The Longevity Project: Post Independent, Aspen Times on how they maintain mobility
Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times
Editor’s note: This is the final of the series The Longevity Project, a collaboration between The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
One of the most beautiful things about working and living in this part of the country is the convenience. At the Aspen Times, writers can whip up a story, reach their early afternoon deadline and then walk a few blocks toward Aspen Mountain for a couple runs.
At the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the newsroom’s go-to mountain is Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort to fulfill our need for fresh powder.
Then you account for all the lovely trails, rivers and lakes in the mountains. Which means, no matter what time of year, there’s always something to do.
Like anyone, we sometimes suffer through injury and ailment, especially as we age. Here’s how we at these Roaring Fork Valley newspapers try staying fit and maintaining our mobility.
Post Independent managing editor Ray K. Erku: Back to normal
My girlfriend had to help me put on my socks.
Using the bathroom was much more of a burden than relief.
The typical dinner libation grew to three or four.
The epic 2022-23 ski and snowboard season was heaven, but the past four months of my life were hell.
On a fateful day in May, I sneezed too hard. Suddenly the disc in my back bulged and doctors at Grand River Health in Rifle told me it irritated my sciatic nerve.
Abject pain ensued. Ice picks stabbed my lower back every day. Persistent electrical currents felt like they constantly incinerated the veins in my legs, which were partly immobile at that point.
I then sunk into a depression deeper than the snowpack of Mount Sopris.
Summer was supposed to be my skateboarding days. Instead, I was mostly marooned on a couch, a fistful of muscle relaxers and negative thoughts.
I, simply put, was a giant man baby (still am).
Injury — even suffered by the young (I’m 34) — takes a heavy toll on mental health. A potent concoction of vulnerability, hopelessness and delirium attack the psyche, and suddenly we’ve spelunked below zero with no harness.
How do you get over it? How do you convince yourself everything will be OK?
Everyone I encountered during these awful days imparted their advice on how they personally got over their back issues. See a chiropractor, pay for acupuncture, kidnap a masseuse, they told me.
All valid suggestions.
I’ll never forget one day, however, a friend of mine told me that, at the end of the day, I’m just going to have to wait and be patient. To this day, some of the best advice I ever received.
Wait and be patient.
Reflect on how you got to this point:
I didn’t stretch properly before hitting the slopes. I scarfed filth like a scavenging New York pigeon. I didn’t work on my core if I wasn’t at Sunlight or upvalley.
Reversing course, I then looked into the future:
I’m not dead yet. I’ve overcome other challenges in life, surely I can heal and, before I know it, I’ll be back in a pair of bindings, shredding in the winds.
My doctor and girlfriend also convinced me to quit being so stubborn and pursue physical therapy. So, reluctantly, I did.
Now, I’m not going to promote one healing method over another. But the absolute angel of my physical therapist at Grand River gave me new hope.
We had appointments at the end of every week all summer. I dreaded getting into my car every Friday and causing an accident getting there. But in addition to the stretches, electric shock therapy and hip alignments, my therapist told me my nervous system had degenerated but that it will build back. We also talked about simple life things. She told me about a novel she was writing. I talked about my favorite restaurants in Glenwood Springs.
Sitting in the waiting room was also interesting. I smiled at older patients leaving their appointments hunched over walkers and canes, construction workers with limps, people rolling in wheelchairs.
Don’t take yourself for granted, I thought.
Then, over time, less and less my girlfriend had to help me clothe myself. Bathroom trips were easier. Even Glenwood Springs residents watering their plants while I passed by them on my afternoon walks said, “You’re walking again!”
Whenever you find yourself in a catatonic state of despair, let people in. Absorb the positivity, and look beyond the horizon of this breathtaking valley.
For me, I look forward to being back at Sunlight.
A board underneath my feet. A brisk breeze at the top. An ice-cold beverage at the bottom.
Post Independent publisher Peter Baumann: It takes more than just putting one foot forward
I was bounding down the north end of Scout Trail when being young at heart finally caught up with me.
With 10 months sobriety, I had reconnected with the joys of physically pushing myself further than I had in years. I was a new runner and figured a pair of trail shoes and running shorts was all I needed to get started.
Partly from embarrassment of being slow but mostly from thinking that running was simply putting one foot in front of the other (hopefully quickly), I didn’t so much as read an article on beginning trail running, let alone seek out advice from so many knowledgeable locals. It was a mistake that caught up with me in less than a dozen runs.
