Sunday, February 24, 2008
Shewfelt gains perspective through recovery process
Vicki Hall, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, February 24, 2008
Photo by Grant Black, Canwest News Service
CALGARY - A girl roughly 10 years old approached Kyle Shewfelt the other day and timidly asked the Olympic gold medallist for his autograph.
"We read about your injury in the paper," the girl's mother said. "My daughter fell off a horse around the same time, and she crushed her foot. You were an inspiration for her.
"She's doing fine now. She got back on a horse for the first time in January."
"Were you scared the first day back?" Shewfelt asked his speechless fan.
The girl nodded her head.
"Yah, me too," he said, leaning back on a crash mat at the Calgary Olympic Centre. "But you got over it, right?"
The girl nodded in the affirmative. Shewfelt grinned.
One more uplifting story to help him on the journey to recovery in time for the Beijing Olympics.
One more reason to believe in his chances to rise above the odds.
"When I get to Beijing - if everything gets together, and I'm there - it's going to be the biggest victory of my career," Shewfelt said. "Probably bigger than winning an Olympic gold medal because of everything I've had to overcome"
Shewfelt's Olympic hopes came crashing to Earth, literally, last August when he botched a landing in training at the World Gymnastics Championships in Germany. Doctors determined he broke both knees, sustained ligament damage and chipped a bone.
At first, Shewfelt figured he would be out for six weeks. Maximum. Nothing could keep him out of the gym in the lead-up to defending his 2004 gold from Athens.
Or so he thought.
"I thought I would be able to overcome it and come back really fast," he said. "And then I had surgery, and I thought I was going to die. I couldn't believe the pain."
The 25-year-old needed help to dress himself. To climb into the shower. To get up and make a sandwich.
"I think the lowest of the lows was about two weeks after the surgery," he said. "I was starting to watch my body going from being super fit to sitting on my butt. I was going a little crazy.
"You start to watch your muscles go. Your legs go skinny. You have to rely on everyone to do everything for you."
But Shewfelt refused to wallow in self-pity. He followed the instructions of his doctor and physiotherapist. In time, he had the braces removed from both legs and climbed out of his wheelchair.
"I think I've gained a lot of perspective," he said. "I appreciate what I can do - not that I didn't before, but I felt so happy when I could walk, when I could jog, when I did my first back handspring."
Shewfelt fell off the high bar the other day and uncharacteristically let a four-letter word slip - even though it's a victory for him to even be up there in the first place so soon after surgery.
"It doesn't feel amazing when you land on your knees, especially after having them cut open a few months ago," he said. "It's almost like someone is scraping them with a cheese grater."
With the Olympics less than six months way, Shewfelt can hear time ticking in his head. Not a single day of training goes to waste. He can't afford it.
"Today needs to be better than yesterday and tomorrow needs to be better than today," he said. "I'm on a strict timeline."
In spite of the looming deadline, national team coach Edouard Iarov expects Shewfelt to defend his gold medal in Beijing.
"Kyle is doing great," Iarov said. "We had a camp in Calgary last week, and he trained really good. His legs are getting much better. He will be ready for nationals in June.
"We have six months until the Olympic games, so I think he will be in good shape."
Shewfelt is a realist. There's no way to speed up his recovery. And there is no insurance against setbacks in his recovery.
He can train hard every day. He can look after his body. He can think positive and believe in his chances.
Otherwise, he has to let go of the outcome.
The final chapter of the story has yet to be written.
"I want my legacy to be one of an athlete who fought until the end and gave it everything he had," Shewfelt said. "I want to have no regrets at the end of it."
Saturday, February 23, 2008
We also had a GIANT party on Friday night and I somehow became the bartender...I don't know who assumed that I can mix a mad drink, but they assumed right! The highlight for me, in terms of the experience of hosting a group of guests, was this bash on Friday. Everyone was laughing, sharing stories and being a little crazy, but we were in Maui and we were taking full advantage of the opportunity! I love it when a group of total strangers can come together and create an energetic atmosphere...the coolest part about this experience was that everyone here was brought together by Canadian sport.
