Getting Back in the Race
by Daniel Wilson
This story originally appeared in the 2009 Balanced Body catalog.
Look up the word “tough” in the dictionary and you just might find a picture of Jamie Whitmore.
Winning the 2007 XTERRA Triathlon USA Championship, the 2004 XTERRA Triathlon World Championship, the 2003/04 XTERRA Triathlon European Championship and over 40 other off-road competitions requires more than a fair share of toughness.
But as tough as those elite accomplishments are, Jamie’s most difficult challenge does not involve a sporting event. In March of 2008 Jamie was diagnosed with a tumor and underwent a partial removal of her sciatic nerve. That July another tumor was discovered and she had the entire sciatic nerve removed along with her left gluteus maximus. In August she had a third surgery to relocate her kidney.
All of this could cause even the most hearty and courageous person to buckle. Not Jamie. “I most definitely want to compete again,” she says.
Rob Kopitzke is a Pilates-based physical therapist in Folsom, CA. Rob heard of Jamie’s plight through a mutual friend and wanted to help, so he contacted her through her website. She began weekly sessions with him after her first surgery. “When we first started we worked on restoring muscular function and concentrating on her gait. She was making phenomenal progress with much greater function than expected. Then the tumor reappeared and she had more radical surgery. After that it became more challenging,” says Rob.
Setting the right expectations
The biggest difficulty was trying to determine what expectations to set. Jamie’s doctors didn’t have a clear idea what to expect in terms of recovery and potential for future function. So it was difficult for Rob to know what was medically possible vs. Jamie’s goals, and then to be realistic in setting expectations.
“Since her surgeons were unclear, Jamie and I decided not to set specific expectations and just get the most out of every session and let her body and mind find their own limits. I’m here to facilitate that process,” he says. So far so good. “Pilates has been fantastic for me,” says Jamie. “It’s more three-dimensional than other forms of therapy and it really helps my muscles and nerves to fire properly, which is difficult for me to do.”
Ability to modify
One of the reasons Pilates is such an effective form of rehabilitation is the ability to modify the equipment and exercise to meet the specific need of every individual. Such is the case here. “A lot of the work we have done is on the Trapeze with long springs as well as Reformer work,” says Rob. “Since she does not have a sciatic nerve and gluteus maximus muscle we came up with some unique modifications to effectively provide enough resistance/ assistance to accomplish basic to advanced movement. It’s working very well.” Jamie continues to work with Rob once a week in gait training and manual therapy.
She is now effectively walking without an assistive device and is having a custom brace made to allow her to ride a bike again. She is exploring different AFOs (ankle-foot-orthosis) to try running again, but due to the loss of nerve and muscle this may be limited.
“Yeah, that’s the big question – will I ever be able to run again? I definitely think I’ll be able to get back on the bike and start swimming,” she says. “But who knows? I’m accomplishing movements in my Pilates sessions that I’m not supposed to be able to do and that have amazed my doctors. So there’s always hope.”
“Knowing Jamie, she is going to find a way to make it work,” says Rob. “I’ve never had the opportunity to work with someone of such mental fortitude and positive outlook. She is more than amazing and I really believe I will see her out there at some level kicking butt again.”
You can learn more about Jamie and follow her progress at www.jamiewhitmore.com .
Daniel Wilson is the Communications Manager for Balanced Body, and the Editor for the Pilates COREterly.