Swimming Through Change

Swimming Through Change

What do you love about swimming?

For me, I’ve just always loved being in the water and playing games with my friends. Starting from when I was 7 or 8 years old, I walked to our neighborhood pool, met my friends, and we played cards during adult swim, and sharks & minnows when there were enough of us there, and I swam on the swim team until I was 15 years old.  The swimming pool was the fabric of my summer existence.

During & after high school, other priorities came up, other sports, other interests, academics and eventually a job.  My first job out of college was with Voyageur Outward Bound School where we took groups of teenagers on backcountry wilderness canoe trips.  We taught them life skills and expedition skills. But my favorite days were teaching the kids whitewater kayaking skills. It seemed that again, water became the fabric of my existence.  It’s a miracle I never developed trench foot during a 3 week expedition in which it rained every day but one.

Dusting Off the Clubs

By the time I was 26 I longed for work that was more meaningful and impactful and in a roundabout way I decided to try to get into medical school.   The day I took my MCATs (Medical College Admission Test), I thought to myself, “If I’m going to become a doctor, I need to learn how to golf.”   So I dug around in the garage, found some dusty old clubs that my parents had owned and enjoyed when they were 20 years younger, and took myself and a few balls up to the ballfield that I had played in as a kid…the same ballfield that was on the way to the pool from my youth.

Let’s just say that it didn’t go well. I decided I would be a non-golfing doctor.

Diving Back in…

Fast forward five years, I had matched into residency, and somehow made the bizarre decision that training for a triathlon, rather than pure running for exercise, would give me more free time.  What was I thinking??  I started riding my bicycle to the rec center and took up swimming again after about 10 years away from the water sports I’d loved during my childhood and those first years after college.

It was…just as I had remembered it.  Smooth. Silent. Silky. Weightless. Magical. Mystical. Mysterious. Consistent. It was an activity where I could both disappear from the demands of Emergency Medicine training, and immerse myself into something familiar and comforting.  “You have a nice stroke,” was something I heard often.

Let’s fast forward again.   Since then…Back Surgery. Total Immersion. Pain free Swimming. Triathlon Coach. Youtube Host, interviewing legends like Mark Allen, Terry Laughlin, Gwen Jorgensen, Leanda Cave. Did I mention Mark Allen? Kirsten Sass. Volker Winkler.  (Look them all up)

My pursuit of triathlon became it’s own career path, and throughout it all the water was my place that was both familiar and challenging. Endless improvement and ingrained patterns from my youth. New friendships and YouTube “fame” had people introducing themselves to me at the World Championships…”You’re Suzanne Atkinson, I love your podcasts and interviews.”

Holding Things Together

The water was the glue. It always brought things back together. Even things that had fallen apart, like my body from a bucket tear disc injury, back surgery, car accident, physical therapy, ankle arthritis (those soccer moves!), and most recently being a temporary caregiver for my partner who had a cardiac arrest (he’s fine now, 1 in 10,000 survivor of 3 cardiac arrests…now we train together), and navigating my mothers progression with dementia, aricept overdoses, and the relentless march of time.  I submerged myself in the water and the water made me whole again.

At 50, I suddenly feel fit and fresh. I’m not in the same physical shape or the same weight I was at 47, or even 48…but 50 feels different. It feels fresh.  It feels ready. It feels forward. I’m optimistic.   The water is still there as it has been the past 45 years of my life.

What do I love about swimming? Everything.


What do YOU love about swimming? Post in the comments…


This blog also appears on FreshFreestyle.com, but without the internal blog links.

Two Months of Setbacks and Growth

This past 2 months has been a LONG two months of ups and downs, frustration & doubt and small nearly imperceptible successes on a day by day basis.

I’m far far far from where I expected to be at the end of April 2015, but then again many things have happened that I didn’t plan on.

Comparing where I WANT to be with where I AM is a huge source of frustration and anxiety for me. Not only physically (strength) wise, but also activity, yard work, personal projects, a book I’m co-writing, time and attention to my athletes, spring flowers, spring cleaning and the list goes on…

I don’t have this figured out by any means, but I know there is definitely some learning in here somewhere. I’ve ben listening to (and following along) with a lot of meditation podcasts (my favorite being ‘meditation-minis’) and the common theme that I’m picking up has to do with letting things go, setting things aside, putting things behind me, being OK with where (and who) I am now.

