In July 2014 Randy vowed to make an athlete out of Ann.
Ann is a very unlikely candidate. She had an AVM Rupture and a massive stroke in 2011. Randy doesn't usually help people like her.
But he chose to do it anyway..
She didn't believe him when he said he was going to make her an athlete because she thought she was too far gone. But he kept his promise and it's happening.
Coach R understands that the stakes are really high for Ann. She's not an injured player trying to regain the field.
This IS the field.
Learning How...Volume 3
Life is My Sport
Learning How is a Non Profit Corporation
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Who is Ann?
In April 2011 I had an AVM Rupture and a massive stroke. At first I refused to believe what happened bc it's a statistically unlikely event and also because I didn't WANT to believe this happened. Once I decided that it was okay that I lived, the real work of recovery could begin. I learned to walk in September 2011 but the impact of my injury remains full-body and I have been informed that gait training will be my way of life. I got a personal trainer (Trainer David) at the end of 2013 and by January 2014 David had brought me to the next level of physical fitness and I sought out a machine to help me learn to run - an AlterG (Anti Gravity Treadmill) - it came with a Traffic Cop: Randy Rocha, the Director of Sports Medicine. I see Coach R twice a week and after two years of careful scrutiny I decided to award him a permanent berth on Team Tanimal (my long term Recovery Team). I wrote this book because I took notes on Randy while we were in the "evaluation" stage and it turns out that the way he operates is very interesting. And when you throw me and my brain injury into the mix it becomes highly entertaining. I convinced him to let me publish this book and make this website. He puts up with a lot. And since he helped me, Randy's going to have to put up with me indefinitely because Survivor Loyalty is like no other.
Recovery is my privilege. The opportunity to heal is an honor I don't take lightly - not everyone gets better. This story is worth telling. On the day I met Randy I didn't know that what was going to happen next was going to be book-worthy, but it was. Here are the first couple of chapters.
Introduction: He Chose to Help Me
When I finished Learning How Vol. 1 I ended it by saying I didn’t want to write it as Learning How to Wait. I was much more interested in penning Learning How to Run.
Well, this is the book I wanted to write. It just took a few more years. And this time I have a co-author: “Coach R” aka Randall W. Rocha. Technically, he is not typing any of this. He doesn’t have to – he’s living it. And I’ve been secretly scrutinizing how he works, what he says, how he makes decisions, etc. for over a year and a half while I’ve recovered markedly. I do this thing where if I think you’re good, I test you without telling you just to make sure. Hey – I’ve got a lot on the line here – plus, I’m just picky. Coach R passed with flying colors. I decided that the way he operates and my recovery have to be related, hence this book.
Another reason that I’m the one writing is that Coach R and I have discussed many things but we have not canvassed some of the stories in this book yet, so now I get to tell him what I’ve really been thinking. Heh heh heh.
But if we sift the matter to the bottom, this is the real impetus:
In the Spring of 2015 Coach R flew to Antigua to train the Men’s and Women’s National Soccer Teams. I took the opportunity to work on a pet project of mine as a surprise for Coach R’s 20th work anniversary: Randy Rocha’s Neighborhood – Episode 1. It is a short YouTube video of an idea I had pitched to Coach R a few weeks earlier. When we spoke it became apparent that Coach R could use some help developing his imagination, so I figured it would be easier to work on the pilot presentation without him there. As I rallied the troops to help me take the necessary photographs I explained,
The reason why I’m doing this is because that man chose to help me when he didn’t have to.
That was all I needed to say. Everyone helped me out wonderfully.
I should back up and make sure you know what happened. I had an AVM Rupture and a massive stroke in April 2011. I was 30 years old. It was really bad. I woke up over a month later and almost everything from my Old Life was gone. Thank God I still had my family and my faith. A few months later, when I started to understand that my injury had major implications for everything I believed in I had to decide whether or not to keep my faith or discard it entirely. Spoiler Alert: after careful consideration, I kept it. For more detail see Learning How…Volume 1: ch.10 The Turning Point. That particular chapter is on my website: http://www.annninglearninghow.com. You can also read my blog for more detail, or if you just need a laugh: http://blog.annninglearninghow.com.
Once that Big Question was settled the real work of Recovery could begin. I learned to walk at the end of 2011. My brain is heavily compromised, but I have been deemed to be cognitively intact although physically disabled. I have been informed that gait training will be a way of life for me. I am writing this with the zoom view really large, wearing reading glasses, and I have a timer set to sound every few minutes because I cannot sit and type too long since my hips and tendons get very grumpy when I do.
