Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2013

Overcoming Loss to Pursue a Dream

When asked what she did last summer, 72-year-old Group Health member Melanie Johnson of Spokane says she rode her bike cross country.

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Melanie JohnsonThat's impressive on its own, but even more so considering what she overcame.

In 2006 she lost an eye to infection, which brought her retirement dream of riding through every state to a halt. Used to winning medals for running and enjoying week-long bike rides, she faced a physically and mentally challenging recovery period. But last summer, Johnson took to the road again, riding 3,677 miles from Astoria, Ore., to Portsmouth, N.H.

Recently she shared her story with Vitality.

How were you able to overcome the loss of your eye?
I attended a Group Health Living Well With Chronic Conditions workshop, which was so helpful that now I facilitate a class. My doctor also referred me to a Behavioral Health specialist, who addressed my depression and post-traumatic stress. I don't think I could even talk about this if I hadn't learned to fully understand the nature of my loss and how to move past this trauma.
What motivated you to start exercising?
My dog, Phoebe! At first I drove to a park to let her run. Then I set a goal of walking up the hill to a 360-degree view, which became an inspirational place to cry and regain my strength. I took a picture of us at the top, because I needed to see that I was whole. Looking at that really made a difference.

When did you start bicycling again?
About four months after I lost my eye, I installed a large mirror on the left side of my bike, and started riding to prove I could do it. When I got on the first time, I was surprised that I didn't lose my balance and fall down. A year later I rode 500 miles from New Orleans to Memphis, and have continued to ride since then.

What is your current exercise regime?
I lift weights, do yoga, and take spinning classes. From spring to fall, I ride on local rural roads and trails. After the surgery, I found that although I could talk myself into moving forward, I didn't always follow through. Now I’m in a routine, and it's working.
Do you have advice for others with new physical limitations?
Motivation has to come from within, and if you want something badly enough, it will. Accept that even though things won't be like they were before, a new way will appear. Find something you can do right now, and then take the risk. Don't ever, ever limit yourself.

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