The Comeback. The First Few Weeks Home.

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The come back. Finally, the part of this procedure that I’ve been looking forward to. When I left the hospital, they gave me no physical restrictions to start getting my strength back and getting back to normal. Fortunately, all of my restrictions involve crowds, germs, and diet but nothing that says I can’t ride my bike or run. It does say I can’t swim in a public pool for three months unfortunately, but I already feel lucky they are allowing me to do this much.

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My heart rate was so out of control when I first left the hospital.  Also, I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating, even if the room was cold. Throughout the day, I would also break out into cold sweats for no reason. It was weird, but this has stopped now. I think it had to do with my blood levels being low, plus the medication.

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The first thing I had noticed since being released was how exhausted I got climbing anything, whether it be a wheelchair ramp, a small hill, or even stairs. In fact, every time I would climb the stairs in our house, I would have to stop at the top and catch my breath. Also, I noticed that I was really shaky and fatigued. I think much of this has to do with the fact I had gotten so out of shape in the hospital and couldn’t be active. But, I think most of it had to do with all of the drugs that were pumped into me while I was there. In the past, when I have been put on Prednisone steroids for MS flare-ups, it has really messed with my heart rate, but I have never been on as many steroids as I have this time, so I knew this was  going to be fun.

Back when I played football, one of my coaches always talked about setting the tone and how we need to go out and set the tone early. This is something that I’ve always carried with me. The day I flew home I wanted to set the tone and start some form of workout. That evening, I went out for my first bike ride. It felt great to be back on the bike, though my heart rate was going at race pace and hitting 186 BPM while averaging 172 BPM . I wasn’t going fast at all. I only averaged 15.3 mph. One day last year, I did the same section of road at an average of 29.1 miles per hour and I promise you, my heart rate wasn’t near that high! I totally expected this, so it wasn’t at all discouraging. I can’t tell you how good it felt just to be out riding again in the beautiful farmland of Dona Ana County.

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Something that was funny about this ride, was that it was my upper body that started shaking and got fatigued before my lower body. My arms felt extra weak and so did my neck. Being on the bike was way more uncomfortable than normal, and I only lasted 38 minutes, but I was happy that I lasted that long!

The next day I went out again, and this time I lasted 1 hour and 2 minutes and even went up to a 16 mile per hour average, but this time I made it 20. 6 miles.

The following day, I went out with my friend Greg and we made it 23 miles and I lasted an hour and a half! I was still only averaging a little over 15 miles an hour, but this ride smoked me! There is a small little hill along the way and this was my first attempt at anything with an elevation gain.  I totally red-lined and hit my max heart rate while watching Greg blast up this hill and leave me in his dust. This was actually awesome for me to witness, because when I started riding with Greg, he wasn’t much of a hill climber at all. I took him on a 70 miler to Hatch, NM and on that ride I was charging up every hill and doing the same thing to him, so I enjoyed watching him get his revenge as I suffered!

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I lost weight in the hospital initially because of the chemotherapy, but I gained it all back and more with all of the steroids, so I decided I needed to start doing exercises to burn fat, before I start actually running again. Plus, I don’t want to start running until my heart rate gets down a little bit more. It’s easy to regulate your heart rate on a bike, but on a run I just seem to suffer. I started doing workouts at the gym on the two different elliptical machines they have. One of them is an incline and the other is just the normal. My elliptical workouts range from an hour to about an hour and 15 minutes. While on the elliptical, I usually watch inspirational Ironman videos on You Tube to keep myself motivated, because I get really bored on elliptical machines. I’ve also started lifting light weights so my arms and upper body don’t get so tired and week.

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My first Monday back I had to go get my labs drawn and my counts were good, except my liver enzymes were high, so they asked me to stop taking the Diflucon until they normaled out.

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That same day I also started my physical therapy at Southwest Sport and Spine. My cycling team has strong ties with this place because they have been a sponsor in the past. Plus, a couple of my triathlon and mountain bike buddies work there. In fact, Bridget, the main physical therapist that is working with me, is one of my triathlon training buddies. Starting PT felt really good because they have been putting me in the pool and I’ve been able to work many of the muscles that have been neglected. I started really slow there because my heart rate had been so high and they are always monitoring that. I’m finally up to where they’re letting me swim freestyle three times for about two minutes and 45 seconds per rep. This really feels amazing on my arms and chest. It’s exhausting, but it is what I need.

