Taking Steps Toward Leadership…balance

How many people want balance in their lives?  Stop!!!!  You have not read this one before.  I’m talking about REAL balance.  This story begins with my loss of balance.  I was 2.  I was trying to walk and I kept falling down.  My mother, very astute at watching how people move, did NOT chalk it up to typical toddler learning to toddle.  She noted that 1 leg was shorter than the other, and I had to do lots of compensating to move it.  My dad, who was a marching band director did not.  That was interesting since I was a 1st child and my mom was a piano teacher.  Dad laid me on a table and put my feet so they were equal and said, “See?”  Mom said, “Really?”  From the knee down, they were the same length, but every time I took a step, that short leg would go up 2 inches or more past where it should have hit joint.  I was taken to the doctor who, at first, dismissed my mom’s concerns as those of a hysterical mother with her 1st child.  My mom insisted, and put me on the ground to walk.  My dad looked him in the eye and said, “You see now, don’t you.”  They did x rays and discovered that I had extremely shallow hip sockets, and one was missing entirely.  They put me in a cast, from waist to toe to cause the bones to reform and develop a socket.  The knees are placed at 90 degree angles from the center of the body in the plane of the body and then bent.  It’s like riding a very large, very square horse.  My sweet little brother thought it was funny that he could come up behind me and push me out of my chair. I had to be tied to a chair after that.    I went from being in the cast with both legs to just 1 leg, though still tied to the chair.  I remember that 1st removal of the cast.  The vibrations of the saw felt like they were cutting into my leg!  I graduated from the single leg cast to leg braces and orthopedic shoes.  I did learn to walk fairly quickly then, and was so relieved that I didn’t have to be tied to my chair!  I wore orthopedic shoes until I was 12 when the doctor said I could have “Keds.”

I was a very active child.  I climbed trees and swing sets.  I studied ballet.  But I had sprained ankles nearly every month my 1st 4 years after the braces came off.  Dad took me ice skating every year to help build up those muscles, and it helped some!  The thing about balance is that if you favor one limb, you throw the balance of everything else off.  My left hip was always my weakest link.  I got most of my sprained ankles on my left leg.  I couldn’t kick very high with that leg.  I couldn’t sit crossed legged on the floor because my knees wouldn’t go down.  That yoga lotus pose is impossible.  I had to learn a different way to balance than normal kids.  I had to be VERY aware where my center of gravity was.  Most people don’t do that, and take standing/sitting/sliding positions for granted.  The 1st thing they have to teach you in dance and martial arts classes is balance and center of gravity. You have to have a highly developed sense of center in gymnastics on every event, and it is NOT inherent. Why would they have to teach you stability and balance and center of gravity since you don’t fall down multiple times a day?  Don’t you already instinctively know?  You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

When I was 39 and had had 5 kids, the cartilage on both the the head of the balls and the interior of the sockets of both my hips was extremely worn down, and nearly gone in my left hip.  My left leg was nearly 1 inch shorter than my right, the left knee bent in, and I had a pronounced limp.  I was teaching ballet at the time!  Why wasn’t I in a wheel chair?  Compensating behavior.  The ballet moves were range-of-motion that made use of multiple directions for the hip–not just the back and forth we get from walking.  Ballet made use of balance, 360 degree rotations in the hip, and fostered strength in the muscles that stabilize the hip.  It slowed the disintegration of the cartilage.   At this point, there was exactly 1 position I could sleep in.  1 mm off in any direction caused terrible pain.  Imagine broken glass in your hip that grinds every time you move.  Now imagine giving dance lessons 3-5 hours/day 6 days a week.  Now imagine 5 kids aged 2-14.  Now imagine living on the 2nd floor of the building where you teach with 27 steps at the end of the day.  Now imagine working fast food from 5 AM to 2 PM before your lessons come in at 3:30 PM.  Now imagine working as a truck stop cook on the weekends from 4- close.   I even taught K-6 music at a little school not far from where I was living at the time and managed to last until March before they fired me for being too innovative.  Now imagine directing the church choir every Wednesday rehearsal and singing every Sunday morning.  Sitting in a chair for any length of time was painful.   I went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, for a consultation.  The doctor actually gasped in surprise that I was still walking.The doctors at Mayo did a total hip replacement, and gave me a “restricted” hip which kept the maximum bend in the joint to 90 degrees.  This effectively ended my ballet teaching.  My student/assistant took over the ballet classes and I just did choreography and music lessons. My center of gravity had changed immensely!

