During one of my recent doctor visits, I think it was at the end of August, my physician asked how my strength/fitness personal training sessions were going.
I told him my coach Andrew at Apex Training put me through some demanding stuff so I was in agony pretty often.
My doctor laughed and said that if Andrew was doing his job well I should hate him.
Well, today was the closest I ever came to thinking he might kill me.
Now, if you are new here, please note I have diplegic cerebral palsy (which basically means that my brain and my lower body muscles don’t communicate well, which has led to some structural issues in my hips, legs, etc.
I work out three-times-a-week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Andrew has his full-time job, which is primarily an overnight shift, and I work at a warehouse Sunday through Wednesday, 10-hour-shifts.
Mondays are always interesting. I am 50% through my workweek and Andrew is usually sleep-deprived.
By some miracle, I work 6:30 am to 5 pm and head straight to the gym, and Andrew comes to the gym, often having not slept for almost 24 hours. But he shows up and so do I.
Tonight was a full body workout that felt twice as intense as my normal routine, but it felt amazing to push myself and even more amazing to succeed.
And because Andrew knows what I’m feeling — not only as a person working to better myself physically but also as someone still grieving the loss of her father— he forgave me for eating half a cake for my dad’s birthday.
But I also asked him if some people had stopped working out three times a week. He say yes, that several of his clients were sporadic. One changed work schedules and hadn’t committed to a new time. And two of us were regulars.
I get life being in the way. I know it’s hard. I know it’s expensive.
But I encourage you to stick to it.
I started at Apex in August 2021. Somehow despite a tight budget, I find the money.
And for all those people who can’t stick with it— I promise:
You will see mental and physical changes in yourself.
You will feel better.
Your body composition will change.
Your fortitude will grow.
And you should also see changes in your balance, stability and coordination. The things you can do, whether stamina on a long walk or moving furniture, will improve. Your confidence should increase.
And some days it will feel grueling. Some days you will be exhausted or achy and not want to do it. On those days, tell your trainer how you feel, but show up for the workout and do your best.
So, I’m in the midst of what feels like an incredibly long, never ending journey. I’ve posted frequently about fitness, health and disability.
And I’m getting to the point where I’ve accepted that I will never be done.
It’s probably a long shot that my body will ever be athletic or even dependable, but at least I can commit myself to doing as much as I can to be as functional as I can.
I have hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which means it only effects my lower limbs. On good days, in the right circumstances, with the right concentration, you might not even notice. But those days feel fewer and far between as I age.
I started strength training in college— and if you’ve read some of my previous posts this might be repetition for you— as one of my gym electives. My liberal arts education included gym.
I returned to it on and off, mostly for stress management and then health after The Teenager was born. That’s when I met some very awesome vegan gym owners. (I was still in my vegetarian days. I keep trying to get more into a plant-based diet again.)
I worked out at home for several years while regaining strength after broken bones. And— as I’ve shared before— I got very lean and cut.
Now I have no desire to be than thin again and no discipline left to be that lean. But I am working toward regaining my strength and muscle. Those pictures are from when I was 40. Well, I’m going to be 47 in a few months and progress is slow. I’m still at an all-time high in my weight. I have days where my hips don’t want to work. And my spine hurts most of the time.
My eating habits also don’t match my goals— but my emotional state has to improve for me to fix that.
But I keep working on all these things.
As my marriage ended, I joined Planet Fitness and that kept some of my health demons at bay. The pandemic ended that, and that’s where my weight gain exploded, too.
And I also realized my desire and discipline had faded in direct proportion to my pain and physical difficulties. If I’m going to be crippled away, why bother?
But this summer, I saw a Facebook post by Apex Training here in my neighborhood. So I reached out and Greg got in touch almost immediately. I told him my story— and this meant a lot of vulnerability for me— and he immediately recommended Dan without missing a beat.
Now I was very very intimidated. I had walked by their gym 1,000 times but usually found small gyms and local trainers pushy and unwelcoming. Like a private club.
But I hit it off with Dan and found myself impressed with his knowledge and his creativity. He’d be a gifted physical therapist.
My strength has returned but my body still doesn’t always cooperate but Dan always knows how I’m feeling just my how I’m moving.
This gym is amazing. I see a lot of guys who come together to lift, a lot of women who want to lose weight, and married couples who work out together. And the environment is very family friendly— you’ll often see Greg’s dog Gotti or the babies, Dan and Greg both have toddler sons.
