TupaTalk: Bouncing back from rocks and hard places

(Note: This is the second of a two-part column.)

I’ve been reflecting on how each of you has experienced some kind of pain or physical/medical hardships throughout your lives — and how you’ve responded to it.

When I was a teenager, I leaned back on a metal chimney pipe of a burning stove and felt like my entire back had been branded. As I lie prone on a bed in suffering, my mom slathered salve on the burn. She also told me what a miracle the human body is and how it has the ability to heal or adjust to most the hardships we encounter, if we give it a chance.

As a sports editor, I’ve seen amazing courage and resiliency in athletes in bouncing back from physical crises, as well as by relatives and many others.

I’ve also had my share of lessons of the frailty of human well-being in a world with a lot of sharp corners. Indeed, I consider myself a graduate of the school of hard knocks.

More:TUPATALK: Sticking it out

In the first half of this column, I mentioned some of those. I also recalled back to latter 1970s during my church mission in Italy. While living in the community of Moncalieri, a small Italian car, known as a CinqueCento, ran into me on my bike when I tried to cross the street without looking. I mean, it was a head-on shot, with the car probably going 20 mph. As I struggled to peel myself off the ground, Italians came streaming out of the shops and homes along the street. The accident had been my fault and I said out loud, “Colpa mia, colpa mia” (my fault) to the clamoring crowd. Later that day I had a shoulder X-rayed. By the next day, I was back doing my assignment.

I finally got my knee operated on in Italy, major surgery with two long incisions. But, a combination of me going out and playing soccer about a month later and some unresolved issues in the knee led to a second operation three months later in Salt Lake City.

While in Marines, one day I tried to mount the top of a work trailer, without benefit of a ladder. Problem was, my elbows were greasy. As I used them as a hook on which to pull up the rest of my body, they slipped and I felt straight backward, from about 12 feet up, right on to the back of the my head on a cement tarmac.

I think I managed to get one shoulder and elbow extended to absorb part of the ball. I didn’t even go to the doctor.

There was another knee injury — and I walked and ran on it for two-and-a-half years before the military system finally got my in for an operation. I recall during that stretch, my injured knee would kind of click out. I can’t really explain it. It wasn’t a complete displacement but definitely uncomfortable and painful. When it happened — usually when I was on one of my daily 5- to 11-mile runs — I would stop, reach down with both hands to the front of my calf, pull up and toward me and knee popped into place. When I finally got my knee fixed, the surgeon told me it was the worst cartilage tear he had ever seen.

At age 30 I had to give up distance running following another knee operation. Even so, I tried about a half-dozen times the next few years to start a new running regimen. But, my knees just couldn’t respond to the pounding. I became a semi-distance walker for several years in Bartlesville, but that is on hold now, for multiple reasons.

I’ve had other brushes with the harsh reality of other health absurdities — just as all of you have, or will likely, experience.

There are many of you I would not trade health and pain issues with. There are amazing people who chose to adjust gracefully and courageously to physical challenges that make me, and most of us, shudder. They are among my heroes.

On a local level, I recall how Bartlesville athlete Nate Alleman bounced back from a horrific broken leg to play four years of college football — as a kicker. I remember how Jenks coach Allan Trimble traveled to Bartlesville to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. He was already well into the insidious affects of Lou Gehrig's disease, strapped in a wheelchair and with many of his muscles not functioning. But, he could still talk and he delivered wonderful words and advice. I didn't realize, until the last year or two, what a hardship it must have been to him to travel. But, he still had something to say, and he overcame the challenges.

I still go back to what my mom said. The body has a marvelous, wondrous set of systems and protections that will help mitigate a lot of woe when we allow it to, sometimes with medical help.

I’ve lived most of a lifetime since hearing that observation by my mom, and I’m grateful for this durable, rugged, scarred body. It has taken a lot of blows and kept going, allowing me to a full measure of physical enjoyment and expression in sports, running, walking, work, being of service when needed to others, and so on. Things are a little slow right now, but the gratitude is profound. I wouldn’t change one mile ran, one stadium step climbed or one box hauled.

Mike Tupa
Mike Tupa

This article originally appeared on Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise: Mike Tupa: Bouncing back from rocks and hard places