Respect your body

Have you ever sacrificed your body for the sake of something else? Putting yourself in harm’s way so something else doesn’t get broken. This seems to be quite common place in sports, but I think it extends beyond just the arenas.

Recently I was helping a friend move and we were doing our best to keep the furniture from getting banged up. He said, “Don’t let the furniture hit the wall, but don’t worry about banging your fingers, they grow back”. I assured him that I haven’t found that to be the case and after he apologized profusely the shelving unit made it into the condo. I didn’t take it as a slight; in fact, we had quite a few laughs at my friend’s expense because his embarrassment was quite obvious.

One of my site visitors (Tom Quick) commented that at a trade show recently and he observed a number of workers who knowingly sacrifice their body because their health coverage is good and they aren’t concerned since the pain and discomfort are short term. This reasoning seems very odd, but once again I am able to draw on an example from my past.

This story takes place in Northern Saskatchewan in the Churchill River System. I had the privilege of taking an eager group of Grade 10’s to Northern Saskatchewan five times during my tenure as the Industrial Arts Teacher in Balcarres. We had a four hour paddle east of Missinipe to get to a gorgeous location known as Robertson Falls. The main part of the falls are quite beautiful and had about a 20 foot drop over about 50 feet. I had always been intrigued by white water since taking a trip in my 20’s to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, Ontario.

Although I’d never known anyone to jump into Robertson Falls the one year we were there it looked too enticing not to try. I spent time carefully surveying the situation before I jumped in, but with so much water my potential journey really was an unknown. With my lifejacket on I decided to jump in above the falls and the water began to carry me. Slowly the current took over and there came a point I knew there was no turning back. The first part of the falls saw two parts of the lake above coming together to form a major shoot of water down the center of the falls. Since there seemed to be so much water this was the part of the falls that I positioned myself to take. A gnawing voice inside me stated that the water wasn’t shooting out because of the clash of the water, but because of the rocks underneath, the problem was I was fully committed.

I was moving faster and faster as I came to the precipice of the falls. Then in one swoop I felt like I was completely vacuumed up and I descended the first part of the falls … what a complete rush! The power of the water moved me like I was so irrelevant and insignificant. It was so smooth and seemed like my worries were completely unfounded. Making it to the bottom of the first section I found the shoot of water started to pull me under … holding my breath and attempting to reach the surface panic started to set in. Thousands of gallons rushed all around me pulling me further down the falls and seemingly further under water. Kicking and pulling upwards it seemed the water had no intention of bringing me to the surface. This was taking place over seconds, but it seemed time had slowed right down so I could get a true sense of the gravity of my decision.

Suddenly the current spit me to the surface and in great relief and elation I consumed as much air as I could in order to continue my journey. I began to enjoy my adventure once again as I bobbed further down the falls which were now really more like rapids. There was another turn up ahead and I needed to keep my focus in case things got that intense again. I couldn’t help but think this fun was here all the time just waiting to be explored, what a rush! I’d never even considered this journey in years past because the water level was never as high as it was now.

There were two more sections of the falls that presented a bit of excitement, but nothing compared to the original drop and the sheer adrenaline rush of the speeding current. I exited the water with a new appreciation of its immense power and a realization that, although it was fun, I didn’t want to do it again.
Later that day some of my students wanted to try some white water canoeing through another area of Robertson that appeared to be passable. I was with them, but I just didn’t trust the look of the rapids. The water appeared too fast, but I also wasn’t sure about the depth of the water. As they goaded me on I said we just can’t since we needed to have the canoes for our return home and from what I could see it didn’t appear there was enough water. With a stroke of genius I thought I could try jumping in the water and if it seemed alright then we could send a canoe down.

I know I’ve already shared a lot of things that I’ve done, but I think this small decision may have been the most foolish in my entire life. The decision to jump in the falls earlier in the day had been completely exhilarating and likely clouded my original judgement that there was not enough water. I decided I could test the safety of the water for the canoe so I jumped in. The water whisked me away, but this time it was more like a pinball than a vacuum. The rapids were very fast and threw me from side to side. I felt like I was in a fight, but not really a fair fight this was going to be a beating. The water took me and slammed me into a rock using my left arm as a cushion for the rest of my body. The next slam was my tailbone being pounded on the rocks beneath me. There was no part of this decision that was good, this was a trip of terror. My lower body went numb, was I going to walk out of this? I was getting near the end of the rapid to a place where things were really shallow, but I knew I could get out of the current then the rapid took its final assault and threw me into a rock hitting my shin and my right calf. I can’t remember ever getting hit so hard. It felt like someone took a baseball bat to my shin. I was sure my leg was broken and I had no idea if my tailbone had survived.

I lay on a rock at the bottom of the rapids and I could hear my students shouting out to me as they inquired about my state of damage. I lay there and yelled “Don’t do it!” “Stay where you are!” They replied, “Are you okay Mr. J?” I really didn’t know as the pain seemed to be focused on my tailbone and my leg. I looked down and twisted my scraped up arm to see if it was broken, it was sore, but not broken. Then I felt behind me and my shorts were ripped wide open. I looked and felt for blood, but it appeared I wasn’t cut open, even though I felt shredded. Next I tried to stand and although my leg hurt like crazy I was able to move it and put weight on it.

Nothing was broken, but I felt surrounded by pain and that nagging voice saying “What have you done?” My students followed alongside the river and came to where I was, then we proceeded back to camp. My body was showing serious signs of wear and we were unable to keep my moment of glory much of a secret. As the trip wore on my body healed up and not surprisingly this is a story I have only repeated a handful of times. When I look back now I can see how this repressed memory would be considered a “Near Miss”. There were many negative repercussions I was spared from enduring when my actions clearly warranted them.

I recently read of someone suffering of severe back pain for years because they fell on their tailbone. Perhaps there are things you have done that you feel “I got away with one”. I know I certainly felt that way, but repeated dangerous activities will eventually catch up to you. Have you created some unsafe work habits? Are you taking dangerous shortcuts just to save time or effort? Are you sacrificing part of your body for your work? Are you more daring than you should be? Step back and re-evaluate before a “Near Miss” turns into “HURT”. Respect is the R for my HURT acronym … Respect for Self, Tools, Process, & Environment.

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