Cool clouds make running way more fun.

Cool clouds make running way more fun.

I’ve heard a few phrases a lot recently. “That sounds pretty ambitious.” “Do you think you’re ready?” “Be careful.”

While the exact verbiage varies, the sentiment is pretty consistent: Take it easy on your arm.

I’ve heard this from a lot of different folks, medical professionals and lay-people alike. Of course, this is all in response to my enthusiasm about returning to climbing, which is certainly on the horizon at this point.

My arm is feeling pretty darn good. I’ve got full range of motion and can even pick up things heavier than a saltshaker. I’ve started light strengthening, mainly doing huge sets of 5-pound bicep curls, which goes something like this:

The gym is peopled with a fitness class of retirees, a few odd professionals frantically working out on a break, and some high schools boys seeing how much they can bench press. I walk in with a focused look. My shoulders have maintained just enough tone, despite over two months of no climbing, to make me look like I might be a serious weightlifter. Everyone gives me the stare-down. I casually walk over to the weight rack (the one being used by the retirees’ class, not the high school boys) and begin whipping off 5-pound curls until I feel a faint quiver of fatigue, which usually takes between 20 and 40 reps. Then I repeat.

The moral: There’s nothing manly about surgery rehab.

At this stage, I can confidently say that my ego is not the driving force behind my zeal. A Labrador retriever doesn’t chase a ball because of ego. It’s mostly that my arm feels good. I know that a conservative path is the best, and I try my best to heed, even internalize, the guidance I get from the experts. They aren’t in my arm, though; they don’t feel it. They can’t appreciate the electric joy that the contraction of the muscle fibers in my arms give me. Feeling strong feels good, and the promise of strength, which is really what I have at this juncture, is the oasis – or is it mirage? – at the end of a long trek across the desert of lethargy.

So sure, it feels good, so I want to do more. But the Labrador doesn’t just chase the ball because it feels good. The dog chases the ball because that’s what we’ve bred him to do. Likewise, I’ve trained myself to always push harder. (Of course, this drive is partly responsible for my current predicament.) I’m not calling myself some kind of genetically obsessed athlete, but I think most folks who have experienced a high level of commitment and success in a pursuit can relate. If we never push a bit past what we think the limit is, we never know it’s really the limit.

All told, this is not an apologia for why I will ignore all good medical wisdom and jump back on hard rock climbs tomorrow, for I’m not planning on doing that. If anything, it’s an explanation for why, when my physical therapist says I can do x, I do x + 1.

I have had at least two experts tell me that my ambition isn’t all bad. “Those who cheat tend to do better,” I was told. In other words, by breaking the rules, just a little, I might actually have better results overall. I’m not the Labrador who compulsively fetches the ball, even if it looks that way from the outside. I’m just pushing it a little bit.

My final check in with the doctor is March 22. I’m trying to keep an open mind about what the transition back to climbing will look like after that. Until then, I’m continuing to run, lift weights (I’m headed up to 7 pounds later this week!), and ski. In case the medical folks are reading, I can only say that I don’t promise not to hangboard, scramble, lift more weight than I’m supposed to, and any other ill-advised stress. I do promise not to climb – hard.