Connie Blumenthal

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Flynn's Harp: "Do Today" Manta Guided Decision to Compete after Cancer Surgery

It was my new mantra of "do today what yesterday you might have put off until tomorrow" that guided my decision to compete in the 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games last October, four months after colon-cancer surgery. The goal wasn't merely to prove that a 71-year-old guy can come back from major surgery and resume normal activity, even if the activity seems like a stretch to the sedentary of any age. It was also to acknowlege successful recovery from cancer while various friends are battling the Big-C, or have lost their battles.

There's a prescribed two-month "no strenuous exercise" recovery period following the kind of major surgery that was required for me last week of May last year.

I walked as much as possible during the weeks following surgery, but chafed at the fact my regular workouts on the treadmill and track, particularly the sprint portions, were on hold until the last week of July.

Just before the exercise-restraint period ended, I visited with my primary-care physician, Patrizia Showell, at Seattle's Polyclinic and asked: "So are you okay with my now working my tail off so I can run the 100 meters in the senior games first week of October?"

I could see the lady I refer to as my "super doc" mentally calculating the calendar before replying: "Go for it."

Putting on my workout shoes for the first time in two months brought an adrenalin rush but I knew I was going to have to be uncharacteristically cautious with my leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings that had always caused me trouble. The worst thing I could imagine at that point was that I would press too hard and pull or strain a hamstring and that would be the end of the goal.

The 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games had a special appeal to me because it was the 25th anniversary of the two-week event created by Jon Huntsman Sr., in 1986. What could make the competitive comeback more special than it being for a special milestone for the games themselves?

Jon Huntsman Sr.'s vision was that an event called the World Senior Games, even if held in a remote corner of Southwest Utah, would eventually draw thousands of what others might dismiss as "the elderly" for the chance to play and compete with their peers.

So it is that 25 years after their founding, the 2011 games attracted about 6,000 seniors who, over the two-week period, competed in everything from track and field to badminton, pickelball, lawn bowling, volleyball, square dancing and even bridge. Some of the competitors were in their 90s.

I've been drawn to the games because of the "world" name since I first heard of them in 2003 and made up my mind to compete in the 100 and 200 meters in my age group once I learned that you didn't have to be a "world class" athlete. That means some competitors really were world class while others like me, who weren't, could still compete, and that's always been the magic draw.

In that 2003 competition, I managed to finish sixth in both the 100 and 200 out of fields of 24 in each event. But the reality was that those at the front of the pack in both events were, in fact, world class and thus it was satisfying just to be in the same race in which I could see them in the distance.

Huntsman, 73, founded and was longtime CEO, now executive chairman, of what has become the publicly traded (as of 2005) $9 billion world's largest chemicals company with 12,000 employees. He and his wife, Karen, still open each year's Senior Games, where the participants now number in the thousands each October.

Huntsman, father of the former Utah governor, China ambassador and briefly a Republican presidential hopeful, Jon Huntsman Jr., evidenced his ultimate commitment to community following prostate cancer surgery 15 years ago.

He set out to establish a world-class cancer research and treatment center, a dream he's pleased to say is now realized with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Hospital in Salt Lake City.

The Huntsman family continues to serve as principal benefactors and fundraisers for the Huntsman Cancer Institute with what he describes as "the ultimate goal" of eradicating the most challenging forms of cancer.

And it's on that final note about the Huntsmans' commitment to community and overcoming as great a challenge as cancer that I sense a common thread in their commitments and the commitments of those who travel to St. George each year to participate and compete.

The producer of a recent movie on the senior games said: "What drew us to the senior games was the positivity. These people have an unparalleled zeal for life. When you're 90 and 100 years old and have endured life's challenges and still have such a positive attitude, it's beyond impressive. We felt it was worth a film."

In a sense the producer summed up in his way what's become my view: Life is a race to be appreciated for the joy of participation and whether world class -- or a bit slower --making in to the finish line ahead of cancer, or any other physical or mental obstacle, is really the sweetest race to win.

So in recent days a year-later clean bill of health on last year's cancer sets the stage for my few-days-hence prostate cancer surgery, as Jon Huntsman Sr. underwent those years ago. Then I can begin to tick off the "no strenuous exercise" weeks, which my surgeon tells me will be a shorter wait this time, before I can begin getting back into condition for the 2012 games.

 

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Mike Flynn is retired publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal who now has a consulting firm, Mike Flynn & Associates LLC, and writes a weekly column called Flynn’s Harp. Contact him at Mike@emikeflynn.com if you would like to be added to the list of those receiving it via email, or to see previous Flynn’s Harp columns, go to emikeflynn.com and click on blogs.

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