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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nursing a war wound

Originally published Dec. 24, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Life has certainly changed for me in the last 10 months. Before having gastric-bypass surgery, I was more likely to pull a hamstring from jumping to conclusions than from actually moving. When I started writing this column a year ago, I took the elevator every day to my second-story office. I was 27 years old, but I felt like I was 70. In fact, a 75-year-old woman in the office often ran circles around me.

Fast forward to now: I’m nursing a still-tender nose from a workout accident that occurred earlier in the week. My workouts are far from dangerous. I haven’t yet realized my dream of rock climbing. My exercise partner isn’t even sure my hand-eye coordination is advanced enough to attempt racquetball. But I am more adventurous than ever.

As my weight loss has slowed over the past couple of months, my motivation has moved from the numbers on the scale to what I accomplish at the gym each morning. I’ve stepped up my cardio workout by using the Cybex Arc crosstrainer. At first, the Arc felt a little awkward to me, because I was accustomed to the elliptical trainer.The Arc is more of a glider and feels deceptively easy because there is little strain felt in the knees and hips. Yet a 20-minute mile on it leaves me dripping with sweat. Going the same distance in the same time on the treadmill or elliptical trainer would have me barely glistening.

My strength-training program is still focused on using free weights, but my ab workout has gotten more interesting. My abs have never been strong, nor have I concentrated on them much in the past. It’s hard to get motivated about exercising muscles hidden under layers of flab.I started focusing on my abs before surgery, because I had heard that strong abs would lead to an easier recovery from the incisions. I adjusted my workout a few months ago to include exercises beyond the standard crunch, which gets boring day in and day out.

At first, I incorporated a big balance ball. I would do crunches from atop the ball to increase my range of motion, making the exercises more effective. Then I went to doing stabilizing exercises while balancing on it to help firm up my whole core.

Lately, my ab workouts have incorporated a Bosu balance trainer and medicine balls. A Bosu looks like someone hacked off the upper quarter of a balance ball and attached it to a platform — the end product being an inflated mound that can be used to activate the core muscles during all sorts of exercises.

One that my partner and I enjoy is playing catch with a 6-pound medicine ball while each of us stands on a Bosu. It looks likes we’re just playing a schoolyard game, but our abs, obliques and back muscles are working overtime to keep us from falling off the Bosu while we catch and throw the weighted ball.

Medicine balls also come in handy to intensify the standard crunch. But be forewarned — using medicine balls also requires paying more attention while exercising, as I learned this week.My partner and I favor a particular exercise where I lie on the ground while she stands across from me. I try to keep my shoulders raised as she throws a medicine ball at my face. The goal is for me to catch the ball and crunch upward while throwing it back at her. The hope is that my shoulders never touch the ground. The body’s instinctive tensing as the ball rushes toward my face keeps my muscles engaged the whole time. I was feeling so good at my ability to complete this exercise that I suggested we go from using a 4-pound ball to using an 8-pound ball.
However, I misjudged the amount of effort it would take to actually catch an 8-pound ball flying at me. On the first try, the ball went through my hands and crashed into my nose, leaving me to see nothing but stars for a solid minute.

My partner and I were reduced to hysterical laughing once I realized there was no blood and my nose was still as unbroken and adorable as always. I did have to explain the mysterious red line across my nose to numerous people throughout the day, but it was a great workout and one I can’t wait to do again.

I wouldn’t have laughed off such an incident before. A handful of people saw my display of klutziness and ribbed my partner for abusing me. It was all in good humor, and I consider the fact that so many of us got a good laugh out of the incident to make it worthwhile. It’s a fun story to tell.

The old Tonya would have had trouble seeing the humor in the situation. I would have been too embarrassed to think it was funny, and I might have not returned to the gym because of it.I’m glad I’m a different person now. I enjoy life more — both the good and the bad — than ever before, and I think I’m a better person because of it.

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