Here's the best way I can describe my physical fitness level to you.
Boil a piece of spaghetti until it is overdone. Now try to make that piece of spaghetti stand up straight. That limp noodle equates to my current physical condition.
As someone who always has thrived on activity and as one who has been a fitness buff for many years, I'm stunned to find myself in this position.
So, what happened?
It's simple. I followed doctor's orders – the order of one pain specialist and one physical therapist, to be exact. Both told me my back pain wasn't getting better because I would not rest enough to give healing a chance.
I was upset when they said no kayaking, no biking, no dancing. Just rest, they said. But finally, I accepted their dictates and followed instruction.
I did nothing.
The more I "did nothing," the more pain I had. But I continued to listen. After all, the doctor said so.
When I was sent to an orthopedic surgeon for his opinion, he strongly asserted his disdain for anyone who told me to "do nothing."
"Never stop moving!" he said. "That's the worse thing anyone can possibly do."
He explained inactivity makes my back tighten and hurt more and wrote a script to send me to a new physical therapist.
I'm appalled at how much muscle tone and physical ability I lost with four months of inactivity.
The new physical therapist gave me simple isometric exercises to do at home. I do them faithfully, but I can't help but wonder how long it will take to beat pain and "get normal" again.
When I'm tempted to get discouraged, I think about Ken Ryno, the most inspirational person I've ever met. I told Ken's story in the newspaper seven years ago, calling him "the little engine that could."
At 17, Ken was a carefree teenager and a bit of a daredevil – until a motorcycle accident left him completely paralyzed. When he awoke from a three month coma, he asked the rehab doctor why he couldn't move. Then he was told the devastating news: He would never walk again.
After weeks of rehab therapy, the Saylorsburg resident regained movement only in one arm, with no sign of muscle activity in his other three limbs.
With pluck and determination, Ken used his one good arm to work his paralyzed one. Over and over again as he lay in bed he kept trying to work the paralyzed arm.
Ken Ryno wasn't about to give up. Nor would he stop trying, no matter what he was told about never regaining more movement.
Little by little, he did gain strength and eventually movement in both arms. But his legs remained paralyzed.
Here's the astonishing thing about Ken Ryno. For more than 10 years Ken never stopped trying to move his leg muscles.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, the years passed but Ken's efforts never lessened. He kept visualizing movement while he kept trying to work his leg muscles.
If that were you, when would you have given up? After a month? After a year of failure?
Ken Ryno never gave up, not even when he had nothing to show for his effort.
Sometimes, a bit of bad luck turns out to be a lucky break. That's what happened when Ken developed severe bedsores from lying in bed so much.
When a home health care nurse was assigned to treat the bedsores, Ken mentioned he thought he was regaining a little muscle movement in his legs.
The nurse placed a pie plate on his legs and told him to try to move it. She saw he was right. There was muscle activity.
Based on her recommendation, Ken was evaluated by a doctor at Gnaden Huetten Rehabilitation. They agreed to admit Ken for another chance at regaining movement.
Grateful for the chance and determined to make the most of it, Ken told everyone he was going to walk out of that place on his own volition.
After regular therapy was over, Ken stayed in the workout room doing more then more and more again.
Ken Ryno kept his promise to himself.
When he was discharged, he walked out of the rehab hospital on his own, using just a walker. It was quite a fete for a man who didn't stand for over a decade.
When Ken walked from the hospital, other patients and hospital personnel from all departments lined the corridor for his walk of glory.
I was there that day and was one of the many crying with joy for the man who would never give up.
I've been in Ken's company a few times since then and every time was an inspiration. Although I haven't seen him for seven years, he remains a strong motivating force in my life.
This is what Ken Ryno instilled in me: Never give up. Never, never give up. Winston Churchill said it first, but Ken personifies its meaning.
So I sit here doing my little exercises, believing in an eventual good outcome. And I keep repeating Ken's motivating mantra:
Never give up.
Never, never give up.
They are words that will serve all of us well.