Vail Daily column: Manage your wellness expectations |

Vail Daily column: Manage your wellness expectations

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Last week, I experienced a minor medical scare. It was Thursday afternoon, and I was walking a student through a series of pull-up techniques. Halfway through the hour, I found myself unable to articulate a single word and partially blind in my right eye. I was mid-sentence explaining a postural technique when I could no longer communicate anything whatsoever. For 10 long minutes, I was either unable to say anything or when something did come out, it was complete and utter nonsense. After a long night of not feeling well, I awoke at 3 a.m. with a pronounced headache that kept me up the rest of the early morning.

As Friday lingered on with the headache that wouldn’t go away, I pondered my situation and realized that I extremely rarely get headaches in the first place. Maybe there was something underlying the previous day that altered my ability to speak? Perhaps I should have sought medical attention? I called my internist, and she suggested I go to the emergency room immediately.

An MRI, Ultrasound, EKG and blood panel performed two hours later revealed that I most likely suffered a transient ischemic attack. A transient ischemic attack is essentially a stroke that is caused by a blood clot that dissolves and doesn’t leave any permanent damage.

The doctor was puzzled because my health was completely normal and he found exactly what you would expect from a healthy, active 35-year-old Vail resident. My cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and the walls of my carotid artery were exemplary. How could this have happened?


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It happened because we live in a broken world. At the end of the day, we are all going to die. Even with the right “programs,” car accidents happen, children develop leukemia and the best trained soldiers are killed. When I was a kid, my father’s business partner Pat Mitro was an extremely healthy and young husband and father of two who suffered a massive heart attack at the dinner table on a Sunday evening. He died instantly. No warning signs, risk factors, family history or any other explanation for such a tragedy. Life happens.

The point to all of this is that we often seek safety and reassurance through fitness acquisition and the latest diet craze. We want to believe that if we just do the right things and avoid Oreo cookies, we will live a long, healthy and trouble free life. Even though we know very well that most diseases can likely be avoidable through lifestyle choices, we need to manage our expectations.

For example, ski accidents are unavoidable and ACL tears are sometimes part of the territory. Back in the day, I had a considerably fast car. I remember blowing head gaskets at the race track because the motor had such a high compression ratio. I used to say, “You’ve got to pay the price for performance, and if you aren’t breaking parts, you aren’t making enough horsepower.” Well, if you’re going to consistently ski 120 days per season, I’m going to bet that it’s not a matter of if, but when. You’re going to break parts if you ski that often. When that day comes, don’t be surprised to learn that injury and pain alters function, sometimes permanently. Your knee doesn’t care that you’re gluten free, and that you ride your bike 150 miles per week in the summer.

The No. 1 risk factor for an injury is a previous injury. That ought to be a large enough clue for participants to realize that the cards start to stack up against you once you suffer injuries. This doesn’t mean you can’t have great success from surgery, rehab and training! I am a walking example of someone who has beaten the odds against a losing injury battle with my back. But nonetheless, my back hurts sometimes. I have seasons in which I can’t walk for a few days. It happens, but it doesn’t mean I can’t live a high quality of life. It’s all about managing expectations and understanding that the best intentions, doctors and training programs won’t guarantee an injury-free life or that you won’t suffer a horrible tragedy. But it always surprises me how often people become offended and angry to find out this sobering reality. Especially in our mountain culture when it’s expected to treat our activities and wellness as a religion of sorts.

I’m not trying to come off with a somber tone to downplay the role of taking care of yourself or to justify your excuses for eating junk food all weekend “because after all, it’s all out of my control anyway” nonsense. My goal is for you to understand that there is no guarantee in anything we pursue on this earth; don’t be surprised when you’re let down because those heavy squats and dry needling techniques didn’t help your knee too much.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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