The Teenager has started lifting. She has a love of pushing around heavy weights so Dan has started teaching her barbell sports. Around the same time she started accompanying me to the gym, Andrew joined the team and he has a background in powerlifting.
Well now it’s too late to make a long story short, but I’ve been feeling better and Dan has made some creative adjustments to my sessions to try and improve my range of motion.
Dan had to cancel this morning’s session so he suggested reaching out to Andrew, but Andrew was running on fumes. We weren’t able to schedule a workout but we had a great conversation about the prospect of getting The Teenager into her own sessions with Andrew and I can continue my work with Dan.
Andrew said she has potential and that he’s impressed with the lifts he’s seen. She now squats 155 I think and deadlifts 195. But here’s what I didn’t expect… “Your work ethic,” Andrew said to me, “is inspiring to watch.”
My world has been upside down for the last three to six months. So to hear that is just a reminder of how you never know who’s watching and how you may impact others.
And while I am still searching for the right doctors as I age, I know that strength training serves as a great boon to my future mobility and health. I see the orthopedic physiatrist this week and scheduled a visit with the neuromuscular physiatrist at the end of May.
I’m hoping these doctors can teach me how my body works so I can give this information to the team at Apex and maybe I could have a future in strength sports. Or maybe I can finally jog a 5K.
But more people need to understand—
Physical therapy is a blessing for specific injury. But as we age, most of us will gain a disability if we don’t already struggle with congenital issues. Just as I look for the doctor that can help me understand my whole body and its movement, the right personal trainer can help me strengthen my whole body.
I really wish I could be with the guys at Apex Training five days a week.
And I hope anyone with a disability who wants to improve their physical condition will consider committing to work with a personal trainer.
I know, like all capital letters and in bold know, that my weight is a problem. I have excuses and plans and can logic everything six ways from Sunday. But it’s time to own up.
And I’ve done that and still failed several times to take control of the situation.
So, on Saturday, after a strong workout and a report from the physical therapist that really suggested I shouldn’t offer any more excuses, I re-downloaded My Fitness Pal and started tracking activity and food.
I challenged myself to make sure I hit 5,000 steps a day, with the intent of increasing that over time. And my current average is probably 4,000. Walked to the gym Saturday. Took the teenager and the dog for a walk. Hit 5,000 by 5 p.m. (And the dog wore down her claws on the sidewalk to the point where she bled. All over the house.)
I entered my gym workout, my water consumed, counted my physical therapy as yoga. Then I dealt with the fact that my eating is half trash, half perfect. Post gym meal? Coffee, Lebanon balogna and a Otis Spunkmeyer Chocolate Chip Cookie.
Yeah, that was the meal choice that made me re-download My Fitness Pal. It’s one thing to accept I made this choice. It’s another to stare at it for the rest of the day.
My dinner plan was more balanced. My Hungryroot box came. Since the teenager was at Petco buying first aid supplies and styptic powder for the dog, I made a lamb Mediterranean salad.
By 6 p.m., my food selections looked like this:
The program defaults to 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein (or is it 30%?) and the remainder fat for the Macro distribution. My diet is always higher in fat than it should be and I know from past experience that protein and fat keep my mood and hunger more stable than a high carb, low fat diet. So I adjusted it. Since I am regularly weight training, my diet should be high protein if I am trying to gain muscle. Which I am. Right now, I am merely aiming for a calorie deficit. If I succeed in shedding some weight, the next step would be to adjust fat and carbohydrates to encourage a leaner look.
The easiest solution to equalize the balance in these macros depicted would be for me to eat a stack of leftover turkey, plain, or perhaps with a little bit of horseradish if I get hungry again. That would shift the ratio of carbs, fat and protein.
So good morning all, and I have to say it’s a gorgeous Saturday and I had another great workout at Apex Training with my trainer Dan.
The photo is actually from Thursday’s workout, taken by Dan so I could tag #NickBestStrongman on social media, which I did and his official Instagram account started following me.
But today, the teenager got up early and came with me to the gym. The teenager is super strong and very balanced with the use of her body, full of power, so I wanted her to have the chance to really lift.
I think she’d be an amazing powerlifter.
And she did most of my weights at the gym today without breaking a sweat. Flexibility is her weakness. Balance is mine. Well, other than the cerebral palsy.
The teenager and I did a barbell bench press of 55 pounds, and did some hex deadlifts as well.
I came home and had an almost vegan breakfast— cream of wheat, vanilla soy milk, fresh artisan cashew butter from The Peanut Company in Cape May, dried blueberries, chia seeds and the one animal product, local honey. That was so delicious.
