Everybody Can Do Something

I made a new friend in Sacramento on November 8. During that initial conversation and in follow-up he reinforced for me a point I’ve been making for awhile…everybody can do something. Because he’s living proof that it works.

Norm Hainlen is a workers’ compensation consultant. But that’s not what defines him. He is an athlete, and although social security eligible he remains one. He is also someone that manages his pain successfully. But it has been a journey.

Norm played collegiate and professional football. He knows pain. While he played some defensive line he was primarily a punter. If you know anything about that position, flexibility is one key to success (like kicking-your-leg-over-your-head type of flexibility). He used to play semi-pro softball, club racquetball and tennis. Now he still plays rec league softball, golfs and rides a bike (15 miles on Sunday). All of those activities likewise require flexibility, so part of his routine on days when he’s playing (along with every other day) is to start with stretching.

He doesn’t drink, has never smoked, doesn’t do drugs and has never had a cup of coffee. In his words, he “didn’t want to be beholden to anything.” He definitely didn’t want to take any pills (he had some Rx painkillers when getting his wisdom teeth extracted, did not like their effect on him, and stopped after a couple of doses). He strives to eat healthily and proactively manages his diet.

And yet despite doing the right thing (stretching every day, no bad habits, watches what he eats), he has pain. He’s had 13 surgeries in his life, usually waiting until they absolutely had to be done. He still has bad shoulders and had bad knees until replacing them both (at the same time) almost five years ago. The first surgery on his right knee, at age 41, was a turning point. And not for the better. Afterwards he was no longer able to engage in the aggressive sports that has dominated his life. In a word, he was “miserable.” And he remained miserable throughout his 40’s. Not that he started any bad habits (he still didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or drink coffee) or that he became totally sedentary (he still played some golf, did some swimming). It’s just that he couldn’t be himself. He had been physically active his entire life as a multi-dimensional athlete. And now there were restrictions. And those restrictions made him miserable.

Does any of that resonate with you? Have you ever gotten to a point where you can’t do what you’ve always done (temporarily or permanently) and because of that you’re miserable? Yeah, I thought so…me too.

He had an epiphany at 49, knowing in one year he would turn 50. He had to find a way to become more physically active again and increase his flexibility and strength. That’s when he discovered yoga. After 17 years and 1,300+ classes, he’s still at it. Every Saturday morning and Monday evening for 90 minutes. With the same instructor (who happens to have multiple sclerosis). He engages in Iyengar Yoga that focuses on achieving the best possible pose, often holding that pose for 30 seconds. When he skips a session, he knows it.

He has also utilized active release techniques and fascial distortion model treatments (“saviors for me many times”) along with his daily routine of stretching and good habits. But his primary method for pain management was/is yoga. Think about a 6’4″, 265 pound man in yoga pants. Wait…don’t.

Following are some sage words of advice based on his experience…

  • After his bi-lateral knee replacements (his eighth and ninth knee surgeries), he weaned himself off Rx painkillers within three weeks because he “wanted to drive and get back to living”
  • “I hurt just as much from doing nothing as doing everything” (think about that)
  • He has not yet had shoulder surgery (not a shred of cartilage) so he manages it now with stretching and a “grin and bear it” attitude (including during yoga, as those body parts are in the most pain during his session)
  • He does not regret anything that he did or didn’t do (“It’s a lot harder to give something up than to not start it in the first place”)
  • “You can play a lot bigger role in your own health than you may want to admit” (gee, sounds familiar)

Did Norm have some built-in advantages being an athlete? Yes. Part of the process of becoming (and staying) an athlete is the mindset of overcoming obstacles and being intensely mindful about what you do (and don’t do) to your body to maintain optimum performance. Being an athlete also requires discipline and having a goal-oriented paradigm. But those built-in advantages have not eliminated pain for him. If you’re a human being, you will have pain (physical, psychological, emotional). It’s what you do with it that matters. Which brings me to his most memorable quote to me…

Everybody can do something

Ride a bike. Eat nutritiously. Go for a walk. Think positively. Do yoga.

It can be motivating to see stories of people overcoming dramatically difficult circumstances or who are unnaturally high achievers. But when you compare yourself to that high standard and fall short (as 99 percent of us do), it can also be deflating and make it easy to decide to not do anything. Don’t let striving for perfection stand in the way of progress.

  • You don’t have to run a marathon. You don’t even have to run a 5K. How about just walking — at your own pace — around the block after lunch?
  • You don’t have to climb Mount Everest with prosthetic limbs. But you can choose to walk up the stairs rather than using the elevator or escalator.
  • You don’t have to join an intense diet plan that many people start with gusto on January 2 but don’t remember by February 2. But what if you pay attention to your caloric intake, choose water instead of soda, focus on anti-inflammatory foods and a proper diet (Choose My Plate) so you make wise choices?
  • Etc, Etc, Etc…tou get the picture…

In other words,

what if you start by just doing something? Because — repeat after me — everybody can do something.