Train to Play. Make Play Training. That was my promise to myself when I retired from competitive sport following the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. I didn't want to be obsessed about training any more, but if it dropped a foot of powder, I wanted to be able to ski hard all day and not be sore the rest of the week. After seven Paralympic Games and 15 years of bringing my shorts and sneakers to the mountain so that I could go directly to the gym on the way home, waking up at five o'clock to train in my racing chair before I went to the mountain, or doing double sessions during the summer to the point that I felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat across the top of my shoulders, I wanted a break. My plan worked for a while, but guilt scolded me from on high. As an athlete I'd suspended my adolescence until the night of my 36th birthday, coincidentally the night of the Athens closing ceremonies, retiring only because I felt that I needed a clean break so that I could start whatever I was going to do as an adult. I had loved every moment of my self-indulgent athletic life and could easily backslide. It was the Tom Sawyer quote by Mark Twain, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of what a body is not obliged to do."
After a lifetime of play, guilt demanded obligation. I worked from early morning until late at night because that's what I felt a grownup was supposed to do. Last year I spent 270 days on the road -- all of which threw my promise to train to play and make play training off its axis.
At the end of 2012 I feared the promise of three to six months of recovery from shoulder surgery. Years of overuse along with guilt spinning my plan off its axis had rendered my left arm almost useless. I could barely lift myself off the couch or into my car. The one time I skied, my arm felt like it was going to fall off. On New Year's Eve I resolved to be healthy in 2013. My shoulder threatened my quality of life, accelerating the aging process to sedentary at 45, but it wasn't just my shoulder. My stomach, which often feels like I've swallowed a bowling ball, has dragged me down for at least 10 years. Frequent rounds of antibiotics have stripped both the good and bad in my gut. In attempts to heal my stomach, I have consulted doctors. I've used fiber, psyllium, and probiotics. I researched candida. I fasted, cleansed and cut out gluten. Nothing made me feel better. A few things made me feel less worse, if that makes any sense.
As I approach the end of 2013, I'm happy to say that through platelet replacement therapy (PRP) I avoided surgery on my shoulder, which now feels at least 90 percent and gets stronger every day. I've already skied three days with no worry about my arm falling off, but I'm stressed that my health resolution remains unresolved because of my stomach. Despite a very encouraging end of year visit to a Chinese medicine doctor I worried I would miss my deadline when I remembered something my good friend Bill Chaffee said. Each year on his birthday he adds a good habit. Maybe he's hit on the problem with New Year's Resolutions. They're usually about cutting something out -- about engaging that guilt that can be so damaging -- instead of adding something good -- making something better and better is a lifetime pursuit that is not bound by the Gregorian calendar.
With the long term in mind, I'm going to target that guilt. 2013 was about getting healthy. My 2014 resolution will be to achieve balance. Train to Play. Make Play Training. was a brilliant stroke, if I do say so myself. The Dalai Lam, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:
"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."
This fall, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I cleaned out all of my email boxes. Woohoo moment, right? But I don't think getting to zero was what the Dalai Lama meant about living. Living is the moments that stress and stretch -- the moments that we look back on and say that's the best part, and no I don't want to do it again. Living is the spectrum of emotion. To struggle is human. I don't just want to do what obligation tells me to do. I want to live, and that means finding the balance to play -- to do what a body is not obliged to do. Last year was physical, and this year is mental. Next year, I'll add another layer to the work in progress.