When you least expect someone to change your life, it happens.
My client of 14 years, Greg O’Quin, called me and basically told me to call his best friend to see about training him. GULP. I have nothing but respect for Greg, so (ya’ll know how I feel about phone calls) I called him…
He told me the wonderful things Greg had told him about training with me. He then went on to tell me about his medical history, his recovery, his concerns and what he could and could not accomplish in his physical capacity. I sat quietly listening to a broken man. There was no way I was not finding him a spot on my roster. This was going to be a challenge, but I was ready and willing.
On our first impression date, Bill was timid, resistant, apprehensive and challenged. My goal was to get him out of his comfort zone and earn his trust. “I can help you but you have to allow the process to work.” He began to relax and comfortably work in directions I pushed him.
Not long after, I would see him getting a little “froggy” and balancing with no hands, almost skipping with leg cross overs, stepping with no assistance, pushups, squats, rowing, cycling and so much more. You see, I wasn’t helping Bill, he was helping himself. His confidence was exceeding my expectations. His will to live big was coming to life. His love of physical activity was more than it had been in years.
Bill taught karate for over 40 years. He has all kinds of fancy names for moves and kicks and punches. I’m lost most of the time but his story telling is captivating…
Karate was his life. He was telling about these “kata” sequences he performed before he got sick. His face just lit up when he spoke about it. He said, “I’m going to do one for you one day.” “With certainty Bill, I know you will”. That day came sooner than later. He said, “I think I’m ready”. His stare confident, his form still sharp, his balance with pivot turns, his one-legged kicks, and the poise of any sensei, Bill completed it. There are no words to describe my heart at that moment. I had tears streaming down my face (as I do now). I witnessed a broken man be brought back to life. What an incredible moment it was. Since then, I have been fortunate to see more kata movements (and cried every time).
This is was perseverance and determination look like. Bill Hathorn is a gift. His life is a testament of what can be achieved in the worst times. It’s never too late to get your life back or to show off your kata moves. Age is no factor.
He is something special and I look forward to seeing his chipper self 3x a week. Be bold and be ready for anything when I get a hold of you.PS. Bill fought Chuck Norris… I KNOW RIGHT!
Stay Strong, Mitzi
WHEREIN I SING THE PRAISES OF ONE MITZI FAIRBANKS by Bill Hathorn
I’d like to give a shout-out to Mitzi by telling you where I’ve been and how far I’ve come with her help. The last couple of years or so, have been, I dunno, not a lot of fun? In December of 2017 I fell and broke my hip. While in rehab, I rolled over in bed one night and it broke again. Then I developed pneumonia and flat-lined. That was kinda a bad start to a bumpy ride. In early 2018 I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma—a form of bone cancer that causes the bones to be soft and brittle. It’s in a dormant stage, but I travel to the University of Arkansas Medical Science Center in Little Rock every 3 months for tests and treatments and visit my oncologist here in Alexandria once a month for tests and shots. During one of these visits to Arkansas in the spring of 2018, during a routine MRI, I was found to have 6 compression fractures in my lower back. It seems the cancer had weakened my bones without me knowing it and the pain had gotten pretty severe. It was also around this time that I developed Peripheral Neuropathy in my lower legs. In April of 2019, I had an amazing surgery—Kyphoplasty (or Vertebroplasty) to repair two of the vertebrae.
In June of 2019, Dr. Jeffrey Garrison discovered I had a torn meniscus in my left knee. During the examination, he found that I have what he calls a non-functioning PCL—posterior crucial ligament. You’ve heard of athletes tearing their ACL? Well, the PCL is the ligament behind the knee that stabilizes it. I didn’t even know I HAD a PCL, and then to discover I did—only it didn’t function got me sorta indignant on myself and Dr. Garrison. Mine just doesn’t work. You can hold my shin bone and actually just roll it around in the socket. It’s not pretty to watch and likely not fun to read about either but that’s how to best describe it. ( I spent 15 years as a catcher in baseball, over 40 years studying and teaching karate, and a helluva lot of time walking up and down mountains and maybe that combination has taken its toll.) At any rate, at my age —68 and counting, an operation is not an option. So, he went ahead and repaired the meniscus and that was no big deal—6 weeks of therapy to rehab it. But something else happened. For the year or so prior to this surgery I had been pretty much confined to a bed or a wheelchair—and I had to actually be lifted into the wheelchair. I also required 24-hour care, 7 days a week. After 6 weeks of rehab, I had graduated to a walker(Oh, happy day!) and so, on my follow up visit with Dr. Garrison, we decided to continue the therapy for six more weeks, and then 4 more weeks after that—all to strengthen my quads to improve stabilization in my left knee.
In the span of 6 months, I had had back surgery, knee surgery, and 4 months of therapy. The therapy was positive for me –except for two things: 1) We worked only my lower body the entire time and, 2) It was mind-numbingly repetitive. For four months I did the same 20 or so exercises 45X/day, an hour/day, 3 days a week with almost zero variation.
OK, so now I’m done with the rehab/therapy, am definitely feeling progress, am getting around (barely) with a walker, and figuring this is about the best it’s going to get for me. But I didn’t want to resign myself to that, didn’t want to back-slide, and decided to look into some other options—one of which was a gym not far from my house.. I figured I’d need a personal trainer to show me around and get me started but maybe for no longer than a month. I had no idea what I was getting into. Greg O’Quin is a life-long friend of mine who, through all of this, had been supporting and encouraging me every step of the way. He knew that the two things I missed most in life were fly fishing and travelling. Our idea was that, if I could continue to show improvement in my mobility, I could travel to Colorado and fish with him on some of the many rivers I’d come to love there. We went over my idea of the gym, the fact that I didn’t want to backslide from what I’d accomplished, and he said he had a trainer he’d been seeing for about 14 years (who was, truth be told, as much of a mental therapist as a personal trainer). He said her name was Mitzi Fairbanks, she kept it interesting, and he’d give her a call.
