A story of strength
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a magnificent stretch of interconnected rivers and lakes that offer breathtaking scenery of northern Maine. People travel from all around to explore the region. For those who wish to navigate the 65-mile guided tour by canoe, there is one undeniable requirement: a strong back.
Jim Stratton knew this. As a self-described “reasonably active” 60-year old, Jim knew he needed to be in better shape for a week-long canoe trip through the lakes, rivers and rapids that make up the Allagash. “I knew I needed to get back to the shape I was in a few years ago, so it was time to tone up,” explains Stratton.
There was another, more personal reason to make sure he was ready; something beyond the physical strength required to paddle a canoe for a week. When Jim's best buddy from college reached out to suggest that he enlist a group of guys from his church in Amherst for a group adventure, it was more than an invite for outdoor fun. “My wife, Ruth, passed away a few months before the trip,” says Stratton. “I was still dealing with the loss of my best friend.” Sometimes a strong back is just the start of a new journey.
Jim attacked his project with vigor and enlisted the help of a buff, young trainer at a local gym. He worked out hard with particular focus on his back muscles, but something quickly went awry. “This old boy wound up hurting himself, especially lower back and lumbar area,” muses Stratton. “I was in great pain and could hardly walk for a while. I battled just to get in the car.”
With an important trip in jeopardy, Stratton called his daughter. Emily, a physical therapist in Massachusetts, instructed her dad to stop the gym trips and go see the doctor. “’They’ll fix you up, I promise,’” he recalls her saying.
Jim was referred to the CMC Outpatient Rehabilitation Services and soon hobbled into the office to meet Becky Hecox, a physical therapist. He explained his predicament and pleaded with her to get him upright for his canoe trip – which was just four weeks away. She grabbed a model of a human spine and asked Jim where and how he hurt himself. After his explanation, she gave him his first piece of advice. “’You should never twist your lower back trying to get stronger,’” Jim recalls.
Stratton had aggravated his piriformis and lumbar muscles, all in the lower back. Hecox worked with Jim on core exercises including the use of a balance ball with a stretch band. There were five sessions in all. The final appointment was the Tuesday before his scheduled trip to Maine.
“Becky was demonstrative and very helpful, and she led me through stretches and exercises, which I faithfully did for an hour every day,” says Stratton. “My condition improved tremendously.”
Jim was fine for the entire trip. He traversed the 65-mile water tour without a single issue. Along the way, the guys spied moose, bald eagles and loons so plentiful “they were like robins around here.”
The waters included stretches of challenging rapids, ups and downs, strong headwinds and calming tailwinds. Jim’s trip was good for his back, but more importantly, it was good for his soul. When he returned, he called Becky and the office to thank them for fixing him up.
“It’s awesome to contemplate what an experienced professional can accomplish what they say they will do for you,” says Stratton. “I continue to do some of these stretches and it is a very healthy lifestyle change that Becky brought about for me,” says Stratton.
Jim hopes to travel the Allagash again sometime soon. “I might be able to look around a little more this time.”