There are times when I get a bit more reflective.  Often later in the evening, with a cup of coffee in hand after a long day at work.  I come home to a quiet house, the family still out and about somewhere.  I plop down on the couch and as I drift into that place that’s not quite sleep, I imagine a meeting.  Dinner maybe?  At a quiet restaurant.  Lights dimmed and the place quiet.  A solo bartender and a single server are there for the lone smallish circular table set for three.  Two of us are already there, waiting on the third.  I am there, sitting down, looking across the table at myself.  Sort of.  More hair, but not so grey, on quite a fuller face.  Smoother skin around the eyes.  My doppelganger has a beer in hand, a Bass Ale (my go to drink ten years ago).  I’ve got a blue moon or a 312.  Ten years.  That is the span between us.  What would I say?  What would I tell my younger self.  What words of wisdom could be passed on?  And my younger self…what could he remind me today?

A lot of cliches come to mind at this point.  Play harder, work less.  Spend more time with family.  Get outside, read, laugh, run, hide, travel more, get a jeep a few years earlier.  But although all true, they seem vague, less practical, and frankly not realistic.  The past is fixed.  This is a blog, not science fiction.  No changing history.  No buying stock in Starbucks or Apple.

I would tell me (the younger me) a few things.  First I would tell myself to write down those bedtime stories.  Oh how I miss those made up tales with the kids as “heroes”.  I would tell them over and over as they lay in bed at night.  I thought NO WAY I’d forget about them.  Impossible.  But I have…  I’d tell the younger me to enjoy the moments more.  Not get so wrapped up in worrying about “later” but practice enjoying the “now“.  I’d try and remind myself to keep in better touch with my college friends who are now scattered across the country.  Midlife brings on nostalgia and my appreciation for those high school and college friendships only grows stronger and fonder with each passing year.  I would remind myself to cherish and focus on the positive interactions with my patients and families (from the mundane of converting someone to a non-smoker to surviving severe pneumonia) instead of dwelling on the deaths and the losses and those that suffer side effect or complications.

The younger me takes this all in.  He takes a long pull from the Bass Ale and puts it down. I stare into his eyes….my eyes… And I see in them an optimism I once had.  Maybe a bit of naivete too.  I mean this guy still thinks the Cubs are gonna win it all this year with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.  I see the sparkle…  looking forward to the yearly trips with Beck to our getaway bed and breakfast in Galena.  To the long letters on anniversaries  declaring my love and recounting the challenges faced and overcome the year prior.  I see mixed in with the energy and optimism a bit of self-doubt.  Do I know enough?  Am I trained enough?  Will I make the right decisions for my patients?  Will I make the right decisions for my kids?  I see the worry and want to make it go away.  I want to give this younger me a gift…share some of what little wisdom I have obtained over these past ten years.

The third seat stays empty.  And as we finish our beers I realize the gift is not for my younger self  but for me…Now.  “Wisdom” can’t be given or gifted. It’s earned through experience.  Through living with the results of decisions made, both good and bad.  But the  wide eyed optimism, the energy, the nervous excitement…That can be recaptured.  It’s not the old me that needs to stop worrying about the future, but my current self that needs to practice living in the moment.  That last seat won’t be taken.  At least not for another 10 years.  I wonder what my future self would say to me now.  Ten years ago I could never have predicted where I’d be today.  Would not have even been in the ball park.  But the future is not for me to know.  Not yet, anyway.  The next chapter is  still to be written  with all possibilities still open.

We get up to leave, no need to really say anything.  But as this dream starts to fade,  I quickly turn to the younger me and say “Thanks…”  And as we part ways, I can’t help myself, and I quickly blurt out one bit of advice…”Hey…in 2011, watch out for that pot hole at mile 109 of the triathlon…it’s a bitch!”


back pain

One month. Actually one month three days to be exact since I did Ironman WI.  The physical stress on my body has passed and along with it most of the intensity behind the wave of emotions and excitement that followed.  Having finished the race on such a personal high, it left me like a meth addict craving for more. (Yep…been watching  Breaking Bad almost non-stop…almost done with season four!)   It took me all of a post-race shower, 3 slices of pizza on state street, and watching a parade of inspirational midnight finishers to start my brain spinning forward to 2014.  Visions of winter marathons and spring bicycle time trials filled my head as I wondered what building off this new level of fitness could bring!  Yoga and Pilates would help my congenital flexibility deficiency.  My nutritional focus would only continue to grow  into new realms of anti oxidant loaded foods. I even bought a packet of chipotle seitan to try.  Yeah me…the guy who lived on Burger King in High School and Taco Bell in college.  Those post race endorphins are pretty powerful stuff.

