EXERCISE SAVED MY LIFE

Having rarely exercised, I was astonished when at the age of thirty-seven I took to it so naturally…and then it saved my life.

My strength had increased tenfold, my endurance had reached fantastic heights and I was able to stop taking my blood pressure medication.

Like many people, my 2004 New Years’ resolution was to get in shape. I worked out consistently for two to three hours daily. Cardio, strength training and kickboxing became a part of my daily routine.

In June of that same year, while helping my husband fix a flat tire in rural Oshawa, I was run over by a car. Airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital, I spent three weeks in the intensive care unit. Thankfully, due to the excessive amounts of painkillers, time did not exist for me.

I was eventually moved to a hospital room so my injuries could begin their healing process. My estimated stay at Sunnybrook was seven to eight weeks, at which point I would be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital for an additional eight months.

The damage was extensive. I sustained multiple head injuries, broke several ribs, nearly lost my right leg, I fractured my left shoulder, my left arm was broken in several spots, and I punctured my lungs. These were the worst of the injuries. The smaller things like the concussion, fractured toe and the scars that were a result of scraping along the ground, would have been the least of my worries, if I were capable of worry at the time.
Interestingly enough, according to the surgeons at the hospital, since I had taken good care of myself for the previous six months, it had saved my life. Cardio exercise had enabled my vital signs to remain steady, and the muscle I’d developed had cushioned the blow. Apparently, I should have died.

By the time I was moved to a hospital bed, I was awake and aware. I knew that the longer I remained in bed, the longer it would take my injuries to heal, so I asked for a wheelchair…and was told no. I hate that word. When I asked why I couldn’t have a wheelchair, they explained that due to the severity of broken bones and open wounds, it would delay the healing process. I argued that blood could not flow freely without movement and that it carried valuable oxygen, which would accelerate the healing process; the longer I remained motionless, the longer it would take to heal. Eventually, and it came as no surprise to my husband, I wore them down. They relented and gave me a wheelchair.

Fortunately, I had the use of my left leg and right arm, enabling me to travel in a straight line, albeit rather slowly at first. Daily, and with the help of many wonderful nurses whom I will forever be indebted, I would manoeuvre into my wheelchair and perform my one-legged, one-armed routine in the corridors. My right leg, in a permanent state of straight elevation, pointed me in a forward direction.

My punctured lungs were still healing. The chest tubes they had inserted in the intensive care unit had done their job, but they were still not operating at full capacity, and my breathing was limited. Over-eager, I travelled further than their capability and was devastated when I was unable to return to my room.

No amount of mental readiness could have prepared me for the battle ahead. I hadn’t anticipated failure so early and almost gave up at that moment…until a nurse noticed my distress, which in my drug-induced state of mind, I thought I was hiding pretty well. I feared they would take my wheelchair from me and render me incapable of travel, confined to my bed for what would feel like an eternity.

My wheelchair began to move. She pushed me at a slow pace and filled me in on the events in the world that day. She took my mind off of what had just happened and engaged me in conversation, even stopping to grab us both a drink of water. Nearing my room, I was surprised when she continued past it and down the hallway for another lap around the floor, all the while talking. Helping me get into bed, she told me that I had astonished everyone at my determination to begin moving so soon. Failure had been anticipated due to the extent of my injuries. Whether she knew it or not, she had fuelled me that day and provided me with the strength to keep going. Failure is another word I don’t care for.

I became a regular fixture in the halls, the power in my lungs growing daily, my muscles waking from their slumber. I began travelling all day, stopping to rest for lunch and breaks in between. Three weeks later I was placed in an ambulance and taken to the West Park Rehabilitation Facility. I had reduced my stay to half the anticipated time.

And that’s when the work really began.

Physiotherapy, as some of you may know, can be difficult, especially when there are multiple injuries to contend with. Strength training began on my uninjured right arm and left leg. I learned that this was to prepare me for the hard work ahead. Those limbs would need to labour twice as hard once treatment began on my injuries. My right leg, still in its cast and destined to remain that way for another 2 months, would require the most support…and work. Physiotherapists are a tough bunch, and for that I praise them. They know that unless you begin the therapy process, you’re going to worsen and your workload towards recovery will double, this is what drives them to push people in the way that they do.

We would spend the entire morning rehabilitating. At lunchtime, we returned to our rooms to eat. We were free to do whatever we desired in the afternoon. I’m not a glutton for punishment. I did however learn a most valuable lesson at Sunnybrook. Work equalled reduced hospital stay. So, with the undivided attention of the physiotherapists and their assistants, we worked after lunch as well. My leg, frozen straight from its prolonged position, was the most painful and difficult challenge to overcome.

Four months from the time I was admitted, I was released. Physiotherapy would be performed on an outpatient basis for the next 2 years. Even with all the hard work to attain flexibility in my leg, I had only achieved a thirty-degree bend, which I’m told was outstanding. Little did I know it would take the next 10 years to achieve full bend.

Once again, my stay at the hospital had been reduced to half its anticipated time. Because of the severity of my wounds, a nurse was dispatched to my home daily to clean and dress them for the next 2 months. With time they healed. The scars they left behind are a frequent reminder of that period in my life.

Almost 5 years later, I felt the need to return to work or risk losing my sanity. I set out to buy a restaurant. It had always been a dream of mine to have a little café style eatery. I connected with a business broker and expressed my interest. Oddly enough, he asked me to tell him about myself and I recounted the last 5 years for him.

“Have I got a business for you!” Excited, I asked him which restaurant he had in mind. “It’s not a restaurant, it’s a gym!” Perplexed, I envisioned non-sweating, spandex clad girls, weights clanging noisily to the floor and booming music, primarily all the reasons I had never committed to exercising in the first place. I thanked him for his time and told him I’d get back to him at a later date.

Before I could hang up, he told me that this was a new concept and unlike anything he’d ever seen. He also told me that he’d just received the listing that morning and that the ink was still wet. Warning bells! Wet ink?

He persuaded me to go and take a look; after all, it was nearby, if I didn’t like what I saw, he would show me enough restaurants to fulfill my heart’s desire. He was persistent.
I pulled up to Avalon Fitness at its previous location. Staring up at the sign, I tried to comprehend what “Fitness for Mature Adults” meant. Curious, I went in to have a look and was surprised. This was no spandex-filled, “meet market” environment. It certainly wasn’t a gym I had been exposed to in the past.

These people weren’t here to impress anyone, they were here to get healthy and remain healthy. How unusual. Intrigued, I requested a tour and loved everything I saw. I returned home, called the business broker, and the following day I submitted an offer. Shortly thereafter, I became the proud owner of Avalon Fitness. Once my lease expired, I moved the facility to a larger, light-filled location, which we now call home.

I invited a physiotherapist and registered massage therapist to join us. I installed walking bars and assistive devices to help those on the mend and I’ve gathered the most wonderful staff and members together. Not wanting to give up my dream of running a cafe, I implemented a kitchen that serves healthy foods, smoothies and provides catering.

I love my job and all of the wonderful members and people I see and meet on a daily basis. What more could I ask for?
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