My second week of cycling, my heart rate started going down a little bit, but was still high. I did notice that my endurance improved and miles started to double.  I did a 42 mile ride with Greg on the old heater course and I felt amazing. It probably helped that I was on the old battleground where I learned to push myself to the limit on my road bike for the first time. I also made it to the elliptical machine just about every day that week.

During that week, I also started working on hill climbs, because that has been the hardest part for me on the bike so far. I did the Saturday ride with Zia Velo.   I was almost the last person up the hill on the big climb, so I went out the next week and I worked on that hill climb a few more times.   I feel like it’s getting better and I’m knocking a little over a minute off the climb every time I do it.

Right now, my heart rate is finally coming down to the normal range and that’s making a huge difference in what I’m able to do for my recovery. Now I’m starting to get more excited about this. It also helps that when I’m done with my training for the day, that my legs aren’t tingling at night like they used to. I also feel like my left side is getting a little stronger. I’m still left feeling pretty tired after a good ride or work out. I end up needing to catch up on a lot of sleep after, but even that’s getting better every day. I even survived about half of the heater before getting dropped. Of course, I only made it that far because I was riding in the draft the whole way.  I feel like I’m starting to really come back and getting better and this excites me.

Comebacks

I feel like I’ve had to make a couple of comebacks to my life. Some examples are when I was first diagnosed with MS, when I broke my foot playing basketball, when I broke my elbow mountain biking, when I tore my meniscus snowboarding, and a few other injuries along the way.  I know not to get too discouraged because I know I’ll make it back.  Somehow, I feel every little comeback has made me stronger in a new way. When I broke my foot, I started running as soon as it was strong enough. I never liked running before, but I was doing a lot of elliptical work when the cast was on my foot and it made me want to start running. When I tore my meniscus, I started doing more endurance stuff, like riding my bike and swimming. When I got MS, I started riding my road bike and got stronger on the hills and discovered triathlon.

The important thing is to always get back up when we get knocked down, and as quickly as possible, as long as the body is ready.

Last year in the Southwest Triathlon series I was doing, it was my goal to win a race overall. I didn’t want to just win my category, but I wanted to be the first one to cross the finish line period. I had been in the overall lead a few times throughout the season, but only to get passed in the pool (in NM many sprint triathlons end in the pool) or caught on the run near the home stretch. I could usually win the overall bike time, but the super runners or swimmers always seemed to have their way with me at the end.

I picked a duathlon in November that ended with a 50 kilometer bike course.  I chose this race because I knew this one played to my strengths. I had been training hard on my time trialing and felt confident I would win this race. Six days before the race, I participated in a local criterium bike race in Downtown Las Cruces. Criterium (crit) races are races that involve short laps and they go off time, and not distance.

Anyway, right before the start of the race we had a quick rain and it made the roads a little slick. During the race, I was on a round-about going pretty fast and I hit a slick spot on a paint stripe and wrecked. I slid across both lanes and the rider behind me rode over my wheel, bending it so I couldn’t continue the race. I was covered in road rash on my arms, butt, and legs.  I also dislocated one of my fingers at the knuckle. I was very glad for the rider behind me that ran over my bike. He was not injured at all because he flipped pretty good.

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Training was really difficult that week because I had giant scabs on my legs and some pretty deep bruising.   Every time I moved, the  scabs would crack and tear and my muscles would really hurt. When I tried to run, I couldn’t make it far, because there was a lot of swelling in my leg. I was definitely concerned about the duathlon, and the question if I would be able to perform like I wanted to. I knew I could do it still, but I just didn’t know if I would be able to pull off the win. Also, my energy level was down because healing seems to take a lot of energy out of you.

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On race day, I got another surprise when I found out the run was going to be off-road in the desert. The shoes I was wearing were not at all made for an off-road run. They are triathlon shoes for when the run is expected to be on pavement. With these kinds of shoes, you don’t wear socks with them and there are little holes in the bottom, so water can drain out. The problem with this, is that if you run in the dirt, the rocks tend to come up through the bottom of your shoes and get inside.  It makes for a long, painful run, and that’s how it ended up being. Also, the start of the run was painful because my scabs were cracking and my muscles just didn’t feel right in my legs. My left leg was stiff with the swelling from the wreck. The road we were running on was very sandy and almost immediately, I got a couple of pebbles inside my shoe that were very painful under my feet. It was only a four mile run, so I got through it without losing too much time, but I was definitely off my normal pace.

