The Lake is as full as I have seen it in years. It will be millpond still on such a beautiful calm morning. But I can’t go paddling. Today is day 02 of my Xelox Treatment. Last night I served ice cream and peaches as I chatted to a friend of mine on the phone. I casually popped a spoonful of ice cream into my mouth and was instantaneously reminded of the warnings against ice cream. Razorblades? Not quite, but close enough. No drinks from the refrigerator either, and beware of cold generally. I’ll just have to sleep in to avoid the frosty mornings, damn. No cold showers and especially don’t fall in the lake. So now I know I have one side effect. That makes me a lucky man, if it’s the only one. No paddling for two weeks, is no serious threat to my equanimity. Xelox; side effects; cold sensitivity; paddling; how I learnt to breathe. That was my train of thought, which brought me to this metaphorical expression of one way in which I cope with my illness, such as it is. I say this because my illness, lucky me, is internal. I can’t see it, it hasn’t slowed me down, it has brought me pain but morphine silently erases that. For six years I have been aware that I am not right inside, but I could hardly describe it as an illness. The exception is the down-time I have spent being prodded, scanned and probed and the inevitable medical interventions. I am a lucky duck, and I do count my blessings. Now to the breathing part. This is ideally carried out under blue sky conditions, to gain the best effect. That’s not to say, that less than ideal, is a waste of time. When I took to ‘paddling’ in 1997, I fell in the water a lot. I am talking about flat water kayaking. On that first Saturday morning, surrounded by my family in little flimsy kayaks, I fell in five times. I asked the instructor how many times you have to fall in before you get your balance. He replied; “Oh, about five times”. That was enough for me, who had fallen in four times more than the rest of the family combined, to be the only one who presented keen as mustard on the following Saturday morning. It was this time of year, and the water was very cold. I paddled with a passion. He lied about the five times, but I was undeterred and before the end of the year I was flirting with the K1 boats, fast but tippy. Not called tippy for no reason, and it took another nine months of falling out of them before my balance finally clicked and I could consider racing, the Club’s main activity. Now to the breathing part. I was never a sprinter. Good for the long haul. Either way I had little experience in my fifty years of racing anywhere. But I learned fast that if I was to be in any type of race I had to get this sprinting sorted. Race after race left me puffing and panting. As fit I was, it just was not happening. A more friendly bunch of sportsmen than canoeists you will hardly ever meet, and they are the first to tell you so. Very cliquey. If there was a secret to this sprinting bit, no one was telling me. I was a bit old to take the coaches interest; passed it, you might say, but I was determined. Sprint start, after sprint start, one cough and I was gone. Left dropping behind the field gasping for air trying to catch up. Now I come to the breathing. One cold morning I lined up for a training start and I started breathing. Not hyperventilating, but thirty seconds of concentrated filling of my lungs with air. Off the line my usual feeling of panic was abated, and I continued on breathing a little faster than I needed to. Half way down the course I notice I am ahead, this does not happen. I continue mindfully to pull the air into my lungs. I cough, I splutter, nothing happens, I don’t lose momentum, I just continue my conscious breathing. The oxygen I need is now slightly in advance of what I require, with the end in sight I pick up my pace and my energy needs suck up my last reserve of oxygen before I go into debt. This doesn’t matter because I have crossed the finish line. For or five deep breaths brings me back to normal breathing and I am being circled by my truly bewildered training partners. “What was that all about?” they gasped. “I just learned how to breathe, that’s all”. Of course they all said, how come it took me so long to work that out. It was the same later, with taking on ‘rocket fuel’ to drink in marathon races. I thought they were only drinking water! Consuming rocket fuel is more obvious, I suppose, but the breathing, I claim as my own. It changed my paddling instantly and forever. That lesson stays in my mind, and I apply it whenever I see an opportunity. Now I am float in a new medium, my illness, sucking in oxygen; information and resources in this case, ahead of when I need it helps me not to panic, I can see where I am going to avoid the stumbling blocks. The end is not in sight in this race, but at least, I feel I am in control. I maintain my equilibrium, and my equanimity and I do the best I can with the resources I am given. It’s all about information and finding the people out there who want to pass it on to you. There are heaps of them. And don’t forget the breathing.
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