Broken, But Not De-Feeted

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You’ve gotta be #@$#!% kidding me!

This was the thought scrolling through my head as I heard the bones in my right foot snap last Thursday.

Yes, if you’ve been in my little blogging family for a while, you already know that in February ’08, while running along my favorite trail, I wiped out in some mud, rolled my ankle and fractured a biggish bone in my left foot.

Well, it’s just a little over a year later and, through some freakish convergence of karma, stupidity and nature, I’ve now taken out the other foot…same exact bone, on the same trail, at almost the same point, wearing the same shoes. But, this time, it’s a complete break, two pieces. So rather than walking around with a boot for 6 weeks, I’m on crutches, one-footed, for at least a month, before I even get to the walking air-cast stage.

I’ve been injured before, but never something that took away my mobility in any meaningful way.

And, I’ve got to tell you, this really sucks.

I don’t like being on crutches.

I don’t like that I have to plan my trips to the kitchen.

I don’t like that I can’t drive myself around.

I don’t like that I had to eat my sandwich standing in the kitchen, because I didn’t realize I couldn’t carry it with crutches in both hands.

I don’t like that I have to ask for help for things that I’ve done for myself for 43 years.

But, mostly, I mortified at how open I’ve become to the notion of man-fannypacks!

And, I am not loving the potential for imbalances, misalignment, atrophy, weight gain, loss of condition and wellness that this whole experience has the potential to rain down upon my life. Because, I have to be honest, I didn’t exactly go into this injury the picture of health.

In fact, I’m pretty confident that this injury was due, at least in part, to some major postural dysfunctions that resulted from my lack of attention to the changes in my body that occurred during my not-so-complete recovery from last year’s foot-astrophe. I didn’t respond nearly as aggressively as I should have, from both a nutritional, postural and fitness standpoint. And, it left me with a lot of aches, pains, lack of fitness and excess weight.

But, this time around…I’m not rolling over.

I’ve spent the better part of the last week researching the stages of repair for bone breaks, along with the activities and nutritional approaches that facilitate healing. Knowing that one part of my body will essentially be an orphan limb for 4-12 weeks, I am drawing upon my fitness and yoga background the create a staged conditioning and dynamic myofascial repatterning program designed to counter the effects of my unbalanced workloads.

One of my biggest challenges, though, will be cardiovascular exercise.

My ortho says everything weight bearing is out and I can’t even swim, unless I strap my legs to a board and only use my upper body. I’ll be trying that out this week and reporting back on how it worked. But, I’m in the early stages of brainstorming ways to get my heart moving…without using my feet. If anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears.

And, one more thing. Though it’s only been a week on crutches, I’ve already begun to work in shifting my mindset away from the suck-factor and back onto the “learning” factor. Already, what I’ve experienced has opened my eyes to what people who rely on crutches or other aids for a lifetime are challenged with.

I am truly humbled by how many little things have to be done differently when your body doesn’t function the way other peoples’ bodies do.

I’m awed by those who live with physical challenges far beyond what I’m experiencing with such grace. And, I’m thankful to have so many people in my life who are here to support, inspire and encourage me. To share in the journey.

Normally, I’d turn most of my energy inward at a time like this and focus on helping myself.

But, I figure we’ve grown a pretty phenomenal community here, one that’s certainly made my life richer. And, one that’s collectively waaaaayyyy smarter than me.

So, this time around, I’m going to try something different and open up to your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

On ideas for effective cardio that doesn’t use the legs (tough challenge). For me, and also for anyone else going through a time of physical and, yes, even emotional recovery.

