fitness · health · illness

Easing back to ‘normal’

…or at least normal for me. 😉

After spending the better part of two weeks dealing with Covid, I am finally feeling mostly like myself.

I missed two weeks of Taekwondo, missed lots of walks with Khalee (I didn’t miss two full weeks of walks, those are easier to scale to my current energy levels) and kept my yoga mat rolled in the corner.

I really missed my usual activities. Aside from my enjoyment of the movements themselves, I missed the shape that yoga and walks give my days and the shape that TKD give my weeks. Without those things, my last two weeks have had a ‘stepped out of the normal flow of time’ kind of feeling.

A GIF of two characters from Doctor Who saying ‘Wibbley-wobblye timey-wimey. Misspellings are in the original.
(Yes, I know wobbly is misspelled) A GIF from the BBC show Doctor Who in which two character are saying ‘Wibbley-wobblye timey-wimey’ to each other.

This time last week, I had to sit down after putting in a load of laundry (there are two flights of stairs involved) and trying to do even gentle yoga left me feeling not quite dizzy but definitely disoriented.

And aside from the physiological evidence that I needed to take it easy, I also have read (and heard evidence from friends) that pushing yourself too hard when you are recovering from Covid can lead to complications.

Today though (I am writing this on Monday), I did a little gentle yoga and my walk with Khalee, while somewhat short, didn’t leave me feeling worn.

In fact, the movement in both cases felt GOOD instead of being mostly tiring.

I’m taking that as a good sign that my recovery is on track and that I am easing back to my regular life.

I’m still going to rest when I can and pay close attention in case things get to be too much for me but I’m glad to be stepping back into *my* normal flow of time.

A GIF of a person making air quotes while saying the word ‘Normal’
A GIF of a person with white hair and glasses, wearing a dark pink sweater and a flowered scarf saying the word normal while making air quotes with their fingers.

advice · fitness · illness · rest · self care

A short post about not very much

I’m writing this on Monday night.

I’ve spent the day feeling under the weather (and appropriately it has been very VERY rainy) and trying to sort my to do list into:

– things that I feel up to doing today

-things that must be done today (by me or by someone else)

-things that can most definitely wait

-other stuff

Resting, very low-key yoga, and an online meeting made the cut…a lot of other things did not.

I can’t, however, tell you how I decided which was which. (It’s not a secret, I just have no idea!)

How do you decide how much rest you need when you don’t feel well?

How do you decide what stays on your to do list and what you can let slide?

PS – Here’s a useful reminder I drew a few years ago. You don’t even need to feel sick to take it to heart.

A photo of a small square card on a patio railing. The card has been painted yellow and has dark blue lines extending outward from the centre to create the impression of a top-down view of a flower. ​Blue text on the drawing reads “you don’t have to be and do all of the things. Choose the ones that feel right, the ones you know are yours. (That’s enough)”
Image description: a small square card on a patio railing. The card has been painted yellow and has dark blue lines extending outward from the centre to create the impression of a top-down view of a flower. Blue text on the drawing reads “you don’t have to be and do all of the things. Choose the ones that feel right, the ones you know are yours. (That’s enough)”

cycling · fitness · illness

Back on the bike after a stroke (Guest post)

It’s Saturday morning in late September. I’m sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops enjoying a latte and trying to get the chill out of my bones. I decided to bike here this morning, despite the thermometer reading eight degrees. I love Ottawa in the fall: it’s one of my favourite times of year. The leaves are turning on the trees, but the Parkway is still reserved for cyclists on the weekends, which makes for some breathtaking rides. The Parkway hugs the Ottawa River, so it’s not unusual to run into hordes of Canada geese as you bike down the west-bound lanes. When the cars are away, everybody gets bolder, including the wildlife.

I’ve been a cyclist most of my life and in my twenties it was my main form of transport. A friend once described cycling as the closest humans every get to actual flight, and I agree. But I had an accident on my bike about a decade ago that left me fearful of climbing back on. While I still cycled every so often, I lost the joy I had had before my accident.

Then about six years ago I took the leap and bought a new bike: a bright red electric bike modeled after the wide-handled cruisers of the fifties that appealed to both my love of two wheels and my personal aesthetic. To my deep pleasure I rediscovered the joy of pedalling along the many bike paths this city offers. I could ride to work almost exclusively on paths. The five-kilometre trip was a pleasure every time and I resisted getting back on the bus until early December.

But last year in the late fall, I had a stroke. Hospitalized for the first time in my life, I spent two weeks answering every person who asked me, “What is your goal for recovery?” that what I wanted most of all was to get back on my bike. I didn’t know that this was a very unlikely and lofty goal. When you’ve had a stroke, people treat you like you’re not entirely compos mentis (which of course you’re not) and they don’t try to nay-say you. If I wanted to get back on my bike, nobody was going to tell me it was very unlikely.

But the first week I was back home, I climbed up on my stationary bike, which I had bought just before the pandemic hit in order to keep my biking muscles in good shape over the winter. I lasted five minutes. It wasn’t just the challenge of biking – even the act of getting on and off my bike was hard. I wobbled. I tripped. I cried a little. And I persisted. By January, I was on my stationary bike three times a week for 20 minutes. By March, that was four to five times a week for 30 minutes.

Then, at the suggestion of my massage therapist, I started upping the difficulty by twisting my upper body as I pedalled. Then I added hand weights. Then I closed my eyes, which forced me to try to balance more carefully.

In April, Big Red, my beautiful bike, came up from storage in the basement. In early May, I attempted my first ride on a real bike. It was a mere six kilometres over 30 minutes, but I wept with relief at the end of it. I had not fallen. I had not had to stop.

My balance was still shaky: getting on and off Big Red was not easy for me. If it had not been for the throttle that permitted me to get started without pedalling and let me catch my balance as I took off, I do not think this would have been possible.

The Ottawa River is seen through a copse of tress. In the foreground sits a red comfort cruiser-style bike with a helmet hanging from the handlebars.
Hanging out in a hidden spot on the Ottawa River with Big Red

Since that first ride, I have probably done 600 kilometres this summer. Weekends are my big ride, when the Parkway is open and I can pedal almost all the way to my coffee joint on a wide lane meant for cars, but I am on the bike paths several times each week. My Saturday rides are over 20 km.

I am stronger, better balanced and more confident on my bike. I have even survived a fall with relatively minor damage. But if it hadn’t been for the help having an e-bike gave me in the early days, I am not sure I would be back biking. Doctors and nurses have met the information that yes, I did get back on my bike with polite incredulity. And being back has helped me heal not only physically but mentally from the feeling of total incapacity I experienced last fall. I’m still here. I’m still pedalling.

I’m so grateful.

DJ Brown is a performer turned government wonk living and thriving in Ottawa.

charity · cycling · family · illness

Pedaling for Parkinson’s in Prince Edward County: Join us next year?

Parkinson’s Canada hosted “Pedal for Parkinson’s Prince Edward County” this past Saturday, a charity bike ride features a 40-km and 75-km option, starting and finishing at the North Marysburgh Town Hall.

Our team was called Susan’s Spinners– Sarah, Sarah’s Zwift ZSUN teammate Emily, and me. In the photo above we’re joined by Susan, a family member and occasional blogger at Fit is a Feminist Issue, who is also a cyclist and who has Parkinson’s.

Here’s a few words from the participants:

Susan

This year attending the Pedalling for Parkinson’s event in PEC was somewht bittersweet. I haven’t been on my bike for the past month due to a recent back injury, so didn’t want to chance riding.

I also missed my original team, the Rigid Riders (people with PD and their friends) as most were attending events supporting team captains Mike and Steve as they ride across Canada raising awareness and funds for Parkinson’s (https://spinningwheelstour.ca/)

What made it a wonderful day though was that two members of my extended family, Samantha and Sarah, and Emily, a friend of theirs who I didn’t know, came together on short notice to form a team, Spinning for Susan, to bike and raise funds to support me and Parkinson Canada.

Recently I’ve thought the most important message a person with PD can hear is that they are not alone. I not only felt that profoundly but am happy that my team raised funds for Parkinson Canada to spread that message and to continue to support people with PD across the country.

Sam

It felt odd to be doing another charity bike ride so soon after the Friends for Life Bike Rally, but this is an important cause for our family. Susan and I have known each as friends since Grade 9 home economics and we’ve been family since I married her brother many years ago. I joke that Susan and I were friends first, back when he was the annoying older brother.

So Susan’s Parkinson’s diagnosis has hit the whole family. She’s been riding with a Parkinson’s group and in past years has ridden this charity ride. When it turned out that we could have the use of Sarah’s family farm in Prince Edward County that weekend, it all started to come together. Sarah and I would ride and Susan would come along for support and inspiration. She’s also a very generous donor to Parkinson’s research, giving enough so that Sarah and I both got jerseys! When Sarah’s teammate Emily, who lives in the county, agreed to come along, we had a happy trio of riders. I’m struggling a bit with speed these days so I was happy to have a chatty, scenic social ride for a very excellent and important cause.

