Abilities Expo 2016 (Los Angeles)

This past weekend was the Abilities Expo at the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles.  This was my first year going, though to be fair, I’m not really sure if there were any before.  I’m assuming there were by the way people were talking.  But either way, it was my first time going.  I’m glad I did.

The hubs, the little mister and I went.  This was the first time taking the baby on any sort of road trip and excursion.  He did well, which was a huge plus!  Parking at the convention center was a nightmare.  There was a designated lot for the Abilities Expo.  However, there weren’t any additional handicapped parking spaces.  Doesn’t it seem like common sense to increase the number of wheelchair spaces when there is a convention aimed at people in wheelchairs?  We were lucky enough to find a space on the opposite end of the elevator that was next to another empty space.  So, at least I was able to get out of the car OK.

The other downside was that the configuration needed a little work.  Checking in, there were long tables and two rows on the pre-registered side and three rows on the on-site registration side.  The tables were next to each other.  The entrances were on the opposite ends of the tables.  So, if you were on any of the inside rows, you had to backtrack and cut through the lines of people.  This was super hectic for us, with me being in a wheelchair and the hubs pushing the stroller.  And, given that a majority of the people were in wheelchairs or with wheelchairs, it was hectic.  The aisles inside the convention were fairly narrow too.  For a normal convention, I’m sure they were fine.  But, again, factor in the amount of wheelchairs, and it was jammed.  There were tons of traffic jams on the inside.

Ok, those were the negatives.  Now for the positives.  It was amazing to see so many people in wheelchairs in one place.  All ages and walks of life.  All different levels of functionality.  It was pretty cool.  I overheard people who were friends on Facebook meeting in real life.  That was pretty cool, and a testament to the benefit that the community groups on Facebook provides.

I had gone looking to talk to a representative of Tilite, the wheelchair company that I currently use, as I want to order a new wheelchair.  But, then I met a representative from Colours, another wheelchair maker.  I’d heard of them, but didn’t know much about their chairs.  Within seconds of my going up there, the man identified the 3 main things that I hate about my wheelchair and told me how they would fix it on a new wheelchair.  An added benefit is that they are manufactured about 45 minutes from my house, so I can go there to get measured and have it repaired if it gets fixed.  So, that was a huge benefit of going to the Abilities Expo!  Opened my horizons, for sure!

I picked up a FreeWheel, which I’d been thinking about for quite a while.  I’d already bought the Dragonfly wheelchair attachment, which turns my wheelchair into a handcycle.  That was a pretty great investment!  If a person is looking for a great way to exercise, I recommend this!  I’d been looking to add the FreeWheel to my collection which will be amazing for my trips to Wyoming.  It’s going to open up more outdoor areas: grass, dirt roads, etc.  And I’m looking to use it in my own backyard so I can finally start a garden!  I was stoked that they were selling these at the Abilities Expo and can’t wait to try it out!

The coolest part of the Abilities Expo may have been the bikes.  There was an exhibitor showcasing their bikes which had been specifically designed for people with disabilities.  The pedals were held up in the front, which is huge for a person with drop foot, like myself.  (In the video, you can see at the end how my feet are inclined to point down.)  The bikes had a handle on the back so an able bodied person can help give you a push if needed, or a stop, I suppose if you’re picking up too much speed.  The bikes are custom made in Canada, and built to the individual’s specifications.  They told me to jump on, but I was reluctant.  After the hubs gave me some encouragement, I decided to give it a try.  I am so glad that I did!  I actually pedaled two small laps!  Being an incomplete paraplegic, I do have some functionality in my legs.  My hips have managed to come back pretty strong, which allows for the pedaling.  My left quads are fairly strong (not like pre-paralysis strong, but compared to no movement, they’re strong) which allowed my left leg to pedal pretty well.  My right quads are kind of there but not as strong.  The problem was with bringing the leg back up and around.  So, I just use my hand to help my right leg along and was able to go!  It was exhilarating!!  I always say that not being able to ride my bike anymore is the biggest hardship from being paralyzed.  This gave me that joy back.  And sweat.  It gave me a lot of sweat.  I’m not sure that I will pick one up, as it was on the pricey side, and I live in a hilly area.  If I lived in the flat lands, I would pay for it without even second guessing!  But for now I have the video of my adventure.

