In April of last year, I wrote a blog about a neighbour and friend of mine named Joe, entitled “Exercise as Insurance.” I wrote it after learning that Joe (mid-sixties) had suffered a severe stroke. I had spoken to him about ten years beforehand, saying that I was worried about the stress level in his life and how it might be affecting his health. I wanted him to start training with me in my home studio classes. Joe was at the top of his field, working long hours in a fast pace profession that demanded excellence. He was always running and travelling long distances for work and felt that he had no time to focus on himself.
Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe you know someone in your life who fits this profile or maybe it is you yourself who makes everything else a priority instead of taking the time to eat well, exercise and get adequate rest.
Joe suffered a stroke on March 7th, 2017. At the time he was completely paralyzed down one side of his body and he was told that he would never walk again. He had to eat through a tube inserted in his stomach and he could not breathe on his own. The doctors stood over him and said, “There is nothing we can do. You will be like this for the rest of your life.” I get choked up whenever I think about this because he has proven them all wrong.
By May he was walking around our neighbourhood with a cane that he called his friend, Bob. By July he was asking if he could train in my basement. I was reluctant at first but remarkably he was able to get down the stairs and lift some lite weights. Getting onto the floor to do some simple exercises was quite a workout in itself, not to mention getting back up again. I loaned him some weights and gave him some guidance and he continued on his own in his home. By September he was walking without Bob and in late October he joined my class with my five other students.
I was very nervous about how he would keep up but there is one thing I have learned about Joe. Don’t tell him he cannot do something because he is stubborn and he will try until he gets it. So I learned to tell him if I thought something was too dangerous for him and he learned to listen when the tone of my voice was stern. Otherwise, he basically did our workout with very little adaptation. He would do less repetiions of weights and sit and take breaks when his legs grew tired but he would always get back up and finish.
In December, I introduced Essentrics to my home studio class and that is when Joe really began to shine, as he was able to do most of the movements right along with the rest of the class. There was very little need to give him alternative exercises. He simply stopped when he grew tired and got back up when he felt he rested.
Today, he squealed in delight during one of the calf stretches, where our feet are staggered quite far apart, with one foot in front and the other in back. This stance can be quite challenging for stroke patients when one leg is weaker especially because we are tipped forward at our hip, one arm reaching forward, the other extending backward. I place a chair near Joe which he usually uses for balance but today he was doing it on his own. I was focused on the other students (simply because he wants it that way) when Joe yelled out “Hey, look at my balance Beth!” He was standing on his own, with no hands on the chair, reaching foward and backward.
Joe has continued to surprise and impress me with his progress and it is directly attributed to his positive attitude. No one is going to tell him he cannot do something. He believes he can get back to his old self! The medical professionals examined him on the anniversary of his stroke and the top specialist in Montreal said that Joe’s story is one in a million. He should have been dead by now. He is completely shocked that Joe proved all of the doctors wrong. Which by the way was Joe’s personal mission. Early last Spring I would run out to greet him whenever I caught him walking by on the street and he would say through tears, “I’m gonna prove those “bleeping” dr’s wrong!”
Believe and you will achieve.
See you soon,