Surviving Amsterdam: How WECOACH Workouts Prevent Swimming Injuries

Water keeps saving my life. I turned to the pool when plantar fasciitis curtailed my running fifteen years ago, discovering that resistance and buoyancy build body-wide strength. I was a personal trainer and water exercise coach when a ruptured aneurysm landed me in a Dutch hospital halfway through a cruise in 2019, with the muscle mass to support my comatose body for six weeks in the ICU. Muscle memory and determination to drove my ability to move during the subsequent years-long recovery.

The day I was able to lift my arms out of the water was the beginning of returning to swimming.

Swimming under the palms
Swimming under the palms

Swimming taxes the body

As I renewed my commitment to swimming, I experienced the soreness that comes with re-connecting with unused muscles and ligaments. My neck hurt from turning my head and my shoulders were tender as they drove my arms through heavy water. My lower back ached as I ventured into dolphin kicks. My knees felt the strain of the breaststroke frog kick.

Swimming is non-impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy on the body. The repetitive nature of swimming strokes puts us at risk for injury. Swimmer’s shoulder is the most common, with rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, and bursitis resulting from the shoulder moving in multiple positions as the arm pulls the swimmer forward. Swimmer’s knee is a close second, deriving from the position of the feet, knees, and hips in the breaststroke kick. Neck pain and lower back pain are also frequent in swimmers.

Many of us think we can power through pain, that it’s just a matter of getting stronger. So, we double down on our laps, seeking those endorphin highs, the magic moment when the air and the water vanish and we’re just moving through space with the sound of our breath as our only company.

We’re half right. It is about getting stronger, but not by doing the same thing that got us hurt in the first place.

WECOACH Workouts

Last month, I shared the first of my new series of First Wednesday fitness posts about WECOACH Workouts, a comprehensive new water workout subscription from my mentor Laurie Denomme.

This month, Laurie has helped me understand how better biomechanics can help us swimmers avoid being kicked out of the pool by our own bodies.

Meet your scapula

The scapula—the shoulder blade—is the core of the upper body. It’s the locus through which upper body force is distributed.

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

No fewer than 17 muscles attach to the scapula, making these shoulder blades the core of upper body strength. And if those muscles are weak, the results are felt in the shoulder, including the rotator cuff.

Scapular stability = less shoulder/neck pain

When the scapula is both free to move and stabilized by strong upper body muscles, that’s the key to avoiding swimmer’s shoulder and neck pain. 

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

Our shoulders tend to get stuck in a rounded, forward position due to weakness in our back muscles. The muscles in the front of our shoulders and our chest become tight and short.

The beauty of the water is that buoyancy and resistance provide an excellent environment in which to strengthen our back muscles and stabilize our scapula.

Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together each time you reach your hands away from your body.

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

Try this WECOACH Workouts drill to work on keeping your scapula DOWN and IN as you swim: Move Better Drill #1. Strengthen Abs and Back with Swimming Strokes.

Core stability = less back pain

And whenever the shoulders are stacked over the hips, the core muscles are engaged, supporting lower back muscles.

See how to stabilize the scapula and strengthen the core in Laurie Denomme’s Upper Body Interval Workout #1 Preview:

Seven foot positions = less knee pain

The external rotation of the leg in the breaststroke kick can inflame the knee ligaments. Prevent overuse damage by incorporating external and internal leg rotations into your warmup and cool down.

By consciously using different foot positions, we train our feet, ankles, knees, and hips to move through a wider range, building flexibility and strength. It’s a simple and very effective way of beginning to expand your range of motion.

Here is Laurie Denomme demonstrating how WECOACH Workouts strategically uses seven foot positions: normal stance; right foot forward; left foot forward; feet wide; feet narrow; feet turned out; and feet turned in.

Cross-training = fewer injuries

As much as I love the endorphin high that swimming generates, I do laps only twice a week, usually Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, I am back in the pool with friends for WECOACH Workouts like this:

Three days a week, I do a land-based workout that includes jogging or biking, lifting weights, and stretching. And Sundays I take one whole day off, sometimes in my pjs! And, of course, there are walks every day with our dear rescue Lab, Kumba.

