Joe Westphal

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Joe WestphalThere were two ways to go off the tram at the summit of Crystal Mountain – the first was an open bowl with a choice of lines. The second was a ridge line that led to an intermediate run to the right and a double black diamond to the left, which I thought might be better to avoid on this day – sometimes runs marked double black can provide a little more excitement than you may wish to deal with, like incredibly steep pitches, narrowing rock walled chutes and the occasional exposed 70 ft cliff drop.

I skied the ridge line looking up to see my family headed down on the gondola, thinking how great it was to be with them here; 75 miles east of Seattle in the shadow of the massive Mt Rainier, skiing on a warm April day. As I watched them pass I turned to look for the blue run I had meant to follow, but I had miscalculated (read: not paid attention) to where the trails ran and now the only way down was the double black or a long hike back up the ridge. I thought for a moment how I had gotten here, and laughed because it had been a long and winding road to get here.

4 years earlier, on the advice of a friend, I had walked into Vita, actually more like dragged myself, for an appointment with Tommy. I was a wreck, having biked hard for the previous weeks up a lot of hills in mostly cold and rainy weather, which was a perfect recipe for my lower back to act up, providing sometimes amazing pain down my leg. I had 8 weeks to go before a planned trip to Snowbird in Utah, which I explained to Tommy that I did not want to miss. He gave me the raised eyebrow and said “lets see what we can do”.

We started physical therapy and 6 weeks later I was skiing fresh powder in the beautiful Wasatch range with my 10 year old son. It wasn’t entirely pain free and we still had work to do when I got back, but through some excellent therapy Tommy had gotten me to a place where I could do what I needed to do. Tommy worked with me on a program I could use to stay in shape for skiing, and for strengthening, which I needed to keep the back issues in check. I’ve enjoyed two more seasons of skiing, including trips out west as a result.

Then last Spring I encountered a different problem and ended up back at Vita, this time with Rachel, who was recommended to me for her work with people suffering from TMJ. I had developed this problem several months earlier, and had been seeing an ENT and my dentist to try and alleviate the pain from this syndrome. Rachel and I met, and she began some therapy at that first session. The next morning over coffee, I discovered a new symptom.

Back to my ENT for a biopsy and ultimately a cancer diagnosis. Nobody can say for sure, but I believe that the stimulation during therapy the previous day might have helped uncover the new symptom. Needless to say, it was caught and in this case earlier was most certainly better. Between the chemo and the radiation it was a bit unpleasant for several month and after completing therapy I went back to see Rachel – this time, I needed help with a number of things.

We worked on the things I needed to do to assist in my recovery, such as strength and mobility. I had lost about 20% of body mass, which included some muscle (and fortunately some middle age spread). Rachel worked with me for a number of weeks, providing excellent therapy, which I believe put me on a faster track for recovery.

Back in the darkest days of my cancer treatment I had booked a trip for Utah to begin about 3 months after my treatment ended. Although applauding me for setting a goal for post recovery, my docs thought it might be 6 months too soon. Fortunately I had a couple of stand-up guys for friends who said, “we are going with you” and did, because I did need a little watching. Rachel worked in ski prep with my PT and I made the trip.

So now I faced the double black diamond run, and I was laughing, because after all the work to get here with all the help from my friends, my family, my doctors, some guidance from above, and of course my therapists and friends at Vita, was this a challenge I wanted to face? I looked up at the long hike to the ridge top and thought, it’s time to go skiing. And here I am, writing this today – I survived the challenge (if you are interested it got reallllly steep and then got really narrow – one of the best runs of my life!) and I hope to survive many more, but it sure is good to have friends to help put you back together along the way.

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