Exercise: Meeting the Challenge, No Matter the Circumstance

“Working out was always a challenge, though one I was usually happy to undertake. Whether hitting the weights, going for a two-mile run, jumping on the bike for a long ride, or planning a day of strenuous hiking, I always knew I could physically rise to the occasion. I depended on my body to perform, and if I kept it in reasonably good condition (which I usually did), it seldom let me down.

In recent years, that has all changed. Running is now a mere memory; sometimes it is a chore to simply walk from the RVC parking lot to the locker room. Walking into the fitness room and doing a set of deadlifts or squats is out of the question; merely moving a 25lb-weight plate from the rack to a bar can prove to be a problem. Biking? Balancing a bike on a roadway is now an unrealizable dream.

I have unexpectedly developed a neurological condition that makes many of the physical activities I’ve been involved with my entire life difficult, if not impossible. This essay is not about bemoaning what I cannot do, however; it is about what I still can, and must do to try and keep my body and mind functioning in the best possible manner.

There are no cures, no solutions to my condition. There are a few things I can do, however, to try and stave off further decline. The most important of these is exercise. That is what drives me to get to the RVC as often as possible.

Though many of the workouts I did a few years back are no longer feasible, there are many I enjoy, and still can accomplish. Riding the Expresso bikes provides a pleasant alternative to the road riding I always loved.

Lifting free weights no longer works for me; however, when sitting on, or strapped into a weight machine, I can still get the rush of pushing around some formidable resistance. Swimming remains fun, and the heat from the sauna, steam room, and hot tub helps my damaged muscles feel much better.

In this process, I’ve discovered some new physical routines I previously ignored. As someone who grew up lifting weights in the 70’s, I’ve often ignored the importance of adopting a good stretching routine. Now, stretching is an important part of my effort to keep my body working, and I try to make it a part of every workout. Who knows, I may even entertain yoga and Pilates as other options to keep my body functioning.

No, maybe I cannot bike at the same power level, or move the same weight I could a year or two ago, but as long as I can still perform those exercises, I’ll keep working to improve.

When faced with a physical disability, some of the simplest routines one takes for granted become great challenges. For instance, walking up and down the stairs between the gym and locker room, on some days, is tougher than a 30 minute ride on the exercise bikes. Dressing, undressing, showering, and keeping steady and not running into someone else also prove challenging on certain days, too.

Despite all of these difficulties, I know that without regular exercise (and trips to the sauna in the winter), I would be in much worse shape than I am in currently. And so I not only continue to be a regular at RVC, I am constantly looking for new ways to replace the physical routines I can no longer perform.

Overcoming obstacles and performing to our best capabilities — that’s what keeps us all going in the world of exercise. The desire and motivation to meet and even surpass our goals, aspirations and supposed limitations. May we never lose that passion, no matter our situation in life.”

Frank Orlowski

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