Ruibal column: The privilege of health
I learned to walk three times in my life. Once as a babe, the others in rehabilitation following limb-lengthening surgeries. Each step was clumsy and awkward. The strides were short and strained. My heels would often not touch the ground as bearing weight was still a new phenomenon to my broken bones. My hands would white-knuckle grip the walker.
Since moving to Glenwood, I have often said that my saving grace was joining a CrossFit gym. It gave me a community in a completely new place. It gave me an outlet to get entirely out of my head. It also thoroughly kicks my butt. When I bend over, hands on thighs, gasping for breath on the side of Highway 82 after some killer hill sprints, I think of those first steps.
In one of my first CrossFit classes, the workout included jumping rope. The other new people grabbed a rope and fell into a rhythm remembered from childhood. I never learned to jump rope as much of my childhood was spent in a wheelchair. When it came to box jumps, I felt like a newborn deer that didn’t have control over its legs yet. I worked really hard for my growth but still am not sure how to use it.
In the meantime though, I’m trying not to take physical activity for granted, as health is a privilege.
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While undergoing surgeries and subsequent rehab, all my 11-year-old self wanted was freedom. So my family and I did what we could do. We went to the mall.
That’s where we met the soldier one weekend.
“Hey there! Beautiful day! How many pins you got?” he cheerfully asked as he wheeled himself up to us in the parking lot.
In combat, he lost one leg completely. The other was skewered together in dozens of pieces by the same type of pins that gave my legs newfound length. He talked excitedly about the miracles of modern medicine. He showed us the small dog his girlfriend was sneaking in via her purse.
He was so happy and provided so much perspective.
It’s a similar perspective I invoke now when out of breath on the side of 82. I will curse my legs for not being as long and lean as those who have passed me over and over. I will feel bad for myself. But then I force myself to remember the hospital room, the rough beige carpet that my feet would touch for only mere minutes a day.
I remember the soldier. I remember the kids I befriended at the hospital who were half my age and already had twice as many surgeries as I to address a myriad of bone deformities. I remember former Marine Corps Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, who doesn’t let a lost limb in combat keep her from summiting the highest peaks. I remember Michelle Spidell, the woman who became a cancer nurse after beating cancer herself.
There are plenty of reasons to say “I can’t.” But the fact that I’m healthy enough to get out of bed in the morning is reason enough to say “I can.”
Sallee Ann is engagement editor at the Post Independent and recently made a record 50 jumps in a row on the jump rope. Her column appears on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.
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