How to prevent swim injuries

  • Scapular stability: watch your shoulders!
  • Multidirectional training: work your legs in all directions!
  • Vary your workouts: keep it fun!

Next month: How WECOACH Workouts Improve …. [stay tuned!]

Surviving Amsterdam: Rediscover the Joy of Moving with WECOACH Workouts!

I’ve done water exercise for two decades. It gave me the muscle mass body used for fuel during my six-weeks in an Amsterdam ICU in 2019. Water exercise helped rehabilitate my body during a long year of rehabilitation. And water has expanded and deepened my friendships in my South Florida neighborhood as I celebrate full recovery with water workouts in our community pool.

After all these years of life-affirming experiences, I figured I’d pretty much done what there was to do in the water. Nope, it was about to get even better.

My new discovery

I am thrilled to have discovered a new approach to water exercise that is making my brain and body even more resilient. Laurie Denomme’s Wavemakers® and WECOACH Workouts are transforming teachers into coaches, class members into partners, and routine exercise into a full-body preparation for life.

We are a community on a mission to help people feel, move, and live better.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts and Wavemakers®

What if YOU were in charge of how you move during an exercise class instead of struggling to keep up with an instructor? What if you could FEEL the difference in your body, energy level, and confidence almost immediately? What if LAUGHING were encouraged? (Hint: It’s a good way to know you’re breathing!)

Laurie Denomme WECOACH Workouts Overview Video

I’m having so much fun that I don’t realize I’m exercising. I just know that I feel better, but my daughter has already noticed that my posture has improved.

My neighbor E after a few weeks of WECOACH Workouts

Movement made easy

Laurie Denomme’s WECOACH Workouts is new subscription exercise program that packages Laurie’s 30 years of experience into on-demand workouts video and audio pool workouts, plus land workouts to keep you moving. WECOACH Workouts uses distinctive arm, leg, and whole body movements that engage all of your muscles, and Laurie’s coaching will engage your brain in feeling your way to better fitness. With WECOACH Workouts, you take care of yourself, tailoring movements to fit your body, making every exercise right for you.

It feels like dancing.

My neighbor O after a few weeks of WECOACH Workouts

Results you can feel

When you listen to your body, it will tell you how to feel your way to better results.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts and Wavemakers®

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to pick up your grandchildren, carry your groceries, or even stow your own carryon in the overhead compartment? Wish you could enjoy a walk without needing to rest so often? Here is what Laurie’s clients say about how WECOACH Workouts has changed their life.

I’m steadier on my feet.

I can do stairs again.

I’m back to playing golf without hurting.

I used to be reluctant to go out to dinner with friends because it took me so long to stand up. No more!

Rediscover the joy of movement

Want to exercise without feeling like you’re exercising? Get a workout without noticing the sweat? Build your confidence while you strengthen your body? Tailor movement to suit just you?

Get the exercise your body needs with WECOACH Workouts. Here’s a sample:

Laurie Denomme WECOACH Workouts Demonstration Video

Excited? Want to know more?

Every month, Laurie and I will share how WECOACH Workouts—through video and audio workouts, mobility and walking tests, exercise tips, and live Q&A sessions—can help you rediscover the joy of moving.

Ready to try it out for yourself? Click here!

Surviving Amsterdam: The Restorative Power of Love

Amsterdam ICU
Amsterdam ICU

The presence of my husband, daughter, and sister around my bed in the Amsterdam ICU—holding my hand, stroking my face, speaking to me even when I was intubated and under heavy sedation—is one reason I did not succumb to the ruptured aneurysm and my body’s six-week fight to live in 2019.

There is a restorative power to love that I experienced then, and that I continued to experience throughout my recovery and rehabilitation.

And I’ve seen the healing power of love in the transformation of our rescue black Lab, Kumba, from vicious attack canine to the calmest, sweetest dog in the neighborhood.

Traumatized rescue

Kumba pawshake
Kumba pawshake

When he was flown from a shelter in Puerto Rico to South Florida in late 2019 by Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, Kumba was so thin and sick that the LRRoF vet was surprised he could even stand. It took two months of medical attention—and foster family love, including being in the pack of the foster household’s two other black Labs—to get Kumba back to health. We just happened to be the lucky family that was first in line when Kumba was ready to be adopted.