All of the guests that were present had a tremendous respect and appreciation for Canada's amateur athletes. I don't know if the guests realize this, I hope they do, but while we were having an incredible experience in Maui, the proceeds from the Gold Medal Plates events ($900,000+ by the way!) are going towards helping Canadian athletes achieve podium success in 2008, 2010 and beyond. Every time I felt even a little bit guilty about missing training for a week, I just remembered that I was actually helping all of my teammates out by being there!
I've got to be honest, I was a little misbehaved a few times, but I stuck to my previous stated goals and did something physical every day! I went for jogs, did pilates in my condo, handstands on the beach...I even curled 10 lb watermelons. Now that's creative dedication folks.
"There's never been a timeline that's been given to me," said Shewfelt. "Even when I had surgery, it wasn't like: 'OK, in three months, you'll be better' . . ."
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
This is what happened: I reached into my mailbox, expecting a pile up of bills and possibly the latest copy of International Gymnast Magazine, when I found a tiny envelope addressed to me. It didn't have a return address, which I thought was weird, but I opened it anyways. Inside was a letter that read:
I'm writing to you because I know that you're going through a particularly trying time right now. I know you must also be feeling an enormous amount of pressure, which probably has less to do with defending your title as much as it has to do with not wanting to disappoint people. Well, I can't speak for absolutely everyone, but I know I represent a large majority who - no matter how this year turns out - will always think of you as a champion.
I say this not only in reference to your amazing impact on your sport, but also to your character. You are gracious, kind-hearted, hard-working and a true role model.
I hope, as you're trying everything you can to get back into competition form, that you remember you're STILL the world's best gymnast. And not only that - you're the world's best gymnast who is also courageously breaking through mental and physical barriers, that maybe no other gymnast could possibly handle. This is the reality of your situation: you already are an inspiration. You're just taking it to a new level now.
Keep believing in your dreams and yourself - you have a great gift that extends beyond your floor routine.
What a powerful, inspirational and thoughtful letter. The only thing is, I have no idea who sent it. It was not signed and I don't recognize the handwriting. It was simply an anonymous act of kindness and it brought me so much hope.
Whoever it was who took the time to send this special gift, I thank you.
I sometimes ask myself the question: Why am I fighting this battle?
It became more clear to me today. I am fighting it because I want to look back on my career and know that I made a difference. I want to show the importance of never giving up and the power of a dream.
Apparantly, I am already well on my way.
I hope you have a wonderful day and if you get the chance, take a moment to tell someone how special they are...even if it is anonymously.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
This past week, we had our first National Team Training Camp of 2008 with our National Coach, Edouard Iarov. It was kind of an impromptu camp (my favourite...yeah right!) and it was held at my home club, the University of Calgary (except on Wednesday when we trained at Calgary Gymnastics Centre).
I didn't really know what to expect of the week. I wanted to keep on my own pace and not push myself too far beyond my limits of comfort, but I also knew that you have to expect the unexpected when it comes to camp! No matter how hard you try not to, you always end up pushing yourself more when the National coach is watching you train!
The first day of the camp was not as positive for me as I would have liked it to have been. I got a little cranky and down because I felt really behind everyone else.
Don't get me wrong, my team looks awesome. Everyone has some new skills, everyone is pushing themselves hard and everyone is starting to get into routine shape. Everyone except for me! I try my best not to compare myself to others and to just focus on doing my plan, but it's impossible not to compare one's self to your teammates when you are fighting against them for a spot on the Olympic team. You want to make each turn the best it can be and also make it look like it was really easy. Not the easiest of things to do when everything you are doing is hard for you to do! haha.
After leaving the first day of camp feeling like I had shied away and backed down, not wanting to really try too hard because then I would be revealing how far behind I really was, I got pissed. I was so mad at myself that I wasted a day. I don't have many left, and to waste one on being self-conscious made me feel super guilty.