After a few days of phone tag, I actually got to speak with her, and we scheduled a meet-up for the following Monday. I CAN SAY, WITH NO RESERVATION WHATSOEVER, THAT THAT PHONE CALL CHANGED MY LIFE AND MY OUTLOOK ON WHAT MY LIFE COULD BE. At that first meet-and-greet, I gotta say I was pretty skeptical. I went over with her all the same stuff I just wrote about here—maybe in the back of my mind kinda half-way thinking (hoping?) I would scare her off. She just looked at me and, I swear, the girl never batted an eye. [In truth (and in hindsight) I think she was sorta eyeing me like some rough piece of stone (or more likely balsa wood) that would give her plenty of opportunities to test her mettle—both as a personal trainer and as a person.] She had a confidence about her that was bordering on, but not quite, smugness— like she was already saying to herself—Yeah, I got this! Now don’t get me wrong—I liked this but, if I’m being honest, she was a tad on the scary side—kinda like a mad scientist wringing her hands at the opportunity to see just what she could do with such a sad, pitiable specimen, all the time her mind racing ahead of itself. If you know Mitzi, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But I did have a couple of concerns. One that we would train only 2X/week. The other was that we’d only go for 30 minutes a pop. This didn’t seem quite enough. She soothed my doubts on the first one by agreeing to work me into her schedule for a 3X/week routine. And after the first 30 minutes of the first session, I was easily convinced that 30 minutes would be just fine, a gracious plenty, thank you very much! Within 10 minutes of the first workout I knew I had found the perfect person for what I needed. We’ve been on a happy roll ever since—well, happy for me at least. Well, MOSTLY happy for the two of us at least. There was, in fact, the one time she damn near ended what had been, by all accounts, a pretty good relationship. We approached a station where she rigged up two straps with handles on them. That would have been fine but she took it a step further. Instead of having me hold onto both handles and pull myself up from about a 45 degree angle, she looped one handle into the other and had me try it with one arm. I was feeling all cocky about myself, thinking she had the confidence in me that I could even attempt this when one handle slipped out of the other and sent me sprawling half-way across the gym! I lived to tell the tale but, I have to say, it’s taken a while for her to regain all that confidence we’d worked so hard for. In truth, I was barely rattled. She, on the other hand, decided I needed a break while she composed herself and vowed never to go back to that machine again. Not ever! (Hell, now that I think about it, I can’t say if we’ve even stepped foot in that PART of the gym since then though I could be wrong about that.) There are many, many great things about training with her—her confidence, her encouragement, her patience(!), her enthusiasm, passion, knowledge, communication skills, support, cheerfulness, and her honesty. But one of the biggest things is her crazy creativity. Every time we approach a machine, I chuckle to myself wondering what in the world she’s going to use if for. I mean most times a particular piece of equipment has an obvious purpose. I mean you jump with a rope, throw a ball, lift a weight, push on this, pull on that, right? But it’s a rare day when she uses ANYTHING for its intended and clear purpose. And rarely, if ever, do we do the same thing twice from one session to the other. She absolutely delights herself in finding inventive ways to get more uses out of the most ordinary looking tool in the gym. I’ll look at her and say, “This really wasn’t intended for this exercise was it?” She’ll get this grin on her face and say,” Probably not. So?” And off we go as I dutifully agree to pretty much whatever she tells me.
I swear there are least a dozen pieces of equipment that we’ve visited at least a half-dozen times each, that we still haven’t used for their original purpose—for what the designers actually intended them for. (But, if I’m being honest, I’ve come to the conclusion she really has no clue as to what at least half the machines were intended for in the first place and is just making things up as we go along.) There are a couple of downsides to training with her though: She has a nasty habit of saying “OK. You’re done”, when I know damn well we’ve only been at it 10-maybe 12 minutes tops, and she’s sure enough cheated me out of a good part of my allotted (and paid good money for) time. And I realize it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m not going to make the cover of GQ this spring as she’s promised (more than once!). That’s just some sort of cruel little joke she likes to play but I go along with it. It seems to make her happy and that’s OK too even if it comes at my expense. And while I might not make the cover of GQ this spring (or next, or ever), I AM going fly fishing in Arkansas in a few weeks and I AM travelling to Colorado to fish with Greg this summer! And I AM cooking for friends, showering without help, grocery shopping, walking my dog, driving myself to appointments, and doing so many of the little things that we all take for granted until we can’t do them. And I owe all of this to Mitzi.
One last thing: In karate there are these things called kata. They are increasingly difficult sequences of pre-arranged moves addressing different responses to actual fighting scenarios. They take varying degrees of balance, strength, flexibility, and coordination –each of which I’ve been totally devoid of these past years. Early on I had told Mitzi about katas and told her that if I could only get to the point where I could do just one of the most basic, beginner kata all the way through, I would feel like myself again. Well, one day, after doing some balance drills that reminded me of one, I showed her Naihanchi Shodan. I looked over at her and I’ll be damned if the girl wasn’t crying. A few days later I showed her another, slightly more advanced one. She cried again. Now if that doesn’t make her something very, very special, you’d be hard-pressed to tell me what does. While I might never make the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly, what Mitzi has given me is more than enough. Way, way more. And it’s more than I could have hoped for.
And, to be sure, one day I’ll perform an advanced black belt kata for her. That should REALLY set her off! And I might just bring her a trout from the Eagle River in Colorado!