A Marathon Runner
On January 19th I suffered a stroke. I was 39 at the time. It came out of the blue without warning signs. My question "why" remained unanswered even after countless checks and tests. Doctors listed factors that could have led to it. Yet, I have never had high blood pressure, my body weight was ideal, I have never been a smoker, I played various sports, and since I'm the father of three children I even got used to walks in nature.
And then my life completely changed. The doctors did what they could. Four weeks after the stroke I was taken to the rehabilitation center. For quite a long time I could not even move myself from bed to the wheelchair. With a help of his logopedist, he slowly started to talk and to read again. It took me two months to be able to walk again without accessories, but in autumn, after a number of therapies, I was fit for an independent life. I reconciled myself to the fact that playing sports was ruled out for me, finding consolation in the thought that I could look after myself and could go wherever I wanted. Long walks became part of my daily routine.
After a while I got fed up with walking, so the next summer I tried my hand at cycling. My old bike was still there, but it proved useless, since I was losing balance and even fell several times. I protected my head with an ice-hockey helmet (a remnant from my 'previous life'), but I soon realized that in my case cycling came to mean tempting fate (and I was definitely the last person who should be tempting fate). So I more or less decided that it was better to drop the idea, but in reality I could not bring myself to do it and I continued to look for a solution that would put me back on my bike. I asked my bicycle repair man to add a small side wheel on the right side. I felt much safer, but I still fell from time to time. So I quit cycling and did much of walking and even more of driving; in other words, I became a bit lazy, which definitely was not good for me.
Four years on I returned to the idea of cycling and had my bike turned into a sort of a three-wheeled vehicle. But it was unmanageable, and even my kids (all skillful bicycle riders) managed to steer it only as far as the nearest bush. So I continued to rack my brains thinking how to improve my device, and the following year I asked the repair man to make for me a completely new bike with side wheels. The bike frame was also adapted to make easier my climbing on and off the bike. I can now ride it safely despite my disability (I can use my right leg, but my right hand is dead), but from time to time I still come up with an idea on how to improve some thing or another. Fortunately, the repair man has always shown understanding and met all my wishes.
I'm quite tired after riding long distances, but I feel in great shape. I had played sports since my early childhood, so I missed recreation after the stroke. Slow walks cannot substitute that kind of physical activity.
I consulted the neurologist, Dr. Anton Grad, about my activities. He is delighted to hear that I'm so active and he was first to congratulate me on my cycling feat. I regularly check my pulse when cycling. It does exceed 130 beats per minute on steep terrains, but otherwise it stays within limits. Dr Grad explained that the faster heartbeat during physical strain is nothing to worry about if it returns to normal when the strain is over. It proves that I'm in a good physical shape.
There was another thing that I found hard to accept in my 'post-stroke' life. Will I ever be able again to stand on skis and slide down the white slopes. I was convinced that skiing was not ruled out for 'strokers', as I like to call stroke-sufferers.
I spent the last day of my 'previous life' skiing. In fact, skiing was my favorite sport and during winters I spent every day off work skiing. Before that fateful day, I had more than 18 days of skiing behind me in that winter season.
Two years after my stroke, I went with my family for a winter holiday. For several days I just skirted the edge of the ski slope and braced myself for an attempt at skiing. The beginning was much harder than I expected. I could not put on my right ski booth because my right leg is not fully functional. When I eventually managed, with the help of all members of the family, I felt too tired to try skiing. Since I'm cautious by nature, I realized that for the time being I couldn't hope for much more than to pull myself up and take the start position.
Next winter I returned to the ski slope and spent most of the time trying to overcome the beginner's problems. I mustered enough courage to go up using a ski lift for children, but even the mild slope was still too much of a challenge for me - of the two attempts, two ended with falls.
In 2006, I decided to approach my new skiing career more systematically. I was tired of time-consuming attempts to put on my right ski boot. Mr Marjan Čuk, who works for the disabled rehabilitation center, was really keen to help me and he adapted my boot so that I could put it on effortlessly. I then took it to the Alpina ski boots manufacturer, where a very helpful man from the maintenance staff solved my problem of binding the boot. My friend and a ski teacher, Roman Šturm, helped me choose the skies, recommending shorter 'carving' skies.
Since in the meantime I regained my driving license, I could again drive my family to a winter holiday destination. For the beginning, I chose the mildest slope with a barely perceptible descent and it was a success - I went up on my own and skied down. After five descents I felt immense joy - I could ski again, five years after the stroke. I made progress over the following few days and even ventured on a more demanding slope. At the end of my skiing week I had 30 descents under my belt.
Victory at last. Mr Stroke, you did not succeed in frightening me. I'm not going to sit listlessly in front of the television screen, or pity myself over my bad luck, or despair. I'll come back next winter and celebrate still another victory on an ever steeper slope.
The end of the story? There is no end in sight.
Recreation encourages me to continue with active life. It not only improves my physical condition but enhances my general mood and makes accessible many aspects of life.
My conviction that stroke sufferers should enjoy everything we wish for has been reinforced. One who invests real effort can achieve any goal.