Stairs

Cerebral palsy can cause the navigation of steps to be challenging. For me, not all steps are created equal. There are flights of stairs creating little challenge. The stair case in my home doesn’t cause anxiety to walk. It could be due to the familiarity of walking up and down them. The same can be true of most homes. It has been rare throughout life to find steps inside homes causing fear induced challenge. Out in the world things can be different. Often a set of stairs requires looking over before proceeding. The observation may only take seconds to determine action for proceeding. Things looked for might be the pitch of the staircase. Also, taking into consideration the depth of each step. The depth often important for walking down a flight of stairs. As, taking into consideration the challenge of landing my foot squarely on each platform. Then, there becomes looking for handrails. Determining whether holding onto the rail will be required to descend the stairs. The trickiest of staircases throughout life have been stadium steps. No other set of stairs have caused so much grief during my life. Some might think it an easy fix, just don’t go into stadiums or arenas, problem solved. While there might be some logic to the train of thought, as a lover of sport, it doesn’t seem much of a solution. The best solution seems to be achieving better balance.

The blessing of stadium steps has always been their challenge. They provide immediate feedback on how balance might be improving. If we count up the number of stadiums I walk into each year, the number might average fifteen. Some years might be more, while others would be less, but fifteen seems like a solid number. So, going to any sporting event during the year gives a good test for balance. With slightly over one per month, the result can be felt with each visit. Of course, the stairs remain slightly different in each stadium. They also vary based on where the seats might be inside. For the most part, the seats higher in the stadium require steeper steps to reach. While the seats closer to the action seem to descend at a slower pace, making those stairs easier to travel. During any given year, there has been a mixture of sitting in different areas of any stadium. A recent basketball game found me experiencing both types of seating during one contest. To start the game, we sat higher in the arena, with steep steps. These stairs didn’t have much depth to them, making them challenging to traverse. The most difficult would be walking down these stairs. When the second half arrived, we had the opportunity to move lower in the building. The new seats had steps of access with at least double the depth. Making moving in and out of them relatively concern free.

But, to begin, moving up in the arena would be challenging. I had sat in seats with steep steps recently. The fall had been spent attending some college football games. Giving me some experience with the steps facing me for this contest. There would be a railing to help stabilization in the middle of the stairs. Which meant walking up with the railing on my right side would be easier. It has often been easier to walk up a staircase rather than down. My balance remaining more stable when climbing upward. The only problem would be coming in the form of anxiety following arrival in the chairs, anticipating moving back downward. It seems we would often prefer to do the more challenging aspect of any task first. In this situation, it simply wasn’t an option. Even after making the trip up the stairs, the concern would be in the back of mind around walking down. Even knowing all of the information, another challenge was added to the task. Before heading to the seats, something to drink seemed a good idea. A large soda was purchased, giving me enough liquid to last the entire contest. Figuring remaining in my seat during halftime, there wouldn’t seem a concern walking back down the stairs with the drink. It felt the added strength and balance would be there to carry the drink up the stairs.

My ability to balance was slightly surprising as the stairs were climbed. It has always been the goal of cerebral palsy improvement. For me, it often shows itself as more of a feeling. The feeling of something being down with added stability from the time previous. It can be felt in the first few steps and has been challenging to place into words. Holding my large soda in my right hand, the first couple steps were taken. Previous experience in this gym told me the first seven steps or so would be deeper. Once arriving above the entry tunnel, our true climb would begin, and steps would reach their most shallow point. Still, however more forgiving the beginning set of steps might be, walking up them felt better. It gave me mild confidence the steeper climb could work out positively. The soda was resting solidly in my right hand, as the steps were being ascended without the assist of a handrail. My pace was slow and cautious, but didn’t seem overly so. We arrived at the top of the tunnel and began the steeper climb. To my surprise, after a few steps, these felt solid as well. The feeling was freeing while we climbed to our seats. With my soda, solidly in my right hand, the movements were cautious, but steadier than they previously had been. We found seats on the aisle, instead of moving into the middle of the row, saving me from another balance challenge. We sat on cushioned seats and watched the first half.

The plan of remaining in the seats throughout the game didn’t materialize. Had the plan worked, my soda would have been gone when movement down the steps was required. With plans changing, the most challenging of events would take place with an added variable. Walking down this amount of shallow stadium steps with something in hand hadn’t taken place in memory. It was causing anxiety, but was worth the challenge. The rail moving down the center of the staircase could be helpful. Even with the option, reaching out to hold the rail with my left hand, would be another challenge. Cerebral palsy causing the left hand to be more unsteady when reaching for things and holding them. When the time came for making our move to descend, I stood with nervous energy. With the soda in my right hand, my left reached for the rail. The left hand contacted the rail easier than anticipated. Causing my body to feel comfort over the stairway down. There has often been a stumbling motion when reaching with my left hand, never quite knowing if the firm grasp will transpire. This time was different, as my hand latched right onto the rail. The confidence of the moment could be felt, as the steps were descended successfully. The pace was taken cautiously, but never did my stability leave to the point of worry. In those moments, it was unmistakable that improvement of cerebral palsy had continued. We moved to meeting up with more of our group at halftime and down to closer seats. Still having my drink in hand, the stairs were much easier to navigate. With the depth of them seemingly more than double the depth of those we had just left. By the time our game concluded, the drink was gone, and walking back up the large steps was uncomplicated.

The improved balance felt while navigating the steps come from different areas. Improving cerebral palsy doesn’t seem to happen without walking down multiple avenues. The stability felt has much to do with the work in the gym. Bernard working with me on movements to increase my ability to balance on those stairs. But, balancing on those steps wasn’t the only thing happening that night. There was added pressure with the soda in my hand, while walking around. The skill seems to fall under the idea of turning on multiple lights in the brain. The drink added more dynamic to balancing up and down the steps. As we have worked in the gym, complicating an exercise to require increased concentration. Like working on the halo-lunge, instead of lunging down the floor without using the weight plate to form a halo. It allows practice with multiple things happening that need to be accounted for. All of these improvements also require the chiropractic adjustments of Dr. McCracken. The body being in alignment allows for balance to truly take place. If the hips remained out of alignment, we would be strengthening muscles in an unhealthy manner. The square body helps with the freedom of movement, which helps build strength in the gym. The end result becomes messages from the brain having an easier time moving through the body when the body remains level. Everything works together for the improvement of the disability.

Cerebral palsy brings on challenges in our world each day. But, as someone with the disability there will often be a choice. We could sit back and rationalize the disability as never going away. Therefore, accepting its fate and allowing it to take over our world. Or, we can choose a different path toward improvement. The improvement path takes more effort, with a commitment to a slow and steady journey. Often times, it seems we exercise without truly understanding if we are getting anywhere. Which, brings about the importance of nights like the one described. Being at the basketball game, having to navigate the stairs, allowing me to feel the gains being made with my effort. As with much of life, those improvements come slowly. There wasn’t balance to move quickly up and down the steps. Or, carry a plastic cup of beer to the seat. But, there was an ability to carry a lidded soda wherever we moved inside the stadium. There were the reduced feelings of anxiety. An addition that traversing the steep stairs could be done without losing balance. It was another small step and signified the effort being given bares positive results. The gift of taking on challenges lies in realizing the results of taking on the challenge. With cerebral palsy, often the proof of improvement becomes finding more ease with an everyday task. The result of taking on a challenge might be different in your life. But, it seems important to find ways of showing the improvement to yourself.


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