Although my brain was riding high, my 42 (soon 43) year old body had a different opinion of things.  It fired its first warning shot two weeks later after getting on my  bike.  A beautiful Saturday morning…perfect for riding. A little on the cool side but a great excuse to show off my new long sleeve “Ironman Finishers Jersey”.  Although I felt ready to rock and roll, my left knee took exception and stated so five minutes into the ride.  A “hiccup” I thought. Just a little more time. Only two weeks. I had earned some time off right?  A thirty minute run a few days later went fine.  And I was only a weekend away from getting back into my groove!

The second warning I failed to notice.  It was too subtle and only in hindsight did I recognize its signifance.  The neck and upper back strain that had been building up all week I tried to ignore. My ill fated mid-week yoga session (see  Disequlibrium) did not help and I shrugged it off before getting in the pool that Friday evening. 2500 yards later, a twinge under my right shoulder blade seemed reasonable for not having been in the water for 2 weeks.  I went to bed excited to set a 6am alarm (yeah…I know..6am and alarm when put together should never be associated with excitement).

My body decided though, at 4am, to make sure I paid appropriate attention as my upper back spasmed so bad breathing was painful. Despite the lack of oxygen currently making its way to my brain, the irony of the situation was not lost. Having just swum/biked /ran 140.6 miles three weeks earlier, I was now barely able to get out of bed, much less down the stairs to some Motrin and what I hoped was some left over flexiril.  I would spend the majority of the weekend moving only to change my position on the bed to find the least amount of strain and pain.

I now find myself on day twelve of “injury # 1” on my road to IM WI 2014.  One bike ride, a 30 minute run and 2500 yards in the pool and I’m already out of commission.  And with no workout to anchor me, I find myself having no reason to  pass on the Lou Malnati’s pizza, or the Ben and Jerry’s Pint of Ice Cream (Cinnamon Swirl…WOW!) or the Blue Moon / Sangria filled Happy Hour or the Fried Calamari or the Gyros or the… get the picture….Life has become one giant evolving buffet!

The inability to workout (versus the lack of desire)  is having a profound effect.  I often  grumble trying  to squeeze  in an hour swim on a busy midweek day. But I find with no workouts to focus on,  the  days seems to just evolve around me as opposed to being an active participant dictating how things will unfold.  Now no one will ever confuse me for an “organized” person. But it has become quite obvious my daily workouts provide more than just exercise. When trying to BALANCE a week of workouts, I am an expert on the 3 day weather forecast (optimizing running outside),  participate in laundry (gotta have my favorite clean running socks),  dishes are done (along with an array of water bottles and hydration systems), and the fridge is stocked with a better array of nutritionally dense (yet often odd looking) foods. Snacking gives way to prevent stomach cramps on the run.  Television takes a back seat to stretching.  Late night TV gives way to much needed sleep.

So, what have I learned? First, I miss working out. Its absence leave a void bigger than the hour or so it would have occupied.  It is my anchor…my center and helps me approach the rest of the week in a more BALANCED way.   Second, there is a mind/body struggle going on. My mind has visons of setting  personal bests and setting new records. My body is reminding me I’m no longer 21.  And for time being, the body is winning that struggle, making me RESET.  Reset the fitness gains I had made. Reset the confidence in what my body is capable of doing.  There are just under 11 months till Ironman 2014. It is both a long and short period of time. But I will start from the beginning.  Ill take the energy and enthusiasm of my “21” year old mind against my 42 year old body (along with some help from my sports medicine docs, physical therapists and ART/Chiropractors) and a large bottle of ibuprofen, as I start the journey again.

Building Blocks


buildong blocks WaterPolo

Its 9am Sunday morning and I’m standing on a humid pool deck staring across at the  blank faces of thirteen high school water polo players. Most of them I have never seen before and don’t have a clue as to their names. They are  looking back at me.  Sort of.  At least those that are not looking at their iphones or zoned out listening to music with their earbuds.  But they are MY players.. My team!  At least for today.  And I am wondering how I got myself in this situation.