So, feel free to share away, gang…

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34 responses

34 responses to “Broken, But Not De-Feeted”

  1. […] Original post by Awake At The Wheel | Crossroads of Work & Play […]

    • christineq says:

      Hi, I just read your blog and although I was laughing my ass off the way you wrote about your injury ( by the way thnx, since i havent laughed that hard in weeks) I completely understand and feel your pain. You see, on August 9th, I slipped going out my front door carrying a rather large houseplant that needed transplanting. I went via ambulance to the hospital ( NO INSURANCE!!) and was diagnosed a few days later as having a lisfranc sprain. I was assured I hadnt broken anything ( although,the jury, my jury, is still out on that one!!) I have been in excrutiating pain ever since. The first week, I lived in my wheelchair, thanks to my husbands grandparents letting me borrow theirs!! It was my saving grace!! The crutches the hospital gave me were useless. I couldn’t believe the pain. I couldn’t get to the bathroom, get a glass of water or stand up on my own. My doctor was an ass and when came into the room to examine my foot his attitude was, ” well, so where does it hurt??” He had an extremely cocky attitude and I was like, uummmm, my foot looks like a water balloon, PICK A SPOT!!! The whole underside and on top of my foot was completely swollen and bruised. As a matter of fact, when i lay straight, and had my leg stretched out in front of me, I couldn’t even see my toes, that was how swollen it was. I sit here today writing you to share my story with you. I am still in pain, cannot get a shoe on and there is still swelling on top of my toes and the side of my foot. I am much better off than I was in the beginning, but, I fear I will never be the same. I am afraid I will never be able to enjoy a nice long walk on a sunny day, or, run around in the grass or enjoy a day at a museum without being in some kind of pain. Oh!! I forgot to mention that I also had sprained my right ankle and had fractured my left leg at the time!!! I have been able to get around in a walking boot that I have from a previous injury ( YES, I AM A BONIFIED KLUTZ!!) however, I have to plot out what I am getting from the store ahead of time so as not to be walking from end to end. I can no longer linger and take my time, I just have to limit myself to only a couple of bags. The pain is unbearable and frustrating and I have cried many tears. I have been up and down the internet to read other people’s horror stories. My heart goes out to anyone who has suffered this type of injury. Especially, if their doctor or doctors have been complete jerks and if they lack health insurance. Thanks for having this blog. I enjoyed reading your story, although, I do hope you feel better too.

  2. Jerry says:


    Can you try a pull buoy in the pool? Most of your propulsion comes from your arms anyway. You should be able to get a good cardio workout that way if your can waterproof your foot somehow… πŸ™‚

    Good luck,


  3. Jason says:

    Sorry to hear Jon! Hope you recover quickly. If you can get to the gym, this might be a good exercise…. (no idea what it’s called, so I had to go with the picture!).

  4. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jerry – Yeah, someone else mentioned that to me, will have to see if they can hook that up at my local pool, so I can give it a try

    @ Jason – Thanks for the link to the arm bike, I’ve used them before, but they tend to be pretty hard to find outside of rehab facilities these days.

  5. Scientists know that the mind does not know the difference between “reality” and “imagination”.
    And lots of athletes therefore literally train their bodies by just picturing doing the exercises in their mind. There have been tests with people just “pretending” and others “really” doing an exercise routine. At the end both groups enjoyed the same bodily effects (more muscle and less fat tissue, weight loss etc.)
    Maybe you can try that!

  6. Ken says:

    Buy a set of rings. It will be all upper body work, but it should get your body going. is a great site. Good information and they have rings cheap. You just need a place to hang them. Bracing your body to make sure you have no leg movement will only intesify the action and give you a nice little abdominal workout too. I hope whatever you do you have a speedy recovery.

  7. Ouch! Tough break (no pun intended) Jonathan. As inconvenient as this temporary situation is I think the lessons on humility and empathy are extremely valuable. I herniated a disk in my neck last year and pain became my teacher. Truth is, on some level we are all damaged goods. Life’s lessons sometimes leave scars.

    For conditioning I would think any type of high rep circuit training on weight machines (so you don’t need to carry any weights) would be doable. Keeping the weight light and the reps very high will allow you to stay at it long enough to activate your cardiovascular system while targeting the muscle groups of choice.

    Wishing you a speedy and complete recovery in record time.

