I have the best job in the world. Not only is it the top of the most desirable healthcare jobs, but it is the most rewarding, challenging job I can imagine. My job, is to re-unite people with their bodies. Through touch, movement, challenge, failure and success, my clients (not patients, too passive, too hierarchical) my team-mates, bare their pain to me, expose their weaknesses, and then together, we work to rebuild. A Physical Therapist by profession, I am an athlete at heart. I grew up in a houseful of competitive swimmers, challenging each other to duels in the pool, around the dinner table, in the garden, the ocean, the sitting-room. As kids, we raced to eat more toast at breakfast, and faster, than the next sibling, to be the first to the new pots of yoghurt in the fridge after “the shopping” on Fridays, to see the lighthouse at Hook Head before anyone else did as we drove to our family retreat. I can recognize the need for success and achievement in the highest level athlete, but also in the oldest and most frail of my clients, who in their day, have pounded out the miles, climbed the highest hills and carried extra-ordinary loads.
Every Memorial Day weekend, I struggle with the occasion in my adopted country. Apart from training with and working with some great soldier athletes in my adopted country, I have not had the military close to my family experience. While I was born into a tradition of a thousand years of historic battle with British oppression, I did not grow up in a country with a warring culture. While the label “fighting Irish” is often applied to me and mine, it is a label of personal experience, not group warfare. I grew up fighting my own personal battles in the neighborhood, in the swimming pool, then in the “North”, in Belfast as a minority small c- catholic in university. In my youthful experience, the “army” was the F.C.A., a volunteer force who trained in the muddy fields with ancient weapons, and colloquially labeled the “Free Clothes Association” as they got a uniform and boots upon signing. I have been slowly exposed to American soldiers over the years, through my practice as a physical Therapist. Their injuries have needed attention, and I see them as athletes coping with return to mainstream life, and as challenged athletes returning to sporting battles and assisting others to do so. I can count on one hand though, the WWII vets who are still around to tell their tales. My exposure to these amazing people has not softened my feelings on war, but rather, has exposed me to the human element of war. I identify with these soldiers through my experience with rehabilitation and sport, and their experience with pursuit of goals, as a part of a team.
This weekend, right in the middle of my crazy holiday weekend schedule, I had a bike-fit / PT session with my friend and LLV athlete’s parents. 87-year-old Clare had injured her pelvis in a dreadful bike crash in Tuscany 3 summers prior. Her 90-year-old husband Dick had been rushing around the area, having all kinds of difficulty locating the hospital, then realizing that it was the same town that he had bombed 70 years prior. A young bomber pilot, he had been around this world a while, coming full circle from his days as a ferocious pilot, to deliver his injured wife to the care of the local Italian doctors, having difficulty locating it in the Italian mountains, north of Milan. Then as now. He laughed, I think, at the irony, pushed the Oakley glasses back on his forehead, and sat back on the plyobox. “Make sure she has homework to do” he said. “We have a century ride to train for and we are only doing 100 miles a week right now with that hip of hers.”
These too, are my athletes. As much as my track group, my marathoners, my triathletes, my crossfitters, my tough-mudder competitors, these older warriors have been there, done that. I have only an inkling into their memories and lives as members of the military, but I can absolutely identify with them as members of my athlete tribe. I know that they have been disciplined in their training and worked as a team. They have been focused on goals and overcome obstacles. I am graced to be a part of their continued progress forward, and look forward to assisting them with the next challenge ahead. A century bike ride, picking up a grandchild off the floor, or simply being able to get out of bed independently, I have the privilege of being a part of this journey with these great warriors, fighting to make every day good, strong, healthy and meaningful.
Did I mention that I love my job?