I have worked with many Physical Therapists during my Recovery and have developed a preference for neurological specialists (this is not an absolute requirement) who join physical confidence and personal kindness (this is non-negotiable) with an extremely high skill level (neither is this). I have done this long enough to be able to tell who is really nice and who is really nice and knows how to help me.
Randy Rocha is not a Physical Therapist, neuro-specialist or otherwise. He is an Athletic Trainer with an impressive list of both individual and entire teams of professional athletes who have looked to him to care for their injuries, get them back on the field, or just get them stronger so they can raise their level of play.
Of course I didn’t know any of this when I met Coach R. I just saw him as the Traffic Cop I had to circumvent in order to carry out my agenda (learning how to run using the AlterG – an antigravity treadmill). I had searched for an AlterG available for public rental online and had found one at Coach R’s gym – a private PT/Ortho/Sports Medicine practice. An AlterG is a treadmill with a bubble that inflates, allowing you to choose the % of your own body weight you wish to bear and making it impossible to fall out. Trust me – if it were I would’ve done it by now. You can’t fall out bc you wear some special shorts (like neoprene bike shorts with a narrow rubber tutu) that attach via zipper to the bubble. So when I’m zipped in and the frame is locked at my preferred height – I like a 7 so I can move my arms, plus my left arm hangs a little low so I like to keep it from dragging (learned that the hard way) – I’m safe. That’s why I’m addicted to that thing.
In my research I had come to expect that when an AlterG is available for public rental (you generally purchase 30 minutes at a time), you’re signing up for something transactional in nature. This is in contrast to practices that keep their AlterG exclusively for their Physical Therapy patients. I was in the market for an impersonal experience. I had used an AlterG before and knew what to do, although I’d probably need some motor skill assistance getting into the machine. But other than that I was looking to be left alone to recover in peace. Little did I know that I was about to secure an important ally.
In the chaos of my first year post-injury I was thrilled to discover that most of my cognitive skills are still functioning, but as time passed I had to develop thicker skin as I started venturing out into the medical community and beyond to find the best kind of treatment. Let’s be real – I have a brain injury. I already routinely feel unsure of myself. Doing simple things like making an appointment, getting an evaluation, etc. can be very painful for a variety of reasons.
But it’s nothing compared to the horror of feeling unhelped. Two or three months after I learned to walk my left-sided hemiparesis surfaced. I never had pain before that point, but as I used my body more the pain increased and my motor control decreased until I could no longer suppress my limp. At first I was scared. I tried to get help from one of my medical providers but was unable to get a call back from the office.
I was shattered. I had seen my speed on the treadmill progress from 0.2 mph to 2.0 mph in 3 months (even though I had to hold for dear life). I figured that if that were representative of the pace and trajectory of my recovery this was entirely doable. When I started limping and my left leg started refusing to bear my weight unpredictably I watched my speed eventually slow to a complete standstill. I was crying from pain and fear and since I had to hold on I couldn’t wipe my tears, so I had to sit down entirely.
Eventually after many more tears and the help of several professionals, I got back on the treadmill. Of course I never cried in front of any of them. This is a habit I retained from learning how to walk with Dr. A6 Frankenstein. I was absolutely terrified but told myself, There’s no crying in baseball! – since presenting a tough exterior was something I picked up as an inpatient.
After two years of this struggle I met Coach R in January 2014. I was facing the end of my formal Rehabilitation career, which motivated me to try to run even though my walk was still graded at only a low 2-3 (out of 10) on my self-devised walking scale at one of my last PT evals. Coach R offered to stay with me as I tried the AlterG. I had “run” with my beloved M37 (Meg Stevenson, my PT at NRH) in a harness or with her holding my gait belt, but it was still a slow lopsided gallop. When it came down to it I waffled and couldn’t bring myself to get off the ground.
Good thing Coach R didn’t listen to me when I tried to dismiss him with a cheery, I’m fine, thanks – bye! He reached over the console, unweighted me some more, and notched my speed up to a gentle trot.
A week later I formally recruited him for my Long Term Recovery Team. I really like it when people “opt in” to helping me, so I took pains to give him a choice on whether or not to Train me, and a verbal parachute with which he could bow out gracefully if he chose. Essentially, I prepared myself for the answer to be No – since I had decided it was emotionally safer for me to approach these situations with zero expectations.
He said, Yes.
And as he walked out to the waiting room with me we shook hands solemnly to seal the deal.