Barbells might be my new obsession. Remember my new shirt from the Fitness Tee Company in Michigan?
I bought it after my first bench press with the barbell. I have always wanted to lift barbells. I’m fascinated with power lifters, and admire women like Meg Squats. She recently had a baby, but to stay on topic, here is one of her lifting videos: 5 things I wish I knew before I started lifting.
So when my trainer first put me on the bench with a barbell, it was in part to evaluate me. What he didn’t know was my secret burning desire to do it. And it did not disappoint.
Those first couple lifts I learned so much— about form, about using “power zones” in the body, and how a simple bench press uses most of your muscle groups. Fascinating. To see other people do it hints at the complexity, but to do it yourself is a true lightbulb moment to the depth of the interactive mechanics of the human body.
Today I did my first one plate barbell deadlift. Pretty much because my trainer said, “You could totally lift that,” and pointed to the barbell on the floor.
And I said, “I’ve always wanted to.”
You could totally lift that.
Dan, my personal trainer at Apex
So he let me deadlift the one-plate (on each side) barbell. I mimicked his form, which appeared to be underhand and it was a totally different kind of effort from the dumbbell deadlifts I previously completed. Those seemed very concentrated in the butt and legs, these included more of the body in a fluid way.
I did three in that first set and returned to my dumbbell circuit— 10 lb dumbbells in a swing style motion up to a press, 10 reps, followed by 10 bicep curls— before back to the bar. This was my cool down set of the day. And I did 3 more additional sets at the barbell— a set of five, another circuit with the dumbbells, then eight at Dan’s urging, another circuit, and he asked for another eight, but I tapped out after five.
I determined that I prefer underhand grip. Overhand grip puts too much stress on my lower back. Mixed grip is awesome, too, but I think that may require some work before I can up my weight. Mixed grip forces a certain instability and requires more focus on balance, which as a balance exercise would be stellar.
But what does any of this have to do with athletes and disability— the idea I propose in the title?
I have no athletic talent what so ever. My coordination is awful. I tend to walk “all done f*cky” when my health is poor or I am fatigued. I also deal with a myriad of aches and pains from walking crooked and associated issues with my S1 joint.
But my trainer often comments on my form, well, once he reminds me to point my toes for a squat or perfect that lean for a row. He’s even commented that I’m “built for that” while we do certain exercises. That once I correct manually what my brain can’t make my body do automatically, that I use a very deliberate form.
As I’ve mentioned before my weight training is very meditative for me because I am counting (something my trainer and the teenager were discussing because she said even with a decade of band she can’t count) and my trainer said I was good at keeping count, but that many of his clients needed assistance. I am also thinking about control in every motion of the exercise— from each body movement, to pace and control.
And on top of that, I try to note feeling and body function. Though that is touchy. In a “leg day” session a week or two ago, Dan said he noticed something strained about the lift I was doing. He wanted to know if it were legs or back bothering me.
I had to do an extra rep of the exercise to answer him. Because I hadn’t noticed.
“Ankles,” I answered. “My ankles are stiff and shaky today.”
All of this makes me think, and question, how those of us will a mild physical disability like cerebral palsy might be better athletes because we don’t have talent or physical advantages. But we know our bodies and we are accustomed to acknowledging the details of our bodies and their functions.
Does the fact that I am required to concentrate on every motion make me more prone to perform that motion closer to perfection than someone who can breeze through it without thinking about it?
This particular blog post will touch on brief updates of multiple areas of my life.
1. My new phone: The refurbished iPhone Xs sent to be my Square Trade has developed a green line in the display. I went to report it and their website is down for maintenance.
2. The laundry room project: The teenager has selected a color with the help of her grandmother, polka dot skirt.
3. Hungryroot and Purple Carrot: Yesterday’s meal kit was Purple Carrot’s Palestinian Spiced Peppers with Crispy Seitan and Tomato Caper Relish and Lemon Dill Rice. We also cooked the Chicken Bruschetta Burgers from Hungryroot. Everything was amazing.
4. Work and/or Disability: starting Thursday night my body was stiff and my right leg is giving me so much trouble. It appears to be the perfect blend of weather (tropical storms), hormones (ovulation) and disability (cerebral palsy). I was very uncomfortable.
But my numbers at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy have been consistently decent— I QC’ed 46 fixes from 3:30 to 6:30ish, and then picked an M cart in 20 minutes before clocking out at 7:05. The night prior I was on “mailer machine” (a folding machine that operates with a lot of compressed air) that they call creased lightning.