 

I am so glad that I went to the Abilities Expo!  I didn’t attend any of the workshops or panels.  And I didn’t see the dancing girls or participate in the world’s largest wheelchair painting.  But I made the most of the exhibits that I did want to see.  I got better access to my backyard by purchasing my FreeWheel.  And I can’t wait to make use of it in Wyoming!  And I found my new wheelchair, which I hope to get in the works in the next few days.  And I got to experience the joy of riding a bike again.  I would consider all of that a win!

Persistence

Yesterday was a milestone.  Well, let me take you back a bit to put this all in perspective.

It was two weeks ago, Sunday.  I was sitting at home with the hubs when we decided it was time to do a little PT.  I strapped on my braces, grabbed the walker and went outside.  Decided a little fresh air working out might do me some good.  I wasn’t really sure how far I was going to go, but just set out.  I walked.  And kept walking.  And kept walking.  Well, I took two little seated breaks in the midst.  But the point was, I kept going.  When all was said and done, I walked about 200 feet!  With good controlled steps!  This was definitely the farthest I had gone since this little adventure began on 8/13/13.  Normally I’ve been walking about 30-60 feet on a good day.

The day after I had my marathon walk, I went in to see 5 O’clock Shadow.  I told him about my long walk and I think he was skeptical.  I did my warm-up, kill-me-now exercises.  Did you know that standing is actually harder than walking??  Yeah, who knew!  So then came time for the walking, and I walked across the room with pretty good gait.  But then I was pooped.  Then I think 5-O was definitely skeptical.  I tried to explain that I was just tired from the mileage I got the day before at home.

This week, I had another Monday morning session.  (Sidenote: I need to stop going in on Monday mornings to see 5-O, or I’m going to have to change his name as it seems Monday is shave day. I told him I was extremely disappointed and lodged a formal complaint. I’m not creative enough to give him a SECOND name!) I purposely didn’t walk as far on Sunday to preserve my strength for Monday’s session. We started out with the same warm-ups. He made me want to kill him by making stand. He pointed out that it is actually possible to sit too straight and told me he actually wants me to slouch a little, because what I think is slouching is actually the perfect amount of straight. Another “who knew?!” moment was had!

Then came the moment of truth. It was time for me to walk. I started out with a good walk. I made it to my normal stopping point with ease. Pressure on my legs, mostly off my arm. Smooth gait. Totally showing off for a therapist he was training who happens to know Drill Sergeant. Hoping that word will get back to Drill Sergeant about how good I’m doing now, because I was a hot mess when I was working with Drill Sergeant back in the hospital. He was a good sport (and by that I mean total mean jerk, hence the name) and I want to show him that I really did listen to what he said despite what my blubbery tears may have indicated.

So I made it to the mirror which is my normal stopping place. And then I angled the walker. “Oh, you’re making the turn?!” 5-O said as he pushed the walker behind me. “I’m making a circle. All your other patients do it, so why can’t I?!” I retorted. “I think you should!” he replied. About halfway through the circle of the whole clinic I said “Why am I showing off and pushing voluntarily?? Now you’re going to make me do this every time!” I despaired. “Probably!” 5-O laughed. By the end, I was exhausted, sweaty and my arms throbbed. About 2/3 into my walk, more weight went onto my arms and I was swinging my legs a little more than a controlled gait. But I still tried. I still focused. And most importantly, I made it!

I normally don’t talk too much about my clients on this blog. But, I have a new one who I will call Persistence. He is persistent in his determination to prove his innocence. He is persistent in growth as a person. He is persistent in his questioning everything I do (which he claims is to just help me, but I think secretly he’s persistently testing me, to which I reply “bring it!”). The reason I bring him up is that he inspired me to keep pushing through. Some days I’m too tired to fight for my walking. Some days I’m just bummed out by the situation. Some days I just find it easier to roll around than try to get upright again. But, as I wanted to give in to the fatigue and sit in the wheelchair that 5-O had behind me, I thought “If Persistence doesn’t give up in his fight, how can I give up in mine?”

