August 6, 2011
The day I tore my ACL, an important ligament of the knee, my life took a turn for the worst. I have always been physically active. I played basketball in middle- and high-school and was a member of the swim team. I played tennis and racket ball for fun. My friends and I hiked and went to the beach on weekends. We roller-skated on the quite streets of my best friend's neighborhood wearing metal-wheeled skates strapped to our sneakers. Good old memories! During and after my college time I was a dedicated member of an aerobics club, wearing in-fashion leg warmers and thighs. (I still have some, but, no, I don’t wear them!)
So I was no stranger to injuries. Ankle sprains, pulled muscles, bruises, bumps, and a broken bone on my left foot are part of my repertoire of injuries. All these injuries, however, heal on their own. The body repairs the damage in time, swelling goes down, and pain eventually disappears. Even the bone rebuilds itself cell-by-cell to rejoin the broken parts together.
But a torn ACL belongs in different category. It won't heal on its own rejoining the parts split apart by brute force. And once the swelling went down and the pain disappeared, what remained was an unstable knee that did not fully support my active lifestyle. Ten years before the ACL injury I had added martial arts, Kuk Sool Won (KSW), to my list of activities. I could practice with a torn knee ligament, but had limitations. I would have to be more careful during jumps and knee bends. The injury took a great deal of joy out of my Kuk Sool practice. Would I have surgery to fix it or would I stay with a wobbling knee?
I don't like surgery. The idea of cutting through perfectly healthy layers of skin and muscle gives me shivers to say the least. I consulted with one of the best knee surgeons in town and he reassured me that cutting would be minimum. Rehab, on the other hand, would be the major challenge. I would have to be disciplined and focus on a daily routine of exercises designed to rebuild my leg’s strength, regardless of the pain or the groggy and queasy feelings left by pain medication. There is no other way to recovery. I could not decide to do it. Sometimes after exercising and worrying my knee would fail me, I was ready to fix it, but then I thought about surgery and decided to wait. I cycled between “I’ll do it!” and “Wait, not yet!” for about a year when something happened that cleared indecision out of my mind.
I was working on the memoir of my martial arts instructor, Master Choon-Ok Jade Harmon. I had finished the interviews and research and I was fully focused on writing. I was stepping into her shoes, so to speak, to write her story in her voice, when I realized little by little how small my problems were compared to hers. She has achieved the highest rank in KSW against so many obstacles I have lost count. Family, tradition, colleagues, all intervened to stop her martial arts career. But what stood out was that her greatest battle was (and still is) against a condition that consistently interrupts and sets back her progress. Having dyspraxia, she has to concentrate more and repeat movements many more times than others to get them right and memorized. She battles constant frustration but has not given up because if she had, she would have been left with nothing but anger and defeat. If she had given up, dyspraxia, not her, would have won the life-long battle.
By practicing many hours every day, she has achieved a great milestone: she’s the only woman with a ninth degree black belt. This is the reward of a life-long commitment not many men and fewer women have achieved. Being a woman made the struggle harder. But the rewards go beyond self-satisfaction. At her martial arts school, she’s able to help young and adult students who have the same problem. She understands what’s going on in their minds because she faces the same obstacles. She’s kind, patient and practices with them and encourages them to practice more at home. “If you practice, you will get it,” she tells them. Her story is an endless source of inspiration to face and solve my troubles. Having to face surgery and a long rehab did not seem such a big deal compared to what people with dyspraxia have to go through.
Dyspraxia affects people’s motor coordination. Some people, like Daniel Radcliffe, have trouble with small movements, such as tying his shoelaces. Still he’s the best quidditch player ever. Others may feel clumsy handling silverware, or writing, sewing, cutting vegetables, or folding clothes, while some may have trouble with big movements, such as throwing a ball. It could be problems with balance, coordination, being clumsy. It could be one or a combination of the above. Sounds like somebody you know?
Meet a group of “true experts” in solving persistent problems: Choon-Ok Jade Harmon, Daniel Radcliffe, Louis Barnett (a successful British chocolatier), and many other people I don’t know, but who are out there facing their daily battle with dyspraxia and other permanent conditions.They are experts at not giving up. They have found a way to successfully counter balance the frustration and anger coming from endless struggle. Their example is truly inspirational and I am thankful for knowing about their struggle and success. I wish more of them would step out and let us know how they do it. I had knee surgery and, as expected, recovery was the most challenging part. It was painful, long, and exhausting but I went through it and I am back in Kuk Sool. If Choon-Ok, Daniel, Louis, and many other true experts can try one more time, so can I.
For more information about dyspraxia, visit the Dyspraxia Foundation USA: http://www.dyspraxiausa.org/