Per LRRoF requirements, we brought our daughter’s Lab (and our daughter) to meet Kumba during V and Pancho’s visit from Florida’s west coast. Kumba was a little nervous around Pancho, but a complete soulful sweetheart around us. The match was made, if we could wait another month while Kumba completed recovering. On Super Bowl Sunday 2020, we brought Kumba home.

Kumba becomes Cujo

That’s when we discovered that Kumba was Cujo.

On my husband’s first walk with our new dog, Kumba lunged at our neighborhood’s friendliest dog, snarling, teeth bared and eyes wild. It was a shocking behavior that his foster had not seen. Perhaps being in the pack had given Kumba a sense of protection, but now, alone on a leash in a new environment, Kumba did what he probably did in the shelter fending for himself. Or maybe this is who he was. We had a choice to make: take him back, or help him. We looked in those soulful eyes and knew we had to help. Or at least to protect him and other dogs from this menacing behavior.

Kumba snuggle
Kumba snuggle

We brought in a trainer, Alison Chambers, who confirmed that we had a very good dog who was anxious about other dogs. In our first lesson we learned how to read Kumba’s behavior and how to begin forging the relationship with us that might just lead him out of anxiety and vicious self-protection. We had just one lesson before the pandemic locked everyone down.

Over the next month, I did my best to avoid other dogs on our morning walks, reinforcing positive behavior, but Kumba tensed, pre-attack, any time he saw another dog. Worse yet, he shocked us by dashing out open doors to attack unsuspecting dogs who were doing nothing more than walking by. He snarled, teeth snapping, at our neighbors’ friendly golden, Lexie, when she approached too quickly. There was never blood drawn but the psychic damage and our neighbors’ anger was real. We needed to protect him, ourselves, and others. We bought a muzzle.

The muzzle helped. The social distancing imposed by the pandemic helped— being kept a safe distance away from other dogs (and their people) gave Kumba reassurance. The gentle, sweet dog who loved nothing more than curling up at our feet (or next to us on the couch) began letting go the anxiety and the defensive behavior.

Kumba makes a friend

Then, Kumba made his first dog friend—Reese, the dachshund-golden mix who is the self-appointment goodwill ambassador of our community. Hallelulia! Other small dogs followed—Adam the French bulldog, Cookie the Shitzu—but it was when Kumba greeted German shepherd Myla that we knew he was getting better. Well enough to invite Pancho back.

The first few hours were tricky, but Pancho and Kumba soon established self-protecting force fields that allowed them to share a space without crossing personal boundaries. Another huge step forward for our sweet boy!

Labs Kumba and Pancho
Labs Kumba and Pancho

Finding his people gave Kumba confidence. Finding his bliss—retrieving—gave him a purpose. He was a fragile four-year-old dog who didn’t know how to run, catch, and retrieve when we adopted him. The hours of that pastime have added physical and psychological resilience to our six-year-old happy dog, as I wrote in a post about the magic of finding the thing you were meant to do. Our pup is happiest with a ball in his mouth.

Kumba laser-focused on retrieving

But would this new-found confidence help Kumba over the hurdle of re-making the acquaintance with dogs he previously snarled at?

Love restores

The answer is yes. The power of love restores. Kumba is now completely relaxed around Lexie, the Golden up the block who he snarled at, and he is the dog in the neighborhood who gives nervous dogs and their owners the confidence to approach us. He is such a good host to visiting dogs that he’ll even allow a guest to make herself at home on his bed. ”Mi cama, tu cama,” he is saying to Lila, the sweet girl who hangs out with us on the weekends while her mom works.

Lila on Kumba’s bed
Lila on Kumba’s bed

And around the newest pup in the block, Kiwi the tiny powerhouse? Kumba just kind of smiles and shakes his head at this bundle of confidence. Can you see the thought bubble over Kumba’s head? ”I don’t understand girls, but they’re fun to have around.”

Neighbors Kumba and Kiwi
Neighbors Kumba and Kiwi

Yes, love is a powerful thing, inspiring the best in us all.

The Embassy Kid Who Survived Amsterdam is Reminded: Life is a Carnival!