That day on Scout Trail, I was breezing through the cool springtime evening, enjoying the sun setting west through South Canyon. Coming through a flat section, I extended my stride into near-leaps — forgetting in the fun of the moment about my stubborn weak left ankle. A hard landing on loose dirt was quickly followed by my ankle bending inward and sudden shooting pain. I remember the shock at how much pain there was despite the fact that I hadn’t tripped or fallen. I sat down in the middle of the trail for a moment, breathing hard and wondering if I’d broken something.
I was fortunately able to limp back to my truck, but the injury lingered well past a few weeks. It joined me for many bike rides, hikes, a few trepidatious runs in the fall and then for much of the ski season. It’s much better a year and a half later, but my ankle still gets sore on days with lots of verticality.
I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse — and the event taught me how important it is to be intentional in caring for my body; that intentionality is what will carry me into the great outdoors for years to come.
Talking with those more knowledgeable than I helped me understand the importance of warming up and stretching on a regular basis. Even then, I put stretching off as a tedious activity; I was too busy to bother with it for a few more months. The difference in how I felt when I finally started a stretching routine was remarkable.
I also got a lot of good advice about being patient: you don’t have to burn yourself out in the first mile. People get faster by seconds over months or years, and focusing on maintaining a steady pace for longer will help you enjoy the outdoors more and recover faster.
All of this might seem obvious, but it’s not — it’s also easy to ignore when we’re in one of the most beautiful parts of the country surrounded by so many athletically capable people. But keeping ourselves humble and realistic in our wellness goals mean we’ll be able to enjoy more of the Roaring Fork Valley — and western Colorado in general — for years to come. That’s what we hope to help inspire you to do with our Longevity series this fall.
Aspen Times publisher Allison Pattillo: Listen to your body
As I count down the days until my ankle replacement surgery in October, it’s given me time to reflect on what got me to this point and what I’ll do differently going forward.
My life has been filled with running, hiking, skiing, skimo, triathlons, and more. I have hundreds of races and thousands of miles under my belt, and am accustomed to the normal niggles of tight calves, plantar fasciitis, and ITB pain that can come from constant training.
Anyone in this valley can share stories of ski injuries, sprained ankles, and overuse, and, more often than not, can pinpoint the direct reason for the pain. Whether it’s doing a fourteener off the couch, not stretching, skipping gym days, or doing a flying superman dismount from your mountain bike, we know what we did to contribute to our injury.
And that is why I was so confused seven years ago when my left ankle went from feeling solid on a training run to non-weight bearing in the span of two hours. In retrospect, I’d felt a niggle in my ankle for the week or two prior, and had been dealing with a mild fever, but I chalked it up to pre-race tapering stress, and maybe being a bit run down. Overall, I was feeling good and was beginning to focus on getting enough sleep, hydrating, cross-training, and doing yoga because being in my 40s, I knew I had to do more than lace up and run.
On crutches, with a clear X-ray and MRI, my doctor and I were at a loss until the cultures from my ankle fluid came back to show that I had a staph infection in my ankle joint. Since I had not paid attention to the signals my body was sending, the situation was way beyond taking antibiotics and going back to my routine. My ankle joint was flushed out to minimize damage, I was non-weight bearing for six weeks, and was put on IV antibiotics for four.
Things like arthritis and never running again were mentioned. I saw arthritis as something future me could deal with, and I even worked my way to running again, albeit for shorter distances and at a more leisurely pace. As for the arthritis, that kicked in about three years ago, and “future me” is now dealing with end stage osteoarthritis, with the options of fusion or replacement.
While admittedly mourning the things I can’t do at present, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the things I can do. I enjoyed every moment of a recent and decidedly chill bike ride, soaking up the warmth of the sun on my arms and relishing in the golden leaves all around me. Mobility work and lifting weights are more critical now than ever, both to prepare for recovery from the surgery and set me up for many active decades to come.
Most importantly, I’ve learned I can’t take my body for granted. My list of mountains to climb, ski, and traverse, bike rides to take, and general adventures to go on is long. The best outcome of my replacement is no limitations and greatly reduced pain. To get there, my training at 53 will be much different than it was in my 30s and 40s. Now, I won’t just hear what my body is saying, I’ll actually listen, with stretching, mobility work, weight lifting, and walking as the norm, and big adventures being my just reward.
The next Longevity Project event is slated for 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at The Arts Campus At Willits (TACAW), 400 Robinson St., Basalt. The panel is titled, “How to maintain mobility, balance, and athleticism throughout life” and will feature experts in the field.
Tickets can be purchased at aspentimes.com/longevity-project-2023-fall.
The Aspen Choral Society (ACS) announced its 47th Annual Presentation of Handel’s “‘Messiah,” taking place on Friday, Dec. 8, at the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Saturday, Dec. 9, at TACAW in Basalt, and Sunday, Dec. 10, at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs.