Archive for the 'sports' Category

03
Jun
13

Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.

16
Mar
13

A cross-border ski-doo trip to hospital

Skiing Ischgl Samnaun Ian with patrollerIt took a good half-hour for the ski patrol to arrive by ski-doo after we first sent word we’d need them.   As we were waiting we heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching, and I groaned – no, please, not a helicopter ride!

The patrollers hopped off the machine and got to work pumping up an inflatable brace after assessing my situation.  By tapping on the bottom of my foot and seeing I wasn’t writhing in agony, they were sure there was no bone breakage, but were very careful nevertheless in sliding me in, because every little movement of the leg hurt.

Many people had stopped while we were waiting to ask if they should send word, and we thanked them all kindly, but now that help had arrived, everyone just whizzed past.  Unfortunately, the patrollers still needed help to hoist me into the sled once they got me on the inflatable stretcher, but they couldn’t get anyone to stop.  So the little  red-haired girl got a grip on one end as the two of them took up the other, and in one lunge I was plunked down and then strapped in for the ride to the clinic.

This was all happening one sunny afternoon at 2,700 metres in Ischgl, Austria, but we were staying over the border in Samnaun, Switzerland.  Ischgl and Samnaun were two separate areas until an expansion joined them up in 1987, so now you can get a lift ticket that covers both.

Ischgl Samnaun map

The ride to the Ischgl clinic was a bit of fun, actually.  I now know what it feels like to have everyone stop, stare, and tell themselves: thank hell it’s not me.

At the clinic they had me walk around a bit, which I actually managed with the brace, but they told me I’d be in a hospital for a few days, offering to fly me by helicopter down the valley in Austria.

“Uhhhh… that might be a bit too much trouble,” I stammered out, not only unsure whether my insurance would cover a helicopter air ambulance at two bucks per blade rotation – low estimate! – but what about the red-haired girl?  How would she make her way back to where we were staying in Switzerland?  They might be joined at the mountaintop, but to reach Samnaun village from Ischgl village you first have to head down to the junction of two valleys and then go up the other.  It’s a long way, and it was late in the day.

“OK,” they said, “what we can do is tell the Samnaun patrol we have a victim to pass over to them.  You’ll both be taken by ski-doo up to the border and from there the Swiss will take you down to the clinic in Samnaun.”

This time I was the one in the rear passenger seat of the ski-doo and the red-haired girl riding shotgun as we revved our way back up to the pass to the Samnaun side.

A patroller was waiting on his ski-doo at the border, and before we knew it we were on our way down the other side to the top of the aerial tramway, where a man was waiting with a wheelchair.  The patroller parked the machine and helped us squeeze in with all our gear among the other passengers for the tram-ride down, where at the bottom an ambulance was waiting for the short ride to the clinic in Samnaun.  At every link in the chain there was someone waiting to take over.

In the Samnaun clinic they definitely diagnosed the ripped quadriceps tendon, and set me up for an ambulance ride down the valley a little less than an hour away in Scuol, Switzerland.

Cash or credit card, sir?  I do hope to get some of it back….

===========

Marty Ian Scuol hospital Switzerland balconyIf my first-ever serious ski injury had to happen somewhere, I was pretty lucky to land up in hospital in Scuol.   From the moment of injury to the operating table barely more than six hours had elapsed, a crucial point as I’ve since learned.  The earlier this injury is worked on, the better the chances of a full recovery.

I’m going to write the hospital staff a card today to thank them for everything they did.  Perhaps they figure they were just doing their jobs, but I was so impressed.  From the first wheel through the door to good-bye six days later, the care was excellent.  The doctors were clearly professional and at the same time approachable and friendly, I was given my choice of anaesthesia by the director of the hospital himself, the morphine as I emerged from the epidural was offered and gladly taken, the nurses were often asking how I was, what they could do for me, and somehow also knew when it was time to leave me to just rest.

And to help me get through my last full day, a good friend who’d read of my plight on Facebook and who was planning a trip to Nice from Munich via Switzerland offered to drop by for a visit.  He arrived on the morning of the best weather we’d had since the day of the injury, brilliant warm sunshine bearing down on the balcony.   We had a chat and got some sun, and when the physiotherapist came along to give me another introductory course in competitive stair-climbing with crutches, he bade farewell.

Marty, you are the greatest.

13
Mar
13

That time just before everything changes

When something suddenly happens to you that has the potential to change your life forever, you look back at those moments just before to search for some sort of meaning.  Was what you were thinking some sort of clue that went ignored?  Was choosing one path over the other just a decision among dozens we make every day, a different choice just delaying the inevitable?

I’m sitting here starting the second week of six with my right leg gripped in a brace from the ankle to hip after blowing out a tendon skiing, getting emergency surgery, and spending nearly a week in hospital.

I was skiing along a ridge following little red-haired girl as we made our way back to Samnaun, Switzerland, when I stopped to look at the vista spread out to the right.  It was like everything you dream a day in the mountains should be.   The sky a deep blue, the roiling froth of mountain peaks spread out in all directions.  No wind.  Uncrowded.  Just a Dad and his girl seizing the day we’d planned and looked forward to for months and months.  The second day of two weeks and it was already perfect.

Skiing Ischgl red-haired girl

We were in Austria, but the Swiss mountains loomed closer, and as I glanced over at to my right down the cliff and the blinding clarity of the snow across the valley, I called out ahead for her to stop and just take a look at it herself.  I wanted to catch up with her so we could stand there together, so that I could remind her that this is what it’s all about.   It’s not just the feel of your skis on the snow, the sweet spot you hit when years and years of practice lets you accomplish a fluid and effortless turn one after the other.  It’s not the speed – though that’s part of the exhilaration you kind of get addicted to – and it’s most definitely not about looking good or trying to impress anyone or comparing this one to that.

It’s about stopping to appreciate what’s all around you.  The feeling you get when you really see where you are among the mountains, the vista, the fresh air.

But she was already so far ahead of me that she didn’t hear, and I felt compelled to move on and catch up far sooner than I wanted to.

We met up at the top of a black run down to the left.  The ridge traverse led to a blue run – a much easier way down – which we could see in the distance further on and down to the left.

“So which one do you want to take?” she asks me.  “The blue or the black?”

“The black, for sure.”

OK!

We flew off beside one another down the wide, flat expanse.  There was no other skier near us.  The first few turns felt really good as they had both days, and I was thinking about which lift we might take first to get us closer to the Swiss border and home, and what we’d be making for dinner, when suddenly it felt like my right thigh burst out of its skin, and I was down.  I squirm and cringe just writing this, a feeling I get when I rehearse to myself in German what I’m going to tell the doctor.  The pain doesn’t come back, but it’s this feeling of helplessness and incomprehension, because I still don’t know how it happened.

In an instant I knew from the pain that something serious had gone wrong and that this would be my last time on skis for a very long Skiing Ischgl Ian injuredwhile.  I was just beginning to bounce head first down the hill on my back as that thought flashed, but by the time I’d stopped and rotated so I could use the good leg to get up to a standing position, I thought: this isn’t so bad.  I don’t feel anything at all anymore.

Two women stopped and asked if I was OK, as they’d seen the fall and heard me screaming.  They asked if they should tell the ski patrol at the bottom of the lift.

“I think I’m going to be OK,” I said, the red-haired girl standing beside me.  “I’m going to try to make it down by myself.”

No chance of that.  My first attempt at moving the leg was instant agony, and somehow I was on my ass again, sliding down a few metres further, my daughter scrambling behind to grab and stop me.

Refusing help was denial of that first thought that this was a serious injury.  This can’t be happening.  It’s never happened before.  It’s only the start of our ski vacation.  I’m healthy, I can ski well, I’ve got the rest of my life to enjoy this and I’m going to prove it.

Another pair of skiers stopped to ask the same thing, but this time we were pretty emphatic.

“I’m really injured,” I told them.  “I’m going to need to be taken off the hill.”

14
Jan
13

So I skate onto the ice and fall on my face…

…35 years ago…and that’s why I have to go in for an operation this week.

There’s blood everywhere, bright red on the hard, flat, cold surface, but I don’t notice it because my only thought is to stand up as best I can, turn around and make it back to the bench without falling a second time.

Canada Germany hockey game Hamburg 2012“Hey buddy,” a guy says, “your nose is really bleeding.”

And so began – and ended – this Canadian’s ice hockey career at 17.  I’d always loved playing street hockey, played it for hours and hours after school and weekends like any kid growing up in Canada, squeezing in an extra 20 minutes’ floor hockey over high school lunch break.  But it never gets cold long enough on Canada’s southwest coast to freeze the local lakes thick enough to skate on, and our town didn’t have an ice arena, so I never learned how to skate until I was about 30 and moved to Quebec.

But the fact I didn’t know how to skate didn’t bother Kenny, who convinced me to borrow some skates and hockey gear and go down with him and a bunch of other guys one night for their weekly pick-up game in North Vancouver.

“You can ski like crazy, man, so you can skate for sure!” he said, and I was dumb enough to believe him.  I fell to the ice within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench during the warm-up, and watched the rest of them play the rest of the night as I made sure the bleeding stopped.

The bruising spread across my face and stayed there like disappearing berry stain for three weeks, but after that, I never gave it much thought.  As anyone who’s really active in- or outdoors will tell you, you take cuts and bruises as part of the game, and this I figured was in that category.

Several years later at 24 while at a routine medical exam before taking a job with the railway the company doctor looks up horse schnozzmy nose and tells me that I have a deviated septum.

“What’s a deviated septum?” I ask him.

He angles a mirror around so I can look up my nose at the blockage up one nostril, asking if I’ve ever been whacked on the head or had trouble breathing.

“Well, sure,” I tell him. “But I never really thought about it that much.”

I knew I should get it fixed, but took another four years to get around to it.

By some dumb luck I managed to land an Austrian Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who’d emigrated to Vancouver after the war.

Once we agreed to go ahead with it and the first x-rays were done he explained in detail how my nose would look once the operation was completed and I could breathe easier again.

But he never once told me HOW he’d go about straightening it, so it was only a couple of weeks later while lying on the operating table that I learned just what it meant to re-straighten a broken nose.

Because after he’d squeezed at least three needles up there to make sure the entire area was frozen so well I’d never feel a thing, he started to go to work on my face.

If you’re queasy about such things, you can click away now.

As he inserted his scalpel and started digging away I felt nothing, but he made a scraping sound through the skull to my ears I’ll never forget.  I know all this because I was also dumb enough to let him convince me to have it done under local, not general anaesthetic.

I really wish I’d never been awake to see this, but what saved me was Demerol, a wonderful, legal drug when introduced directly into your veins makes you feel in an instant like you’re floating in mid-air.

hammer and chiselSo I felt good and relaxed until he pulled a silver hammer and what looked like a chisel off the tray and held it over my head.

“What are you going to do with that?” I ask him.

“You von’t feel a sing,” he says, “but if you vant, you can haff some more Demerol to relax you some more.”

The extra Demerol boost felt like what I’ve heard a heroin rush feels like.

After he was sure I wasn’t going to object anymore, he aimed the chisel up my nose, raised up the silver hammer, and started hammering.  He hammered and hammered and hammered and all I could think of was, they can do what they want with me, I could be trussed up and hung by the ankles from the theater lights and I wouldn’t care, just let it be over.

When he’d finished re-arranging my nose, he packed it with cotton and I was wheeled out to recover.  Three weeks later, I still had a bit of bruising, but at least I could breathe easier once the cotton packing was removed.

It’s now been 25 years, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again, but somehow, it’s crooked again.  Or maybe the operation wasn’t all that successful, or maybe the falls and hits playing sports since then injured it again and I once again didn’t care.

But I’ve been to three ENT specialists over the past two years in Hamburg, trying to get help for another problem: phantom smells.  It started about two years ago with a powerful smell of metal all the time.  Copper, mostly.  That went away, but now it’s other stuff.  I smell soap, burned wood mixed with soap, weird chemicals wafting through my head.  It comes and goes in five-day cycles.  They’ve given me an MRI and ruled out brain tumour, but I’m slowly coming to realise this is like tinnitus for the nose.   Like hearing sounds in your head that aren’t there, the nose smells things that aren’t there either.

But at every visit to ask about the smell thing, the new ENT took one look up my nose and said I should look at getting it fixed.  I’d tell the story I’ve just told you, and they all looked horrified and said that things have improved in the ENT branch since 1988, that fixing a nose is not so brutal anymore, and in any case, they’d give me a general whatever they had to do.

But I wasn’t going for it.

Then I visited a fourth specialist who said there’s still a problem, but such a drastic measure as re-straightening the septum isn’t necessary.  What he is going to do this week is clear out the scarring left over from the first operation, and perform a minor procedure to widen the passages so I can breathe easier.  I did a test a month ago at the clinic that showed I’m just not getting enough air.

I don’t usually yammer on about my operations, but since this is only the second one I’ve ever had if you don’t count the routine tonsil yank-out they did when I was 8, it’s a big deal for me.

I just hope one day I can play some hockey again.

This winter in Canada, for sure.

ice-skating-holland-netherlands-sunrise-hockey-stick-puck-rough-ankeveen

26
Nov
12

Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.

26
Mar
12

Notes on two weeks in the mountains

Long-suffering readers of this space will know that I’m nuts about an essentially pointless sport – much like golf – where the object of the game is to survive with a smile the pain of strapping a pair of heavy, plastic bricks around your ankles, attaching them to planks and pointing yourself downhill.  And, like golf, there’s the renting equipment, paying for your right to be on the course, dressing for the day, and following certain modes of etiquette.

It’s an addiction that makes no sense, but it got its claws into me before I was shaving and now I can’t shake it.

In Canada, I used to satisfy it in small doses.  How’s the weather look tomorrow?  Looks great for skiing – let’s go!

Living in Britannia Beach less than an hour from a former Olympic venue, you can do that.  In Hamburg, you have to plan your trip ahead of time because unless you fly, it takes the whole day to get down to the Alps.  We started planning for our recent week in St. Anton, Austria more than six months ago by booking a place in Pettneu, a small village 5 minutes from the main village of St Anton but quieter, friendlier, and much cheaper for overnight stays.

Then after a very dry Autumn, the snows hit the Alps this winter with a sudden force that knocked out roads and forced many people to prolong their vacations.  Such massive dumps I’d not seen in 15 years of living here, so I thought hmmmm… Six metres at the top?  Why go for only one week when there’s so much snow?  So I booked another week at Ischgl, a resort we’d never been to though it’s in a valley very close to St Anton.

Ischgl turned out to be a great discovery for us.  With its huge variety of runs laid out in such a way that you’re never far from another part of the area even though it’s spread out quite far – even taking in a tiny portion of Switzerland – it beats St Anton in a lot of ways.

Another discovery was the best part of Arlberg – the region where you’ll find St Anton – is Zürs, a smaller area with some amazing terrain and great scenery only 20km or so from St. Anton.  You can ski there on the same ticket, but for some reason we’d always only gone to nearby Lech if we ever ventured out of St. Anton.  It turned out to have the best skiing of any place we went to this time.

Another new experience was skiing with my daughter all day, every day.  We’d made a deal before leaving that, for the first time, she wouldn’t have to take lessons.  Three years ago – the last time we went as a family – she was in lessons and she’d been on a school ski trip last year, but it had been so long since I’d seen her on the boards, I was unsure whether she’d be able to keep up to me.

First run down I knew that I’d have to give her a few tips to work on, but as for whether she could keep up – hah!  That was often my problem.  On several runs she never stopped from top to bottom.  How could I have forgotten what I heard one woman say on the slopes five years ago: See that girl down there? She’s like a madwoman!

Along the way over the two weeks this year, her skiing improved.  Compare the video here with the one below it.

In this first clip – she’s the one in white in the background at the start – you can see how by swinging her arms and rotating her shoulders in the direction of her turn so much, she’s not only got a lot of unnecessary movement, she’s making the preparation for her turn much more difficult for herself.  So I had her think about getting her upper body as quiet as possible throughout the turn, keeping the shoulders square to the hill and the hands still out in front, with just a touch when planting the pole before the turn.

In this clip, taken on the second-to-last day, you can see she wasn’t doing any of those things nearly as much:

We froze our butts off a couple of days, skied by Braille in fog and flat light on another, but were rewarded on most days with a perfect combination of fresh snow and brilliant sunshine.  For all the snow and the luck we had with the weather, this trip is going to be the one we compare all the others to for a long time to come.

08
Feb
12

Dutch skating world on edge as 11-city tour may be announced

What the hell am I doing in Paris?

Talk about horrible timing.  Don’t make me wrong, I like being here, my old friend and I are having a great time and we’ve still got lots of  things lined up to do, BUT:

The famous Dutch 11-city skating tour might be announced this week!

There have been thousands of volunteers working to prepare the course.  All that remains is the go-ahead that the ice is safe enough with an overall thickness of at least 15cm.  If the race actually happens, 16,000 people will take part for the first time in 15 years.  The canals have frozen enough to skate a couple of times since then, but never enough to allow the Dutch to re-open this legendary race.

Not that I’d actually be foolish enough to punish myself with more than 200 km of skating in one go.  My  legs were rubber after about 70km three years ago, and that was just leisurely sliding all day.  These guys go flat out – the record is under seven hours!

I have to arrange time off to get over there.  It has to stay cold another few days after I get back.  Damn you, Paris.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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