Don’t Ring The Bell

This was the week that we learned Washington Wizards’ point guard and five-time All-Star John Wall will have season-ending surgery to address bone spurs in his left heel. Wall had secretly suffered through several seasons in pain before consulting with a specialist who recommended surgery. I’ve been following Wall’s condition closely since a bony heel protrusion showed up on my own right foot this past summer.

It’s called Haglund’s deformity. Mine and John Wall’s. A bony englargement on the back of the heel, or essentially a bone spur on the heel. I will only say that if you’ve got one, you’ll feel it every day forever. The last thing the doctor told me was that it would never go away. Given John Wall’s level of play, his doctor warned that the stress from the spur could eventually rupture the Achilles’ tendon. Thus the surgery, and six to eight months’ recovery.

In retrospect, I can see that I floundered a bit during the second half of 2018. Previous injuries could always be resolved with rest. Give it enough time, and whatever ailed me would get better. This time the injury turned out to be permanent, and it changed everything in life as I knew it.

Running has defined nearly half my life. Years before I even acknowledged myself to be a runner, I ran five miles every day. I didn’t take rest days because I didn’t realize you needed rest days. Memories of every place I’ve lived revolve around the running routes associated with that city. Life revolved around running, and I’ve loved every minute.

Once your mind and body have adapted to not working out, however, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself to give up on your previous level of exercise altogether. It has taken me awhile to come up with a plan.

The most common thread among athletes of all rank is injury, but it’s a short list of athletes that make a come-back from catastrophic injury. Peyton Manning had multiple neck surgeries, Serena Williams had pregnancy complications, Kobe Bryant’s shredded knees, and Ben Hogan’s serious car accident. Then there’s Tiger.

A list of Woods’ surgeries prior to his second microdiscectomy operation in Sept. 2015. 
photo courtesy: abcnews.

It’s easy to quit. It takes courage – and a plan – to stay in the game. And if you’re not moving forward, you’re losing ground.

How you plan forward momentum is dictated by your present condition, but your present condition should never prevent you from moving forward.

My husband and I have researched my injury from every direction. I’ve tried every homeopathic solution ever mentioned – he discovered a new one just yesterday that’s already on order. He also bought me a pair of minimalist shoes with the thought that they would help strengthen the muscles and tendons of my foot and ankle over time. So far so good.

I stopped running (again) in November in favor of walking. Since then I’ve focused on a strengthening routine and increased my walks to an hour, six days a week – roughly 4 miles each. By February, I hope to incorporate a few days of running, and plan my next steps from there. Surgery may still be in my future, but we’ll try every other avenue first. It’s a process.

I’m reminded of my first lessons in Kung Fu and Wing Chun. The translation of Kung Fu is time and effort. There are no short cuts. The foundation of Wing Chun is to always move forward and aim for the center.

Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave an amazing and powerful 20-minute commencement speech at the University-wide Commencement of The University of Texas at Austin in 2014. The speech was about the lessons McRaven had learned from Navy Seal training, “To me basic SEAL training was a life time of challenges crammed into six months.” A few of the key points from his speech seem to provide a nice conclusion to my thoughts. (Read the full transcript here.)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Circus. Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events—long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards—times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to—a “circus”. A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics—designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list.  Over time those students-—who did two hours of extra calisthenics—got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength-built physical resiliency. Life is filled with circuses.

Get Over Being A Sugar Cookie And Keep Moving Forward. Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection.  It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle—- it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong. For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surf and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy.

There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain.  That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right—it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill.  You were never going to succeed.  You were never going to have a perfect uniform. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If You Want To Change The World Don’t Ever, Ever Ring The Bell. Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell.  A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell.  Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock.  Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.