I grew up very active and athletic. When I was young, I was the only kid in my grade to make it to the top of the rope in the gym climb. Yes, I totally just dated myself as a child of the 80’s with that. I was tough and would try anything I saw another kid doing; and I could usually do it. I was a state level competitive swimmer in high school and ran track for a year as well. Even as a mom, when my kids were small, I would pull the full bike trailer and chase them around the playground and yard. We explored parks and hikes and had wild dance parties in the living room. I thought I was physically unstoppable.
Enter MS. I have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for 5 years. Each year has taken a toll on my level of physical ability and confidence to do things I once thought were very easy. Currently, to alleviate pain and to move more quickly, I require a cane to walk more than a block. My balance is not stellar and I have altered touch feeling over most of my body as well as extra numbness in my feet. As much as it pains (and embarrasses) me to share, I sometimes struggle with feeling and control with my bladder; further complicating physical activity. (Thank you Speax for helping in this department.) This is what a good day looks like for me now. And I’ll take it. My bad days are so much more challenging and humiliating.
Limitations may exist for me now, but I am and have always been scrappy, so I’ll just be giving those limitations a respectful nod and continue trying hard things using whatever tools and tricks I can pull together.
This summer, my family scheduled a trip to Colorado to visit some friends. We spent a couple days in the Denver area and several more days in Crested Butte. We planned hikes, bikes, and water activities. My family isn’t really the lounging type when traveling. All of us want to see and do and I’m pretty sure we all suffer from FOMO! The kids and my spouse knew that there might be some activities that they would be doing without me. I, of course, had no intention of that happening. If there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m full of will. Or bullheadedness. Po-ta-to, Po-tah-to.
In Denver and Winter Park, we did some mild hiking and alpine sliding. Can I just say that I LOVE the alpine slide? The rider determines the speed, and I went as fast as I could without flying off the track. Seriously. I swallowed a bug on the way down and whooped like Towanda from “Fried Green Tomatoes.” As someone who drives a minivan and toddles around with a cane 99% of the time, this was a moment of speedy freedom that I relished.
The first big challenge I overcame on this trip was a summit climb in Crested Butte. My family did cheat a little (like most people do) and took a ski lift to the 11,000 foot level, leaving only a 2 mile, 1,200 foot incline left to climb. That might sound easy peasy, but I can tell you that it wasn’t. There was some bouldering involved, as well as very rocky, uneven paths. The last hour of the summit was all rocks and bouldering. Some of the rocks were not stable and I spent a fair amount of time on all fours. No shame here. I was still making it happen! Also, my home in Kansas is only at 1,000 ft above sea level. Being at 12,000 feet is a stretch for lungs unaccustomed to high altitudes.
My family completely came through for me. They patiently waited when I needed more time to find a safe climbing path. Throughout the hike, my kids and spouse encouraged me with affirmations.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this Mom!” “You’re doing great Theresa!” “Mom, you’re beating Dad!” It really helped to keep me going. The internal motivation to be there at the top with my family was even more powerful. I knew if I just kept a positive attitude and used my hiking sticks and smarts, I could get to the top….even if it was crawling.
We did several hikes to see wildflowers and waterfalls throughout our visit. I was grateful for the ability, and walking sticks, to complete each hike and enjoy the activities with my family and friends. I prefer walking poles with rubber bottoms as those feel the most stable for me. A lot of walking sticks have spikes, and I feel like those slip a little unless you really “plant,” them. That requires more energy and strength than I have at the end of a long hike.
The next challenge I was eager to tackle was stand up paddle boarding (SUP). The family we were visiting owned a SUP and took us to a mountain lake to kayak, SUP and fish. I have done all manner of water sports and water activities, but I hadn’t ever been on a stand up paddle board. The kids went out first and struggled a little to get to the standing position, opting to kneel their first time out. I figured that might be it for me too. MS has made my balance a little iffy, and I can’t always tell where my feet are planted without visually checking. My leg muscles are also shaky and do not obey as they once did, which is a huge part of stability and balance. While I was hoping for the best, I was prepared for a very chilly dunk in the lake. Patiently, I set myself up on my knees and got going. I couldn’t resist trying to stand and took that very slowly. Once my feet were planted and I did a visual check, I started paddling and kept on going. The kids couldn’t believe it and quickly wanted back on so they could prove that they could also stand.
I can’t express the thrill of knowing that I can still be a model of physical activity for my kids. I am able to show them how to stretch their physical abilities farther through my own example despite my MS.
Another activity that we planned for this trip that was new to all of us was white water rafting. While I was sure this activity might challenge my stamina, I didn’t think it would challenge my actual coordination and strength. My friend thoughtfully chose a quality company and a level 3 rapids course for use that was ideal for our raft of kids. So. Much. Fun! I loved being out on the water and showing the kids how to safely do some adventurous activities. Was I tuckered out at the end? Sure. I planned for that as well, and gave myself the grace to be pleasantly spent and see what my body would be up for the next day when the next day came.
The last day of our trip, I did pass on mountain biking. I was concerned about my legs being used up from all the hiking, SUP, and white water rafting. My muscles were a little bit shaky and I was relying on my cane more at the end of the trip than at the beginning. I was prepared for that, and much worse, to be the case, so it was a safety call to skip the mountain biking. In lieu of injuring myself on a mountain bike trail, I opted for a lovely wildflower hike to a waterfall with my good friend and daughter followed by some easy going shopping in downtown Crested Butte with the girls. Perhaps next time, I’ll mountain bike on the first day when my legs are fresher.
Respecting my limits doesn’t mean I am caged within them. I test the boundaries. I choose to seek opportunities and use tools that will allow me to be successful.
A positive attitude with a side of grace seems to be working for me.
I wish all of you a summer (and life) filled with adventurous moments and joyful exploits with your friends and families.
Comment with your bucket list, or with things you’ve recently ticked off your list!