Emily

I didn’t even know the event was taking place until 48 hours ahead of time when Sarah invited me to join in. Since I’m training for a 150km ride in September, and live in the neighbourhood, it sounded like a great opportunity to find some company for a long ride.


As I signed up online felt a pang of guilt, however. They were asking for a minimum fundraising commitment of $250. The ride was in just over 24 hours… “Nothing to lose,’ I thought, and made my own donation to get the ball rolling. Four of my friends and relatives jumped at the chance to donate. In less than 24 hours I was above the threshold. Guilt assuaged.


So happy that I went. I not only managed to raise a little for a really good cause, I got to meet the wonderful Susan, for whom we rode, and had a lovely social ride as a bonus.
I will definitely be back next year!

Sarah

Like Sam I found it seemed strange to be doing another fundraising cycling event so soon after the Bike Rally, but I knew I really wanted to ride in support of my family who are living with Parkinson’s Disease, including Susan and my uncle Jack. I also had two grandparents with PD, so I’ve been able to see the results of all of the groundbreaking research, much of it being done here in Canada, that’s making a big difference in the everyday lives of over 100,000 Canadians with PD. In a generation there have not only been huge leaps in treatment but also understanding this progressive neurological disease, and the important role exercise plays in mediating symptoms. It was amazing to ride with folks who told us how movement, especially on a bike, is medicine for them.

The ride itself was super well organized and had lots of support from the Prince Edward County community, from the local radio station to the Lions cooking us lunch. I will never cease to be amazed at the number of cycling-friendly roads all over the County, even if some of them are a little rough.

All in all, a great day on the bike for a great cause!

Sarah and Sam listening to the pre ride instructions

Join us next year! It would be great to have a larger team and make it a social weekend in Prince Edward County.

death · fitness · illness

When you just can’t move

For the past four weeks, someone I love has been in a hospital intensive care unit with an unexpected and grave medical crisis. Immediately, friends and family mobilized, and many of us tried to keep ourselves busy with tasks ranging from dog walking to email updates for work colleagues. COVID regulations plus ICU rules severely limit visitors, so hanging out at the hospital, walking the corridors and trading off bedside shifts is not an option. As a result, there hasn’t been much to do except wait, worry and try to maintain our regular life routines.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I know, I know: the advice we’re all given when a loved one is very ill or dying is to try to make a little space for self-care: eat food that feels good (and doesn’t come out of a vending machine if you can help it); get some rest as you can; and do some kind of physical activity, preferably outside.

The internet has all kinds of articles telling us that movement is helpful for grief, sadness, depression, pretty much whatever ails you. This article seems to suggest “sweating out the sadness”. However, others are more balanced and modest in their advice for those dealing with stress, sadness and grief. In this article, we hear from an expert who, given my current experience, really gets it:

“This is not a time to be judging oneself and it’s important to listen within. People become more fatigued and can become more accident-prone during grief. Both of these can affect exercise and this is not a time to ‘push through it.'”

“Sometimes all one can do is walk to the mailbox and back”…

Thank you, internet article expert. Because I have not been moving much at all the past four weeks. I’m teaching my classes and dealing with the absolute necessities, but as soon as I get home, I flop on the couch and talk on the phone to give or receive medical updates (yes, I’m one of those throwbacks who uses phones for real-time two-way audio). Or, I watch episodes of Top Chef or Blown Away or other craft or cooking reality shows. For food, I’m scrounging in my kitchen or ordering takeout.

But movement? My yoga mat is sitting on my living room floor, mostly unoccupied (I’ve managed a few sessions, but nothing like I want or need). My bike trainer is not set up. And the outside remains too far away for me to venture out. I’m just too sad, too flattened, too depleted to move.

So I’m not moving a lot these days. I am, however, moving a little. Sometimes I’ll hear a song on the radio in my kitchen (again, throwback moment– I have a radio that plays songs real-time over the airwaves; but I don’t churn my own butter, in case you’re wondering). That might get me into a rhythm, even inspire a few dance moves. I’m parking in the lot not closest to my office at work so I get a few more steps in. I’ll stretch before bed and after my morning coffee.

And then there’s meditation. Meditation is saving my bacon right now. I’m meditating several times a day right now, mainly because I have to in order to 1) get out of bed; 2) get through the transitions of my day; and 3) get to sleep. You don’t have to move to meditate. In fact, it’s recommended to stay relatively still. Yes, I can do that.

One thing meditation teaches is that, when you’re paying attention, things change. All the time, they’re changing. I don’t know the outcome of this crisis for my loved one. But I do know that things will change. I’ll move more again. Just not right now.

Readers, if you feel like sharing any thoughts or experiences you have with grief and physical activity, I’d be honored to read them.

blog · camping · canoe · cycling · family · fashion · fitness · illness · nature · season transitions · Seasonal sadness · traveling

Blogging in September: My birthday, the blog’s birthday, back to school, and other themes

There are lots of things I could write about today. I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering my choice of topics.

I was going to write about my annual thyroid cancer check up. It’s today. And if all goes well it’s my last annual check up. (Fingers crossed.) After today they’re every five years. My birthday last week was also mammogram day. It’s as if September weren’t a busy enough month for an academic. It’s also cancer screening season for me.

I thought about writing whether Tracy and I want to write a turning 60 book, to follow up our turning 50 project, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We’re having dinner together tonight and no doubt the subject will come up

Let’s see. It’s also blog birthday season. As Tracy posted, happy 9th birthday blog! We’re nearly at 5000 posts too. That’s hard to believe. This post is 4990!

And the blog’s birthday and my birthday, not surprisingly given how the blog got started, are pretty close together. Another possible topic, what does 57 mean anyway?

Here’s a photo from my birthday bike ride!

Jeff, Dhurin, me, Kim, Ellen and Sarah on the birthday bike ride

At this time of year I often write about back to school and trying to stay physically active as work gets busier and busier. This year, unlike last, I’m back in my office. I’m not yet back at the gym.

I’m having big busy days filled with work and people. So many people! I gave a lecture to O-Week students (photo on the right) and hung out with incoming College of Arts students at our Food Truck lunch meet and greet (photo on the left.)

I also biked around meeting parents and students on move-in day. (Round photo at the bottom.)

Sam’s pink Bromption outside Zavitz Hall at the University of Guelph

I’m back in the office now, wearing (mostly) real clothes. I looked at my clothes the other day and wondered why there were so many pairs of yoga pants. Who needs five pairs of yoga pants? Oh right, work from home and the pandemic. I could write about wearing clothes again. I’m working my way back to real shoes but I am not there yet.

In recent years I’ve been suffering a bit from seasonal sadness and trying to tell myself new stories about fall and winter, leaning into the time of cold and dark. I’ve been trying to extend outdoor activities into the fall. We’re going canoe camping again one more time this fall. And we are also looking at more fall gravel riding plans. So there’s that.

I’m a bit nervous that the no travel thing is continuing and it looks like this will be another year in which I don’t get to go somewhere warm with my bike for the winter. I miss the southern US! I miss Florida and Arizona for winter cycling.

In the end, I just want to let you know how much we’ve been enjoying our time in Prince Edward County and likely will continue that into the autumn too.

How’s your September starting out as we move into the fall?

Here’s a farm frog and a some pumpkins.

Frog and pumpkins
charity · cycling · Guest Post · illness

I live with Parkinson’s. For me, raising funds for health charities is personal (Guest post)

By Susan F

I joined the military reserves when I was 18 to play the French horn in the Changing of the Guard band on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In 2011, I flew to Maputo, Mozambique by myself to join strangers on a Habitat for Humanity build. I’ve even hiked to Annapurna base camp and para-glided off a mountainside in Pokhara, Nepal.

But my biggest challenge, and maybe my greatest accomplishment, is facing Parkinson’s disease head-on. I hope I do so with courage, fortitude, and occasionally even a little humour.

I am writing to share my experience with PD and Parkinson Canada, one of the 21 health charities supported by Federated Health .

I was diagnosed with Gaucher’s disease, a rare metabolic disorder, about six months before my PD diagnosis. At the time, I was told this meant I was at high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.  When I subsequently developed a tremor in my right leg, I was not really surprised when PD was confirmed. In fact, immediately after the diagnosis, I texted my family, had a very brief period of feeling sorry for myself, and headed back to work from the hospital.  I subsequently learned how lucky I was to be so quickly diagnosed, as many people suffer for years before diagnosis.

In terms of how PD affects me, the most obvious symptom I have is tremors affecting my right side, which are made worse by stress. For me, the weirdest thing about Parkinson’s is that your body doesn’t do what it used to do automatically, so I have to try to tell it to do things. I have trouble with manual dexterity, things like typing, buttoning buttons and cutting bread. I also have to be careful walking so I don’t trip and fall. Lately, it’s been difficult to roll over in bed.

I am fairly lucky though that so far, my Parkinson’s disease is quite manageable. And my friends, family and colleagues have been incredibly supportive, especially over the past several months.

I was honoured earlier this year to be able to participate in a world-first clinical study which used an MRI-guided ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) on the left side of my brain. While my BBB was open, I was infused with a drug commonly used to treat Gaucher’s disease. The purpose of the phase one study was to determine whether this could be done safely. There were only four participants, and I was patient four.

 

Susan taking part in the clinical trial

Although there was no promise of any benefit to me, I was pleasantly surprised to notice a fairly significant difference in my symptoms. The most obvious change was that I regained a sense of smell. Many people don’t know that some Parkinson’s disease patients start to lose their sense of smell long before they are diagnosed. That had happened to me.  I can’t say that regaining smell is all positive given that the first thing I smelled was my cat’s litter box

Seriously though I have noticed positive changes: less tremors, less rigidity of my leg, and better manual dexterity. As the study has been a success so far, they are looking at the possibility of a phase two trial.  If it goes ahead, it will include a larger group of people with the focus on effectiveness of the procedure. I am very hopeful that this could lead to significant benefits in the prevention and/or treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

In closing, I want to mention Parkinson Canada as I really appreciate the work they do through their support groups, research and advocacy. I belong to two support groups including a “young onset” women’s group (“the Parkie girls”), and occasionally attend a Sunday afternoon drop-in discussion group, all of which are sponsored by Parkinson Canada.

I’m also part of a bike group called the Rigid Riders, whose focus is to encourage Parkinson’s disease patients to cycle. The Rigid Riders take part in an annual charity event, Pedaling for Parkinson’s, where 100 per cent of the funds raised goes to Parkinson Canada research.

Most recently, Parkinson Canada created an advisory group to their board made up of people with Parkinson’s disease. To me, this clearly reinforces their commitment to hearing patients’ voices and making their very best efforts to provide the support that we need. 

That’s why I am excited that Parkinson Canada is part of the Federated Health campaign.

To donate to my Pedaling for Parkinson’s Ride – https://donate.parkinson.ca/site/TR/Pedaling/CNO_pedaling_4_parkinsons?px=1153847&pg=personal&fr_id=2511

Parkinson Canada – https://www.parkinson.ca/getinvolved/waystogive/

Federated Health – https://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/30863

Susan is a ‘Parkie girl’ who works as a lawyer. She tries to regularly practice random acts of kindness and is looking forward to days of hugs and travel.

covid19 · illness

Virus talk then and now in our fitness communities

March seems a very long time ago.

I remember back in the beginning of the pandemic when some of the fitness spaces I occupy tried to declare some times and places free of ‘virus talk.’

That was back when all talk of COVID-19 among American sports communities seemed highly politically charged. “Do you even know anyone who has this virus?” they asked. People speculated that it was all made up for political causes.

How the world has changed. These days COVID-19 is everywhere and I meet very few people who don’t take it seriously and pretty much everyone I know knows someone who’s had it.

I blogged here and here about blog adjacent friends recovering from COVID-19. A former regular guest blogger has been sharing her story here too.

And last night in my team time trial we had one team member just back from his COVID-19 recovery period, round two. He tested positive and then negative and then got sick again and tested positive again. Did he get it again or not fully recover the first time? Doesn’t matter. We’re very happy he’s healthy and riding and racing again.

Meanwhile another team member was struggling a bit because he’s part of a vaccine trial. We all hoped for him that he got the real thing and not the placebo, likely because he didn’t feel well.

We’re all talking lots these days about COVID-19. It’s a presence in lots of our lives and affecting the way pretty much everyone lives. It’s also exciting that vaccines are in sight and that the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly enough to capture our collective attention. The days of “no virus talk” being a thing you could say are over and I’m looking forward to COVID-19 being over too.

Bye!
athletes · covid19 · fitness · illness

More stories of active people and COVID-19 recovery

Earlier this week I started sharing stories of athlete friends who’ve come down with COVID-19

I wrote, “Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.

What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.

At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.

Personally, for me, I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.

Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Here’s the blog we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19.”

Here’s the three more voices. I know Michael through the Ontario cycling community. I met Barrett and Brandon on the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Speaking of which, you can sponsor me here!

Michael

Age: 69

Sport: Masters track cyclist

I held the Canadian Hour Record for Masters Men 65-69. That record was eclipsed by my friend, Peter Leiss, in 2019. I also hold the record for the most kilometers/laps on the Milton track. When the Milton Velodrome closed Mar 14, because of the pandemic, I had cycled 208000 laps or 52000 kms on the track since it opened in 2015.

I contracted the Coronavirus in March. We found out by email, after the fact, that I most likely came in contact with an employee of Fortino’s Grocery Store in Oakville on or around Mar 20. The employee had tested positive and was in the store at the same time as I was. Although my wife and I were being careful, going out as little as possible, except for shopping, observing the standard protocols at the time, masks had not been standard, and I was not wearing one.

On April 3, a Friday, I woke feeling out of sorts. By this I mean very angry. Everything was irritating. I remember going out to do a bit of shopping in the morning. Friday evening, I had a burning sensation, at the back of my throat. This is usually a sign that I’m coming down with a cold. Mind you, I rarely get sick, rarely get colds. This back of throat irritation rapidly escalated. I was tired and still very irritated. I went to bed. Next morning, I awoke to the feeling that I had been hit by a runaway train. My entire upper body was in pain – back, chest, shoulders, everything, It was painful to breath. I was short of breath because of this. I was coughing. This caused extreme pain. I could barely move. Going to the bathroom, a few steps was very difficult. Lying down was difficult. In fact for most of 12-14 days that I was really ill, I slept sitting up in an easy chair, with a heating pad on my back, and an humidifier going in the room.

 This continued through Saturday and Sunday. My breathing became more laboured as time wore on. Sunday, we decided I should take Tylenol for the pain. This seemed to help, as least to make it bearable. Please note that I neve ran a fever the whole time I was sick. My temperature average about 36 degrees. We tried calling Public Health to see about getting tested. In April, they asked you if you were running a fever, and if you had traveled out of the country. Since the answer to both questions was no, I did not qualify to be tested. Please isolate, get lots of rest, and fluids. If we had known about the email from Fortino’s, (we did not see it until mid April. For some reason we were distracted), the contact would have meant I could get tested.

The pain and shortness of breath, etc, continued through Sunday. Monday morning, I woke up and the pain was all but gone! However, I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air. Any kind of activity, for example, going up stairs to take a shower, would leave me gasping for air. It would take at least 20 minutes for this to calm down enough for me to breathe at a normal pace. I was still coughing. Any effort, change positions on the couch, could trigger a coughing fit. That would be excruciating because it felt like a knife in the diaphragm. And contracting ribs was very painful. I took Manuka Honey to calm these fits. We tried contacting the authorities again Monday with the same result. Monday afternoon, I was so short of breath I was getting very frightened. We actually contemplated calling an ambulance and going to the ER. But the thought of being isolated at the hospital, away from my wife was even more terrifying. So we decided to see if I could calm down enough, sitting still, to get by until the next day. This worked. I got through the night. And each subsequent day. As the days progressed, I felt less pain, except for coughing. The shortness of breath continued. I couldn’t speak. I did not have enough air to form words. This would get worse the more I tried and then start a coughing fit.

I gradually improved over the course of 12 days. By the 14th day of quarantine, I felt like I was over it. We even went for a little walk in the neighbourhood. I could not speak for long. And I was still sort of breath, but I felt much better. We started going for walks each day. I think I even went to a store. About the fifth day, I relapsed. Coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and back pains. This lasted almost a week. When I ‘recovered’, we went for a walk to test the waters etc. Back pains and pain though my shoulders persisted. This continued off and on for a month. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the coronavirus and I was getting very concerned about the constant shortness of breath. I was concerned that Covid19 was doing damage that I was unaware of to my organs. So at six weeks I spoke with my doctor. He said go to emergency and get a chest x-ray.

I presented at the ER. The triage nurse, took down the particulars, checked my pulse and blood pressure and then sent me for an EKG. It spiked! 20 minutes later, I was in a bed, connected to monitors, with an IV line in. They took blood. Then came back later and took more. Next thing I knew I was getting a CT instead of an x-ray. I had suffered from pulmonary embolisms, and my lungs were chocked full of little blood clots. They put me on blood thinners. It’s now almost 7 months since the CT. I have permanent lung damage. I just had another CT to see if there was improvement. The ‘vampire’ my hematologist, took a lot of blood for specialized testing and I will have the results of blood analysis and the CT next week.

I have not been able to return to the level of exercise I was used to before Covid-19. I have suffered from a rotating cycle of back pains, chest pains, shortness of breath, and fatigue since April. My balance was off. My ability to grasp things, to gauge distance was off, meaning I dropped or knocked things over. I had proximity issues. That imaginary space that you observe round yourself that allows you to walk through spaces or around obstacles, was way off. I had to double it. I would wait until my wife moved out of the way before I did anything. I was forever banging into things. Any extended effort, I tried cycling after the vampire felt that I had improved in July, (an echocardiogram had shown no damage to my heart). I took it very easy, riding around the block (an oval similar to riding the track).  I built up slowly. But any kind of extended cardiovascular effort resulted in a flare-up of symptoms. After two weeks, I suffered from sore back and shoulders, and major chills. I was cold all the time. Three sweaters cold, even outside on a warm day. This lasted about three weeks. I have not tried cycling again. But assuming a good result from the CT, I plan to put the bike on the trainer, and start perhaps just 15 minutes twice a day to see if I can begin to get back to my former fitness level. I have spent the last five months doing daily walks. That seems to be fine. I can walk several kilometers but I’m not physically taxing my body in the same way that I would cycling. I’m not sustaining a 130 heartrate for any length of time. But before Covid19, I could do that for 5 hours or more. I could ride the track for 3 ½ hours non stop at that rate.

Another problem – I have memory problems. I forget things right after I do them. And I have a very quick trigger on my state of mind. I can go from calm, cool and collected to rage in the blink of an eye, for the slightest of reasons. This is not normal for me. For the longest time, after the initial illness, I was an emotional mess, depressed, and extremely angry that Covid-19 had robbed me of my fitness and good health.

So, the long and the short of it is Covid-19 really messed me up. I am slowly recovering. The issues today are a fraction of what they were in the first three months. But I’m not the person I was. I do intend to get back to that level. But it will take time and patience.

A final note, my wife, who is 75, remained symptom free the whole time. We remain vigilant and we isolated in a very tight circle. I do not consider myself immune. I have tested negative, but that was after the fact. I never tested positive! I am very certain I suffered from Covid19 and the doctors agree. But without that test, or an antibody test, there is no way to be certain. So we remain cautious.

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Barrett

Age: 42

Sport: Weight Training/Cycling

When: Got Covid mid-October, had very mild symptoms, lost smell, some lethargy and felt run down. Otherwise, fine.

How long it took you to get well and whether you’re back to your former activity levels and athletic performance: Took about ten days to feel myself again, but smell has not returned fully. The pandemic situation has definitely impacted my athletic performance in general, I spent most of my days moving and walking, now mostly sitting. In terms of recovery from the virus, I feel that it took another ten days after I’d recovered from my symptoms that I felt I could do the same amount of work during exercise routines that I had before. And sometimes still feel that my energy levels are not quite the same. I did two exercise classes two days in a row and was exhausted by 8pm on the second day.

Barret is part of Bionic Fitness based in Toronto.

No description available.
Brandon and Barrett

Brandon

Age: 36

Sports: Water polo, cycling, weightlifting

I contracted it on October 5th, symptoms arose mildly on October 9th, more seriously on the 10th and I got tested on the 12th. Positive results came back on the 14th I think. It was awful, I’ve never been that sick in my life. It started with muscle aches which at first I attributed to DOMS (post workout muscle pain) but then it got so bad that I couldn’t be touched. Then I started coughing, getting a tight chest, and headaches. Then I started getting fevers that progressed so badly that I was constantly sweating, I was dehydrated and became delusional. Barrett afterwards told me about things that happened during the worst 4 days and I didn’t remember a few things. If my fever didn’t get better by the 5th day of bad fevers I was going to go to the hospital but luckily I started to recover. I couldn’t eat much during this time because of nausea and I found things tasted very bad, any kind of spice, lemon, ginger, sweetness etc. tasted like metal to me. I lived off of just bread for a few days. Recovery was slow. I’d say I’m not fully recovered yet, my right bronchial tube feels hardened and I still have very mild congestion/post nasal drip. I’m able to exercise and do cardio again but it comes with mild discomfort. I can tell I am improving but it’s very slow. My doctor is sending me for an ECG test.

aging · athletes · covid19 · fitness · illness

Some stories of active people and COVID-19 recovery

CW: There’s some discussion of weight and weight loss in these stories.

Here on the blog we’ve written lots about exercising from home because gyms are closed and about other indirect effects of the pandemic on how we workout. I’ve also written about exercise and how it might affect one’s immune response.

But I’ve been wanting to write about exercise and people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. I was reminded of it again when this passed through my newsfeed: Exercise After Covid-19? Take It Slow.

Jordan D. Metzl writes, “For the past 20 years, when patients asked me about exercising while recovering from a viral illness like the flu, I gave them the same advice: Listen to your body. If exercise usually makes you feel better, go for it.

Covid-19 has changed my advice.

