Monday, November 30, 2009

A Walk With Mom

For those who don't think your life can change in an instant, I've got news for you. It can. It does. On May 1st, 2009, the life the my mom knew, the "mom" that her family knew, and the course of the rest of all of our lives changed forever. In literally one heart beat she was transformed from an active, independent 81 year-old to a totally dependent person lost inside of her own brain and body.

Many of you know my mom. For years she worked the "Penguin" booths at the Rock 'n' Roll Expos. She sold shirts and books and made sure that everyone who passed by knew who "the Penguin" was. She was not only my best salesperson, but the best PR agent I've ever had.

She was also a competitive athlete who - to be honest - did not get the "penguin" philosophy. She was a 4-time national senior Olympian who was training for her 5th senior games when her heart trouble started. She collapsed at the end of her last track workout before the games and they discovered a heart blockage. That led eventually to open-heart surgery, a blood clot to the brain and the "lethal" stroke that didn't quite kill her.

For 48 hours she had one foot in life and one in death. We didn't know, and I believe she didn't know whether life - whatever that meant - was worth it following this severe a stroke. As I sat with her in the neuro-intensive care unit after her surgery it was clear that was a debate going on at a level that I could not understand. The Priest called it a sacred conversation with God. I don't know what it was, but it was a very scary place to be.

At one point my mom raised her left hand, the only part of her body over which she had ANY control, and waived at me. I knew that meant she had decided to stay on this side.

The last 7 months have been excruciating. Day by day she has had to learn how to do the things that she, and we, took for granted. I've watched her struggle to learn to raise her arms, struggle to get her right foot to move on command, struggle to find a word the expressed what she was feeling.

I've been lucky to be there for much of her physical therapy. Rather than treating her as an 81 year-old woman who had a stroke, we treated her as an athlete who had suffered a brain injury. Her age was never an issue. We never made accommodations for her age. Success, for her, was not going to be going home, sitting in a wheelchair, and watching the soap operas. Success, for her, was going to be competing again.

This past Saturday I walked with my mom, holding the walker with one hand and helping keep her stable with the other, as she walked one quarter of a mile. Nothing I have ever done comes close to what that felt like. She yelled at me for "not doing it right", she yelled at herself when she lost her balance, she yelled at her right foot when it didn't obey immediately, and she walked.

Her journey is no where close to over. She talks all the time but her words are still jumbled. She has a long way to go before she can even walk with the walker unassisted. But, from waiving one hand to walking hand-in-hand for a quarter mile is already a victory.

Your life can change in an instant. But, it's what you do next that matters most. And if you're like my mom you will grab misfortune by the throat and wrestle it into submission.

Waddle on, mom.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend in St. Pete

Well, what would YOU do? Here were my choices. Stay at home, alone, in Chicago, in November, or go with Jenny to St. Petersburg, Florida where she was working at the Women's Half Marathon.

I chose to take a busman's holiday. For those of you who DON'T know what that means,  a busman's holiday is a holiday or vacation in which one does as recreation what one usually does as one's work. So, for me, going to a race on my HOLIDAY is an awful lot like what I do for a living.

And am I glad I did. First off, not having any real responsibilities meant that I could run when I wanted, and how far I wanted. The result was that I got in a 3 mile walk on Thursday, a 7 mile run on Friday, a 3 mile run on Saturday, and a 4 mile run on Monday. Every run was along the Tampa Bay filled with pelicans and cranes and boats and blue sky and ocean breezes. It was FANTASTIC.

The plan was to do the long run on Friday and back that up with a "tempo" run on Saturday. I just got one of the new Garmin 310XT GPS units and was eager to play - err - use it. It was perfect. I was able to see the pace so I could run slow enough on Friday and FAST enough on Saturday. I really don't know how I managed to run without the 310XT. It does EVERYTHING I need a wrist unit to do; mileage, time, distance, pace, average pace, intervals. It's perfect.

Because the race benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I stopped by the inspiration dinner for a bit to give folks a few "penguin" tips. At least they got a good laugh out of it.

I did hang around the start/finish line on Sunday. Jenny was running the race so it made sense to head on down and see how things were going. A quick congratulations to Dawna Stone and her crew for putting on a very nice event.

So it ended up being a great holiday weekend.

