Me and my walking stick

by Thom Van Vleck

(WEBMASTER NOTE: Recently I issued a writing contest, in which I challenged lifters to write about an unusual training implement/device that they use in their training. The stories were submitted and judged, and I’m going to initially publish the top three stories in the USAWA Daily News as they were the contest award winners. Thank you to everyone who submitted stories for this competition, as they were all excellent.  Here’s story NUMBER THREE:)

Me with my walking stick.

Recently Al Myers put out the challenge for another writing contest.  This time around the challenge was to write a story on “an unusual training implement/device that you use in your gym for training”.  First of all, I’m pretty excited about this because I am hoping many of our members get involved and I will see some new things to possibly try out.  When you have been lifting as long as some of us have, you kind of need something new every once in awhile to spark that fire!

Second of all, I have a lot of unusual stuff in my gym!  Every so often I find something or make something that can be that “something new” to get me going.  Often, I use it for awhile and more often than not, it ends up stored away for long periods of time.  So I sat in my gym, trying to think of what I wanted to write about.  Then it hit me.

I would write about the one piece of equipment, other than a barbell, that I have used the most in my gym.  While not a completely unique piece of equipment, it is practical, can build strength, and I would think could benefit any gym.  But that’s not why I wanted to write about it.  It’s the story behind it and what it means to me.

Many of you know that when I was around 10 years old I was in a terrible accident.  Before that time I could run like nobodies business.  I was by far the best athlete in my school and once, while in the 4th grade, got beat up by a 6th grader after I showed him up in gym class.  Then it was all taken away in an instant.  Both legs were broken, my hip, both arms, a severe concussion, internal injuries…..let’s just say it was a bad deal.  My parents were initially told I would be brain damaged (I can see those who know me nodding their head and thinking “that explains a lot”!), crippled (almost lost my right leg), and even possibly blind.  I spent 3 plus months flat on my back with no guarantee I would ever make it out of that bed to anything more than a wheelchair.

The "tip" of the walking stick....painted green for my favorite color. That metal tip has saved me from some nasty falls!

I cannot explain to you what it is like to wake up in a bed two weeks removed from your last memory with that memory being a sunshine filled day having fun with your friends with your body busted up and on so many pain medications you keep seeing things that aren’t there.

As I lay there and my situation became more and more known to me, I sunk into a deep depression.  My Mom and Dad were having problems and this only led to bigger problems.  My father dealt with it by going to work driving his truck and staying away while my mother stayed by my side 24/7.  While I appreciated my mother’s dedication, she bought into the possible negative outcomes and this made it tough for me to stay positive.  I know realize we both share a family “curse” of depression and it was no fault of hers.  I did have the support of my extended family and many would often come visit.

One person in particular came every chance he got.  Of course, this was between his two jobs at the shoe factory and evening janitor work.  That person was my grandfather Dalton Jackson.  He and I were fast friends before this accident and this only brought us closer together.   We often went on hikes in the woods, hunted arrowheads, and in general had fun in the outdoors.  Dalton, or “Pop” as I called him, showed up shortly after I first came to with an old “Outdoors” book.  It was a book on how to camp, canoe, hunt, fish….a basic survival book.  This was 1974 and this book was from the 50’s.  It had some photos and drawings made by the author.  Kind of what he had learned in his lifetime outdoors.

In particular, there was a story on how to make a walking stick.  It was very simple.  You would take an old hoe, cut then blade off leaving a short metal “spike” on the end.  Pop pointed it out and promised that when I got out, we would make one.  It was that optimism that I hung on to.  Pop said I would need a walking stick which implied I would be walking again some day….and I believed him.

The top of the walking stick with the badge that represents the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This badge was with me when I climbed two of the tallest mountains in Scotland.

Shortly after I got home, I was in a wheel chair for some time.  At one point, we went out to the barn and he took a hoe he used in his own garden and we took a hacksaw and cut the blade off.  We then took some sandpaper to the wooden handle and sanded it smooth and then applied a little stain and some Shellac.  Pop used Shellac often.  Don’t see it much any more, but if you’ve ever heard the expression “he got shellacked” that’s where it comes from.  It put a nice, shiny, coat to seal it against water.

Obviously, I couldn’t use it right away.  But sitting in a wheel chair before cable television, computers, and the fact we didn’t even have a phone for awhile……you get pretty bored.  I would take that walking stick and find all kinds of things to do with it.  My grandfather showed me some exercises that I now realize were related to the “Weaver” stick.  I would lever that thing in all different directions chocking up on it as needed.  I would also pretend to do bench presses, overheads….you name it.

Then, as I started to be able to walk and I started lifting as a way to gain strength that stick found it’s way into my lifting.  I would use it to loosen up my shoulders.  I also couldn’t even squat my body weight so I initially lowered myself to a chair and use my arms to assist in my squats.  Then, when I could do a squat without help, the first thing I remember squatting was that walking stick across my shoulders.

Yes, I even hiked with it.  Pop and I retraced the railroad bed of the CB&Q that my Great Grandfather helped build in the 1800’s from Kirksville to Trenton.  It was about 60 miles that we did a few miles at a time.  I later took that walking stick and hiked in the Rockies, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Appalachians, the Ozarks…..countless treks and hikes. I have even taken it in parades.  I couldn’t take it to Scotland so I bought a hiking badge and have fixed the badge to a stick in Scotland and then taken the badge and put it on my old “hiking stick”.

Most any time I go to my gym to loosen my shoulders I will grab that stick.  I will also pick it up when I work grip and lever it in all kinds of positions.  I am pretty decent at levering a sledge hammer and I honestly believe using this stick over the years is why.  I also try to walk a mile every day around my property and that stick makes the walk with me most every time.

I would have to say that most people would find it pretty plain.  But not me.  That stick has power.  It made me believe and it reminds me of “Pop” every time I look at it.  I know he sacrificed a perfectly good hoe for me to have that stick because he understood what it meant.  I have always believed there are no “secret” routines….only the one’s that you truly believe in will be the one’s that work.  My walking stick is symbolic of that!

Now, you will have to excuse me….I have a walk to go on!