a woman looking at a man jogging

Physical Activity

I like to believe that having sickle cell doesn’t at all limit my potential. That if I really want to do something, then I can. However, I have to say I have always struggled in the realm of physical activity. My family is very into sports. Both my parents did track and field. My father was undefeated in table tennis. My brother was somehow good at every sport and played college football. Then there’s me.

First try: basketball

I have basically no hand-eye coordination and not a single athletic gene in my body. How did those all skip me the way all the sickle cell genes skipped my brother?! Ugh life’s not fair, but I was determined to find the sport for me. I started as any child by racing the other kids in the neighborhood. I could never keep up and would tire fairly easily.

Then I tried basketball to bond with my family who loved watching my brother play at his basketball games. I could handle just playing with him in front of our house, so I signed up for the girl's basketball team. That was very short-lived. I started to get frustrated by how easily these activities wore me out, so I talked to my doctor who recommend staying hydrated and avoiding contact sports.

Next try: tennis

Next, I took on outdoor tennis. Another sport loved by my brother and my father. Hoping to bond, I would join my brother on the court on the weekends. I really grew to enjoy tennis and felt optimistic I had finally found my sport. That didn’t last very long either. Anything outside of a casual, short game felt too physically demanding and I needed to take a lot of breaks.

Final try: balance

In college, I turned to dance. I loved to dance but could never find enough energy to dance in more than 5-minute bursts, again requiring a lot of fluids throughout.

I had accepted that sports just were not for me, but I hoped that I could still enjoy other physical activities. Before starting medical school, I did yoga and weight classes at the gym once a week. They were fun and allowed me to go at my own space while taking in all the water breaks I needed.

Finding a pace that works for me

Since starting medical school, I haven’t really had as much time to hit the gym – I don’t know how my classmates do it. Thanks to COVID, I was pretty sedentary most of the past year or so. But since starting clinical rotations, I have been forced to confront my physical well-being again. Simple things like walking the full span of massive hospitals or running up flights of stairs have once again proven to be quite physically demanding on me.

I keep hoping that if I continue to push myself, eventually my body will adapt and better tolerate physical activity. Yet, here I am, months into more regularly taking the stairs and they still exhaust me. Okay, I have gotten better. I can handle two flights pretty comfortably but not if I’ve done anything else before. I’m going to keep working on it. I’ve signed up for a workout class and I’m excited to have a space to go at my own pace again.

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