Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Week 3 - Tuesday 31 Jan - Hellraiser!

Another 8am start (must have a word with the person who schedules my appointments!), another 8 hour day at PW and some more great work with David and Steve. That included lots of work on the floor ladder and hurdles (including with ankle weights) to really challenge my hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes, and single leg balances and squats on soft surfaces to address the residual weakness in my right ankle (which as Steve causes me to turn on my hip flexors and quads when they should be turned off).  More hard work - more good progress. 

Last week Jason gave a great description of the neuro issues SCI patients face. He said its like someone trying to make a phone call to a specific number in the US telephone network, with hundreds of thousands of telephone lines. Ordinarily, the call gets straight through to the right number but imagine if the network was damaged so that the call went to thousands of different numbers all at once. SCI affects the neuro system in that way. What we are working on now is to try to repair the system so that the correct signal goes to the correct nerves and muscles, and not to several wrong ones at the same time. 

Last week I began to get clear signals through to my hamstrings, glutes and soleus, and that's improved further this week. Yesterday, for the first time I started to feel the connection coming back into my lower abs, and today I managed 20 hanging knee raises, which is the first time I've done that since my accident. That felt really good.

I can't be certain where the gains are coming from, but I do think acupuncture is helping. This morning, I had needles in my scalp whilst working on standing balances and single leg squats and then some slow, controlled walking.  At the start the acupuncturist was hopeful that he might see some improvement. By the end, he was astonished at how far and how fast I progressed, so much so that he asked me to do a video! He recommended that I leave the needles in my head for the rest of the afternoon, so I spent 4 hours walking round the gym like Hellraiser! No pinhead comments, please! One of the other clients told me he's been to bed with the needles in his head. I believe in this stuff - but I'm not ready to go there just yet!!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Week 3 - Monday 30 Jan

I had a really chilled, relaxing weekend and managed to recharge and get myself into a really positive frame of mind. So, I thought today would be a good day to do my full routine of hand exercises and stretches at PW, on top of my 3 hours with the trainers. I just got home after an 8 hour day there!! And a really good one too. 

Here's a video of the overspeeding I mentioned last week. Not the most exciting clip - but it shows the issues I still have with controlling foot flexion and placement at speed (I think this video was at 4kph). But (1) this was about 9am this morning - everyone takes a little time to get going first thing on a Monday! and (2) as David told me AFTER I got off the treadmill, this was with zero weight support through the harness. Last week the harness was taking 45% of my body weight. So this was HUGE progress, especially given that I also reached 5kph. Hoping to better that tomorrow!

I spent part of today's session with Travis on something called the Total Gym (an inclined, sliding bench with an angled foot plate). Its a great way to use double and single leg squats to build controlled movement and get right into the glutes and pelvis. Travis also showed me some strength and stability work he learned from Russia's leading strength coach. Really worked. Where is this all going??!

After my initial assessment on Day 1, one of the trainers said that I should look at the video of Jamie Gillentine, a former PW client. She suggested that I have the potential to achieve something similar. As I said last week, every injury is different, as is the personality and circumstances of every person. That makes each person's potential and actual recovery unique. So, to my mind, Jamie's recovery does not change the odds for mine (I believe those odds are very high). But his video puts in very moving pictures the struggle he faced and his amazing achievements. There are many parallels with my journey so far, the progress I've made and what I am striving to achieve - I know that someday I too will run with my kids again. In that sense, Jamie's video is massively inspirational to me and shows what you and I are hoping, willing and praying for. Here is Jamie's video. This comes with a tissue warning! 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Week 2 - Fri 27 Jan - end of a great week

The amazing people in this place remind me constantly of several things. First, that this injury strikes people doing unremarkable things as well as riskier stuff. I met a water ski professional whose jump went wrong. But I also met a professional motocross rider who came off his bike when he was riding for leisure, not racing. And today I spoke to a lady who fell off a bunk bed ladder whilst putting her grandchild to bed and a guy who fell off a window ledge. I came off my bike when moving fairly slowly on a level surface. And the clients here range from young kids to people in their 50's or older. It reminds me that there are risks in most things we do at any stage in life, but that can't stop you living life the way you enjoy it. 

I'm also reminded that no two injuries are alike. My injury is at C5/6/7.  Many other clients here have injuries at the same level, but the impact is hugely different. That's why its impossible for any medic or therapist to predict a recovery path - every person and injury is different and everyone regains function differently. But that's also why it makes no sense for the medics to only stress the risk that he or she may never walk again. They should also say there's a chance he or she might, but to do that you must do everything you can to stimulate the nervous system to promote recovery. That's what this place says - and achieves results and gives people hope.