In 1955, I learned how to walk to a Latin playlist

The earliest tunes I remember hearing were the Venezuelan rhythms of música criolla which the radio stations in Caracas played at night. Dad had an affinity for music—part genetic, his farmer father was a self-taught fiddler, and part born of listening to songs streaming across the South Dakota prairie night sky from Texas radio stations—and strummed Venezuelan tunes on his guitar. Mom, who had danced professionally in New York City and made every cha-cha partner look like a pro, played the smaller triple guitar, and even I got in on the act with maracas. This was our 1955 holiday card family photo. Looks like I was the lead singer, too.

Caracas trio 1955
Caracas trio 1955

I was just six months old when we arrived in Caracas for Dad’s first foreign service post and almost five when we left. With our maid Josefina as my doting caretaker, Spanish became my first language, and Latin American music became my first soundtrack, Mom’s cha-cha and rumba inspiring my toddler dancing. Apart from four years in Italy, the remainder of my childhood abroad was in Spanish-speaking countries—Colombia and Spain. Spanish is my intimacy language, the words coming from the deep well of home.

I was hard-wired to find a Latino husband, and tremendously lucky that he is kind, funny, loyal, and passionate about life. He’s also a drummer—maracas, bongos, and timbales occupy a corner of our family room, and salsa is the López soundtrack. Even our black Lab, Kumba, is tuned in—he was rescued from a Puerto Rican shelter and is completely unfazed by loud crashing and banging when my husband rocks out to music on his headphones.

In 2019, I re-learned how to walk to a Latin playlist

I learned to walk in Caracas in 1955. But I also learned to walk in Amsterdam in 2019 after a ruptured abdominal aneurysm and six weeks in the ICU sapped my body of the ability to move. Again, it was Latin music that inspired the movement, specifically the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. I downloaded the African singer Angelique Kidjo’s album, Celia, onto my iPhone, and my Amsterdam physiotherapist Gemma plugged it into the rehab gym’s sound system during my sessions. Gemma held me closer than my high school boyfriend’s slow dancing bearhug as I took my first steps.

La Vida es un Carnaval, Life is a Carnival, became the anthem of my recovery, its syncopated rhythm lifting my spirits as the lyrics gave me hope.

All those who think life is unfair need to know that it’s not like that, that life is a beauty, it has to be lived. All those who think they’re alone and it’s bad need to know that it’s not like that, that in life nobody is alone, there’s always someone.

La Vida Es Un Carnaval, composer Victor Daniel

Watching Celia herself singing this song of triumph in the face of challenge brings me a new understanding of its meaning. A black woman without the duplicitous attribute of beauty, she made her way to the top of the charts in a male-controlled business despite a macho culture. When she points to heaven while singing ”there’s always someone,” you know she’s been propelled by an inner strength fueled by strong faith.

Today, I listen to Angelique’s version at least once a week while I walk Kumba. With every step I take, I give thanks to the higher power that kept me alive in 2019. Every day since I woke up in the ICU wonderfully thin (“Gosh, I can wear my wedding dress!” was my first thought, honestly) but unable to move (my second thought), I’ve been working my way back to life. Today, I am running, swimming, dancing. I am living life.

But I am also easily lulled into forgetting how close I came to not being here, taking my health for granted, letting life feel like a ho-hum grind.

Last weekend, I danced to La Vida Es Un Carnaval with my husband in my arms to the live music of Tito Puente, Jr. and his Latin Jazz Ensemble at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach. Gratitude. Joy. And a determination to live newly aware that every day is a gift. That every step is the beginning of a dance.

Life is a Carnival!

A Dog’s Biological Fulfillment: Know Your Breed, Find Their Bliss

When we met our rescue Lab in early 2020, a tick-borne illness had worn him down to barely 50 pounds. The folks at Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida weren’t sure how Kumba was still standing. I, too, was thin and weak, just seven months into my recovery from a near-fatal illness in 2019 that had depleted my body of the ability to move. 

Kumba and me on a long walk in 2020
Kumba and me on a walk in 2020

We became each other’s support system on the road to full recovery. Morning strolls became long walks that improved our strength and confidence with each step, and now we run two miles several times a week.

