Dad, Ted Czekaj, and Deadlifts

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Some can't understand why a grown man, or anyone for that matter, would voluntarily do something like dead lifts. Most people have never considered pulling dead weight from the ground as a way to test and strengthen their being. 
With anxiety high, spine ratcheted oak stiff, hand calluses ripping, and the tune of multiple weight plates clanging off the floor, dead lifts are more than a total body exercise. They literally raise the body from walking dead; ascending from the can'ts and use'tas and leaky toilets and work schedule and Roth IRA and six varieties of cream cheese and a zillion other things that may be important but mean little in the moment.

As if you don't have time. As if jogging miles on end is somehow so much better for you. I know many legitimate "as ifs." This is for anyone interested in how I came to the truth about dead lifts.

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It's in my blood.

My father was a beast. Lightening fast 220 pounders were exceptionally rare among high school athletes in the late 60's. He passed up offers from DI college football programs (most notably PSU) in order to sign as the 1970 first round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins.

Numerous times, men in dad's age bracket would come up to me as an adolescent telling tales of glory days. The exchange typically went something like this:

"Hey, you're Bobby Gorinski's boy," sizing me up, clearly unimpressed with my 6'1", 160 lb frame.

Small head nod, "uh, yeah."

After the awkward pause often came a personal testimony about the one that dad hit off the scoreboard at Forbes or over the trees behind left field at Shaft. Middle aged men have actually stiff-armed me in the chest as they recounted being pancaked while trying to make an open field tackle on Oldbobbygorinski.

I gave more head nods and smiles. How else do you respond? "Yep, you really got flattened" never seemed appropriate.

I bit on sports before I could talk, and have been involved with athletics for all of my life. I've always done fine, but nothing near the level of dad. Nobody posted a wikipedia entry about my athletic career.

Despite all the stories I've heard and what I've read on-line and in old newspaper clippings, I've never actually seen dad in action. I've been inspired by him, for sure, but not in the way of modeling.

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Enter Ted Czekaj (pronounced check-eye). He was a different kind of stand-out. When I was an impressionable freshman hooper, he was a cool senior and starting point guard. Ted was somewhere around 5' 10" with a very average build. He could handle the ball and shoot pretty well. But let me tell you that


Ted was intensity.

You could tell that the world disappeared when he stepped on the court. He outplayed guys with twice his strength or "natural" talent because he reserved nothing.  That scene also stands out in my mind; Ted gasping for air, eyes bulging, face like a mercury thermometer about to explode, making a steal here, diving after the ball there, fighting through screens, and setting up a teammates all over the court.

Here's an important thing: Ted didn't scurry out of control like a drama king for personal attention. He always operated with a cool head. On and off the court he was disciplined, respectful, and kind, even to freshman nerds. While underachieving peers mocked Ted, I watched him, identified with him.

Ted taught my first lessons in doing something wholeheartedly. Doesn't every success comes attached to a long line of "begets?"

That feeling of all-out commitment and Terminator-like oblivion to care and pain - I saw that it was good. I did carry the ethic and attitude of Ted through high school hoops, to the tune of about 900 career points. From there I took it to the classroom, finishing first in the Slippery Rock classes of 1998 (undergraduate) and 2001 (PT school).

Dad was proud of me.

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But there's something about the sweat. Anything wholehearted without sweat is at least a step removed from intensity. You simply don't sweat the same in classrooms and PT clinics. Well, not usually. That's why a day or two per week this middle aged man needs to go Czekaj mad on the basketball court. Or preferably, when recovery allows, I work things out with the iron in my basement.

I have no idea who this is, but she's awesome.
I need to strain against something.

Life is still a mystery far beyond my control. And sports have far too many variables to recon with. But I'm given a say in resistance, sets, reps, and resolve. For a little while, anyway. I swear that if I couldn't strain against weights I would carry buckets of water or lift growing farm animals or work the earth by foot. Which is basically what dad does for his physical and mental health.

Ted? I haven't seen him for almost 20 years. I have no idea where he is or what he's done with his life. But I'm sure, certain even, that if he's still around, he's doing quite well.

And here I sit, forever inspired by Ted and others who remind me of him; here still with dad's blood but not his size or talent, obsessed with physical performance, quite possibly because I never achieved what he did. This is the path that's led me to the sweet spot between plates of heavy iron, to a rite and ritual that has also shaped me in ways that matter.

Wide(ish) shoulders, functional strength, and favorable blood counts are but side effects. How many days will I be given to do dead lifts? I often can't understand how anyone lives without them

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A Spin on Vertigo

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Breathe deeply and brace hard. The chance of sudden heaving, volatile twisting, and terror is 100 percent. Hersheypark and its employees are not responsible for lost or stolen items, including items that fall out of pockets.

People drive great distances, stand on pavement for hours under the blistering sun, and pay large sums for this.

But the experience is not so great while rolling over in bed or putting on shoes. Positional Vertigo (PV) is all the terror of Hershey Park's best (or worst) brought to the comfort of your own home. It's a specific type of spinning, nauseous misery. The symptoms usually worsen with movement of the head but in severe cases may also occur while at rest.