About 18 hours earlier, the email came across my iphone.  “High School Water Polo Tournament Tomorrow!!!!!! Players Needed! Please respond ASAP!”  My son plays sporadically for a club team based out of a neighboring high school run by my friend Claire.  We have known each other for a few years having played on the same Master’s team.  I let her know my son is available if needed. The text that comes back says:

“yes needed! Also short a coach. Interested?”

I reflexively reply:

“NP” (text speak for No problem…learned that from my kids being the hip Dad that I am)

With visions of Bobby Knight or Phil Jackson swirling thru my head, I see myself challenging these currently “faceless” kids to play  above their ability. I’ll share my  years of knowledge, wisdom and love of the game, and they will  play beyond their years and bring home victory!

But what I see right now is nothing like the visions I had the day before. The team in my head was tall…REALLY TALL….and ripped!…Kind of like a bunch of Michael Phelps.   Lets just say this team was a bit more diverse.  From freshman to seniors,  5″3 to 6 feet tall the team was quite a mix of shapes and sizes. Three goalies (Three? How do I find playing time for three goalies?) And I don’t know the names of more than half the kids.  I had some sort of pre-game pep talk loosely planned in my head but right now I can’t get the attention  of the two kids listening to music.  With three minutes left to go before game time, I’m still trying to figure out a starting line up (when in doubt, go with seniority and the kids that have been there the longest) when the whistle blows to start..

Game 1 : As soon as the game begins, I’m in over my head. I’m trying to figure out who will be the first subs. Easy…first three on the bench (if only I knew their names).  Now I’m trying to figure out who will come out.   Figuring out who people are with a water polo cap on and half under water is hard enough, but when you don’t know their name to begin with, it becomes comedic. “you in the speedo…no..the other one..yeah you…sub out”  Not to mention there are two brothers Leo and Rodrigo who look quite similar and I will continue to confuse them for the rest of the tournament.  I find myself spending minutes figuring out substitutions instead of watching and offering any type of strategy (which seems to be desperately needed as we are quickly losing by quite a lage margin) It’s not till the half, that I have a chance to collect my few thoughts.  Now I have thirteen tired, frustrated and short of breath players looking at me for direction.  No zen like observations come to mind (thanks for nothing Phil) and yelling at them (coach Knight) doesn’t seem quite appropriate right now. Three…Three things. Somewhere I heard that the most a team can focus on are three things.

Ok guys…rough start…One, we are going to play a press defense.  Play them tight. Two, first option on offense, we go to the hole set. Three, get back on D quicker. Don’t watch the turnover..just get back on defense and help the goalie! Lets go.!”

Final Score 5-15.  Names memorized on team: 7 of 13 (but I knew four of them already)

GAME 2: Starts right after game 1. Starting line up is easy. Same as last game. I’ve got some sense of what my team can do. Who are the fast swimmers (or not so slow). Who can shoot, who is not playing defense.  I try to figure out how to keep at least 3-4 stronger players in while peppering in some of the more novice kids.  I’m still hampered by the “name” thing but at least I’m able to watch the game and finally able to offer some specific advice by the fourth quarter. We lose the game, but play them even for the last 6 minutes. And a bonus, I get to see my son score two goals!

Final Score 7-13  Names memorized: 10 of 13

Game 3:   After a 50 minute break, the team is ready for one last hurrah.  3 kids have left leaving me with 10 (unfortunately the three whose names I have not figured out are all still here…including Leo and Rodrigo).  A slight modification to the starting line-up and we are good to go.  Our defense is having some trouble with their huge hole set.  I modify to a foul and crash defense to adjust and it seems to work. Our counterattack is working and going into the last quarter we are down only  one goal.  I rest the strongest players for the first minute of the 4th. And when they come in, they are swimming hard.  We trade some goals and with 1:30 left  still trailing by one, I call time out.  The team swims over and now they are looking at me…I mean really looking at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do!  But this time, I know what to say.

We need the ball back! Switch back to a straight press defense.  No drop on the hole.  I want the defenders on the crown ready to counter.  They are tired. We are not!”