Finding what we are meant to do

Thanks to steady exercise over the past three years, I’m back to swimming, an activity that floods my brain with endorphins that float my entire day. Submerged with the bubbles of my breath as my soundtrack for thirty minutes of rhythmical movement, it’s as if I’ve found what I was meant to do.

Kumba, too, has found what he was meant to do. Those frail 50 pounds are now a robust 80 pounds of bounding joy for whom catching and retrieving has become the highlight of each day. And there’s a big lesson in this. 

Biological fulfillment

As a Labrador retriever, it’s in Kumba’s DNA to feel incomplete without holding something in his mouth. Initially, chewing was his way of releasing anxiety when we left him alone. Over time, however, Kumba’s separation anxiety lessened, and his confidence in us and in himself grew. As dog trainer Alison Chambers recently helped me to understand, a huge piece of this change is the result of my husband’s daily catch session with Kumba. 

It’s called biological fulfillment.

Dog behavior expert Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training in Boca Raton, FL

At first, Kumba would run after the ball but not bring it back. Gradually, Kumba discovered the joy in the game, and today he runs fast and far and returns the ball at Ray’s feet over and over. When he’s had enough, he holds onto the ball and turns toward home, tail high and wagging. Labs retrieve. That’s their job. 

Kumba and the ball take a break
Kumba and the ball take a break

Find your dog’s bliss

We forget that dogs used to have jobs.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Work like minding the children, herding sheep, hunting kept dogs engaged. The transition to indoor pets — what Alison calls “cuddly at-home figurines” — removed the work dogs were bred to do, leading to behavior problems.

Alison has three dogs. She treats them to different activities that make their breed happiest. Ruka, her Belgian malinois — a breed Alison describes as “a German shepherd on crack” — is a ring sport dog, bred to excel at personal protection. Sundays are “biting days” at a local training facility. Jett, Alison’s terrier, is a fearless pursuer — “He is not afraid to die,” Alison says — and has become Number Two in the nation in barn hunting, a sport that mimics rat hunting. Otto, Alison’s pit bull mix, goes along for the fun but is happiest laying in the backyard.

Jett, Otto, and Ruka
Jett, Otto, and Ruka

It’s amazing to see a dog who is genetically predisposed to do something light up when you give him the chance to do it. It’s like he’s saying, ‘Wow! How did you know?’

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

 So, folks, find a ball, go to the pool, or head out for a spring walk — find what lights you and/or your dog up, and do it!

Gaining New Appreciation for What a Body Can Do: Pilobolus, Recovery, and Balance

Pilobolus BIG FIVE-OH tour

Last Saturday, my husband and I were in the audience of the Duncan Theater at Palm Beach State College for a performance by the legendary modern dance company, Pilobolus, part of its BIG FIVE OH! celebration tour. As we watched the remarkable ways in which the human body can move, morphing into shapes our brains interpret as other objects, it felt like we, too, were transformed by the experience.

… adventurous, adaptive, athletic, surprising and revealing of beauty in unexpected places … wit, sensuality, and stunning physical acumen …

Pilobolus Dance

Postponed by the pandemic

The tour was postponed, twice, by the pandemic. We had tickets to the 2020 show, when I was less than a year into my rehabilitation from a lengthy 2019 hospital stay from a ruptured aneurysm. Like at least one-third of long-term patients, I was unable to move when I left the ICU, beaten down by ICU-acquired weakness. Watching the performance on Saturday, I understood that I would have felt much different two years ago.

Feeling my body respond

Perhaps its my mothers’ dance genes that make me twitch when I watch movement, intuitively feeling the motion in my own body. It’s similar to when my husband, who competed in the Golden Gloves as a kid, watches boxing. I know to give him room as his shoulders and fists flick.

Sitting in that dark theater on Saturday, I felt my body humming with physicality, an ability to move that I’ve rebuilt in myself since awaking in the ICU. As Dr. Wes Ely documents in Every Deep Drawn Breath, his ground-breaking book about how to reduce the damage done to bodies as a result of life-saving measures:

…for every day spent inactive in the ICU, two or more weeks of activity were needed to rebuild that muscle.

