I was lying on my side with my feet in the TRX strap cradles when Kevin, the instructor, told us to get into a side plank. I just laid there as I felt my lower half paralyzed for the first time in 4 years. I couldn’t remember how to lift my hips into the air. I struggled slowly like a seal to get into a side plank position. I realized that I still had a long way to go as my hip muscles are still weak 4 years later.

Five have passed since my life was changed forever. Four years since I was in a wheelchair for hopefully the last time for the rest of my life. A lot has changed since then and there have been some real highs and some real lows. There is one real important outcome though.

Every day I get a little bit stronger.

I’d been battling with getting my health back on track by my standards all year. I struggled with losing the pre-Catalina and post-Catalina weight last Fall/Winter. Nothing was really working too well for me and it was downright depressing. In December I met someone who radically changed my outlook on my health.

Her name is Ryen.

Ryen and me riding in Riverside, California

Ryen is a fellow cyclist who I knew of through mutual friends but hadn’t met her in person. I met her late last year on a bike ride. She was really cool and we chatted a lot. She exercises WAY more than me. I could never figure out why she posted on Facebook about multiple surgeries as she seemed perfectly healthy to me. I also noticed that she used a handcycle sometimes and wasn’t sure what that was about. I mentioned Ryen to our mutual friend Erika one day over lunch and Erika went off about how awesome Ryen was. I asked about the surgery posts and handcycle and Erika gave a simple explanation.

Ryen has Cerebal Palsy.

Holy f***. I had no idea. You couldn’t tell by looking at her or how she behaved. She is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and she works every day to get closer to her goal of qualifying for the paralympics in triathalon. She’s also vegan.

Ryen told me that she was lucky that her parents never conditioned her to be defined by CP. They treated her as a normal girl. She does not carry an ounce of negativity of what many may see as a weakness or resent. I think she looked at it as more of an additional challenge to overcome. She does some combination of swimming, cycling, handcycle, and strength training every day with a smile on her face the entire time.

Her dedication to her goal has caused me to being smarter about how I use my time working out. I started switching up my routine to not be exercising as frequently and balancing cardio and strength training. I started working out with weights at the gym again and incorporating TRX classes after work into my schedule along with swimming, cycling, and spinning when I can. I spent most of my lunch breaks at the gym 1.5 blocks from my work just to get some stationary bike cardio in to keep my legs moving.

Ryen’s veganism hasn’t influenced me to become vegan just like her triathalon goals haven’t convinced me to ever start running (exceptions for being chased and hearing “Last Boarding Call” for my flight). I read the Whole 30 book recently and while I never did the 30 days “reboot”, I did start thinking about what I eat differently again. I have been eating a lot less dairy. I switched my usual breakfast from plain Greek yogurt to being rolled oats, unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, and whatever fruit I have around. I find it more satisfying and with the fruit changes, there is some variety. I don’t really keep cheese at home and if given a choice, I go with a vegan cheese option. I also figured out that I can’t eat sweets after mid-afternoon because I’ll wake up bloated the next morning. I’ve started paying attention to how certain foods make me feel and how well I digest them. I can make changes to my diet based on the feedback my body gives me. All I needed to do was start listening to it.

I was never a “I NEED MEAT!” person and have switched back to smaller amounts of animal protein in general. I’ve been eating more seafood and chicken if I do eat meat. I can’t remember the last time I ate bacon. I haven’t gotten any cravings for any kind of meat actually in months. I do still eat it though.

I don’t have any snacks, even healthy ones, at work as it was too tempting before to eat when I really wasn’t hungry because of the “it’s healthy though!” excuse.

Did I give up cookies? No. I eat truly healthy ones though that are 4 ingredients only: rolled oats, bananas, sunflower butter, dark chocolate chips (although the ones I made this morning have raisins instead of chocolate). I find that eating a few of these half-dollar sized cookies leave me feeling satisfied for a cookie craving. I made some of my oatmeal-raisin-dark chocolate chip cookies for the first time in months a few weeks ago for a kayaking clinic that I was running and they tasted weird to me. I hadn’t made them in so long that I wasn’t even sure if I had the flour or two kinds of sugar or any of the other ingredients at home. I definitely prefer the 4-ingredient vegan ones though!

The combination has had an outstanding and surprising effect that I lost 10 pounds in the last few months without counting calories or jumping on a scale on a regular basis. I didn’t give up alcohol either. I made a lifestyle change that had a greater effect than exercising for hours on end or severely restricting my diet. I have gone back to wearing my belt that I gave up wearing last year as I didn’t like how I’d gone up a notch. Now I’m back to my “regular” notch and feel a lot better about myself. I recognize myself more now in the mirror. I’m slowly becoming the person that I recognize.

Last weekend I had an even bigger surprise last weekend when I went on two bike rides. The first up was with my friends Linda and Jaime (and a bunch of Linda’s other friends). Linda knew that this was my only weekend before Levi’s Gran Fondo that I was available to ride so we went up to the Oakland Hills for some climbing. I hadn’t been there in months and had little trouble on any of them. Afterwards Linda asked me if that was enough climbing for me. My legs weren’t sore at all. We had done just under 1000 feet / 10 miles which is actually a pretty decent amount of climbing.

Death Ride Course Map.

The week before she had told me that there are a lot of people who ask about doing the Death Ride and that I was the only one that she’d really recommend doing it next year. I thought she was kidding at the time as I didn’t think I could handle that much climbing. After this past weekend though, I think I may be up for the challenge. 129 miles and 15,000′ of climbing over 5 Passes. 08 July 2017. Holy crap.

The next day I was out riding in the North Bay with my friend Len in the North Bay. He proposed Alpine Dam which has been on my bucket list for several months. I had heard from others that it was a beast of a climb and when we got to the dam, I asked him where was this big climb that I’d been hearing about and he said that we just did it. Oh. Oops. We continued on to the top of the ridge and Patollah Road (aka the road that leads to the top of Mount Tam) and started making our way back down. I saw on Strava later that we’d done some 31 miles and 3200′ of climbing. My legs still weren’t sore and like the Oakland Hills ride, I could have easily kept going.

I also hit a new PR for my fastest ascent of Camino Alto.

New PR for Camino Alto at the end of a lot of climbing.

So even though I couldn’t make it on the bike every day and go on long rides, I was now riding faster and having an easy time on the climbs than when I was doing 1 – 2 long rides a week with my beloved Turkey Tuesday rides. Wow.

I’d lost 10 pounds and become a stronger and faster rider by making little changes. Most importantly is that I’m feeling better about myself. I feel healthier and getting confidence in my physical abilities back. Sold.

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