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Joy in Mudville: The Comeback

“Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Satchel Paige

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something” Nolan Ryan

Baseball is more like life than any sport it is a game that requires stamina and gives players who continue to produce a chance to keep playing longer than most other sports, even players that are not super stars.  But sometimes life like baseball presents every person situations where it takes everything that you have to keep yourself in the game.

The military is something like sports because in order to remain viable in the military you have to remain physically fit and in an age where the military is shrinking there is little grace given to the old veterans.  I am not going to recount most of my post-Iraq experience battling PTSD as well as a number of nagging physical injuries to my shoulders, left elbow, right knee and right ankle.  Neither my brain nor my body was responding the way I thought that they should and for the first time I discovered the connection between the two.  Jeff Passan wrote concerning ball players, particularly in light of the recent plight of Yankees great Jorge Posada and his battle with age and deteriorating performance “It’s a battle with the brain, with knowing and feeling you belong despite your body’s revolt. The two work symbiotically, and once one turns, it’s difficult to keep the other from following.”

That was true for me for the first time in over 25 years in the military.  I have shared my struggle with my weight recently but another hurdle that I faced was trying to get my head back in the game regarding my physical fitness.  I felt my injuries; they were nagging and took forever to heal. Gone were the days of taking a day or two off and then going back into my usual fitness regime.  I was old and I felt like it. Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.” It wasn’t until the spring of 2010 that my mind began to get back into the game and I began to test my body in ways that I hadn’t since Iraq.  I began to get back in physical shape and though my weight kept me from getting off the fat boy program my score of 265 for the physical fitness test portion was rated as “high excellent” not quiet the top level but not bad for someone on the comeback trail. I was just one pushup shy of the outstanding score and I stopped because I thought I had the number that I needed, I had more in me but quit.  As a result the spring of 2010 went down as my second failure.  In the Navy if you fail three times in 4 years you can be processed for administrative separation. For me this would have meant being forced to retire despite having been selected for promotion to Commander.  It would have been humiliating.

When I reported to my new command it became my goal to not only be in weight standards but to continue to improve my physical performance.  I had to. A failure on either portion would have probably meant the end of my career.  I had to dig deep and as the weight came off my physical performance became better and I began to feel like a whole person again. Even so as the time neared for the Physical Fitness Assessment I was concerned I could not take any chances on my weight and likewise could not do badly on the physical readiness test.  Nolan Ryan was right. I had to prove something and I wanted to prove something and I was willing to dig deep to do it.

As I mentioned before I came in 6 pounds below my maximum weight.  This afternoon I took the physical readiness test with about a dozen officers and sailors from the hospital.  As at many commands people wait until the last day to take the test so attendance today was light.  Another 700 or so will take their PRT in the coming days.

The weather this afternoon was wonderful. I have taken the PRT and the Marine PFT at Camp LeJeune in May before. Usually the weather is already uncomfortably warm and humid even in the morning. I had planned on doing the 0630 time because of this but I had been up late counseling a former shipmate so I elected to go in to work at my normal time and take my chances that the weather would cooperate in the afternoon.  When the time came the temperature was about 75 degrees with a nice breeze and bearable humidity.  I felt good and knew that I was going to do very well; the question would be cracking the “outstanding” barrier, something I had not done since shortly after my return from Iraq when despite injuries I pushed myself to make the grade. After than the injuries owned me and I went through several tests where I simply did okay, not failing but nothing to write home about.