Early in the pandemic, as the initial wave of patients with Covid-19 began to recover and clinically improve, my colleagues and I noticed that some of our patients were struggling to return to their previous activity levels. Some cited extreme fatigue and breathing difficulties, while others felt as if they just couldn’t get back to their normal fitness output. We also began to hear of a higher than normal incidence of cardiac arrhythmias from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and, in rare cases, cause sudden cardiac arrest. Other complications like blood clots were also cropping up.

What was most surprising is that we saw these problems in previously healthy and fit patients who had experienced only mild illness and never required hospitalization for Covid-19.

In my sports medicine practice, a cyclist in her 40s with recent Covid-19 symptoms had leg pain that was abnormal enough to warrant an ultrasound, which showed near complete cessation of blood flow because of arterial and venous blood clots in both legs. Thankfully, our team caught these early enough that they didn’t spread to her lungs, which ultimately could have killed her. Recently, a college student in Indiana with Covid-19 died from a blood clot that traveled to her lungs. As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve learned of a much higher risk of blood clots from people who contract the virus.”

That’s just an except. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.

What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends in their 40s-60s. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.

At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.

I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.

Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19

Here’s the first two:

Patricia is 62, lives in London, Ontario and she rows, skis, golfs, plays tennis, trail runs and cycles. We know each other through masters rowing.

“I was surprised that I got it. I took all precautions. I had a mild case according to the Health Unit. I thought my allergies were playing up. My eyes were sensitive to light and I had a tightening in my chest. I had night sweats (I thought menopause was rearing its ugly head yet again). Apparently I had a low grade fever. I developed a cough that lasted about a month and lost my sense of taste and smell. I found I was winded easily and that lasted for months. My sense of taste and smell have never fully come back yet. I was in direct contact with an individual who had Covid on March 18th. My cousin passed away from it at the end of March.”

Heather lives in Kansas City, USA and she’s a 46 year old Triathlete/Road Runner/Mountain Climber/Zwift Racer/Cyclist. She’s on Sarah’s Zwift bike team.

“My health story really began when I was a young woman (22).  I was taking birth control pills and ended up throwing a blood clot to my brain, it was misdiagnosed as a migraine and ended up hemorrhaging causing a major stroke.  Being at risk for blood clots is something that is always in the back of my head… too much weight -can  cause blood clots.  Smoking – can cause blood clots, drinking too much – can cause blood clots. Having babies, having too low a heart rate, being too inactive… pretty much all can lead to blood clots.  So when COVID-19 came out to show that every autopsy of those who died with the disease had blood clots throughout their system, I felt I could really not do well if I get it.

In May (3 months into the pandemic) I decided that sitting on the couch and stress eating my way through the lock downs was not going to set me up for successfully fighting COVID.  I started really focusing on dropping the extra 20lbs I had acquired and strengthen my body to give it a fighting chance.  I used My Fitness Pal to track my calories and used the input vs output method of dieting.  I started signing up for challenges that pushed me – 30 day cycling challenge to complete 500 miles.  Climb Mt. Everest Challenge to climb/run/hike or bike 29,029 ft. In 50 days… These challenges along with the calorie watching allowed me to take off the 20lbs and get strong.  My doctor put me on a prophylactic low dose blood thinner in anticipation of getting COVID and I just continued to be as healthy, fit and strong as I could be.


I ended up contracting COVID 19 in the first week of October.  Coming in, my fitness level was strong.  My doctor advised that I not push my heart rate past zone 2 for the 10 day isolation period.  That was a long and hard 10 days of being sedentary.  I rode one Zwift race and I kept my heart rate down under zone 2 and it took me twice as long to finish as the rest of my team (but I got them a point!). 

My case was a mild case.  I had a total of 3 hours of low grade fever, nasal congestion and the typical loss of taste and smell.  After 10 days I felt like I was good to go.  My doctor gave me the green light to get my heart rate up again and when I did I found the result was as if I didn’t have any fitness built up.  My max heart rate was nearly 20 points higher than it had been 2 weeks prior.  I struggled holding speed and stamina and began to think maybe COVID did affect me.


It has been 5 weeks since I was released to work my body as hard as I want and it has been a slow come back.  I race twice a week and ride two more times a week.  I walk and run hills and with every effort I am watching what my heart is doing.  It is slowly coming down and I am able to hang on longer, recover by dropping the heart rate faster and push the way I want to push.


I consider myself lucky to have had a good outcome having had COVID and would caution any athlete to not fight through this one by pushing your body.”

Heather on her bike

This afternoon Michelle Goodfellow shares her story about testing positive for COVID-19.