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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reconciling an Athlete's Body

My body doesn't do what I want it to do anymore.

And sometimes that physical frustration bleeds into an emotional frustration. All of my formative years and a large part of my adult years, I had complete control over my physical being. I could bend, stretch, wrap and move. Effortless and fluid and poetic and strength and lightness and joy. My knees and hips and ankles did whatever I tasked them to do.

But sometime in my mid-twenties, my joints stopped responding to my every command. Instead, I was met with resistance. And awkwardness. And weird noises. And yes...pain. My body felt foreign to me. I'd watch myself in the mirror of a dance studio and see something alien. Not me. Not my movement. Not my ankles. Not my knees. Not my flexibility.

Years of injuries and a diagnosis of 'pre-arthritis' (whatever that means) took it all away. Right from under me.

Any long-term athlete will tell you what years and days and hours and minutes of practice will do to a body. It strengthens and weakens. It lifts and tears. It responds and resists. And years later, it stops. Like a cold rubber-band, everything tightens and constricts and seizes.

So I went from ballerina to runner. Because I had to do something. I had to know that my legs could go. And do. And keep going and doing. An athlete is always an athlete and the body is the vessel.

And then the running stopped. Three knee injuries and some major health problems (that I've written about here) forced me to (literally) slow down. The state of my body had become a perfectionist's worst nightmare - inability to complete a task that I had practically mastered.

So, yes... I get really down on myself because I can't run long distances anymore. And I can't stand on my toes or throw my leg over my head. But then I remind myself that I have run hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles over the last 5 years. I have danced a million dances on a million stages under a million bright, starry lights. I have crossed finish lines to a cheering crowd and had roses thrown at my feet after a 3 hour performance. My knees and ankles are muscularly destroyed, but have put up with a lot of punishment and continue to hold up my body. My hips, after a lifetime of rotating unnaturally from ballet, have slowly deteriorated into rusty cogs, aching every morning and sometimes waking me up at night. Sitting hurts just as bad as standing, which is just as bad as laying. And sometimes my legs go numb. But I'm still here. And I'm still trying.

I'm extremely lucky. 

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