We lined up and the first exercise was sit ups or crunches.  I have always done well in this event but over the past few years have really gotten my technique down.  In 2 minutes I did 101, well above the 85 that I needed for the highest score of 100 points.  I could have done more as I stopped about 15 seconds before the end of the time but you don’t get extra credit.  The next even was the pushup.  When I was young I struggled with pushups.  It really was a mental thing. Back then when I was 23 the Army required 65 pushups for the maximum score. Now at the age of 51 I still need 64 for the maximum score. I did 65 and again it came down to technique. I have worked to perfect my pushups to keep the best form using the most compact movements and breathing on every rep to get the most I can in 2 minutes.  Bad form ensures fewer pushups can be performed and if you don’t breathe you tend to wear out sooner and often not be able to go much more than a minute.  Despite exceeding the maximum score I don’t think that I am really in my best shape and I will continue to work.  Knowing that I had blown out the first two events all that was left was the 1.5 mile run.  For me the 1.5 mile run is too short. I tend not even to get into a good stride and have my breathing right until the 1 mile point, so I have always liked the Army 2 mile and Marine 3 mile runs better than the Navy variant and before Iraq would run 5-8 miles every time I went out.  If I really want to blow the Navy run out I have to turn on the afterburners. If I do this when I am in stellar shape I can nail the run in 9.45 to 10.45 minutes.  With the injuries I had not did the run since the spring of 2009 instead doing the elliptical machine or stationary bike.  That was not so much because I couldn’t do the run but it was a mental thing, I no longer believed that I could.   I finally realized that I could and today I ran the run in 12.31.  I decided that I didn’t need to push too hard. I knew the number of points and run time that I needed to get them. I was well under that time but well below what I know that I can do. Next time I will do better.

This was a victory for me but I cannot rest. I avoided the failure that would have ended my career but I cannot fail again.  There is nothing like living on the brink to provide a little extra motivation.  But as Satchel Paige said “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Military, philosophy, US Navy

Back in Commission: Padre Steve’s Long Journey Back

Padre Steve is Back in Commission

Today I know that I am back fully in commission.  I have been feeling this for a while and have seen some extraordinary progress since my “Christmas Miracle” and even since Lent began.  Like an old battleship worn out by service and damaged in battle was for the better part of two years doing my best to stay afloat and survive after my return from Iraq.  During that time if something could go wrong with me it seemed like it did, physical, psychological and spiritual…such is PTSD and all the other stuff that one can return home from war with.  For those that are new to this website or just happened to stumble by I have a lot of stuff on that ordeal posted here.

I have felt good since Christmas and with the exception of being knocked down by a kidney stone for almost a month have been doing pretty good for the most part.  I have been very careful to make sure that I am not just entering a manic period but have been really to be careful so I don’t build myself up to crash later.  Since I have crashed hard a number of times at points during the aforementioned ordeal when I thought that I was doing better I am really conservative about such comments.

USS West Virginia in the 1930s

Personally I am lucky and blessed that I have good people at work who have kind of protected me from myself over the past year as it when apparent to them that I was going down.  In a sense I was like a damaged ship pulled out of action in order not only to be patched up but fully overhauled.  I was damaged and not a lot of my systems were working right.

Now of course even a ship that has been fully overhauled and even modernized to make it equal to new ships is immune from problems, after all there is only so much you can do with an older platform.  I am living proof of that fact; there are things that while better than they were are not up to the original design specs.  At the same time despite everything I am in remarkable health and my physical, emotional and spiritual life is coming back together faster than I thought it would even after the Kidney stone ordeal.

Damage to the West Virginia

I had a yearly physical health assessment last week and all of my numbers were those of a 30 year old so I guess fifty is the new thirty. Yesterday I weighed in and was found to be within the DOD body fat maximum which combined with a high score on my Physical Readiness Test (PRT) or what common is called a PT test.  It is funny, the numbers that I have to make on this at age 50 in the Navy are not much less than then what I was required to do as 21 year old in Army ROTC or 23 year old Army Second Lieutenant then was 68 push-ups, now 65, then 69 sit ups, now 85.  Then I needed a run time of about 12 minutes and 30 seconds for a two mile run to get the maximum points.  Now at age 50 I need slightly less than 10 minutes to get the maximum score on a mile and a half run.  Today I did 90 sit-ups, 61 push-ups and my run time was about 12:15 (converted from a Life Fitness bike.)  I did the bike because of the low number of people running the “early bird” session and because I still have occasional ankle and knee problems.  I need completion to do really well on the run as it motivates me better than running alone or with a small number of people. I came one push-up short of an overall outstanding on the test so I have something to shoot for next time.