  8. Unfortunately I don’t have any physical suggestions for you, but I would suggest keeping a good, positive attitude. Attitude, as you know, can make such a difference in any situation and I think it could really help here!

  9. David Cain says:

    Hmmm.. Not a lot you can do without putting weight on your legs.

    Do you have a pullup bar? You can work a lot of muscles and still let yourself down carefully on your intact leg.

    I’d do high-volume pullups, Pavel-style. That means doing high-frequency, low-volume sets (about 50% max reps), several times a day. Check out this link:

    Do you think you could do pushups? Lots of possibilities there.

    As for cardio… I just don’t know.

  10. JC says:

    Why do you *have* to exercise in this time? It is important to you but perhaps you can use this time to explore other things. Read books in the 1-hr that you would have spent at the gym. Listen to music or watch films that you normally wouldn’t have time for. Perhaps think of enrichment as opposed to deprivation….

  11. LisaNewton says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your broken leg. As to a suggestion for exercise, I’d like to suggest using a wheelchair for a month. Now, I now you don’t necessarily need it to get around, but as far as cardiovascular exercise, I think you could get a pretty good workout depending on where you were able to use it.

    I just discovered a type of wheelchair that I’d never seen before, a Beach Wheelchair. If you scroll down to the third picture, you’ll see what I mean.

    Because you have trails near by, it might be the perfect solution. I don’t know if you can rent one for a month, but if so, I can imagine getting a good workout using it.

    Jonathan, I wish you a speedy recovery, and many moments of heavy sweating (in a good way).

  12. Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey, thanks for all the well-wishes, resources and ideas, gang! Truly helpful. πŸ™‚

    @ JC – Really great question you’ve asked – why do I HAVE to exercise now, instead of refocusing my energies on other aspects of personal development?

    I think the answer is important to share. Being on crutches for a month and an air-cast for another month leads to overweighting and conditioning one leg, while the other atrophies and tightens.

    Added to the workload the upper body endures of carting the full body around for a month and this almost always creates tremendous secondary dysfunction and compensation patterns across your entire body that will lead eventually to chronic pain and a trail of future injuries. So, if I don’t do something to rebalance and correct this dysnfunction as soon as is intelligent, I am in for a world of extended pain and limitation.

    So, it’s not so much that I want to make other parts of my body buff, while my foot is healing, but that I want to do everything possible to rebalance and correct along the way to the extent it’s possible, rather than waiting until everything is so out of whack and painful, the very thought of movement stops me from exercising long term.

    Sadly, that’s pretty much what happened last time I was injured and, I believe, my lack of attention to really intelligent conditioning and progressive rehab played a major role in why I’m injured again now.

    So, while I will definitely take some time to look inward, it’s also important for me to make a serious effort to take care of my physical body this time around.

    Again, great question!

  13. Gail Grossman says:

    So sorry to hear of this twist of fate! No seriously, try some Kundalini Yoga Kriyas, just the arm ones! You can do them in a chair, and they definitely get your heart pumping! I know it’s not full on exercise, with the whole body, but you asked for cardio!

  14. Joe Jacobi says:

    You’re going to be up and going in no time, Jonathan. Here are a couple of things I was thinking you might look into. Easiest thing is to buy some surgical/rubber tubing (from any medical supply store) – basically a stretchy cord that you attach to something permanent (bed post, door knob.) You can attach two cords – one for each arm. You can do lots of exercises simulating the arm part of swimming, a kayaking (while sitting,) etc. You can also do a ton of should, chest, and back exercises that actually target small muscle fibers that are hard to access lifting heavier weights. These kind of exercises also help prevent general atrophy and make your comeback a little smoother when you’re feeling better.

    Of course as the weather gets warmer and you’re foot better, I’d still encourage you to try kayaking in NYC. There are rowing/boat clubs that have super stable boats that won’t require any foot pressure if you don’t want. I’d be happy to help you research this or better yet, find you someone to paddle with if you want to give this a try.