Me: I would consider this to be a successful day.
Coach R: I would, too.
Ch. 1 What is Your Sport?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and surmise that I’m the only person Coach Randy has ever worked with who has fallen out of a chair….that she was already sitting in. Oops, my bad. I just lost my balance momentarily. There was no floor contact – I caught myself. So that doesn’t really count, right?
I also almost fell off a treatment table once when Coach R had turned his back for one second to get a rolling stick or something. He usually waits for me to be still before moving to the other side of the table – but the one time he turned around entirely I chose that exact moment to perform an unsanctioned weight shift and almost fell off the table. That’s right – I was already lying down. FYI, my cerebellum is the part of the brain that’s most compromised. I gasped but dissolved into giggles when I caught myself. Coach R was not as amused. I was just checking to see if he was paying attention, I told the lady on the table next to mine.
When I summarized my injury in the Introduction by saying “it was really bad,” that was probably an understatement. I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
But you know what? It’s gotten better. Especially since I started eating food again in 2015 (I had mostly stopped due to stress). 2014 was a big deal for me because we went back to Oregon (where I used to live and where I got sick) to dispose of my belongings, which had been in a storage garage for three years. I was incredibly stressed out as the date of our departure approached. I hadn’t been back to Oregon since my injury. I hadn’t seen any of my belongings since the morning of my bleed when I went to work and never came home.
I didn’t tell them at the time, but during the height of my anxiety as I prepared to fly to the Pacific NW, and set up meetings with my hospitals, medical providers, and workmates, Trainer D (my Personal Trainer, David Murgueytio) and Coach R kept me alive. I had some serious concerns that I might literally drop dead from stress at any moment. Physical exertion was a welcome distraction and I became increasingly dependent on my “running” and Training time.
Two weeks before our flight to Oregon I knew I had a lot left to do – I was just having a hard time doing it. So I made up my mind to dig in and just get this done. It’s been three years. I’m healthier now, and able to make the trip, I told myself. And it’s not like I’d feel any better about this situation if I waited to go back until FIVE years after the fact. At my next session I told Coach R, I decided something: No one’s gonna die. I mean, if I didn’t die then, I’m not gonna die now.
I reasoned with myself in order to get the extra oomph necessary for the last push to plan our itinerary. My first job was as an administrative assistant and I flatter myself that I ran rather a tight ship. I reverted back to my old calendar and color-coding skills to get organized. Unfortunately, I found out that my brain injury made me skip over important things like differentiating between Thursday and Saturday, but it all worked out in the end.
After our 7-day trip, (it was simultaneously wonderful and horrifying – I’ve blocked most of it out) Mommy and Daddy dropped me off at Boo Boo’s house. Boo Boo is my sister, Ai Ai, and Mommy had decreed that she was sending me there for a couple months of R&R so I wouldn’t shrivel up and die from stress as it became apparent that I was unraveling before our trip.
So I settled in with Boo Boo and her family and slept and cried for two straight weeks. Then I decided it was time to get to work again. So I bought a notebook and wrote down some goals and started planning my writing schedule. Boo Boo made an appointment for me at the Southern Gym – the Physical Therapy practice where I use an AlterG whenever I’m staying with her.
The Southern Gym is so close to her house I was able to go 3x/week and I started “running” in earnest. As we had flown out of Portland I watched the skyline fade into the distance and I felt the ache of saying a goodbye I hadn’t chosen but that was necessary and freeing. As I ran at the Southern Gym I gradually ramped up my speed and distance and I had plenty of alone time to process what had just happened.
FYI, I’m not done processing, but I got a good start. When I came home I got back into my old routine at both of my gyms. On my first day back I saw Coach R watching intently as I ran. I couldn’t see him specifically – I just saw a figure in the corner and knew it had to be him because of the Observing Stance. He said I was doing well, and that he was impressed.
That’s a good summary of my entire Oregon trip. I had previously vowed never to return to any of my hospitals. I actually said out loud to God, I can’t, and I WON’T. But an infusion of His grace turned my statement into I can, and I did. After I told myself that no one was gonna die I motivated myself to go back to Oregon and see my hospitals and the people who had cared for me because I needed to say, Thank you.
One of my first walks - Vibra (2nd Hospital) May '11
There was more than one jaw on the ground when I walked in. Prior to this I had no idea how tall anyone was because I had always been in bed or in a wheelchair – but this time I was standing up and could look them in the eye.
On my last day as an inpatient in June 2011, my primary PT (this was at RIO, the 3rd Hospital) gave me my exit survey and asked me what my goals were.