The forty two days took me almost two years to recover. As a retiree in South Florida, I had the time, the support, and the environment that made it possible. Sitting in that dark theater, feeling the dancers’ movements flow through me, I was filled with gratitude.

How to adopt Pilobolus’ moves

Even more important to my story is the fact that I was a very fit exercise instructor when I fell ill. My body had a lot of muscle to use as fuel during my stay in the ICU. A weaker person might not have survived. Ever since, I have preached the benefits of exercise.

Pilobolus, which was founded by non-dancers in 1971, expanded its outreach during the pandemic to include classes in Connecting with Balance designed to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. There is a free class on Pilobolus’ Facebook page with Emily Kent once a month: check it out!

Why I Won’t Sail Again: The Cruise Industry Fails to Help Sick Passengers

When we retired to Palm Beach County in 2013, my husband and I discovered the pleasure of getting on a cruise ship, unpacking once, and seeing the world from a balcony over the water. We began with the crystal blue Caribbean, then branched out to the Hawaiian islands, the sun-drenched Mediterranean, and the chilly Baltic. Each trip left us happy to have ventured out and eager for the next one.

But, two weeks into a three-week cruise in 2019, I was medically evacuated from a cruise ship minutes before it departed Amsterdam, and my heart stopped as I was wheeled into a Dutch ER. A ruptured aneurysm was to blame: had it happened during our sailing across the Atlantic crossing and Norway fjords, I would have lost my life. A ship medical office is simply not equipped to handle trauma. An infirmary is not an ICU.

This very close call made us hyper aware of the cruise industry’s limited capacity to handle illness, something that the Coronavirus pandemic has only made more critical. 

Cruise ships pandemic ground zero

In April 2020, I wrote about cruise ships unable to dock as hundreds of passengers [and staff] were sickened by COVID-19. The industry ground to a halt for more than a year, only last summer beginning to pack ships and sail the seas.

Precautions have not eliminated COVID risk

Nearly two years later, despite masking and vaccines and social distancing protocols, cruise ships are again in the crosshairs of the Coronavirus.

Almost every cruise ship operating in US waters reported COVID-19 cases among passengers or crew, despite extensive precautions to guard against the spread of the virus, including vaccinations, testing and face-covering requirements.

Dave Berman, Florida Today, January 4, 2022

Sick passengers placed in quarantine dungeon

The CDC says the chance of getting COVID-19 on board a cruise ship is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose. And, if you do get ill, you’ll be in quarantine, but not in your swank suite.

The comedian Jen Murphy was hit with COVID on the first day of a 8-day sail. She’d been hired by the cruise ship as the talent. Instead, she was escorted, like a prisoner, to a tiny room below the waterline where she spent 8 days in isolation, incommunicado other than the knock on the door with chow, and nothing but lozenges to see her through. Here’s her story.

Think twice before you sail

You’re safer on a cruise ship than you are in a grocery store.

Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray

Maybe, which is why we mask up when we go indoors, keep our distance from others, and wash our hands. We don’t seal ourselves into a store and let it take us — and everyone else in the building — away from the rest of the world for a week or two. The omicron surge caused Norwegian and Royal Caribbean to cancel January sailings. My grocery store remains open.

As of mid-January, reports USA Today, the CDC guidelines are optional for the cruise industry.

Buyer, be very very aware.

Memoir Monday: Deborah Copaken LADYPARTS

Awful, hilarious, tragic, heroic

Deborah Copaken’s memoir, LADYPARTS, — as seen through her traumatized and largely invisible body parts — is awful and hilarious and tragic and heroic. A professional and underpaid/uninsuranced New York City writer, a mother, former war photographer, ex-spouse to a louse, and sometime-girlfriend to less awful people, Copaken’s brutally honest take on life keeps us laughing as we scream in indignation. I was immediately a fan as I cringe-read fascinating graphic descriptions like this, which opens the book:

I’m crawling around on the bathroom floor, picking up pieces of myself. These pieces are not metaphor. They are actual pieces. Plum-sized, beet-colored, with the consistency and sheen of chicken liver, three of them have shot out of me like shells from a cannon.