  15. riva says:

    I wish you speedy healing.
    We don’t pay enough attention to our ankles and feet, do we? They’re everything!
    Physical therapy is key. After a really bad sprain, that I ignored for months, I finally gave in because it wasn’t healing.
    A few years later, my balance is still off. And I step very carefully, don’t run, and have great gratitude for those tiny little bones that support our whole bodies!

  16. Jonathon,
    So sorry to hear of your injury. Obstacles become our challenges for growth don’t they? Still doesn’t make it fun.

    This power wheel immediately came to mind. I don’t know for sure, but maybe you could modify the workout for knees up and get the upper body benefits. I am sure it would increase your heart rate while working on upper body strength and balance.

  17. (oops, that’s Jonathan. I need coffee πŸ˜‰ )

  18. Gilbert (@CrazyOnYou) says:

    I don’t have any suggestions, but thought I would share the first (and so far only) time I broke bones. It was the evening of the first day of deer season and after 20 or so miles of walking in the woods all day, my hunting buddies suggested we ride some 3-wheeler ATVs.

    Full of youth and overflowing with stupidity, I agreed to ride even though I’d never been on one before. I mean, how different from motorcycles could they be? Well, going around a curve too fast I found out. I could either ditch left down the mountain or try my luck right against the side of the mountain. My tibia stopped the 3-wheeler from a 35 mph run in a second or so. (The x-ray showed a really cool vee pattern of powderlike bone fragments.)

    Cutting to the chase, I ended up with orthopedic surgery to stabilize that arm using an external fixiter and because the “sprain” in the other arm was actually fractured wrist bones it was decorated in a cast to match.

    Being temporarily disabled means that you learn quickly the things you can’t do for yourself. In my case, without the use of either of my thumbs, there were certain bathroom necessities I was helpless to perform. I got frequent proof of how much my wife loves me… πŸ™‚

    Anyway, it could be worse. It could be raining. πŸ˜›

  19. Laurie says:

    If it were me, I would get an orthopedic leg scooter. You can wheel around with your leg up and not be so restricted mobility wise. It also doesn’t kill your arms like crutches do. The best thing about them is you can have a basket on the front, lose the fanny pack, and save your manhood!

  20. Maria says:

    If you want to try swimming , there’s a gadget swimmers use to train the upper body called a pulley. It is a foam wedge you put between your legs and it keeps them afloat while you use your arms. It is easy to use, very inexpensive and gives you a great workout. You can find it at any sports shop.

  21. Laureen says:

    Sorry to hear about the foot–it’s always right when you seem to be getting back into gear that something else happens.

    I’ve been using for circuits each day in addition to running–the circuits change from day to day and Gabrielle Reese and her trainer, Mike Monroe, demonstrate each move with a video clip. The important thing now is variety–challenging your upper body and core in new ways. Just pick the exercises you can do and go through the circuit a few more times. A heartrate monitor is also a good indicator of how hard you’re working and a way to train with consistent effort.

    Another thing that will make your recovery to pre-2008 shape easier is to carefully watch your intake now. You’re going to be significantly less active and burning less calories–maybe you can consult a nutritionist to determine how much you should be taking in to meet your goals and what nutrients you need to be getting to boost the healing process.

  22. Sorry. Sorry Sorry.

    Been there. Fell off my bike and could not put any pressure on my knee for two months. Bad break. Then therapy. Miserable time.

    I just have a couple of practical things to share:

    Wear leather gloves. Your hands get a beating on crutches.

    Try alternating a walker with the crutches. They have some that have a little basket now. And you will feel steadier if you get up in the night.

    Tie plastic bags to your cruches or walker to transport small things from place to place.

    Ask your doctor if you can take a shower (hand held) with a garbage bag and strong rubber bands around the top. Be sure to get a shower chair so you don’t slip.

    And know there is nothing in life that can’t wait.

    Thank the good Gods for the Internet.

    PS My chiropractor told me no one over thirty should jog. Maybe he is right.

