It started around two months ago. At least, that’s when I started noticing my limp getting worse, my foot often simply dragging the ground when I would stride out on my right leg. If I focus on it I can lift it, but I end up looking like a horse kicking it’s foreleg out when it trots. I would rather look like a Walker from The Walking Dead as I do when I just shuffle like normal. Interesting…I just called my shuffle normal. I guess that’s the truth of it now. Normal is becoming abnormal.
For around that same time I’ve been growing concerned about a noticeable drop in some of my capabilities, particularly my Squat (which is probably my most important lift for therapy) and my box jump. I estimate that I’ve lost roughly 10% on the Squat and my jump has taken a huge hit of around 10″ from my PR last year of 50″. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned as athletic performance is really a constant dip and climb through never-ending peaks and valleys, but this rapid decrease comes at a time when I am setting lifetime best records in my other two lifts. As a sidenote, it is getting incredibly difficult to type these and very often now, I find it easier to use only my left hand rather than go back through three typos every sentence. This loss of ability is something I knew would come someday regardless of PD, but I planned on having to deal with it many years from now. Day 7,014 out of my planned 7,447 day war would’ve been great. Along with the aforementioned losses in ability, I have had to give ground on running, and very painfully, I’ve had to relinquish Olympic Weightlifting, the sport I’ve grown to love.
This recent erosion has caused a steadily growing fear lately with the realization that my PD is moving faster than I had hoped. My best therapy, both mentally and physically has been my weight training and my mission to break records against more able-bodied men has become a driving way of life that has kept me moving. It has kept me fully inspired and has even allowed me to try to keep everyone around me motivated despite the fact that I am also now dealing with what is surely a very deep depression. This whole fight is about not just preserving those abilities but also being able to show my fellow afflicted that we can make a difference and it is definitely worth the effort to take up arms and join the battle.
My weapons of choice have become the Powerlifts: the Bench, Squat and Deadlift and if I ever have anything to say in it I will reclaim the Snatch and the Clean that were disarmed from me. I may even be able to get running back. Even though I hate it, it’s mine and that means i can never give up on it. If I were to lose these things so soon I am not sure how I would take it, but I know it would not be well. The looming shadow in the back of my mind whispers, “Could this be it already? Maybe you should rest. Maybe you never were a warrior.” Until last Friday, I have laughed at this foolish voice, knowing full well who and what I am,…and then it happened.
I have somehow never had trouble with my leg during a Squat, but have always known it was only a matter of time. With big movements and when there is great demand for muscular activation, as in a heavy Squat both legs respond as needed. During a sprint my stride is fine, but jogging or walking apparently don’t send enough signal to get through. In other words, when I Squat, it’s very much like I don’t have Parkinson’s. That is my time to be more than I am. Friday night, PD trespassed on my time. My working sets were at 365, not a huge weight on my scale until recently, but the weights have felt heavier and heavier these last few weeks and the first set was enough of a struggle to let that fear creep in. On the second set my foot began to drag trying to walk the weight out and I nearly stumbled. Stubborn to a fault, I continued the set with very little coordination, and a right leg that felt like a prosthetic. On racking the weight, that shadow in my mind unleashed a tirade. “It’s all downhill from here. The monster isn’t just a shadow anymore son. It’s here a decade early just because you tried to be special. He brought your chair and the wheels are shiny! Have a seat, fool, you were never a warrior.” All I could do was curse the bar out loud. I actually flipped off the weights as I left the rack and told my partner Tony, “I’m losing my Squat now”. His only response was the right one, “NO!”.
I turned my earphones up and went outside. Not to face my demons or just get some fresh air. I went outside because I made a vow to never give PD a single tear and if I had to explain to anyone, I would end up breaking that vow. I walked to the end of the parking lot, trying to broadcast that I was not looking for conversation. Over the next few minutes I would remember who I was. I would watch “Unbroken” a motivational video by Mateusz M featuring Steve Jobs, and the phenomenal speakers Les Brown ad Eric Thomas. I’ve seen it dozens of times, often playing it when I get dressed for the gym as loud as my headphones will go. This time, every phrase from Les Brown reminded me why I was there. “To live my life with passion” Yes. “Fear…can hold you back from something you know that you are capable of doing” This was exactly what was happening. Then “Take full responsibility for your life.” and I was done. My personal life has been hell for almost two years since I left a struggling marriage rather than working on it. For three months of selfishness and martyrdom I lived with the ideals that I deserved better with what time I had left and she didn’t deserve to be trapped and end up taking care of me. I rip this scar open because I know many people struggle with these thoughts after diagnoses like mine. The grass is never greener than it is with the ones that love you. I pushed when I needed desperately to pull. Months later, even when I realized my mistake, fear of the same thing happening made me hesitate to go back. Instead, thinking I was doing the best for her, I encouraged her to move on and broke two hearts. Fear has taken everything from me. After hearing the same phrase countless times, Les finally got through. Fear only has the power that you allow it to have.
For weeks I have been worried about what MIGHT be happening to my body. I’ve lost sleep over what MAY be in store over the coming years. Now, I sit in the parking lot because I don’t want people to see I am AFRAID that PD might be taking my weapons away, leaving me without the salt to fight back. I was making it all real.
After another life-changing five minutes, I would step back under the bar, but only after adding 20 pounds to bring it to 385. Still not crushingly heavy, but today was Moderate Squat Day and it called for five reps. Demanding compliance from my right leg, I got my five. Tony would later say he hadn’t seen me struggle with a sub 400 weight like that in a long time. Maybe that beast I’ve feared has come early, demanding that I lay down my weapons and surrender the fight. Well I have too much to do to give anything at all to fear anymore and it’s no secret I view this fight as My Thermopylae idolizing the Spartan way of life in how I choose to deal with it. The Persians demanded that the Spartans lay down their arms and surrender as well to which Leonidas himself replied “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ“. 2,495 years later allow me to echo him in translation “You come, Take!” or as we say it now, “Come and get them!”
P.S. I was honestly moved that night, and was powerless to stop the creation of my own video using much of the audio that was able to wake me up and, quite honestly, potentially save me from giving in. It’s very rough and the caption at the beginning barely makes sense thanks to it being written sometime the following morning after not being able to relinquish the project until it was done but, I am still proud of it and it tells my story fairly well. It deserves to be cleaned up and redone soon but for now here is the original: (Now with a more coherent caption at the beginning!)
It would not be right to not credit Mateusz M for all of his work, here is the link to his channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnJ-KJLPlRw90rGs_6XfmmQ the title of the video of the hour from this post is UNBROKEN.
P.P.S. My personal life has the tendency to upset some people. I truly don’t want anyone to ever feel bad for me. In nearly 15 years together there was never any infidelity. Danielle and I are very good friends now and she is still always there for me when I need her and vice versa. I only tell that story in the hopes that someone tempted to follow in my tracks will think better of it.