5. Foster Cats: someone expressed interest in Louise. Here’s a video of her last night: Louise
6. The Gym (Apex Training): I did my first one plate barbell deadlift. I’ve always wanted to do barbell lifts. So far I’ve done bench press and deadlifts. Today I did four sets: one of three so my trainer could evaluate the weight of the lift, a set of five, another of eight, and a final of five.
He didn’t tell me how much weight that was— but my research from Mr. Google says the bar is 45 pounds and the plates are 20 kg. That together it’s 135 pounds?
My trainer Dan at Apex Fitness said something last week that made me chuckle and made me beam with pride.
“I forget you can handle more [weight] than most [women].”
“I still got it?” I asked.
Dan is very good at using full body motions even on isolated body part days. So on leg day we’ll throw in some bicep curls after those deadlifts and on upper body day, we do things that focus on form and stretching the lower body in addition to burning out the arms and chest.
I’m noticing much more flexibility in my body and that my chiropractor has gotten more agressive as well.
And I get to play with Dan’s super adorable baby and we talk a lot about food. He just picked up a client who is a vegetarian and doesn’t like tofu and some other stuff. We were brainstorming protein sources.
I thought I’d make a list.
Here’s my favorite vegan athlete on YouTube: Simnett Nutrition. Look at the sheer volume of food he eats. That is why I can’t be vegan. It has nothing to do with the diet— I just couldn’t stomach that much food.
Nut butters (morning hack— coffee, nut butter and yogurt smoothie. Add dates if you want to feel trendy)
Homemade salad dressings featuring tahini or peanut butter
Add black beans or chick peas to anything you can
Add hummus or tahini and/or sprouts to sandwiches. Pick bread with higher protein.
Nuts and seeds (including chia, flax and hemp) on salads, oatmeal, in baked goods or smoothies
Ancient grain or chick pea pasta
Peas and lentils
Frozen lentil pasta
Morningstar vegetarian breakfast patties
Adding beans or eggs to soups
Eggs & cheese
Snap pea snack crisps
Special K nut and fruit protein bars
Sweet Earth frozen foods
And for vegetarian meal services/meal kits:
Purple Carrot offers meal kits and prepared food. They have low calorie and high protein options are plant-based and get on the table in about 40 minutes. Purple Carrot is expensive, and requires a minimum of three dinners a week. Read my previous blogs on Purple Carrot here.
Hungryroot has more flexibility than Purple Carrot and offers “free protein”with each box. You can order meal kits, prepared foods or groceries. I get one or two meals and spent the rest of my credits on groceries. A lot of their recipes include extra ingredients— instead of a small jar of a tablespoon of Chile sauce for example, they send a tub. So you can use the extra for other meals. They can get on the table very quickly. They use a lot of “whole” main ingredients coupled with prepared sauces which keeps nutrient value high but prep time low. Read about my impressions of Hungryroot here.
Hello Fresh has a lot of great recipes and offers vegetarian food. All the sauces are incredible. But you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Also expensive. Servings tend to be small. I am told Every Plate is cheaper. Myexperience with Hello Fresh is here.
When I turned up at the Apex Gym today for my first session of the week, I was accompanied by the teenager and her dog. They were both impressed— and in the dog’s case confused— that my trainer Dan was wearing his baby.
I am always impressed with the different bodies I see at the gym and the attention both trainers give to their clients.
There was a woman at the gym finishing her session when I arrived. She was working hard with some dumbbells, with her back to me. She was older than I was, and overweight, probably at least obese by BMI standards (because I am overweight by BMI standards).
But she was uneven, with 80% of her excess weight in her legs.
And just like with me, Dan supported her and challenged her as if we were athletes. You could tell she was proud of herself, and I was proud of her.
And I couldn’t wait to tell my trainer Dan that I can already feel my body moving better. In his eyes, he calls it “a little increased mobility” and to me, I feel like my knees are moving the correct direction.
I told him that I got to pick at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy and covered about 6,000 steps and pulled 216 items in less than three hours. Now those aren’t stellar numbers, but I haven’t left QC in months. And I didn’t hurt.
If this Apex experience doesn’t teach me to participate in exercise and strength training daily, nothing will.
Today’s workout t-shirt was “let’s hit the bar” by The Fitness Tee Company and my trainer Dan let out an enthusiastic battle cry. We did hit the bar, and we added weight to it. I really enjoy bench press.
