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In the meantime, here is the article that Sifu Ray asked me to write for our newsletter. It came out last month and I have received many positive comments about it. I'd like to thank fractalarch for the help on the title.

Learning to Stand On My Feet
By Margaret Bridge

When I was about 9 or 10, my brother Erik and I would take our bikes down to the local park on Saturday mornings during the summer. Occasionally, we would share the park with an older man who would use the smooth concrete skating rink for his Tai Chi practice. Sometimes we would watch him go through the movements, mesmerized by his grace. These small moments, watching him practice, planted the seeds of interest in my mind. Tai Chi was a lingering idea in the back of my head for years; I just never knew where I could go to study.

Growing up, riding my bike was one of the few physical activities I could
do. I was born with a triple rotated clubfoot with neurological complications. From my right hip to my knee, I have about 90% of my muscles nerves. From my knee to my foot it drops to 45%. I have had two surgeries, one at 10 months and another before my 3rd birthday. From early on, I knew I would wear a series of plastic braces, but this was something that the doctors wouldn’t be able to cure. I was going to have to learn to deal with this for the rest of my life. I would never be able to run as fast as the other kids so sports like soccer and baseball were tedious and frustrating. I couldn’t walk long distances because the stress on my leg was just too great after a while. Simple activities would never be simple for me.

I’m a bit like the fish from “Finding Nemo.” My mom gave me the movie for a Christmas present a few years ago and, even though it’s for a much younger audience, I have always enjoyed it. He has a gimp right fin, I have a gimp right foot. It’s like we’re soul….somethings. In the movie, Nemo never wanted to be treated differently because he couldn’t swim faster or longer than the other fish. Likewise, I never wanted my own deformity to hold me back, even though I knew what my limitations were.

Last winter I learned of the Twin Cities Tai Chi studio through friends of friends. At the start of January I decided to start going to classes. The memories I had of watching the old man in the park had never left and now was an opportunity to learn. I had no idea then what an impact it would have on my life and my physical being. Despite limited muscle control and flexibility in my foot, this was an activity I could enjoy. When I started, I could barely balance at all on my right leg. It was hard at first; even the standing meditation was stressful for my ankle. Slowly and consistently, I asked my leg and foot to do more, move more, bend more. Movements I was learning in class I would practice at home, even if it was just shifting my weight in the bow stance while I washed my dishes or stood in the grocery line. I was happy and excited to see myself progressing.

In May, right after we started the kick section, too much standing at a new job was the final straw for the camel that is my ankle’s back. The stress was great, the pain severe, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue with Tai Chi. I didn’t want to give up something that had been bringing such a wonderful feeling of joy and accomplishment to my life. I brought my concerns to Sifu Ray, and he suggested I take it one day at a time, bit by bit, and if I needed to slow down, an older student would be glad to help me. Luckily I was able to continue and I worked my way through the kick section, which is something I never had even imagined I could do.

Ever since I was a little girl I had never known what it felt like to succeed at something like this, to own an activity and rejoice in the progress I was making. I know that my leg will always be weaker. I know that it will always be shorter and nerves that were never there aren’t going to magically appear. But in the past nine months, I’ve learned that I can do more with my leg than I ever thought was possible. I have learned all 150 moves of the long form and I am now starting to learn the sword form. I’ve learned that I can be successful at something that gives me so much joy and a sense of wellbeing. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can enjoy my whole body when I never thought I could.

A few months ago I was talking with Erik, who now lives in Washington. I told him that I was studying Tai Chi and he thought that it was amazing.

“What made you want to learn?” he asked me.

“Do you remember when we were young,” I said, “and we would go down to the park?”

“The old man,” he said before I could finish. After almost 15 years, he remembered him too.
Ooooh, that was a wonderful read. Much love. :-)