Deborah Copaken, LADYPARTS

That paragraph, described in Jessica Bennett’s review in the New York Times, either made you stop reading (as a friend tells Copaken, ”no one wants to hear about your bleeding vagina at a party”) or made you want to read more, rewarded by phrases like ”….our ladyparts tucked inside like Marie Kondo’d T-shirts in a drawer….” It made me buy the book, despite or maybe especially because of Bennett’s snotty review.

It’s not an easy read. I had to put LADYPARTS down several times. But, I stuck with Copaken, and I’m very glad I did.

A chilling but familiar tally

Three-quarters of the book later, Copaken — lying supine in the nirvana of ringing bowls in Tibet — lays out all the surgeries, biopsies, and multiple violations that have left her body with visible scars and invisible images “‘indelible in the hippocampus,’ as Christine Blasey Ford will later call her assault by Brett Kavanaugh.” It’s a chilling accumulation, but she knows that women will know what she is talking about. And male readers?

Men, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, talk to the women in your midst: your mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends. Ask them for their lists. Theirs might not be as long—being five foot two perhaps makes me an easier target?—but be ready to be appalled by their answers.

Deborah Copaken, LADYPARTS

Genuine self

When one of her New York Times’ MODERN LOVE essays was produced for the Amazon Prime series, Copaken is played by Catherine Keener. Keener’s forthrightness is right in line with Copaken’s, who says this after her meeting with the actress:

..often those of us with ladyparts are told to follow the rules and stay in our lanes, to play the part society dictates instead of being our genuine selves. Or we’re fed corporate pablum telling us to stand tall and lean in. But you don’t get to become Catherine Keener by simply tilting your body toward the burning wreckage. You say fuck your dumb fire and use the shoulder to drive around it.

Deborah Copaken, LADYPARTS

I included that final line in my Amazon review, and immediately got it bounced back by the prissy editor. A dummed down version of my five-star review is up now, along with my less-edited five-star Goodreads review.

A call to action

LADYPARTS is a call to action, and I was able to ask Copaken what actions she’d like us to take. The occasion was a November on-line (“and live, in New York” just like SNL) pop-up book group event with Copaken, hosted by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Here’s Copaken’s answer:

Donate money to research on women’s health. [I’m contacting Congress and the White House to urge more funding for the Office of Research on Women’s Health]; and,

Don’t shush your friends. Talk about blood in a way that normalizes the topic.

Our ignorance, avoidance, and silencing of all discussions of female-associated viscera is not polite. It’s killing us.

Deborah Copaken, LADYPARTS

Experience LADYPARTS for yourself.

Deborah Copaken LADYPARTS
Deborah Copaken LADYPARTS

Wellness Wednesday: What Would Santa Do?

A cul-de-sac in our South Florida neighborhood provides a contrast in holiday messaging: almost hidden among the twinkling lights and inflatable Santas, elves, and snowmen is a simple sign slung between two palm trees: Happy Birthday, Jesus.

It’s hard to argue against that message, but it’s the secular Santa who prevails in the spirit of the holidays. The jolly old elf whose “belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly” is an easier icon to emulate. What Would Jesus Do becomes What Would Santa Do. The sedentary recluse who pulls an all-nighter once a year eating his way through unhealthy snacks says ”Ho ho ho and have another cookie.”

Snowman under the palms
Snowman under our neighbors’ palms

Which is why I blame Santa for making me lose a tooth last week.

It all started when I spun up batches of Christmas cookies to fill a tin for our daughter and her fiancé to take to his family on Thanksgiving. I was glad to hear the cookies were a hit, and even happier to share a cornerstone of my traditions with the new branch of our family.

But then I secreted a cookie stash and nibbled away as I binge-watched Netflix. Binging while binging is the essence of mindless eating, something I’ve struggled to control for decades.

Secret cookies aren’t really secret

As my Weight Watchers group understands, it is unfair that food eaten as solitary personal entertainment carries calories. That eating food quickly while standing counts. That not writing it down doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Those extra calories began adding extra weight, including the beginning of a belly like a bowlful of jelly.