I have come a long way and have made tremendous progress, but I kind of forget this when I compare myself to where everyone else is and to where a "gymnast" should generally be 6 months before the Olympics. I am trying not to let that stress me too much, but it's hard not to think about it sometimes. I am trying to trust that I am doing everything possible and that I am exactly where I need to be, but it's just hard being in a training camp and feeling really far behind.
I think one of the things that got me a bit down was that I haven't had any direct external expectation during this whole recovery process, and now all of a sudden I had it, in full force. I have made it very known to everyone around me that I am doing all that I can and I can't handle anyone judging my effort right now. All I need is encouragement and a positive atmosphere. I don't think that Edouard intentionally puts expectations on me, but I think it's just generally his job to want to see me perform at my best. I was feeling a little timid to even try a skill because I felt like I was going to get an instant correction...something that I absolutely hate when I getting back into shape and re-learning everything. I am the type of gymnast who basically knows what went wrong when it goes wrong and if I don't then I will ask what went wrong. It might not be the most envious of attitudes, but I have always worked this way. Just let me get into the groove and ask for help when I am ready for it!
Anyway, on the second day, after some reflection and a decision to tell that negative voice to shut the hell up, my attitude improved ten fold. I was a man on a mission. I became focused on MY tasks and open to corrections (even if I let a few flow in one ear and out the other...). I had a way better day and it set a great tone for the rest of the camp.
I gained a lot more trust in myself and my body this week. I tumbled like a mad man and started to feel like I coming close to being a real gymnast again. I was swinging with ease, taking tons of productive turns, making sure that everything on my "to do" list was completed. I also tried to really encourage my teammates (they really did look great!) and joke with Edouard. He started to understand that I needed positive encouragement and he even gave it to me! It was an awesome moment for me when he told me that I was further along then he thought and that he has no doubt in my ability to be my best in Beijing. That's always a nice thing to hear from the National Coach!
I like creating environments where there is momentum, spark and enthusiasm. What I'm realizing more and more is that in order to constantly be in these environments, I am going to have to be the one who brings these qualities. I am a way better athlete when I am enjoying myself.
Check out the videos:
(This is my Yurchenko vault drill that I created on Wednesday's training at Calgary Gymnastics Centre. I still can't run though...which makes me a little frustrated...it will come!)
(3 Front Layouts in a row! This actually felt rather normal, but I stopped after 2 on one turn and it hurt the ol' knee a bit...as long as I keep the momentum moving forward then it's all good)
(Whip Back Series...notice Edouard by the vault watching closely!)
(Backspring Series to..............................a full twisting double back! This felt phenomenal. I love flying through the air!)
(This was actually from Sunday's training...pardon my french as I ping off the bar...a little S bomb. oops. It doesn't feel amazing when you land on your knees, especially after having them cut open a few months ago. It's almost like someone is scraping them with a cheese grater. This was the first Def that I have attempted to catch, but after missing this one, I got up again and caught it! Sweet! Also notice the lack of curly mess on my head...I got a buzz yesterday)
I am glad the past week turned out to be so productive because now I won't feel too guilty when I am chillin' on the beach in Maui during this upcoming week! I am going on Monday to host all of the live auction winners from the Gold Medal Plates events in the fall. It is going to be a fantastic week and I only have 3 goals: 1. Keep in shape as best I can, 2. Make sure everyone has an incredible time, 3. Relax and conserve some energy to give the next 179 days absolutely everything I have!
Friday, February 01, 2008
On floor I did a front handspring with a double twist (on the fiberglass floor with a mat, but it's actually a difficult move!)
As you can see, the first one wasn't stellar, but I was a little worried about what it would feel like when I punched into the floor. It did hurt a bit, more in the front of my knee cap, but it felt way better than I anticipated so that was motivating...so motivating that I had to resort back to my perfectionist tendencies and do it again as shown below!
Next, I decided that I needed to try some backwards tumbling. I put a couple of mats in just as protection and I did my first roundoff backhandspring back layout. Yeah, that's a flip! On the floor. Holla! This was on Monday.