Me: I would like to be able to use the restroom by myself, and I want to walk again.
A2: Those are reasonable goals.
Three years later, A2 walked out of the staff room and I greeted him as if no time had passed and we were just talking like we always did.
Me: Hey, A – look – I can WALK and STUFF!!
He immediately assumed the Observing Stance that marks the true practitioner of PT and related disciplines. I turned around and demonstrated my imperfect gait. But the point is that I had a gait to show him.
He was pleased for me. Later that year when I saw Dr. A6 Frankenstein (the PT who taught me to walk), he was pleased, too. A friend at Ai Ai’s church told me, It’s great that you went and saw all those people (at your hospitals). I bet it was a huge validation of their work.
I hadn’t thought of it like that, but in retrospect, it was. I’m living, breathing, walking, talking proof of what medical expertise and compassionate care can do. And after I got that trip under my belt I was able to concentrate on setting some new goals beyond “don’t fall down.”
There have been a lot of ups and downs. Let’s face it – the impact of my injury is still full-body and I struggle with many deficits. But I’m learning how to manage myself better as I gain familiarity with my limitations. I sit, stand, walk, breathe, and use my voice and eyes differently now.
People have noticed.
To present both sides of the coin, people still do see me walking somewhere and get really nervous. Example: a couple of times I’ve been to a hospital as a visitor and the reception desk was so rattled as they watched me pass by they couldn’t call a wheelchair fast enough. But I can rally for short periods, particularly in the morning – so I schedule as many activities as possible for early in the day.
I am definitely stronger on multiple levels than I used to be, although I was pretty strong before my injury, too. I had to be – since I survived the bleed, and all. Now I need more muscle because it allows me the opportunity for greater (if still sub par) motor control, which I need desperately. It also protects my joints, which are functioning in an admittedly abnormal way, but the important part is that they are functioning! I’m counting my blessings.
Just like how I habitually understate the severity of my injury I have a hard time being anything other than conservative when describing my Recovery. (I’m working on that, though.) Maybe it’s a product of so many ups and downs. I know that what I gain today could be gone tomorrow. But I decided I’ll enjoy it for today. I also decided early on never to hold any of my providers to their word regarding my prognosis. I read the tea-leaves on that one. Imperfect information was floating around, and I gathered that a lot of this was unchartered territory, anyway.
But one day in the Summer of 2014, Coach R didn’t offer me a prognosis – he made a promise.
July 16, 2015
To: Coach R
…As a part of your Happy Story Training* I suggest you make a Rainy Day file to read when you are having a bad day and are wondering whether or not you chose the right profession. Let me just save you some time here: You did. I have a Rainy Day file - it's a matter of public record -it's my blog.
July 31, 2014 - While I was on the leg press you vowed, "I'm going to make an athlete out of you."
Of course I did not believe you, because in case you haven't noticed I emerged from this injury extremely trust averse, but I didn't discard your promise entirely – I appreciated your commitment to the cause enough to note the date.
July 9, 2015 - I met Ms. L while you were [away. She was a USA Track & Field athlete back in the day.] She saw me running in the AlterG - notably, she did not see me walking (you know how other people get nervous when they see my gait), she only saw me zipped into the bubble and while I was stretching on the floor she edged her way over and spoke to me in a gentle tone –
Ms. L: Excuse me, what is your sport?
Me: I don't have a sport - I had a stroke.
Life is my sport.
*While Coach R is ostensibly in charge of Training, I try to make this a two way street and have identified several areas of growth for him. Examples: 1. Using your imagination, 2. Telling Happy Stories and laughing out loud, 3. Donut and Ice Cream Education, etc. I also decided that as a part of his career development we should role play being mean and bossy. I mean, you should probably leave bossing to the pros, but if you roll with me a little longer, I told him, I can teach you some tricks. But then I realized that all of my mean and bossy lines only work in their original context (me "conversing with" Trainer D). Happily, I have recruited Gen, my massage therapist, to partner with me on a set of Mean and Bossy Flashcards for Coach R’s benefit, right after she finishes the series of After School Specials we have in the works.
PS. Upon reflection, Coach R knows how to be mean and bossy – it’s just that I’ve never seen it in person. I know because I prefer to work only with crazy (in a good way) people, and I put my little crazy fishing hook out on day 1 and Coach R totally bit. But he keeps it under wraps impressively. I, on the other hand, have a compromised social filter because of the brain injury.
P.P.S. I’m more fun now. Ask around.