Before the operation, I was pregnant and my center moved from directly over the center of my feet to about 6 inches in front.  To compensate when I was dancing, in order to do turns, I had to move my butt back and yet keep my shoulders over my feet.  Any type of 1 footed turn, like a pirouette, I had to adjust my stance to directly over the turning foot, compensate with the moving foot and arms to keep the angle of momentum over my balancing foot constant.  This required a bit of practice!  After the baby, it switched again, and I had to re-learn how to center.

After the operation, it was a dramatic change!  Now that both my legs were nearly the same size, my acquired stance put my center of gravity almost 3″ to the right of my center.  I had to use crutches for a good 3-4 months, and switched to 1 crutch the last 2 of those.  I couldn’t use my left leg to lead up the stairs, just going a step at a time leading with my right and joining and support with my left. It took a lot of arm strength to make it up those 27 steps!  Grab the rail, push on the crutch, lift the R leg to next step, pull up the left leg to join it, catch balance, then repeat.  It took a while to build up the muscles in my L leg where I could actually put weight on it.  Gradually, gradually, my center moved to my center or pretty close.  I think it was about 1/2 inch to the right of center, but much closer than it had ever been since I was 12 years old.

6 years later, I was in the HS cafeteria after a concert.  Some kid zipped past me and kicked my L foot, twisting it and causing a lot of pain.  I didn’t know what was wrong but I could still walk, so I used the crutches again and the pain subsided.  Then I was at work at Wendy’s and caught my foot on a cardboard box we used to put on the floor to keep from sliding.  Once again, it stopped hurting.  That March, I started working for Ameritrade.  I was just standing in the aisle talking to some friends, and when I turned to go back to my cubical, I went down.  My leg was wobbly and hurt like the dickens!  I suspected it had been broken.  I was right.  It split right down the spike portion of the artificial hip.  Here we go again!  The difference was that my broken hip needed to heal before they could fix it.  Hmmm?  Yes.  I broke my hip June 1, and wore a brace and walked with crutches until Oct. 9.  They went in thinking they were going to have to replace the replacement, but all they ended up doing was replacing the cartilage material.  I was in the brace and crutches for a long while after that, I finally got out of the brace about December.  I was on crutches until May.  It took almost 2 years of no crutches before my center of balance was actually my center again.

I decided I needed to get into a different shape (other than round).  I started going to a gym (check out the blog, Measurable Progress) and discovered that my left leg, after all these years, was still very weak!  I had learned all these compensating behaviors to move me where I needed to be, to lift what I needed to lift, to do the things I had to do.  I used the arm weights correctly on step ups with my R leg–step up, lift the L leg while doing bicep curls with 10 pound weights.  On the L leg, I swung the weights to get up the momentum to take the step, then the curls were a continuation of the movement–compensating behavior.   By now, my center of gravity was located over my R heel.  I fatigued really quickly on the stationary bike because my R leg did all the work.  Gradually, gradually, I needed less compensation as my L leg got stronger.  There were a few hiccups along the way, including a 1/2″ kidney stone.  With the training and strengthening of my L leg, I was progressing to a point where my center of gravity was back where it should be.  Smooth sailing from there on right?

No, I broke it again.  I got smacked by a revolving door and knocked to the floor where the top of my femur broke.  I remembered all my compensating behaviors from before and after 2 weeks, I am on crutches again and making pretty good progress.  But I am having to realign my balance again.

When you have a physical measure to evaluate balance, it becomes evident that it doesn’t change overnight for the better.  It may change in a moment for the worse.  What can imbalance you?  A single physical accident, death or sickness of a loved one, sickness for yourself, an economic surprise, a change in the work place, any of those can cause your balance to be upset!  You may have perfect balance for only seconds during your lifetime.  It is not balance that you look for, it is a pathway to balance, not a destination, but a journey.

Remember that while you are adjusting work, family, community to center around God, everything you are working with is also moving.  It’s not like building blocks where you just stack them in a certain way.  They’re more like 1/2 filled ice bags, partially melted.  They slosh and change shape and move and are nearly impossible to stack.  You center your life around God, then you go to your family, and each member has to make adjustments to their way of life to compensate for the events they’re experiencing.  If they experience momentary stability, and you stack something on them, they will revert to instability.  You go to your business, and you have multitudes of people making all sorts of adjustments…larger ice bag!  Will you ever have perfect balance?  I’ve been working toward physical balance for 61 years, and I have a long way to go.  The balance between God, Family and Business is even more complex than physical balance.  It’s not impossible, but it is fleeting.

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