So I made it to the end and sank into my wheelchair at the exact place from which I started. All in all, it was probably a 100-120 foot walk. The look on 5-O’s face really made it all worth it too! He was super proud of me, and I’ve said it before and will say it again: I respond really well to positive reinforcement. The bad thing is that he’ll probably make me do it every time now. But I accept that challenge and give myself a couple weeks until I’m doing two laps!

Eat less…yeah right

It all started a couple weeks ago.  My mom uttered those 7 words that every girl loves hates to hear:  “I think you should see a nutritionist.”  I told her it’s rude to make fun of the handicapped.  She repeated her statement.  I told her that this conversation was better to be had over pizza.  She repeated her statement.  I told her that I don’t need a nutritionist to tell me to move more and eat less.  I need new legs to move more.

Ok, earlier I said I need new legs to move more.  Did you fall for it?  I’m the queen of excuses.  Did that one make you feel bad?  It doesn’t make my mom feel sad.  She tells me to move however I can.  For example, getting from the floor to the sofa gets my heart rate up.  She sat there today to see if it’s something we agree I could do while I was home alone without the fear of being the next “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up spokeswoman.”  I wasn’t in the correct attire for this attempt, however.  I was wearing nylon warm-ups which kept sliding all over the floor.  I couldn’t get traction to save my life.  I finally managed to wedge a pillow under my knees which gave me enough traction to hoist my upper body onto the sofa.  My therapy dogs (which are really just my dogs during therapy time) thought I was playing a game and both decided to sit on my back.  They’re always looking to lend a helpful paw.  Or for a new place to rest.  After shooing them off of me, I managed to finally get myself onto the sofa.  The whole thing took about 5 minutes and probably got my heart rate up enough to burn 100 calories.  Probably not one of the exercises I should do unsupervised, unless we want the hubs to find me half sprawled on the sofa in my new occupation of “dog bed”.

Since move more isn’t the best solution right now, eat less is definitely the solution.  There’s just one problem: I love junk food so much that it’s practically against my religion to not eat them.

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Kiki (not her real name, but the name she plans on her grandkids calling her one day.  Her kids are under 10.).  We were talking about dieting and losing weight and all those other things girlfriends talk about when they get together.  She told me how her mom and sister told her that being skinny feels better than anything tastes.  I wish I had that mindset.  I would probably pay money if someone could reprogram my brain that way.   But, I love the taste of cake.  And ice cream.  And pizza.  And those are all way better than being skinny.  Yes, yes.  Being skinny is wonderful.  But, so are Oreos!  Literally, they’re so delicious that after I wrote that last sentence, I got sidetracked on the Oreo website and found that they have recipes for delicious desserts!  That’s how addicted to junk food I am!

To be fair, after Kiki and I had this conversation, I made her a spinach and goat cheese salad with balsamic vinegar and a hint of Italian seasoned olive oil.  So, I am not opposed to eating healthy.  I try to do it pretty often.  I just believe in moderation.  One thing healthy, two things junk food.  One thing healthy, two things junk food.  Etc, etc.  I usually find ways to justify it.  I’m in a wheelchair; I deserve those cookies.  I’m home alone; I need Skittles.  I had a hard workout so an extra scoop of ice cream won’t hurt.  It’s Wednesday pizza day.  It’s someone’s birthday somewhere in the world so let’s buy a sheet cake.  I can literally find any way to justify any junk food decision.

But there is one way to get me to cut back on the bad food.   And no, it’s not health related.  Yes, I do acknowledge that losing weight would help walking when I’m using all upper body on the walker.  And that’s a benefit.  Is it enough to get me to stop though?  Nope.  And yes, I acknowledge that putting on my clothes without using my legs would be easier if they fit looser.  Again, not enough to change my habits.  The one thing that is enough?  Having my mom bring up the fact that I need to go on a diet.  She’s not the type to let things go.  She will bookend every conversation with reminders.  She’ll bring it up at all times of the day when she calls to check in.  It is worth it to sincerely cut back on the intake just to have those nails on chalkboard conversations friendly reminders stop.  And believe me you, she knows this and is precisely the reason she persists.  After 33 years, she knows every trick and has me beat at every turn.  So mom, you’ll be glad to know that tonight I am passing on the cake for dessert and instead having a bowl of strawberries.