Exercise isn’t enough

Long before I emerged from an Amsterdam ICU bone thin and unable to move in 2019, daily exercise was my mantra. The lifelong habit has brought me back stronger than ever and my weight landed back where it had been. Now, however, my old eating nemesis was working at cross-purposes with my health, and, as Marlo Scott of First Class Fitness and Wellness helped me write, exercise alone doesn’t result in weight loss.

Reminded about what got me well

Then my husband reminded me that deep within me is the resilience to push forward. A life force that kept me alive for those six weeks in that ICU. A determination that got me onto an airplane six weeks later, through physical therapy and back in a pool, to running and biking today.

I can’t ignore this. Here I am, despite terrible odds. Here I am.

But Santa called

This doesn’t mean I’ve been iron-clad in my resolution to count on my inner strength. I went out to buy Christmas wrapping paper and came home with gifts and stocky stuffers, including a bag of caramels. As I wrapped the gifts, that bag just called to me.

One caramel. C’mon. What Would Santa Do?

The wicked bag of caramels

I ripped the bag open. Pretty soon, those yummy chewy candies were disappearing. I stopped myself, unloaded most of the remaining bag into gifts for neighbors, and dropped the rest into our freezer. For safekeeping.

That lasted about an hour, when I discovered that a frozen caramel is strong enough to pull a dental crown off a molar. Darn that Santa!

My dentist gave me absolution

The whole story came out at Palms Dental Care where the upbeat Dr. Coakley laughed as I confessed my crazy crime the next day, with not even a charge for my transgression.

Santa came by our house last night during a community event, tossing tiny candy canes our way. Just glad he didn’t have caramels!

Santa’s pre-pandemic visit
Santa’s 2019 pre-pandemic visit

WellnessWednesday: How to Rev Up Your Workout Without Breaking a Sweat

I crossed a new fitness threshold last week when I added Tabata — a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocol — to my water workout. My 30 minute workout not only boosted my cardiovascular system, but also strengthened my core, my arms, and my legs. And it put me on Cloud Nine for the rest of the morning.

And, of course I sweated (pardon the clickbait!), but being in the water happily masked that fact and kept me cool while I amped up the volume on my workout.

How HIIT Works

You’ll be working at a very intense level and then backing off for a slower recovery period, followed by another round of high intensity.

Kara Meyer Robinson, Web MD

When I was a certified fitness instructor, I incorporated HIIT segments in the cardio portions of my classes, both in the studio and in the pool. It’s a relative newcomer to the exercise business, made popular by its efficiency — it HIITs a lot of fitness targets in a relatively short amount of time — and the variety it gives to a workout.

Researchers have found that HIIT improves both cardiovascular and muscular performance for trained athletes as well as individuals with coronary artery disease. I wanted to add it to my exercise routine in the water which was feeling a bit boring. When exercise isn’t fun, it becomes work.

The HIIT Tabata program

I thought that tabata might be a Portuguese dance, like capoeira. But, no, it’s the last name of the Japanese scientist who developed it in 1996.

Tabata training was discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.

Fara Ronsenzweig, Active

The structure of Tabata is 8 rounds of 20 seconds fast, 10 seconds slow. You can do any sort of movement as long as you can keep from flailing on the fast part. In the pool, I jogged, did jumping jacks and cross-country skiing, and leg lifts, working my muscles as my arms and legs pushed through the water and working my heart and lungs as I varied the tempo.

Exercise in a given Tabata workout lasts only four minutes, but it’s likely to be one of the longest four minutes you’ve ever endured.

Fara Ronsenzweig, Active

It’s important to listen to your body: only you decide how fast or slow you go. That’s one of the things I really like about Tabata: you go at your own pace.

However, yes, those 4 minutes can seem an eternity, and I need to be inspired to keep going. You can find loads of pre-recorded music that tells you when to GO and when to SLOW so that all you do is …. work! Here’s Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk a la Tabata which I enjoyed during my workout. There are also timers that keep the count for you.

The HIIT afterglow

High intensity workouts can leave you with a nice buzz. Yesterday’s 30-minute Tabata session in the pool left me feeling confident, calm, and serene. It’s endorphins, researchers say. However, I will listen to the experts (and my husband) and not burn myself out.

How will you incorporate HIIT in your next walk or other workout?