Piaggio MP3 update: It's all set and ready to go. I am waiting for the first snowflake to fall so that I can get out and ride in real winter conditions for the first time EVER.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Snow Thrower, Leaf Blower, and a Three-Wheeled Scooter

Those of you who are old enough to remember Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show will remember the Carnac bit that he used to do. For you youngsters, Ed McMahon would read "answers" and Carnac [Johnny] would come up with the question. It was often quite funny.

Well, if the answer had been; "A snow thrower, a leaf blower, and a three-wheeled scooter", my question would have been: "Name three things that I never thought would be in my garage." And yet, they are.

Garages are sacred places to gear heads. They are the cathedrals in which we keep the icons of our beliefs. They are not simply places to park our cars at night. They are not the final resting place for no-longer-used sporting equipment. And they are certainly not place where all the fun things with motors are shoved into a corner to make room for large bags of Scott's Weed and Feed.

A two-car garage is a place where, maybe, you keep one car. Well, one car that you drive on a regular basis. It's a place where you keep things like tools and battery chargers and extra oil and a can of gas. It's a place where you make room for everything in your life that has an engine.

In the course of my life I've had many garages from a tiny dirt-floored building with no door to an oversized building built initially to keep snowmobiles. I've filled those buildings with the motorized objects of my affection. I've had motorcycles in every state of repair or disrepair. I've had complete bikes and pieces-parts of bikes. I've had bikes that ran and bikes that would never run again. That's what makes a garage such a special place.

Now my garage contains not only my toys but the implements of my life. We've been in the house nearly a year so we're seen 4 seasons. Each season has required new equipment. Each season has meant finding a place for the equipment required for home ownership among the motorcycles.

There's also a new kid in the garage, the Piaggio MP3. As the leaves fall and the seasons change the garage shuffle begins. Like an elaborate Rubik's Cube everything has to be in it's place. The big bikes are moved to the front of the garage, safe for the winter. The lawn mower goes along the wall, run dry of fuel.

But the Piaggio stays near the back ready to be ridden. For the first time in my life I'm actually hoping that we get an early snow. I am convinced that the MP3 is going to extend my riding season.

And if it can do that it will earn a place of honor in my garage.

Waddle on,

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Long Runs and Sunday Rides

Sunday rides are, for motorcyclists, what the weekend long runs are for runners. They are both at once deeply personal and wildly social. They are both opportunities for quiet self reflection and rousing interaction. Having come to motorcycling as a young person but only come to running in my mid-life I have a lot more years of Sunday rides under my belt than long runs. But I understand and appreciate them both.

The traditional Sunday ride, for me, is a breakfast ride. The schedule was nearly always the same; get up, have a cup of coffee in the house while getting dressed to ride, have a second cup of coffee in the garage while getting the bike ready to go, ride for an hour or so to a favorite restaurant for a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, and then ride for the rest of the day. Over the years I've done Sunday rides alone or with a good friend. Rarely I would open the Sunday ride up to a small group.

This past Sunday was a bit different. Jenny had a kick-off for her CES Winter Warriors program and I needed to visit my mom, so breakfast was out of the question. Our Sunday ride would have to be sneaking a couple of hours off in the afternoon and getting out. It wasn't exactly a classic Sunday ride, but it was better than nothing.

Adding to the pressure of getting out is the fact that it was November 1. The perfect summer days are long behind us. Even the beautiful fall days of translucent trees are gone. Here in the mid-west we have moved into a pre-winter state of mind. I'm running in tights and a jacket most days. So, even if I couldn't get out for an all-day Sunday ride, I was going to fire up the Piaggio MP3 get out.

And I wasn't alone. It seemed like every motorcyclist in our area was out for a ride. Actually, by the time Jenny and I got out it seemed like every motorcyclist in our area was already finished with their ride. At every small restaurant and bar there were motorcycles out front. We got invited in to sit around and talk about the MP3 which I would have been happy to do most other times. But Sunday, I didn't want to talk. I wanted to ride. So that's exactly what we did. With what little time we had we covered as many miles as we could.

Pulling back into the garage I had the same feeling as I have at the end of a long run. I'm glad that I was able to do it, but sad that it's over. With my schedule, being at events so many weekends, I'm not sure how many more Sundays I'll have before I have to pack the bikes up for the winter. But, trust me, if the temperature is above freezing, I'll be hitting the road.