I saw a notice last week at my Osteopath’s office for a stair climbing clinic. One was designed for “intermediate” climbers and one for “beginners”. Can you guess which category I fit into?! It said that it was a four week course that would teach people the proper technique to stair climb to get the most out of the workout and just as importantly to ensure that we avoid injuries. That’s the last thing I need is even more stuff wrong with me. The money for the course would also be donated half to the Heart and Stroke foundation and half to the Cancer Society. That excited me. I’m a card carrying member of that society! The course consists of four lessons, held once a week at a set of stairs that takes you up the Hamilton mountain. Just the word “mountain” had me sweating. I decided to sign up and give it a go. I really need to build up my strength and stamina and if all else failed…meaning me, at least the money would go to a good cause.
Last night was the first class. I drove to the designated meeting spot, feeling very anxious about what I was in for. I got there early…I hate being late for anything…even for what I expected to be a punishing workout. I headed for the meeting area but not before stopping at the bottom of the stairs to look up. Way up. They seemed to go on for ever…and then “ever” turned and there were more stairs. More than I could see. I felt my stomach lurch. How the hell was I going to climb that? It might as well have been Mount Everest. What the Fu#k have I got myself into?! I took a deep breath and walked over to the group meeting area. I saw the instructor and introduced myself. She was wearing a very stylish and coordinated athletic outfit that showed off her very fit body. I on the other hand was wearing baggy shorts and an even baggier tshirt, which covered up my very “unfit” and misshapen body. Ugh, it felt like high school all over again. Only one other lady joined us for the group. I was thankful that it was going to be just the three of us as I didn’t want to be the “lady trailing 40 steps behind” a large group of young, perky 20 somethings that wore lycra from head to toe and had zero body fat and that could talk and text while they bounced up the steps never breaking a sweat. Geez do you think I have issues?
We started doing some simple and gentle stretches to begin. Some I had difficulty with because my tissue expanders don’t move with me so if I bend one way, they stay in place and pull at my incisions and dig into my ribs. Not very comfortable to say the least. We were shown the proper way to place our feet on the stairs. It should be your full foot, not just the balls of your feet and you need to keep your foot, knees and hips in alignment, facing forward. No twisting or you could cause injury to your back, knees, calves, etc. So far, so good. The instructor said that the stairs were in four sections. Typically two flights per section with a little landing at the top of each where the stairs tended to turn as they followed the shape of the mountain up to the brow. What she liked to do was divide the workout into these sections doing different things for each. That way it was more “fun”. Hmm, “fun” wouldn’t have been the word that I would have chosen for this, but hey, to each his own. Section one, we just had to take our time and walk up the stairs to the landing. There are 290 stairs in all. SO 79 to the top of section one. “Ok, Patti. You can do this. It doesn’t matter if you lag behind, just put one foot in front of the other, focus and start. You’ve been through a hell of a lot worse things than climbing a bunch of stairs, so this isn’t going to defeat you either.” I started off, focusing on my technique, head down, making sure my feet and knees were straight and that I was following what the instructor had said. Slowly and methodically I climbed the first set, keeping close to the side to let other climbers fly past me as they “jogged” up the stairs. These stairs are used by 100’s of people everyday for workouts and last night was no exception. Seventy- six, seventy-seven, seventy-eight…seventy-nine. I made it. One section complete. Woohoo. We paused there to catch our breath and to do some other exercises. We did stretches and some makeshift push ups against the bars of the railings. I was really bad at that as the pushing motion for my arms really hurts still as things are not all healed under my arms, etc. But I did what I could and I ok that I was at least trying. I could feel the sweat starting to soak through my shirt and my breathing was a bit laboured but not too bad.
“Are we heading up to section two now?” I asked, feeling very optimistic. “Oh not yet. We have to go back down and repeat this section three times. Then we’ll head to section two” the instructor replied. WHAT?!?!?!?! Three times?! Good lord, this woman is cray cray. Slowly we made our way back down to the bottom, then turned around and ascended the stairs again. Three times we did this and three times I cursed the stair climbing gods.
Section two was even harder because we were told to take two stairs at a time. For this we were allowed to hold the railing if needed. And oh was it needed! I looked over at the other woman in the class. She looked as mortified as I was. Thank god, I wasn’t alone in this feeling of terror and disbelief. This was the beginners class. WTF were they doing in the intermediate class? I couldn’t bare to think about it. “Will this workout give me a butt? Mine’s so flat.” my classmate asked. “I’ve got more than I need” I said, “I’d be happy to donate whatever you want”. We both laughed, or at least what resembled laughter, as we were both gasping for air. I think it was something in between a chuckle and a wheeze. As with section one, we had to repeat section two three times as well. Section three and four were the same and at one point I actually thought I might faint. It was 26C outside with a humidex of 31C. Even the “joggers” were sweating like pigs. Thank goodness there were no mirrors as I knew that I was looking like a soppy wet rag ’cause that is certainly how I felt.
As we pushed to the top of section four I started to see messages written on the edge of the stairs. “keep breathing”, “almost there”, “way to go” and finally “veni, vidi, vici” I came, I saw, I conquered. And as I reached the mountain summit ( ok I know, it’s not like I’m in the Rockies) I truly felt like I had conquered something. In fact, I had conquered a lot of things. I had conquered the fear of taking on another new challenge. I had conquered the fear of being in a group and trying to fit in. I had conquered the fear of pushing my body yet another step further, asking it to push through pain once again in the hopes that it wouldn’t let me down. I may not have the youngest or fittest or the most attractive body on those stairs, but I have a body that has been through a lot and continues to push through a shit storm that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So far, this good ole body has not let me down and I am so thankful for that. It has proven that it is stronger than I thought…maybe not in the “I can bench press X number of pounds” strong but strong in a way that counts for so much more. Do I feel like I have been hit by a truck today, I sure as hell do. My whole body is aching. But the pain I feel today is a pain that says, you did it. You climbed 1764 stairs and you are stronger than you think. This pain is a good pain. It’s a pain that reminds me that my muscles and joints can be and will be strong once again. And it’s a pain that masks all my other pain. The pain from the surgery and all its complications that unfortunately will be with me for a lot longer than my sore muscle pain. This may sound weird, but the pain I am feeling from my workout is a “positive” pain. It’s a pain that I am happy to feel.
I have 3 more stair climbing classes over the next few weeks and I plan to “do” the stairs on my own twice more each week in between classes. I’m not trying to break any records. I’m not trying to prove I’m super woman, I’m just trying to push on and get strong so I can continue to meet and overcome every hurdle I encounter on this long journey to recovery. I don’t often say this, but I am really proud of what I did and I think 1764 steps are very much steps in the right direction.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.