USS California 1945 after her rebuild

This will be enough to take me off of the “fat boy program” which I so ignobly entered last fall after my summer crash. Back then I was put on the “Fitness Enhancement Program” where I had weekly weigh ins and taping for body fat and a program called “Shipshape” which is about healthy living.  That was humbling and for me even humiliating because that has not happened to me in 28 years in the military and I pride myself in being in great shape, in fact the EOD techs that I was assigned with asked my assistant “what kind of steroids I was using” because of how I ran and how well that I did on the PRT.   Now I am not where I want to be on any of this yet, I think I have farther to go.  So I am working to keep my life in balance and take a lot better care of myself; especially in diet and exercise although I still have problems sleeping.  Part of what I learned over the past 5 months is that I have to be consistently consistent if I am to get the weigh off, lose body fat and both get back in shape and then keep it off.  I am not where I want to be yet but know that I am not going back to the way that I exercised self care prior to this as I never want to be in that situation ever again. My plan is to continue to lose about 2 to 3 pounds a month and take off about 4 inches from around my waist by late September or early October. I think this is totally doable doing what I am doing now and I plan on continuing to do it.

USS West Virginia 1944 after the rebuild

So anyway going back to the old battleship metaphor I have been thinking about that a lot. I wrote an article a while back titled “The Battleships of Pearl Harbor.”  Of course as almost anyone who has seen the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” knows that the attack on Pearl Harbor was pretty bad.  If you had the misfortune of watching “Pearl Harbor” sorry it does not do the story justice.  Anyway, I digress. The point is that there were two battleships in particular that were heavily damaged and sunk, The USS California and USS West Virginia. Both were salvaged, refloated and sailed to the West coast where they were not only repaired but modernized with the latest in air and surface search radar, fire control systems, formidable anti-aircraft batteries and large anti-torpedo bulges that increased their survivability.  When rebuilt they resembled the fast modern battleships of the South Dakota class. The two ships spent a long time in the yards but the price was worth it. At the Battle of Surigo Strait the West Virginia and California led the battleships of the US 7th Fleet in annihilating the Japanese Southern Force led by Admiral Nishimura and a follow up force of heavy cruisers. In the battle the two ships sank the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and most of their escorts with the exception of one destroyer the Shigure.  Later they participated in every major operation leading to the defeat of Imperial Japan.

Today I feel like the West Virginia or California. I am older than most of the people that I work with by a large margin, I came back damaged from Iraq and was not able to do half the things that I was capable of doing before Iraq.  Now I am out of the yards and have passed my builders trials and in action again and this my friends really makes me happy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, philosophy, PTSD, US Navy

PRT’s PFA’s PFT’s APFT’s APRT’s and Whatever Else We Can Call a PT Test

crunches

Today was my time to take my Physical Readiness Test for the Navy.  I actually think that we call it a PFA or Physical Fitness Assessment, but nonetheless it is what in the old days we simply called a “PT Test.”  I have to say that I think that I did okay, despite a conscious decision not to push myself too hard and “strive for mediocrity” for the first time in my Navy career.  You will of course see that I had good reasons for this and that I wasn’t slacking too bad all things considered.

Now I have been doing PT tests  in one way shape or form for almost 28 years.   I started them back when I enlisted in the National Guard and concurrently began Army ROTC at UCLA back in 1981.  Back then the PT test was known as the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.  It consisted then of push ups, sit ups and a 2 mile run and remained that way through my entire Army career.  As a young guy  I was good at the 2 mile run and killed the sit ups. Unfortunately the Army did and still does sit ups the worst way imaginable for your lower back.  You go all the way up and down and keep your hands behind your neck.   In the Army I usually did pretty good on the PT test but initially struggled with push ups.  I had not yet learned the importance of good form and was always psych’d out by them. Thus my scores for the push ups while satisfactory always dragged my overall score down. I finally started getting where I could just about reach the maximum for my age when the Army renamed the test and increased the numbers required to get the maximum score.  The new name was the Army Physical Readiness Test or APRT and the push up numbers went way up from 67 to I think it was 88 for the maximum score.  That sucked, I finally got where I could achieve the maximum and they raised the bar.  So for the rest of my Army career I pretty much resigned myself to the lower score despite doing what was previously the maximum number of push ups.