In other news, I listened to the latest podcast from the NYT Daily Sunday Read, “The Man who filed 180 disability lawsuits.” It looked at the “industry” of people hired by lawyers to find non-ADA-compliant businesses. And sue them.
I need to digest this more, but the reporter interviewed a small restaurant that almost lost everything because of such a lawsuit, in what seemed a situation where a new restaurant just had everything go wrong.
But the reporter also interviewed the litigant who said businesses have a responsibility to know the law better (my note: it’s almost 300 pages) and that being disabled is expensive so these lawsuits help pay for his equipment and care.
My body turned to me as I went to my car after work today, and as I fiddled with the radio (calling up Natalie Merchant on Spotify singing Space Oddity), my body said to me,
“Jesus, woman, what are you doing? We need to talk.”
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? But we can’t spend too much time on all this as it is 1:30 a.m. and my aching body craves sleep.
The teenager was up fairly early today so I suggested she and our almost 1-year-old pit bull/mastiff/black lab puppy walk with me to the gym, about 5 blocks away.
Now if you’re new here… I’m 46 years old, a former newspaper reporter. I have an amazing 17-year-old daughter. Her father and I separated two years ago but he lives nearby and is still an important part of our household. I have cerebral palsy. He has a club hand. I have recently started a quest to learn more about my body, restart my bodybuilding commitment (I was really into it six years ago) as an alternative to traditional physical therapy, and hopefully lose the 20 pounds I gained stress eating to cope with the toxic workplace of the last nonprofit I worked for.
So, the teenager, the dog and I walked up to the gym. F. Bean Barker is learning new manners everyday and the guys at the gym thought she was a beautiful dog.
And then the focus changed to leg day. Now, on upper body day I get to train like a normal person. On lower body day, my poor trainer has to balance my physical deficits with my desire to kick ass.
Or maybe I’m just as awkward both days, and I just never noticed.
Today was session six. It’s the last week of two sessions a week and next week we increase to three.
Please note: I have been in gyms lifting weights since college, which was about 25 years ago, and in recent years I’ve been in physical therapy to learn to walk, for balance, for the strain of my lumbar region caused by trouble with my S1 joint and my broken ankle. Every body is different. Every ailment or disability is different. It is a quest to balance what works for you, what your body needs and what hurts.
I firmly believe that nothing fixes the body like the right exercises. But for people with disabilities or health issues, it’s hard to recognize what pain you need to work through and what hurt is bad. As a weight lifter, I know muscle recovery pain. As a person with a disability, I often experience burning pain.
As a society, I feel like we invest so much money in medical tests, mental health, drugs, organic food, but we don’t want to pay for a trainer.
My trainer is getting to know me. He knows how to observe me. He asks questions about my mobility. We test exercises by going easy at first and adjusting them based on my performance.
And he reads me well.
There are times I can tell he’s afraid of pushing me too far and then I do the exercise and he makes it ten times harder because I surpassed his expectations. This makes him a good trainer because it means he’s testing my basic form and strength so I don’t get hurt. And he readsmy body language to see how I’m doing— not relying on my words.
A good trainer has to push you out of your comfort zone. But he also has to make sure everything’s executed for best impact and in a way that you don’t get hurt.
I have to admit, I hated him a little today. But I also love his full body approach. But when he tells me to do sumo squats with a 15-pound dumbbell and my toes pointed out AND make sure my knees “follow” my toes… I don’t know whether to cry or punch him.
It’s the gym— both those feelings are valid.
But let’s examine the issue. My knees face in.
This means to perform the motion he has requested, I need to move one foot at a time carefully into position. I need to really concentrate on balance. As I move, I need to keep my head up, focus on stretching the knees to position in line with my toes (which is not the way they go) while holding a weight and trying not to fall.
I was dripping sweat by the end of this session— before he hands me a kettle bell to end the work out with kettle bells swings.
When I got home, I made a massive high protein vegan pasta. See me make it here (this can also be my official “before” video.)
I ate 90% vegan today. Only animal products I had were half and half for my coffee and a pack of beef jerky at work. I almost had iced tea with local honey but the teenager spilled it when I left it on the dog crate.
This was dinner:
Speaking of dinner— tonight at the Bizzy Hizzy my team competed in the Stitch Fix olympics. We won the gold medal in the egg toss. I was relieved they weren’t real eggs.
In other news:
I almost started editing William Prystauk’s latest novel in the Kink Noir series.
My Poppy Z. Brite books have arrived.
I hurt. I hope it’s the good hurt.
My friend Joan not only brought us old linens, but scored a cat carrier and animal crate at a yard sale.