And I'm also constantly reminded that, whilst I suffered a horrific injury, I am extremely fortunate to have recovered to where I am so very quickly, and to have the potential to go a lot further. A client who has been in a wheelchair for two years told me today that she finds it  inspirational to see me walking around the gym. So I am giving hope to others around me. That's wonderful to know. It also reminds me that I have a responsibility to show others that there is hope.

Here's a couple of clips from today's session with Jason. 

Jason says the floor ladder is one of his favourite pieces of equipment because you can do a huge range of dynamic exercises to stimulate, challenge and improve the neuro system. I'm getting to like it too, and thinking this might be a good investment when I get home. He also convinced me of the benefits of a spin bike, so I think I might be wanting one of those too! The range of leg press work proved that I now have pretty much equal strength and control in both legs - giving me real confidence now in my right leg, which was much weaker. One breakthrough in my session with Genny was to do Warrior 1 and 2 (yoga postures) for the first time post injury. That, and many other things I worked on with Genny today, will help open my pelvis, which has become locked pretty tight. She thinks that is the last remaining area of weakness, and that working on that will make a big difference to my gait.  I had my second acupuncture session today. I do think its helpiing, especially to loosen my hands.

Its Friday evening. Where better end the week than on the beach. Here's what its like down there. Great place to end the week with a cold beer (thankfully I only saw the sign saying no alcohol on the beach after I'd drunk it!)

And here I am trying out one of the more advanced exercises I learned this week !!? ;-)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Week 2 - Thurs 26 Jan - with videos!

I wanted to show you the variety and range of exercises I do. Here's a video from today's session with Steve. Even this is just a very small sample of today's work with Steve and Genny. 

Genny's session focussed a lot on opening, loosening and strengthening the right hip. The movement is all there, but I need to strengthen that muscle group - and learn to trust it. My sense is that a lot of my progress from here forward will be about building trust and confidence - the muscles are getting reconnected, the neuro system seems to be working faster all the time, and my body is re-learning the right sequences; but I need to trust that my muscles are strong enough to do their job and support me. The strength is there, as the trainers all say, but I've got to build confidence that the right muscles do the right thing in each step. And that's about repetition. 

Talking of which, one of my big breakthroughs today was to walk on my tip toes. I've been struggling with that for months. The repetition and hard work has paid off. I managed to do it really well today!

Several people have said that they have trouble posting comments. Si Wallace tells me that he fixed it be opening a Google account. Sounds a pain, but actually very quick and easy. 

click on comment at bottom of my post
- type your comment then click on publish
- select Google as the profile
- it then asks for you to sign in. If you already have a google account then no probs  If not you can create one immediately using your own email address. You don't need another email address.

Ali tells me that you also get a word verification to type in before you publish, but that's also very straightforward.

If anyone has a better step by step guide, please could you post it as a comment. 

And thanks for the comments that have been posted and emails that have been sent. I'm making great progress but its hard work and I need a lift from time to time - and your support gives me a massive boost.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Week 2 - Tuesday 24 Jan

Tonight, my body feels as you'd expect after more than 30 different exercises over three hours - tired, ready for my rest day tomorrow but sensing that the hard work is really starting to pay off. I had a big "Aha" moment in my session with Travis  - piecing together two components of my gait and so helping turn what was a stiff, segmented movement into a single, fluid motion. I hope that improvement sticks when I try it out tomorrow.

One of my biggest challenges is tightness throughout my body - very typical with SCI injuries. Its like there's a big rubber band wrapped around my legs and torso. Sometimes, like in the videos from last week, the tightness eases a bit, but most of the time I fight against myself to move. Sometimes, when I've exercised a lot and moved fast (like on the treadmill), it feels like the rubber band gets overwound and starts to spring back, so I almost feel like my body wants to move without my mind telling it to go anywhere! It affects my gait, is inefficient and uses up a lot of physical energy. It also means I have to think about pretty much every step, so requiring lots of mental energy too.  Today I tried acupuncture for the first time post injury. The therapist said what I hoped he would - that he thinks this can help reduce the tightness. The idea is to help with the neuro system re-programing and to prompt the system to relax. He was very confident that acupuncture should help accelerate my recovery, and that I should see very big progress by the end of the 6 weeks here. That's what I came here for, and I'll explore all options to help me get there - so will try a few more sessions this week and next.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Week 2 - Monday 23 January