Then, on Tuesday, I did a double twist. That's the way I work. If I trust that I can take off then twisting isn't a problem. I just have to know that my knees aren't going to explode on the impact of takeoff. So of course, on Thursday I needed to try a 2.5 twist as shown below:
(Also, please ignore my messy mop. It looks pretty hideous and dirty in these videos. I have been growing my hair out for entertainment and it is becoming slightly fro-ish. Curly hair is not the best for the get up and go lifestyle that I have been leading...a buzz is in the cards for the next week, before I go to Hawaii on the 11th! Haha, just watched the vid and that is Nate zooming across at the end...what a goof!)
In my routine I actually do do a 2.5 twist, but I do it out of a whip back. A whip is a backhandspring with no hands. It is a little more difficult than a backhandspring because you have to have more speed and more momentum in order to complete it correctly. These are two words that scare me a bit right now; speed and momentum. Why? Because they usually equal pain! I decided to bite the bullet though and give a simple whip back a chance.
It turned out better than I thought. I actually felt quite strong and quick...kind of like Kyle Shewfelt circa pre-broken legs! So naturally, I pushed myself (as I tend to do) and I managed to complete a whip back into a 2.5 twist (notice only one mat as well in the vid below!).
I also regained my Tkatchev on highbar.
I didn't catch, but catching is no problem. Releasing is always the scary part, especially when you haven't done it in a long time. I shouldn't have any fear towards this element because I have been doing it since the early nineteen hundred and nineties, but I had a few butterflies in my stomach. I was relieved when I did it and it felt so normal. I actually had a little bit of an emotional moment after this turn because I instantly gained confidence and felt like there was actually a possibility that I could be even better than I have ever been in Beijing.
I have been so focused on just getting back that I haven't been focusing on being better than I was. I think this is an important element in everyday life. You have to always believe that you can go beyond what you have already done. It makes everything seem so much more positive...that is if you enjoy a challenge, which apparently I thrive on!
Today, Friday, (or another Thursday because it was a grand day as well!) Susan and I met up with Dr.Mohtadi to talk about that burning pain I have been feeling in my left thigh. Even though I have had super progress this week, I have still been dealing with that pain consistently. It is really inhibiting my ability to run (don't know if you noticed, but I am doing all tumbling from a jump hurdle because I can't engage my hamstrings enough yet to run fast). Anyway, it was decided that Dr.Mohtadi would inject a local anesthetic into the tendon at very bottom of the plate to see if it would provide some relief. Apparently where the plate is, the hamstring attaches and the pain I am getting is because the plate is ultra-sensitive. You know when you have a bruise and someone pushes on it really hard and you want to knock them out? Yeah, multiply that with an intense burn up your leg and that is the pain I get when the bottom of my plate is pushed. Doesn't feel great.
Well, I was the lucky winner of an injection this morning...right after it was suggested. I was totally on board, but I HATE needles, especially BIG one's being stabbed into my knee. Susan, the amazing physio that she is, consoled me as the GIANT needle went in and I almost died. It was fast, but holy F***, did it hurt!
The good news is, it almost completely resolved the burning pain, which is a great sign. I could almost run like a normal athlete and as time progressed and I got more warmed up, I felt better and better.
Check out this video of my best backhandspring series yet, filmed today! 100% pain free with a double pike at the end...where did that come from?!
Overall, looking back on this week, I made leaps and bounds forward. I pushed myself hard. I smiled and had tons of fun in the gym. I looked forward to each and every training and came in with a plan. I did more each day than I had the day before.
This is all I want.
Now, it's time for a much deserved Saturday off!
Do you ever feel that some people are put into your life for a reason? I am not a religious person, but I do believe that my physiotherapist, Susan Massitti, was generously placed into my life to make it better. I like to refer to her as my red headed guardian angel!
Susan has been there for me through every step of this injury and I am so thankful for her presence.
She was there for me seconds after I landed and my legs crunched. After I bent them towards my chest and the muscles went into protection mode and locked, she helped me get them straight again (That was one of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world).
