a track meets, it was discovered that Max had completely incapacitated my diaphragm.

I had not been able to take a deep belly breath for three years.  I had unknowingly adapted my body to only breathe in my upper chest cavity, using a tiny part of my lungs.  This coping mechanism caused a (not so) funny little condition called Paradoxical Vocal Chord Dysfunction – a big scary name for a condition that just meant I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain with those dinky little breaths…which casually caused my throat to close and for me to inevitably pass out.

at age 14, I needed to learn how to use my body again when I broke up with Max. the most important part of this 10 year learning curve was redeveloping my core (oh, and learn how to breathe again…so much for an involuntary function). without Max, my muscles were the only force working to keep my crooked back in order.  my doctors told me if I did not stay fit and keep my abs in tiptop shape, I would turn into the Hunchback of Notre Dame. however, i’ve always struggled finding a way to keep my entire core strong – abs, obliques, and back.  sit ups are okay, planks a bit better, yoga twists don’t get along with my S shaped spinal column, and swimming makes me want to die.

enter my bffaeaeaeae, Miss Elizabeth Louise Russell.  one thing you probably didn’t know about this lovely young lady is she was friends with me at the braces, back brace, and overalls stage of my life.  not only my friend, but my best friend.  she was the one to strap Max back on after soccer practice, help me pick out outfits that would hide Max from my crush, and remind me to bend my knees when I was getting a book out of my locker so I wouldn’t stick my butt in everyone’s faces.  gold star.  SO, Lib is the one who introduced me to my second life saver a few years ago; spinning.

spinning is the trifecta for this crooked chick – legs, core, and arms – with a healthy dose of sweat and loud music to really finish things off.  all of that is great, but the best thing about spinning for me, is that my back loves it.  There is no pounding like running, no twisting like yoga, no massive dumbbells (my scarecrow arms are not a fan), and no pressure to compete against anyone other than my own body and inhibitions.  I feel immediately tighter after 45 minutes of spin, like my core is squeezing my spine back into place and my brain is free of all cobwebs.  these days, I notice myself standing up straighter, pulling my shoulders back, my stomach in, and really opening up my chest, finally allowing myself to breathe.  not to mention my tuckus looks great, no matter how many pints of Ben and Jerry’s I eat.

maddy is a stunningly beautiful ginger that has freckly knees. she is graceful and proper and has been to africa to save and snuggle with babies like, 4 times. she’s been my best friend since 3rd grade and i wouldn’t even trade her in for kristen wiig…eh, actually, i might…sorry leen. maddy is a tough cookie. she gives good advice, and wasn’t kidding about how much she loves haribo bears. maddy knows how to sail, and works at The Hill House in Boston, making the world a smiley-er place. 

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