The defense holds, and Denilio has broken early for the counter. Our goalie makes a great pass to him and on the breakaway scores to tie the game!  Our defense holds up for the next minute and the game ends.

Final Score 12-12. Players names memorized 10/10.

The kids leave exhausted but excited to have improved and played a great competitive game and I’m feeling quite a bit better about my coaching prospects. My record is still 0-2-1 but ended on a positive note. Even better, I got to watch my son score 3 goals for the tournament.  And as I drive home to try and catch the second half of the bears game with my son, I think about how this fits with the big picture of BALANCE.

I wanted to be this dynamic coach who could teach, challenge and motivate right out the box. Just like I want to have this BALANCE. Now! Today!  I want to be that dad who has the boundless energy,  always knows the right thing to say to his wife and kids.  That team player at work but still home in time for an hour run before dinner.  I frankly sucked as a coach for the first game, just like last weekend was pretty horrible for any  BALANCE.   But after using the first two games as BUILDING BLOCKS,  I’ll leave it to the kids to say what kind of coach I was by the end.   And as I reflect back on THIS  weekend as a whole, it was certainly better than the prior.  There were some BUILDING BLOCKS here as well.  Family yoga on Saturday despite a bad back, making progress on redoing the upstairs bathrooms, coaching my son in the tournament, watching together the Bears lose to Detroit.  No major drama. In fact mostly mundane. But those are the BUILDING BLOCKS for sustainable balance. Not every weekend can be a family hike in Moab Utah or surfing in Hawaii.  Those don’t sustain BALANCE. They are fun and exciting and add flair and a dramatic backdrop. But its the smaller moments, that build off each other that add some depth and can act as an anchor. It does not happen in one game,  and as I’ve said before, not one weekend. But some of the pieces are already here and its time to start building off of them.




About a week ago I wrote my first blog about BALANCE. How I hope the journey to another Ironman triathlon will allow me to find more balance in life and continue to gain valuable insight.  So it was with enthusiasm I looked forward to my week. To throw myself into my family with visions of healthy home cooked meals shared while telling  stories of our busy days.  Mornings filled with pre dawn runs, before zipping to work  for another challenging day in the ICU.  A weekend started off with a crisp autumn morning bike ride, a family working together to clean a garage, a Badger and Bears football game to watch and get excited about. SO much opportunity to actively pursue QUALITY time with my family and friends.

So in the movies, a song would play in the background and slowly build to a crescendo as these events occur one after another, as everyone smiles and the energy is flowing. The dinner meal is eaten, the run is done with the sun rising in the background.  A life saved in the ICU followed by some dramatic cinematography of  trees whizzing by as I shift gears and fly on my bicycle. The garage now immaculate as we work together to sweep the last bits of dust off the garage floor, culminating in a Badger and Bears wins with my son and I high-fiving each other over another touchdown.  That is the movies. Reality is quite different.

No meal was cooked. Franky I don’t think I made it to the grocery store.  I passed out most evenings before 9pm. Didn’t make it to water polo at night and was too tired to drag myself out of bed to run in the am.  I barely made it to work on time and was running behind all day trying to keep my head above water.  I don’t think any life was dramatically saved, but there was plenty of drama at my office between partners as we struggle with an uncertain future in healthcare.  My knee was in so much pain after 15 minutes on the bike, I was forced to turn back by my riding partner. The garage is the same as it ever was. My teen-age son and I are barely talking after a rough weekend and I think I saw my daughter for about an hour sandwiched between  birthday party sleep overs and midnight bat-mitzvahs.  The Badgers and Bears were the only things that followed the script!

So, as this week started, I hoped to find some saving grace.  Something to help me find my center. To be an anchor to the DISEQUILIBRIUM I am currently feeling.  And there it was…..YOGA!  For years I have contemplated this.  First I am the LEAST flexible person I know. Seriously, I can barely touch my knees much less my toes.  My hamstrings I think stopped growing when I was 12, but my legs continued  until college leaving me with some serious flexibility issues. It has been one of my biggest limiters  to training  over the last several years and has led to many of my injuries.  But even more hopeful, was this mind/body/balance thing I’ve heard of with yoga. The breathing, focusing, inner reflection part that seems just perfect for what I’m trying to achieve.  So it is with some trepidation along with some hopeful enthusiasm, I signed up for my first session with Dahn Yoga uptown. I was  scheduled for an orientation 20-30 minutes early, to help me “assimilate” into the class.  So after a crazy day at work, with major tension working its way into my upper back and my right hamstring and hip flexor already in a knot, I race home, change clothes, and jump back into the car and head to the studio.   Let’s just say the drive over was the highlight of the experience. I’m not sure my writing can do justice to the next hour and half.  But I will try.