She was there at the hospital when I had the MRI's and she was the one who comforted me when I found out that I had indeed broken my legs and couldn't compete. I cried, out of sadness and shock, and she just held her hand on my shoulder and rubbed my back until I was able to suck it up and realize it was reality.
Susan phoned our surgeon from Germany minutes after we arrived back at the hotel. She sent the films of the MRI's and xrays back to Canada and made sure that the lines of communication were open with everyone back in Calgary. She really has held the support team together.
Susan and I even did some physio and mobility exercises the day after the injury and tried to keep things positive for the rest of the team.
She injected me with a needle in my stomach everyday while we were in Germany so that my blood wouldn't clot when we flew home. She laughed with me, cried with me and kept me intrigued with intelligent conversation and enlightening perspective. Her company while I was bored out of my mind sitting around doing nothing in Stuttgart was irreplaceable.
She took me downtown for a Big Mac, bought my customary bottle of wine (I always get one from each new city I visit) and made sure that all of my needs were met...she even helped me pack my suitcase.
(packing is very hard when you can't stand and move around a room!)
When we flew home, Susan made all of the arrangements for wheelchair access. I am laughing as I'm writing this because man, did we have some fun times! It is a crazy experience travelling when you can't weight bear and we were able to make it the most enjoyable experience that it could be!
When we were at the Frankfurt airport, the idiots working at the AirCanada check-in (yes, that's right, AirCanada) were going to make me fly in economy class with 2 busted legs...and they call themselves an Olympic sponsor. BS. Anyway, Susan got so pissed that the guy finally did us the favour (what a kind soul he was!) of letting me have a complimetary upgrade. I just can't get over how nice that was of him! A-hole. But Susan had to sit in economy and kept coming up to make sure my blood hadn't clotted while I sat with my legs straight out in front of me, not being able to move!
Susan was in the operating room for my sugery and even held my hand as I got put under! It was so nice to be able to have a trusted and familiar face in that room because everything was happening so fast and I didn't really know what to think.
A week after surgery, Susan set up the appointment with Dr.Aung with her VIP connections! She has this incredibly organic and spiritual side to her that just radiates. She is a true healer, leader and guide.
Susan and I have spent countless hours together, some being the most frustrating and painful times of my life. She has not only been a physiotherapist, she has been a wonderful and true friend. I genuinely look forward to each physio session because I know that I will not only come one step closer to being healed, but I am going to gain knowledge and good karma! I just frickin' hate having needles poked into my inner thigh!
This nasty little bubble (think of it what you want...I thought it looked like a giant testicle growing out of my leg!) is called cupping. It's a new technique that we are trying in order to suck the bad stuff out of the really congested sites. It seems to work quite well, but Susan and I laugh every time we attempt it!
I can't even begin to explain the tremendous role that Susan has played in this process. I am actually getting a little choked up right now writing this because she is just absolutely amazing. She has been there for me...really been there. She understands the frustration, the pain, the feelings of wanting to give up. She has been extremely supportive and a loyal and trust worthy friend. I admire her for many reasons. She is pro-active, considerate, intelligent...but I think the best part of all is that I know that she really really cares about me as an athlete AND as a person.
I actually met with Susan this morning and she let me know that she has been selected to join our team for Beijing. That is incredible news...I will need her there...if not to keep my injury under control then for her belief in me and her positive vibes!
I had this vision today, after she let me know about the news. I imagined that I was competing in the Olympic final and I did the best routine that I could have done. I imagined my tears of joy and then I looked over and she was there bawling her face off!
I am such a lucky athlete to have been able to connect and be truly inspired by someone on my support team. I feel priviledged to work with someone who is so bloody awesome!
I know that Susan reads this once in a while, so I would just like to say:
Susan, you are amazing! I would not be able to fight through this without your unwavering committment and belief in me. Your hard work and support are definitely appreciated. From the bottom of my heart, Thank you. I honestly don't know how I would have survived without you.
I hope that everyone reading this can relate to having someone in there life who they know makes them a better person. These people don't come around too often, but when they do you just know that they were meant to be there.
ps- I have some SWEET video's that I will post in the next couple of days!