Straight back into it with an 8am start at PW this morning - ouch! Another good two hours with David starting with forward, backward and side lunges to target the glutes and hamstrings; then moving onto the treadmill for the best part of an hour. As David said this morning, my issues are almost all neurological - the muscles are functioning and the strength is either there or building fast, but I need to get them to fire faster and with the correct co-ordination. To help me do that, I do two types of treadmill exercises (in the harness, to provide partial body weight support and safety) - at slower speeds, constantly shifting from forwards to sideways to backwards walking, to confuse the nervous system and train it to keep up with the changes; and "overspeeding" - challenging my legs to fire the right muscles in the right sequence to power forward and keep up with an increasingly faster treadmill. Last week my top speed was 4.1kph; today I comfortably reached 4.5 (or was it 5?) kph with no assistance from David and briefly got over 5.5kph with some assistance. That was a huge improvement - David and I were delighted! To keep up the focus on the glutes and calf muscles, I was then strapped back into the sled pull, which challenges the whole thing - glutes, hamstrings, calfs, co-ordination. Last Friday I pulled 20k. That's about Amy's weight and I told the kids that meant that I'd be able to pull Amy down the street when I get home. Today I pulled 32k, around Max's weight! So now the kids are waiting for me to get over 50k, so I can pull them both at the same time! On the way through, I had a very definite change in sensation in the ball of my right foot. For the first time, albeit briefly, I felt what seemed like the right type and level of sensation at the right time in the push off. My sense was that was a response to the work I did on Friday on the power plate - so we got me straight back on there for more of the same.

Eric, one of the co-founders of PW, then gave me an hour of great input to improve my right leg movement. Big focus on the hamstrings; building stability in the pelvis; and keeping a slight bend in my right knee as the foot lands and avoiding hyper-extension. Andrew, if you're reading this, you'll find it all very familiar!

This afternoon I've done pretty much my entire set of OT exercises, making this the first day when I've managed by full regime - 3 hours at PW and a couple of hours OT. I ended the afternoon with a walk outside, to test whether the work done this morning was bedding in. Result - very happy with my walking (but need to keep focussed on that right knee and pelvis)! Its a stormy day in SoCal today, with the wind whipping up some surf and sea spray on the Pacific. Staying upright in a gale force wind was not one of my goals - but I think I've checked that box!!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Day 5 - hard work, big progress (and videos!)

The first week ended with another great day. Two hours with David, with one hour in between with Andy, both focussing on firing the glutes and getting a strong push off through the back leg. My legs were able to do many things I did not expect at this stage, including a treadmill walk (in a harness) at 4kph, many deep forward and lateral lunges, single leg presses etc. Here are videos of me jogging at the start of the session and then doing a 20k sled pull towards the end (I went up and down the length of the gym 4 times doing this). I had several minutes of squats on the power plate, a vibrating platform, which is intended to help get the muscles firing at a higher frequency. Its the weirdest experience, but seems to work. My legs withstood the pounding, with great responses - but I expect them to cry out for a rest tomorrow! 


So, you'll see that as well as success at PW, I've had a breakthrough with uploading video! Except that I can't seem to save the rotate change, so excuse the need to tilt  your head for a couple of minutes. But here's the video from Monday - which I have successfully rotated!

I'm in the house now, which is great. Looking forward to a weekend of R&R, before getting going again on Monday

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Days 3 and 4

It's end of Day 4, Thursday, and I just got back from enjoying a pizza and a pint in a bustling micro brewery in Carlsbad Village. The significant fact is that I walked quite a distance to get there - and successfully got across the railway track as the California Coaster came speeding towards me! The effort was worth it - great atmosphere, good beer and really tasty pizza. The walk back was a little harder. I blame the pizza. I downsized to what they call "small", but in future may need to order "super small"!

The more significant fact is that I walked here with my brand new gait. In my right leg: turn off the quad (it was overly used, too tight and inhibiting my movement); fire the glute from the moment the heel strikes; try to keep a little bend in the right knee; keep the glute engaged through to push off with the right foot; narrow the width of the stride). That's the product of three hours today with Steve, one of the PW gait specialists, and an intense focus on isolating, firing, strengthening and stabilising the glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings and using them in the right sequence. There was a clear difference in my gait at the end of the session compared to the beginning. Turning that into sustained improvement will be a matter of hard strength work and repetition, repetition and repetition - and, as the repetition turns into regular, automatic movement, relax and stop thinking about it. As Steve said, we all think hard when trying stuff for the first time, and this is all new to me, effectively. But as he also said, I've learned to do this stuff once before, so know I can do it again!

Yesterday was my rest day. Even on rest days I need a good stretch and have to keep things moving, so I had an hour or so in the hotel gym, followed by a rest by the pool with my iPod, getting to know albums I'd never had the chance to listen to before (The Macabees and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - really enjoyed both). My other music here is the ocean - it provided a magnificent background sound to my walk and stretches this morning (an iPod seems out of place there).

I move to the house tomorrow afternoon, where I'll be for the next four weeks.

No more videos yet - but maybe after tomorrow morning's session.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Video on Facebook

Still no joy on uploading the video to Blogger. But it is now on my Facebook page, if you'd like to see it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Day 2 - raising the bar

I had been warned! "It's an intensive, activity based program", they said "and we work you really hard". I said "Yeah, but I push myself pretty hard at home and work 4 or 5 hours a day". But this afternoon, for 3 hours solid, non stop, I was pushed to a completely different level. I loved every minute of it. My legs are still buzzing  more than three hours after we ended (and I think that's a good thing)!