After walking in at 6:30 (for a 7pm class), I briefly meet the Yoga Master (nice man, mid 30’s, obligatory goatee and loose fitting clothes). I receive my orientation pamphlet to read as he disappears into a room. Five minutes later I’m done with orientation and have 25 minutes I guess to kill. I’m now in a “lobby” with numerous books (energy particles, Chakras, mind/body connection).  Then my eyes seize on a small “globe” of the earth floating above a mirrored base. Literally floating. I realize it must be a magnet (smart guy that I am).  I watch it spin and think what a perfect metaphor in front of me for BALANCE as this globe slowly rotates, perfectly centered defying gravity floating above the base. After a few minutes I can’t help myself. I must touch it. Feel it. Appreciate its balance!  So as I touch this perfectly BALANCED globe; THUNK!  The magnet has now pulled the globe onto the base, making a noise that echoes through the studio.  I’ve have literally just unbalanced the Earth.  I look around. No one is there. Quickly I try and separate the Earth globe from the base. I try to float it above just like I found it.. THUNK!! Again that magnetic thing. Now I look around for the hidden camera that must be somewhere aimed on me. I start to sweat. It’s 6:50. The “master” is bound to check on me (or the loud noise coming from the lobby) and people will soon be arriving for class. A few more tries and a few more THUNKs and I realize this is hopeless.  I can’t balance my own life at the moment, no way I can balance the Earth. I leave it pinned at an awkward but hopefully not too noticeable angle and quickly sit back down and await further instruction.

But further instruction never comes. As 7 pm rolls around, about 15 people stroll in, take off their shoes and head to the studio room in the back. The master still seems to be indisposed to either orient me or check out strange noises from the lobby, so I finally head to the studio myself.  What follows over the next hour could not have been further from what I have pictured as a yoga class in my head.  Now, I’m sure not all yoga involves warrior poses, downward dog stretches, and chanting with the legs crossed. However, hitting myself in the stomach for a 10 minute warm up, followed by jumping jacks and running in place for another 10 is not what I had envisioned. But I was  still hopeful we were going to work on some awesome pose that will loosen up my hamstrings or work on my knotted back.  But I’m teased by another 10 minute block of balancing on one foot with my eyes open and closed.  Then, there  are about 10 minutes  of some mild stretching where I start to think, this is it…Warrior pose here I come!  But then some Enya like new age music starts up and we are told to close our eyes and “feel” the music and “listen” to our own “rhythm” and move to the “voice” inside our bodies. Over and over the master tells us to just listen to ourselves.  I can’t help but open my eyes and peek. There is probably some bad yogi karma that I have just cursed myself with but I don’t care. 15 people are all moving to their own unique “beat” as there really is not much of one in new age music. All the time MY voice is telling me to “move” next door to Subway and Starbucks for a 6 inch  veggie sub and a Venti Americano.  Class wraps up with 5 minutes of breathing while lying flat on my back, and I’m still left with tight hamstrings, a sore back, an unbalanced Earth in the lobby and a craving for a Subway sub!

So, what have I learned over the last several days? What insight have I gained. First, life at the moment is not quite balanced. I would call it a state of DISEQUILIBRIUM.  The balance though I am looking for is not going to come by forcing it all into a weekend, or captured by taking  a yoga class.  It’s going to be through a process. Two weeks of minimal conversation with my son is not made up over a three hour Bear’s game. And one family dinner does not counteract evenings glued to our smart phones.  But a good weekend can be a building block  for more meaningful conversations and interactions  during the week.  Better BALANCE is going to come through persistence and consistency not by “crash forced family weekends” and definitely not by listening to Enya and finding my inner rhythm.  So, DISEQUILIBRIUM 1, BALANCE 0  is this weeks score, but I’m playing the long game on this one.