Hi! Welcome to Mad Health Chick! I’m Maddie and it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back as I get my blog up and running.
I was born into a family of sports enthusiasts- my dad is a hardcore mountain biker, skier, and gym go-er. My mom was a swimmer in high school, and now she runs half marathons and skis the slopes. So it was only natural for my parents to sign my brother, sister, and I up for as many sports as possible when we were younger. All boys softball team? Been there, done that (I was practically dragged from our mini-van kicking and screaming ). In fact, I can almost guarantee that one of us learned to ski before we learned to walk. Sports have always been a part of our lives, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Through sports I’ve learned my most valuable life lessons, become best friends with some pretty incredible people, and I’ve had the best times of my young life. I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs, but through it all sports have always remained a constant in my life.
That being said, there is one specific sport that changed me, and subsequently changed my life. A few years ago I had no idea what to do with myself. The sport that had once filled my life with happiness and laughter, was now a constant source of pain and sadness. At the young age of 17 I thought my life was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I didn’t think I would ever find something that made me as happy, and as fulfilled. I’m 19 years old now, and I wish I could go back and tell the younger me that life moves on. Your hopes and dreams aren’t set in stone. They can change along with you.
Swimming. The sport I’ll always love. The first real memories I have of swimming are from when I was 9 years old. My family had just moved from Toronto to Ottawa for my dad’s job. Apparently in Toronto I was quite the little swimmer, so when our neighbours mentioned that their two daughters were on a competitive swim team, my mom called the team and asked if I could try-out. I walked onto the pool deck with my mom in a 101 Dalmation swim suit that for some reason didn’t cover my stomach. (One of my friends still talks about that suit to this day). After a quick chat with my mom, the coach walked over to me and asked me to swim 100 metres of freestyle. Come again? I had no idea what in the world she was talking about- I was still using the old school swimming lingo. I quickly ran over to my mom for clarification and she kindly told me that freestyle was front crawl, and 100 metres was four laps of the pool. Into the pool I went, only to emerge five minutes later, sobbing because someone had kicked me in the eye. To my surprise, the coach said that they would love to have me on the team, and she would see me at practice next week.
Well, I quickly outgrew my Dalmation suit and went on to qualify for my first provincials as a 9 year old. Not a bad feat! And, I managed to get a guinea pig out of that accomplishment. I was told by my parents that I could get a hamster (yes, I said hamster) if I made the provincial time standards in any event. (Note to all parents: be careful what you promise your kid(s). They might end up surprising you and then you’re stuck with a furry little rodent that your daughter is afraid to touch!) The very next day we went to the pet store and asked to look at the hamsters. To keep a long story short, I walked out of the store with a band-aid on one hand (the result of a hamster who likes to bite), and a guinea pig in the other. As I later found out, I’m not very fond of little rodents that can crawl all over you and leave a nice little present in your hands. I digress. Back to swimming.
Over a 5 year period, I saw over 40 doctors and health care professionals. Doctors, neuro surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, homeopathy doctors, you name it, I can guarantee you I saw them. And where did all of this take me? Ottawa, Montreal, Florida, Vancouver, Toronto, and Rochester (Mayo Clinic).
For the first 3 years of my injury, I kept swimming through the pain- my practices consisted of a lot of kicking and flipper use. I competed at swim meets, but I wasn’t able to swim anything over 100 metres (remember, that’s 4 laps). I even qualified for Senior Nationals, which meant that I got to compete at the 2008 Olympic Trials! I didn’t place very well, but I had the time of my life.
I went from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what could possibly be wrong with my shoulders, to no avail. I had no idea what to do with myself. I was a mess. On the outside everything was fine. I smiled, I laughed, I tried to act like everything was okay, when it was the furthest thing from okay. On the inside I was falling apart. I was in so much pain, emotionally and physically, and I didn’t know who to turn to.
I had finally had enough. A month before I started Grade 12, I made the decision to stop swimming for the year, with the hopes of finally figuring out what was going on with my shoulders, and with the high hopes of finding a solution. Little did I know that the absence of swimming and everything it entailed would affect me so dramatically. My moods were sporadic, I never felt like talking, I distanced myself from my friends and family, and I felt absolutely horrible all the time. I was struggling at school- my grades were falling, I was unfocused, and I was never really present in class (my mind was always somewhere else). A trip to my guidance counselor’s office ended with an explanatory phone call to my mom. I told her everything. A week later I had an appointment with a psychologist who confirmed what I had been thinking and feeling for so long. In May 2010 I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and anxiety.
I graduated from high school a month later, and decided that it would probably be best to take a year off from school. I figured that keeping myself busy was a good idea, so I got a job, and I started taking correspondence courses to improve some of my grades. Meanwhile, I was making progress on the injury front. My second visit to a vascular surgeon in Toronto had proved worthwhile. While performing a radial pulse test on me, he was puzzled to find that my results proved to be consistent with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. When I first met with him the previous summer, the results for TOS had been negative. TOS in lamen terms is a compression of either the vein, artery, or nerve in the neck/shoulder area. I was given two options to move forward with- 1. live with the pain and numbness and hope that it eventually goes away. Or 2. have surgery called a first rib resection and scalenectomy where they enter through your armpit, and remove a part of your first rib and your scalene muscles.
I had the surgery on January 5, 2011 (only on my left shoulder). With a success rate of less than 50% I wasn’t expecting to walk away symptom free, but I knew I had to give it a shot, or I would spend my days wondering what the outcome could have been. Except for the first week, my recovery was fast and easy. I was back spinning a week and a half later, and I was back in the gym a month later. Today, I would say that my left shoulder/arm is about 15-20% better than before my surgery. Right now, I have no plans to have my right shoulder operated on. An improvement that small isn’t enough for me to go through that process all over again.
And this is where food makes its appearance (this is a food blog after all!) I started experimenting with cooking when I was in Grade 10, but quickly lost interest as other areas of my life became more of a concern to me. This past summer is when I truly started to feel like me again. And I thank food for that. And no, it’s not because I ate copious amounts of it! It’s because I realized that I could create amazing food that can turn a frown into a smile, or tears into laughter. Yes, food really does have the power to do that. I’ve finally found something that makes me happy and excited again. It’s been a really tough struggle, but I can now say that I’m at a place in my life where I have hope for my future, and for all the amazing and exciting opportunities and adventures that lay ahead.