Today started with a walk on the beach. I'll remind you that's very hard work for me, before saying that it was a cloudless, warm and beautiful morning. So this really is SoCal - and the weather forecasters here get it just as wrong as everywhere else!

Today David worked more on my jogging, sidesteps and lunges before getting me stepping over low hurdles. I'd seen videos of other clients doing that. I didn't expect to get started on Day 2. My last two hours were with Genny, who really cranked up the range and intensity of exercises. Genny nailed it for me. She said that I have great strength (and that it's very unusual to be at this stage just 6 months post injury) and really what's needed is to fire up the neurological system and work hard on improving co-ordination. That's exactly what my body was telling me before I came. Genny also said that, given that's my starting position, I should be able to achieve really good improvement in gait in the six weeks I'm here. That's another log on the motivational fire, and the bar just got raised again on my hopes and expectations.

I've just refueled on the biggest quesadilla I've ever seen. Tomorrow's my scheduled rest/ recovery day. I'll post again on Thursday.  

(Still no joy on fixing the video upload. Will keep trying)

Monday, 16 January 2012

How to upload video

Nope, can't get the video to upload. Any advice anyone? I've transfered the video from iPhone to iPhoto and then tried:

- saving in iMovies
- saving in Quicktime

and then either uploading to Blogger direct or via You Tube. But none of that seems to work. I think my problem is that I'm not saving to the right file type. But can't find how to do that. HELP!

Day One

I’m exhilarated!

I tried hard to not build my first day expectations too high. I needn’t have bothered! The photos and videos on the Project Walk website are very impressive, but this place has blown me away. The facility is even bigger than I had in mind and there’s more equipment here than in most commercial gyms. But the best things are the atmosphere, which comes from the people, and their passion and expertise. They lift you, instantly – and then hold you there to support your hopes and belief. And that’s fuel for my own motivation, which is a big part of what I came here for. I’m now very confident that my goals for the next six weeks are achievable – and then some, maybe!

I had a really good journey over from Singapore, so now I know that my body is fine with even a 15 hour flight (in Singapore Airlines business class, at least!!). I had assistance through LA airport, which seems to be a really good way of jumping the queues. And I was met by Edna and Derek Steel – to whom a really big thank you for your hospitality and kindness. I hope your trip back home from Carlsbad was smooth. Enjoy the Panama Canal and see you again in six weeks, I hope, when I can show you my new tricks!

A number of people who have spent time with me say that they know I will be fine (they’re right, by the way). You can see it in my eyes, they say. Derek said exactly that on Sunday. Today, I think I saw it in my trainers’ eyes and in the looks they exchanged as we went through my assessment and the first few hours of training.

My lead specialist is David. After some dynamic floorwork he got me onto the treadmill and helped really activate my right leg for the first time, and drive it with some speed. He's excited about what we can achieve over the next 6 weeks, and is hoping he can find a way to get me out of the gym and onto the football field (he's an ex football strength and conditioning coach and extremely well built, so I'll approach that one with caution!). I also spent an hour with Travis, and he got me firing my glutes and engaging my abs for the first time. I'm trying to upload a video of how I walked today - but its taking forever, so I'll post it separately, hopefully today.

Before I left Singapore I asked the kids to set me targets. Amy said she would like me to be able to walk a puppy. We don’t have a puppy, so you can see where she’s going with that one! At the gym today one guy had a really nice black Labrador. I think I might be asking to borrow it soon! Max's targets included playing pool tag - I'll be asking David for special training routines for that one.

I’m staying at the Carlsbad Inn Resort til Friday, when I move to a house. The hotel is in Carlsbad Village, and just across the road from the ocean, so a great location for the times when I’m not at PW. I spent this afternoon in the hotel gym, stretching and doing my hand/arm exercises, and then doing more stretching in the sauna, which I think will really help.

Picture this. Its dusk, and the last light of the day is fading as the sun sets over the Pacific. I’m alone in an outdoor Jacuzzi, close to the ocean, with steam rising off the bubbling surface. The water slowly turns red then blue from the lights below. That’s where I found myself around 6pm today! No rest though - so another good place for hand and arm stretches. Rajan, you should try this at home. Or I'll save a place here for you!!

So, this must be Southern California, where the sun always shines and its warm all year round. Except I think I must be in the wrong Southern California. Today was cloudy with a high of 14C – and the rest of the week is pretty much the same. Everyone tells me it was really nice last week – doesn’t help me,  I tell them!

Its time to eat and then read for a while, and calm down a bit so that I can get some sleep ahead of tomorrow.