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When I got to the bike, everything felt pretty good. The course starts on a downhill for a while, and that really helped getting my legs to recover from the run. They started to feel pretty good.

One by one, I started reeling in all of the people ahead of me.  When I got to the turn around, I could see only three racers that were still ahead at the halfway point. On the way back,  I always do little time checks, so I can figure out how far back I am. The guy in the lead was about three minutes ahead of me, and he was a pretty good cyclist. In fact, the same guy beat me at a mountain bike race earlier that year that I got second place in. (This was also a mountain bike race that I felt was one of my best ever.)

The problem with a race course that goes out and comes back the same direction, is that if you’re going downhill for the first half, but you’re climbing the second half. I was three minutes behind, along with a 25 kilometer climb ahead of me, and 50 more lbs of weight on me compared to him. Here comes the pain!

Passing the guys in third and second position came with no problem. Chasing down number one was some work! Every time he passed a post or something that I could do a time check on him, I could tell I was knocking time off. By doing the math, I could tell I was going to get this guy, only if I could hold my current pace! Right about that time, my old friend named “Leg Cramps” started to show up. They were in my left calf and on the inside of my left thigh. This was extremely painful and I had to start pedaling with my right leg only. This is no easy task, especially when you’re climbing a hill at race pace. Fortunately, this only lasted about a minute or so, but it happened a couple more times. With about four miles to go in the race, I finally passed him. As long as I didn’t get a flat tire or the cramps didn’t return, this was my race!

The final 5k has a pretty good little kicker on the hill and my leg cramps began again. But fortunately by then, I had a good little gap on the guy and I was able to spin it out and make across the line in first place! What a way to finish the season!

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This also was my last tri/duathlon before my transplant, so like setting the tone, I also felt it was important to finish strong. I did a triathlon in December, but I did that one with my two brothers as teammates, so I wasn’t really worried about the rest of the competition, like I would in a solo event.

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I could have easily stayed home from that race, or just not pushed very hard.  I don’t think anyone would have blamed me or held it against me because of my wreck earlier in the week, but that’s not who I am. Sometimes it’s nice to have an excuse when you have a bad day, but when you can overcome the pain and have one of your greatest days ever, you can’t beat it.

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I feel like I’m already months ahead of progress, because I came home and set the tone on the very day I flew in from Chicago. I’ve been trying to stay consistent with improving more every week. On my first two weeks home, I averaged 65 miles per week. As my heart rate has dropped, I managed to ride 141 miles last week, and 155 miles this week. I know that most people with MS are not going to be able to leave the hospital and have these kinds of results. Everybody needs to measure improvements in different ways. My miles were already high from training while fighting MS. I know so many that were not as fortunate as I was. Getting back up might be training up to walk to the end of the street or around the block. I just think it’s important to start now. It’s hard enough overcoming the symptoms of the disease, but the longer it keeps you down, the more out of shape you become. Suddenly you’re fighting the disease and trying to get into shape. It’s going to hurt.

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On a quick note, my last blog post mentioned one of my heroes, my buddy Lyle Anderson, and how he is now an Ironman triathlete and runs marathons and half marathons all over the country.

Earlier this week, Lyle was in a horrible vehicle accident. Looking at the pictures of his truck, it was the kind of accident you see and you just know the person died. By some miracle, Lyle survived, despite being trapped in his truck. He lost a tooth, his face is badly cut up, and he will need to have surgeries to put plates or implants in, to repair his cheek, eyelid and skull. He’s already had surgery on an arm.  Both arms were broken.

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Lyle is obviously going to miss the Vineman Ironman coming up, along with his scheduled marathons, but I have no doubt this guy is going to come back as quickly as he possibly can. He’s going to kill it in physical therapy, and I would bet that he’s still going to be lining up at the Oceanside 70.3 half Ironman with me next year. This race might end up being more meaningful for both of us. This is a guy who understands life is about overcoming and conquering these things. I know Lyle, and he’s not the type to feel sorry for himself because of this. Instead, he’s going to feel lucky and make the most out of the second chance he’s been given. I have no doubt.

NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT! Get well buddy!

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One thought on “The Comeback. The First Few Weeks Home.

  1. Glad to see your doing well! My wife and I are flying to Chicago Monday for my initial evaluation. I appreciate your taking time to write such a detailed blog because it really gives me an idea of what to expect if I get in, fingers crossed! You’re the man!

    Liked by 1 person

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