Then after 17 1/2 years in the Army I went over to the Navy.  I had to do the PRT, or the Physical Readiness Test.  The Navy test is similar to the Army but different.  I don’t know what the Army does now, except that they still do the push ups, sit ups and 2 mile run.  The Navy does push ups, curl ups and a mile and a half run.  The Navy numbers even at my age of 49 to get a “Outstanding” score are more than anything I had to do at a younger age in the Army.  The one and a half mile run is harder for me than the 2 mile run.  I am a distance runner.  When I am healthy, which I really have  not been since Iraq I run 5-8 miles.  Now I’m doing 3-4, not bad, but not what I want.  Just a few years ago I was doing half-marathons.  So a mile and a half to me is a sprint.  To get the maximum score I need to light the afterburners.  However after a lot of years of doing these things I have learned all about form and the nuances of how to do well, even the run, which when I am not injured a I can do in 10:00 to 10:00.  Not bad for an old guy.  When I was  at  EOD Group Two before I went to Iraq my RP2, Nelson Lebron and I smoked the test.  Afterward one of the EOD techs kiddingly asked Nelson “Dude, what kind of ‘roids is the chaplain on?”  The fact is that I love doing well and beating the young guys.  It has become a personal challenge.  Part of this is because I’m not young, and the other is I remember so many Army Chaplains who were physical wrecks who looked bad in uniform and had really poor physical conditioning.  Now there were fit chaplains but there were enough of the others to make the Corps look bad.  As a professional officer as well as a priest, I am 100% officer and 100% priest.  Kind of  a hypostatic union kind of thing going on here.

Now in addition to the Navy I have served two Fleet Marine Force tours and have my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification pin.  Part of the joy of serving with the Marines as a Navy Officer is getting to do their physical fitness test as an option to the Navy.  The Marines use pull ups instead of push ups, curl ups and a 3 mile run.  The run is actually my favorite of the three services.  My first mile is my warm up.  I hit my stride in the second and smoke the third.  I had to work hard at the pull ups but got where I could do enough to pass the Marine PFT with a “Class One” score.  The Marines have three levels of passing, Class one, two and three.  The Marines have recently added a Combat Fitness Test with all sorts of really tough stuff that guys might have to do in combat.  It does not look fun.

DMZ PTPT on the Korean DMZ March 2001

The penalty for failing the PT test in the Army, Marines or Navy is tough.  It can stop promotion or even get one kicked out of the service.  Height and weight standards too are important.  You don’t want to be flagged as overweight.  If you fail the PT test or bust the weight or body fat you get to go on some form of remedial PT which is usually in addition to everything else that you have to do.  I am genetically undertall and I really have to watch this.

Today I had my Spring PRT or was we call them now the PFA.  The events haven’t changed but the name has been changed to protect the innocent.  As I said I have had a lot of nagging injuries returning from Iraq, coupled with my PTSD and insomnia made the past year or so pretty hard.  I came back from Iraq and continued to push myself and while getting my usual “Outstanding” score made my injuries worse.  Shoulder problems kept me from the push ups for the first time in my career.  I had mildly sprained my left ankle running last week.  So I decided today that I would simply shoot for an “Excellent” score.  The Deity Herself was with me this morning despite being dinged up. After I drank my 24 once cup of Southern Pecan coffee with a healthy dose of Splenda and French Vanilla creamer from “The Dancing Goat”  and an el cheapo chocolate donut I did 75 push ups in about a minute and a half and stopped, I knew I had 10 or 15 more in me but decided to strive for mediocrity.  The run I decided to set an 8 minute mile pace and not get too excited completing the run in 11:56.  This is the worst time I have ever did the run in since I joined the Navy.  However I finished 3rd of the 25 or so sailors doing the run.   In the fall I hope to be fully spun up and really ready to embarrass the young guys.  Until then I will celebrate tomorrow when I come off of duty with donuts, hot and fresh Krispy Kreme donuts with coffee.  Back to the ICU.

Peace and blessings, Steve+

Note: I have absolutely no idea what the Air Force does.  I think though that their PT test includes a round of golf, and time at the 19th hole.

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