Work Your Heart Out

Last week I started posting about the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women: Better U Movement.  This 12-week program is a way to take steps - one at a time - to understand and learn about the importance of heart health.  The steps are literal, as they should be when one is talking about heart health.  You can make over your heart, make it stronger, make it work more efficiently, and make yourself healthier.  You might ask me how I know this information, and my first answer would be that I am a fitness instructor.  However, the more important and even relevant response is that I suffered a stroke in July 2006 and underwent open heart surgery several months later.  Because my heart had been worked, running up stadium stairs, the 1996 Chicago Marathon, hundreds of step aerobic classes, laps around tracks, hours on a treadmill, and years perfecting squats and bicep curls, I recovered from the stroke and from the heart surgery and found myself back at the gym, back to getting my heart beating like it once was, less than two weeks after the stroke and less than two months after the heart surgery*.

Yes, years of working my heart actually saved it.  Every single day that I decided to exercise and to work out, I made a decision to save myself.  Yes, the stroke happened after I taught a step aerobics class (irony at its best...) but due to previous training, and a conscious decision to take care of myself, I emerged healthier that I was before, stronger than I was before, and more aware of what I needed to do to ensure that I could forever choose to make a difference in my life and the lives of others.

*While this time-frame worked for me, it might not be the most ideal time frame for all stroke / heart surgery patients.  It is always best to check with your doctor before starting / resuming any kind of exercise program.

Back to School at Friends

I walked down the hallways, and they really were not that different then they were a little more than 20 yrs ago.  Kids still ran up and down them, the plaques that we all created our final year covered the walls, and teachers bent over the students patiently explaining a sentence in a book or an addition problem.  The headmaster took me to the eighth graders, and I cautiously walked in...  I used to love outside speakers because that meant I did not have to do my work, but I am not sure I ever really paid any attention to what they said.

After introductions, I started the story telling...a story about a young woman who lost her words.  She then eventually found out her heart was broken, she truly had a broken heart that needed to be fixed.  The students' eyes all looked at me as I tried to make an impression on the young adults.  I told them the importance of time (the first three hours are so critical when someone is having a stroke), I asked them if they knew the symptoms or signs of stroke (many of them did), I asked if any of them knew someone who had suffered a stroke (unfortunately the answer for several of them was yes...)  The questions they asked were more perceptive and better than I could have hoped... Did I have any lasting affects? How long did the effects of the stroke last? How did I feel about open heart surgery?  What was the recovery like?  And on and on...

It was exactly what I wanted.  I wanted to get to know them and I wanted them to know me so that when I spoke to them at their Class Day it was a bit more personal and it would make some kind of impression. However, I also told them that I did not remember who gave me my Class Day speech, and it was just fine if after the days, weeks, and years, they came to forget me.  However, what they should never forget is the importance of the signs and symptoms of stroke.  So:

Josephine, Anya, Tim, Molly, Katie, Kim, Sophie, Rachel, Connor, Tristan, Blake, Trevor, Reilly,Michelle, TJ, Oliver, Thomas, Tim, Celeste, Stephanie, Kelsi, JC, Jenna, Kristen, Mia, Anne... 

please do not forgot. Know what to do in case you are every faced with a situation like I was faced.

OK, now I have to work on that Class Day speech for all of you!

Little Doors

(photo by author)

I put a lot of my life behind a series of little doors after my stroke - work, personal life, love, friendship, etc. Some of those doors are closed -even locked- and I really never intend to open them again.  For example, I reexamined a lot of friendships and pieces of my life that I was not truly happy with.  In fact, I realized that my life would better without these pieces.  So I packed them up, and I put them away.  Yes, I know that they are still there, as are all parts of my life - past, present, and future - but I have no intention of opening those doors back up.

Life is about priorities, what is important and what is less important.  What must you have, and what (and who) you can do without.  Harsh?  Perhaps, but once I was able to come to this realization, and become comfortable enough to pick up elements of my life and place them behind the doors and close them (slam the doors in some cases, and close them ever so gently in others) the freer and happier I became.

I hope they remember

What would you tell yourself if you could do it all over again?  Let's say you could start at age 14 - or around 8th grade and ready to grow up and head off to high school?  What kind of advice would you want to hear?  I remember my 8th grade graduation, but I do not remember who spoke.  I remember my high school graduation, but I do not remember who spoke.  I remember who spoke at my college graduation (Bill Cosby) but I do not remember the actual graduation because I was working for Club Med in the Bahamas on pink sand beaches 16-18 hrs a day 7 days a wk, while my friends walked in black robes.  A day that I will never be able to have back.  For grad school?  There were lots of speakers, in fact entirely too many of them.  Just have one and be done with it.  No one really want to hear the speakers (ok, well, maybe a few people...), they want their diploma's and they want to say that they graduated.

It is February, no where near graduation time, so why am I writing about it now?  Well, I was asked to speak at my grade school graduation.  8th graders are going to listen to me - oh yes they are.  Even now I am thinking about what I am going to say that will stay in their heads.  Something, just a little tiny something that will resonate with them.  Maybe a funny story from when I went to the school that they are leaving. Maybe, something to the affect that as they grow up they should never underestimate the importance of saying "please" "thank you" and "I am sorry". That their hearts will break and plans will often not go they way they wanted, but really and truly, things do work out.  But I really want to make some kind of lasting and positive impression on these kids that goes beyond the "I had a stroke and open heart surgery" story.  So if you have any thoughts (or know of any 8th graders that might have some thoughts) let me know!

In health,