  23. Ouch! Sorry to hear this.

    Good for you (as usual) for turning this obstacle into an opportunity for reflection and personal growth (no pun intended!).

    All the best for a speedy recovery!

  24. Susan Greene says:

    Try using the time spent off your feet to do what you obviously do so well — write. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after this trying situation you emerged with another best-selling book!

    Best wishes for a speedy and productive recovery.

  25. Simon Synett says:

    Oy vey, so sorry to hear it. Wish you a speedy and *complete* recovery.



  26. Mary says:

    I just broke my ankle last week on my birthday. I have never broken anything in my life, so this crutches thing is a lot to handle. I was going to try resistence bands w my good leg. Arms too. I am making protein shakes and just trying to stick w those(protein powder,milk,frozen fruit).

  27. Enrique S says:

    I was going to say the arm bike, too, as my father-in-law used one when he was rehabbing. Maybe a set of dumbbells for your upper body, like Powerblocks, which are adjustable. Hang in there, and don’t get down on yourself. You’ll be back in no time.

  28. christine says:

    Hi Jonathan, this is my first visit to your blog..via Chris Gillebeau. I am an avid ultra distance runner (marathons and ultra’s) and I have had two incidents of broken bones in my foot…one a stress fracture that broke clean in half during a race (I didn’t know till the race was over..I came third :)), and the other last year when I broke my toe 8 weeks out from my premier yearly event, a 96 km run. Last year I could swim with pull bouy, and I then supplimented my runs with deep water running for an hour..which was boring to start, but then I added in interval sessions, sprints etc…and boy did that work up a sweat. As soon as I could I got onto a stationary bike in spin classes. I couldn’t stand up in the saddle for a while, but when I could I did. With a complete break, you will need to give yourself the 2 weeks for the bones to knit together enough to be able to do some of these things. I managed to do my 96 k event ( with my team of four women and we came third overall…so my fitness didn’t suffer too much.
    Good luck,

  29. Nicole says:

    Injuries can really shake your emotional well being to the core. When I broke my leg last year snowboarding in Whistler – I constantly had to prevent myself from going down the road of “why me?”

    The best thing you can do is to stay positive and continue to focus on the things you can do – sit ups, bent knee pushups, arm weights, certain light stretching moves, dips (one legged?), bicep curls. Physical exercise will help keep your endorphines kickin until you’re fully recovered.

    I found crutches themselves are a decent cardio workout – embrace them!

    However, your “mental” health is the most important thing when dealing with a physical injury.

    Daily meditation works – expressing gratitude for all the things you do have. This takes your mind off the injury and makes you realize you have a lot to be grateful for…your food, home, family, breath, etc.

    There will days which are frustrating and where you want to just throw the crutches away…these are the best days to learn about yourself, and see how you react in difficult situations.

    Observe your mind and again, try to stay positive!

    Health and happiness,

  30. yeah you are not de-feeted
    he3x nice title,

    lucky you, it’s time to do something different,
    you know, some people just have not a chance to do something new, they always busy with their daily boring activities

  31. omron zs says:

    As far as cardiovascular exercise is concerned simple walking routine is the best. However, since your leg is broken you could try to replace walking with swimming. You could also use weights but be careful not to over do it. Keep up with the positive attitude! It’s half of the battle!

  32. Tank says:

    I can absolutely sympathize. I was in a car wreck in Nov 07 (I was hit head-on) and had a bad Lisfranc fracture. I still had a limp and was still recovering 15 months later when I broke my tib/fib in 3 places on the same leg. Now I have 20 screws and 2 plates in my right leg and will have permanent problems. I have not found a cure-all exercise, but the hardest is motivation! What I like to do is use the stability ball and dumbells. There are many variations with these tools that work your entire core, not just arms and shoulders. The big key, as mentioned above, is circuits with light weight, many reps, and very little rest in-between. Good luck!

  33. Bob says:

    i just submit for the rss .. πŸ˜€