Since treatment for feeling horribly sick and dizzy often involves specific methods that make you horribly sick and dizzy, it helps to have some understanding of what's going on.

Inside the temporal bones just behind each ear is a small organ called the vestibular labyrinth. This includes three fluid filled canals that are lined with very fine hair cells. Head rotation causes the fluid to create a waving motion of the hair cells, which in turn send signals to the brain. Specialized portions of the labyrinth contain small crystals that are sensitive to horizontal and vertical movement.

Yes, you do have rocks in your head.

To appreciate the almost unbelievable design of the vestibular system, simply roll your head in a moderate size arc of movement while reading this. For every degree of head movement, the eye muscles reflexively create a precise, equal and opposite amount of eye movement. Don't take it for granted that the letters remain in focus and your lunch in your stomach.

For a variety of reasons, the crystals can become dislodged and make the hair cells in the canals hyper sensitive. You and the house are not really moving, of course. The vestibular system sends signals to the brain that are in conflict with what the eyes are seeing. Suddenly the couch is a thrill ride, far worse than any amusement engineer could imagine.

It's difficult to say exactly why this happens. Problems often begin after a severe cold or prolonged period of bed rest. Other times the vertigo occurs with Meniere's disease, following trauma to the head, or as a general deterioration of the vestibular system in older populations.  

While positional vertigo literally stops people in their tracks, it's rarely serious except for increasing the chance of falls. The condition tends to disappear within six to twelve months, but the chance of reoccurrence is 30 percent. Medications that lessen nausea help buy some time but do not directly target dysfunction of the vestibular system.

Of course there is a "spin" to this! There's no need to grin and bear the debilitating discomfort for six or more months, hoping for the best. Trained physical therapists are able to help confirm whether or not the problem is truly a vestibular dysfunction as opposed to a wide range of other issues that cause people to "feel dizzy."

Interventions broadly fall into two categories. Moving the head through a specific sequence is thought to cause repositioning of the crystals in the vestibular canals. Side effects of this treatment for dizziness include dizziness. But only for a minute, or more precisely, 5 to 30 seconds. Accommodation exercises are thought to recalibrate the vestibular system and strengthen the mind's sense of equilibrium.

Treatments are often successful within two days to two weeks. Really - this is the closest thing to a quick fix that physical therapists offer. We may test your balance, your ability to turn quickly, look high and low, and send you back to normal life. Whether or not that includes bearing The Claw with a grin is up to you.



aches and prayers

"Do you hear it?"

Ryan's stands teetering on his left leg as I lower an ear toward his right knee. A group of children slow their way through the church lobby, watching me listen to Ryan bend and straighten, bend and straighten, bend and straighten his knee. 

"Seems like your kneecap is slipping over the edge of the femur."

I don't have ears to diagnose a creek from a pop. But I do know what problems are typically exposed when the knee is locked straight with the foot off the ground.

"So what should I do?"

I pause, thinking hard, not about functional anatomy. I'm usually glad, even honored to try and help. But in the past I've assumed too much, ready to talk biomechanics when friends and family are just looking for low pitched "hmmms" and common sense advice.

I'm not sure what's behind the noisy knee. Kneecaps grind unevenly on femurs all the time for various reasons. If I had knowledge of a fool proof technique or set of instruction that would immediately relieve the misery of a dear friend, by all means, I'd eagerly share that.

But getting to the root of any matter takes time. We must prod, strain, and explore what precipitates the problem. We have to check strength and mobility at the foot, ankle, and hip. Then we scrutinize the details of basic activities like walking and squatting. And that's just the evaluation. Correcting the issue usually takes time. It's an investment, never without effort, rarely a simple matter of "in" versus "out," crack, clunk, and you're all fixed.

Oh, right. Ryan is still in front of me, waiting out my though pause with a look of expectation.

"Do you want to take a few minutes to look at the details?"

"Or maybe, hmmm, you should rest and take it easy for a few days."
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I don't blame anyone for not wanting to go there - with all the detailed investigation. I'm pretty sure that I've done this in my prayer life. I'd like simple clarity on an issue. Some specific instructions or divine intervention would be nice.

Or would it? It just seems so...improbable...that the full complexity of any life issue can be holistically addressed by a simple, pain free granting. How are we to be reformed by quick answers and miraculous fixes? I'm not saying God can't, or that we shouldn't bring our concerns before him. Who am I to tell anyone how to pray? But it does seem that a shift in emphasis is in order.

Ugh. Who has time for all the self examination, the seeking, the deliberate waiting and watching as things unfold? Who wants all the prodding of sensitive areas when a knee brace and some ibuprofin may do the trick?

Who brings themselves still and quiet before the Lord with no agenda? Who humbly listens and prays for patience and the ability to be at peace while actually engaging the uncertainties, challenges, and pains of real living?

  Anyone who can do this - they might move mountains.

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