Jacks and Pickup Sticks

Three days a week I do water fitness at the Alleghany Wellness Center in Sparta. Having a 25 meter pool plus a heated therapy pool available just 15 minutes away is a great treasure anywhere, but in a rural and somewhat isolated part of the North Carolina mountains it is a particular gift of goodness.

Collee Riddle, the Aquatics Director at the Wellness Center, is another treasure. Collee, a true renaissance woman, coaches swim teams and teaches swimming to all ages. Trained in many fields, Collee considers herself a “kinesiologist”. Studying the movement of the human body is a complex process of understanding how muscles and tendons work with the bony structure of the body to produce an action. Being able to spot movement that is not helpful and often hurtful to the body is one of Collee’s gifts.

On a recent morning as we worked through our fitness routine in the water, Collee challenged us to begin using our non dominant hand to do routine daily tasks. On average, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Strokes often affect one side of the body with partial or complete paralysis. Quite often it is the dominant side of the body that is affected. Hopefully, none of us will be affected by a stroke, but learning how to do basic tasks of everyday life with our nondominant hand now will give us an advantage in case we are.

A friend recently bought me a set of pick up sticks and a set of jacks so that I can work with the fine motor skills in my left hand. Games that we played as children take on a new challenge when we work from a different side of our body.

I remember playing pickup sticks with my father, who would always beat me. You might not think it strange that an adult would be able to make those strategic and complicated moves better than a child, but my father was playing  with his non dominant hand! When he was in his late teens, my father suffered a traumatic amputation of his right hand, which was his dominant side. He relearned basic skills including writing then finished school and college where he studied chemistry. He used an artificial hand occasionally; more often choosing to use a “hook” on his right hand stump. Opening and closing the hook by moving his left shoulder forward and back gave him a way to grasp what he needed. The word “handicapped” was never used in our house, because my father did not let the amputation handicap him. I have watched him do complex tasks, as he and my mother would renovate and in many cases “rebuild” the homes we lived in. A cottage our family enjoyed on a lake had built in beds and seating with storage under them – built by my father. Watching him manipulate pieces of plywood with his hook and his left hand as he moved his shoulder forward and back fascinated me. Of course, I couldn’t watch long without being pressed into service to help with the task at hand. There was always something new to learn as we helped. My dad was a fierce competitor whether it was fishing or badminton; cards, or pickup sticks! He taught me so much about the power of determination! I think about him now as I work to pick up the piled up sticks with my left hand. I pick up the jacks and arrange them in complicated patterns on the table just to see if I can line them up using my less skilled hand. Taking on Collee’s challenge, I write my grocery lists and “to do” lists with my left hand. I sign my name at the bottom of each list watching to see how much better it looks each time. I think my dad would be proud of me as I manage these little steps of preparedness. I may never need them but like my father, I’m always up for a good challenge!


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