Barking Again

It was almost exactly one year ago that we spread bark in my mom’s yard. Last year our project was the backyard at her house. This week we have taken on the front yard. It’s no small job, as 25 yards of the bark/mulch combo where delivered on Thursday. My mom, brother, and I have spent the last few days taking on the project. For me, just as it was last year, cerebral palsy becomes a factor. It seems more challenging to shovel and wheel the wheel barrel loads, than it would be without my disability. However, yard work provides another physical challenge outside of the gym setting. When moving outside of the controlled environment of working with a trainer, challenges are presented with real life scenarios. The work of spreading bark throughout the front yard just needs to be done. We are no longer isolating specific muscles, which are weak, and could use work. My muscles are being used in the best way possible to lift, turn, and move, while moving bark through the yard. The awkward situations, requiring different forms of balance are provided as we work. These situations of balance are the very reason our work in the gym has been important.

Spreading bark during the summer has provided good opportunity. One of the good things this project provides has been the opportunity to see my cerebral palsy progress. Golf has always been used as one of my major barometers for CP progress. It has been a game played each summer since my childhood years. Because golf hasn’t been played often in the winter, the gap provides time to build strength. When the rain disappears and the golf clubs reappear, the added strength can be measured. The golf ball might travel slightly further than the previous year, which does happen most years. Playing golf might not cause the fatigue it had the previous year. All these things help me understand how well my process has been working in improving cerebral palsy symptoms. Now, having worked on spreading bark for the second year, we add another kind of barometer to measure success of cerebral palsy progress. Even measurements can create anxiety when they begin, they are really good activities for improving cerebral palsy challenges.

Each year the bark arrives, some anxiety comes with it. As we begin the project, apprehension hits with how things will play out. Working in the yard has always provided enjoyment. However, many years have caused frustration with weakness and a lack of endurance. It has been challenging for me to keep up, aching muscles holding me back from working longer. Cerebral palsy seems to bring on fatigue more quickly, but slowing my pace can help me work longer. So, many things jumble around my head when our work begins. The other difference this year has been working with the new trainer for a few months. Our workouts have been different, which left me wondering how the barking project would work. Bernard has been focused on working me through movements that will improve performance in real life scenarios. Working me through the agility hurdles and agility ladder, with the goal of improving balance, spatial awareness, and footwork. The drills also help with endurance, allowing me to work for extended periods of time. We work extensively on core strength as well, to help balance, with the hope of it all helping during a week like this one. When life has asked that we move bark.

Getting started has always been a tentative process. The feel of moving bark again after not engaging in the activity for a year. It takes time to reacquaint myself with the movements involved. There also seems to be value in making sure injury doesn’t occur when just getting started. So, moving slowly as we begin felt valuable. After taking the precautions to begin slowly, things got off to a good start. The strength to fully contribute to the project was working out well. Still, there was little way to know how long the contribution could last. The anxiety with these yard projects has been starting strong, but only being able to contribute for a couple hours per day. My body and mind would tend to break down, leaving frustration in my wake. This year turned out to be different when it came to strength and endurance. As our work continued spreading bark through the front yard, my ability to help continued. With the occasional break, my work was sustained through most of three days. We broke up the work during the day, keeping us inside during the warm hours of the afternoon. But, my gym work allowed me to move bark for five or six hours on those days. Which, built on the two or three hours of years past. The improvement brings feelings of accomplishment and shows even with cerebral palsy, we can continue to improve.

Working late into a couple evenings this week brought about feelings of nostalgia. It seems many of our passions are passed down to us from parents or grandparents. In my case, the joy of yard work comes from both my father and grandfather. Even though I never knew my mom’s father, he had a farming business outside of Portland. Often while working outside he has been in and out of my thoughts. However, it was my dad who I helped in the yard. He taught me many of the things I understand about taking care of gardens, grass, and plants. And while the sun went down this week, he was on my mind as well. We were greeted with warm evening, as we continued filling loads of bark and wheeling them into flower beds. Around plants and over small inclines we would go, while day turned into dusk. For two nights in a row, with the radio playing the baseball game, we were shoveling from the bark pile, as the sun fell, and the house lights came on. The peaceful feeling took me back to being a kid, in that same situation, while my dad put the last few touches on the day. Now, we were the ones rapping up those last couple loads, though my mom probably hopes for the day her grandkids are helping her sons finish up for the day.

Those experiences can lead to lifelong passions. Without the joy of playing golf and working in the yard, there would be less reason to improve cerebral palsy symptoms. My desire to be outside while the sun goes down might not be a main factor getting me to the gym. But, even without it being on the forefront of my mind, it does play a role. Spreading the bark each year also helps cerebral palsy improvement. The unique movements throughout these days of work, seem to help strengthen different muscles, which might not be focused on in the gym. Cerebral palsy seems to be helped by all kinds of different exercise and forms of movement. Making it such a blessing to have been raise on these interests that require physical movement. My hope would be for all of us to find interests that keep us moving, as it seems a key part of improvement and staying healthy.









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