Tai Chi Plays an Important Role in My Recovery from a Serious Car Accident
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
Max’s life changed irrevocably one day in April 2007. He was in a car accident, a head on collision resulting in multiple fractures on his left side – shoulder, ribs, knee and ankle.
Prior to the accident, Max had trained for two years in a form of Tae Kwon Do but his injuries prevented any return to such a physically demanding exercise. After a couple of weeks in hospital, over the next four months he was in a wheelchair, using a walking frame, then on to crutches. In October he tried the martial arts class again but despite working at his own level, he realised that his very limited range of movement made the possibility of meaningful progress impossible.
Intensive physiotherapy was part of the recovery process and his physiotherapist made it profoundly clear that the quality of the outcome was directly related to the effort he made. He did Pilates to help rebuild posture, and is lucky in that a family member is a remedial massage therapist. They complemented his treatment by explaining the reasons for and the benefits of the exercises he was given. He also went to an osteopath.
One of his goals was to return to the martial arts classes but the osteopath explained that his balance would have to improve or he’d be struggling. “The best way to do that is through Tai Chi.” This was sometime in 2008. Max accepted the information but mentally put it aside. He had a vague idea of Tai Chi – it was Chinese exercise, gentle and involved meditation. Then his physiotherapist told him they’d reached his limit with the physio exercises he could do, but he still couldn’t raise his left arm above about chest level. Shoulder surgery was the next, a very undesirable option. He remembered the advice of his osteopath “Go to Tai Chi”. So at the beginning of 2009, with the aim of avoiding surgery later that year, he did.
“Looking back over my first year of Tai Chi, I’m very happy with my progress. I can now rotate my left arm right round in a vertical circle during the warm up circling arm exercise. I do the Spinal Rotation with a book balanced on the palm of my hand and can do it on both left and right sides. I delayed and then cancelled the surgery I had scheduled. My left leg is much stronger and my balance has greatly improved.
My physio gave me some tests recently. She said, 'That’s a four year leg.' In other words. my left leg has regained in two years the strength normally achieved in four. I used to stumble a lot. Now I rarely do and as a result my confidence has grown. Tai Chi has been a major component in that improvement. I’ve phased out the physio exercises and replaced them with Tai Chi although I still do other exercises as well.”
“Next year I want to consolidate what I’ve learned. I know I can draw more benefit from the meditation. At first, although the Qigong was enjoyable and relaxing, I was more interested in the physical aspects. I practised it more in the first two terms and was surprised by how effective it is. I’d never done anything like that before. As are many people, I’m time poor and I didn’t make the meditation a priority. However, I’m becoming more conscious of the need for Qigong in order to deepen my knowledge of Tai Chi.”
“Tai Chi has helped me accept the new reality of my life. One of the hardest things is to accept the changes my injuries have imposed upon me. I would like to return to my original martial art but as I get older, it appeals less – I’d previously cracked a rib from the sparring and I really don’t want more broken bones. Tai Chi offers a more sustainable way to progress. Students can find their own level. They can push themselves harder if they want to by joining the martial arts classes or alternatively staying in the form and practising more, or they can progress at a slower pace if they prefer. No gradings removes pressure. The conventional style martial arts systems are less forgiving and much more difficult for older people. More regimented.”
“I suspect my physical improvements will be less marked now so I want to explore some of the other courses the Academy offers. I think the Bang (Tai Chi Stick) would be very beneficial, and perhaps I might even try the martial arts, the Wu Dao Gong or Yang Mian.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)