Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just ask Title Nine customer Stacy Tarrh. The 27-year-old physical therapist puts the idea to practice everyday in her work with patients who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries. Their goal? To walk again. Stacy’s goal? To help them do it.
Most of Stacy’s patients are victims of car accidents. She sees men, women, and children of all ages and levels of disability. Their circumstances vary, but they have one sad thing in common: One tragic moment changed their lives forever. Many of them have little reason to believe they’ll walk again other than a faith in their own will to make it so. Having already gone through standard in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation, they still find themselves confined to wheelchairs. Unwilling to simply accept their situations, they’ve chosen to undergo additional rehab consisting of three-hour sessions of intensive physical therapy. “They’re very motivated people,” Stacy says. “They could just sit at home and say, ‘This is my lot. I’m done. This is as good as it gets.’ But these are people who want to do everything they can to see how far they can improve.”
Tackling Challenges Head On
Much like her patients, Stacy isn’t one to shrink from challenges. In fact, she seeks them out, particularly athletic ones. For example, the longtime runner and lifelong athlete recently started competing in triathlons despite a deep-seated fear of open water. It’s a fear Stacy developed after a frightening childhood experience. She and her father were swimming out to a raft in the center of a lake, when her father suddenly cramped up so badly he couldn’t swim. Fortunately, Stacy was wearing a life vest, which she gave to her dad enabling him to make it to shore. Without the vest, her father is certain he would have drowned. The experience made quite an impression on Stacy, and ever since she’s been afraid to swim in open water.
Most people with such a deep and abiding fear of water would simply avoid water sports. Even the most aggressive cross-trainer could find plenty of land-based sports to satisfy her hunger for athletic variety. But not Stacy. She saw her fear of swimming as a challenge to tackle rather than an obstacle to avoid. So on January 1, 2008, Stacy resolved to begin training for triathlons. “I knew it would take serious commitment and would push me outside of my comfort zone,” Stacy says. “I find it empowering to face things that are difficult head on and trample out fears and perceived limitations in the process. Just running? Too familiar and safe. Biking? Fun, but not that different from running. Swimming? Now you are talking about no solid ground under me and no constant supply of oxygen for my lungs. Definitely outside my comfort zone. Swimming was the challenge I sought and running and biking were my reward for surviving the swim.”
Conquering Her Swim Demons
Prior to her New Year’s resolution, Stacy had not done any real swimming since the terrifying experience with her dad. The mere thought of putting her face in the water seemed scary. Actually doing so made her feel panicked, like she couldn’t breathe. Figuring she needed to start her swim training at square one, Stacy decided to take a five-week swim class at a local high school pool. “Pools are always easier,” Stacy says. “I don’t like to put my face in the water no matter what, but in a pool at least you can see the bottom and touch the sides.” The class went well, but Stacy knew she wasn’t yet ready for the open water. Next, she signed up for a ten-week triathlon training class with a local sports store. A few weeks into that class Stacy did her first open water swim. It was a great success, thanks in part to the fact that she swam in a wetsuit which increased her buoyancy and made her feel safer. “It kind of felt like wearing a life jacket,” Stacy says. But her newfound confidence didn’t last long. Near the end of the training course Stacy’s class did a trial swim at the site of the triathlon in which she intended to compete. “That’s when the nightmare happened,” Stacy says. “It was awful. My chest got tight. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t put my face in the water. I panicked.” Swimming without a wetsuit, Stacy swam sidestroke about half of the course and was one of the last few people out of the water.
Discouraged but not defeated, Stacy resolved to train even harder. She started doing frequent open water swims with her husband, Scott, who was also training for triathlons. He swam right next to her and they stayed close to shore. Slowly but surely, Stacy got more comfortable in the water. When race day arrived, she had a strategy- start the swim in the back of the pack and take her time. Stacy emerged from the water unscathed and with a smile on her face. And she did it without a wetsuit.
Training for Tri’s
These days, Stacy is as dedicated to her triathlon training as she is to her work. Four days a week she gets up at 5:30 a.m. and heads out for a three to five mile run. A lifelong Michigan resident, Stacy runs outside with her dog Wrigley even in the dead of winter, resorting to the treadmill in her basement only when single-digit temps pose serious health risks. Most evenings after work she heads to the gym to swim (once or twice a week), do Pilates (once a week), or take a spin class (once or twice a week) with Scott. Once or twice a week Stacy lifts weights as well.
To date, Stacy has completed two triathlons. She placed fourth in her age group in the first race and first in her age group (fourth female overall) in the second. Not bad for a gal who’s still battling a fear of open water. According to Stacy, it’s a battle she’s slowly winning. She still gets nervous before every swim, but she feels a little more comfortable each time. Who is the most impressed by Stacy’s triathlon accomplishments? Yep, it’s her dad. Still a bit spooked by open water himself, he knows what it takes for Stacy to will herself into the water, let alone swim competitively.
No doubt, meeting her challenges better equips Stacy to help her patients meet theirs. It’s hard to imagine a more worthy endeavor. You go girl!
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