Part of me wishes I’d started a journal when this accident happened because I’ve been through so many ups and downs, but I don’t think I’d have enough time in a day to put all my thoughts down in words. I’ve just decided to absorb it all one day at a time and be the me that emerges each day when I open my eyes.

Some times it’s not who I wanted to be, but there’s not a lot I can do about that. I’m thankful for the sun, friends & athletes with patience, a caring boyfriend that knows how to wash dishes and do laundry, kitties that keep me cozy and warm and a big park to take walks in and decompress and think. Or not think.

And hopefully I’m done with viral respiratory illnesses for another year or two…what a setback this past week as been. So frustrating.

Perspectives on Physical Therapy

I went to physical therapy today for an evaluation after my car accident. While I was there, I noticed a young, healthy, athletic looking woman who came in on crutches, with fresh surgical scars on her knees take…her first steps.

“I can walk!” she said.

I have no idea what her injury or surgery was, but the therapist was teaching her movement by movement … heel first, then the foot. Let your knee bend a little, now step forward. She was relearning how to walk, step by step.

Extracting Riches from Time

Extracting Riches from Time

In Houston waiting for the flight to Pittsburgh now 4 minutes late. Plane pulls up to the gate. Me: “oh good, the plan is here!” Everyone around me: ” grumble grumble late grumble grumble”

Perspective people, perspective. You are all blessed with the freedom and income to travel. Unfortunately complaining and bad attitudes seem to be included.

I have learned so much from those who have fewer material goods than I do, but whom are far richer in extracting the most from each moment in life.



Hanging up the Stethescope

Hanging up the Stethescope

Well, it’s been a long time in coming, but I feel that it’s time to share it with all of you.  Doc Shazam is hanging up the stethescope.  I’ve had it, I’m through. The healthcare field sickens me both literally and figuratively.  I’ve gained weight, can’t sleep, suffer from migraines, have chronic shift worker’s disease, chronic sleep deprivation, and am horribly out of shape. I’ve sacrificed not only my physical health for this profession, but also my social health. I get anxious and feel panic well up inside of me when my friends mention going away for a weekend.  Why? Chances are more likely than not I’ll have to work that weekend. If not the weekend, then definately the friday night before.   Last year I didn’t get to participate in a single weekend bike race…a passion of mine, because I either worked every weekend, or every friday night until 1 or 3am.  For long time readers of Doc Shazam, you know how much I love to bike.

For all the wonderful things that come from being a doctor…the priveledge and thrill of saving lives, running codes, knowing how to set broken bones and suture kids faces without scarring…there are far more downsides for me.

No matter what the paycheck, it’s not worth it if I’m constantly tired, constantly have a headache, cannot pursue relationships with friends or family on a routine basis.

Yes, I know that there are many other physicians that (seem) to be able to do all of this, but when I discuss my recent decision with them, they all express a wish that they too could follow the same path.

What will Doc Shazam do?  Hopefully write.  Ride her bike. Coach Triathletes & cyclists. Garden. Find myself again.  Rid myself of insomnia, anxiety and panic.  Restore relationships with friends and family.  And become a better bike racer.

Reviving Sourdough

Reviving Sourdough

Thought I’d try to revive this blog the same way I’m reviving my sourdough starter…by cultivating the good and allowing that growth to eliminate the bad.  This blog used to be about my discoveries & fun encounters with a variety of things…birding, biking, learning medicine, etc.  Then it became a rant against the current status of american health care & delivery.

Well I don’t want to cultivate that anymore.  I want to revive my expression of learning & wonder about the world that surrounds us.

Sourdough, i learned, is active due to two primary organisms…yeast & lactobacillus.  The particular strains of each are what gives sourdough it’s wonderful taste.  2 days ago I dug out a starter I’d made nearly a year ago. It was more like a science project than a starter.  I carefully scraped off the mold & oxidized gray parts and scooped the rest into a bowl. I added some warm water, stirred vigerously to reoxygenate and added some flour.

To may amazement, the next day I found bubbles!  I carefully stirred & fed it again following the instructions here for reviving sourdough.

This morning, I actually got out a food scale, I want to do it right. I measured out 100 grams of my revival project, added 50 g of water and 50 g of flour and set it in the oven with the light on.  If all goes well, I’ll be blogging about some amazing bread in a few days. Stay tuned.