Fear and Freedom


After a heart attack many types of fear will swirl around your life. “Will it happen again?”, “What’s that pain? Am I having another heart attack?”, ” Will I ever be able to ride up a hill or sprint through a yellow light?”…With these fears I have found that conquering them comes amazing freedom and greater feeling of life. But fear in moderation can be a friend.

Whether or not you ride a bike, run, hike, play tennis or any physical activity pushing through whatever mental barrier you now have will not only bring you confidence but, you will be healthier because of it and will enjoy your life so much more.

I have been so scared that I would have another heart attack that I wouldn’t even want to climb a flight of stairs. Just standing up to pedal my bike petrified me. I didn’t run or jog for 4 years. Looking at trails I once rode or hills I once enjoyed doing repeats on seemed like friends I’d never talk to again. I called 911 at least 6 times the first 3-9 months after my heart attacks fearing another one was coming on. All the calls netted clear negative tests and I was released with out incident (BTW, NEVER BE AFRAID TO CALL 911! The paramedics, nurses and doctors will not get mad at you. That is what hey are there for and would much rather you be safe than sorry).

I know ride basically anywhere and everywhere I want to. O.K. sometimes I walk a steep part I used to turn squares on that my buddy behind me once said ” Your calfs look like they are going to explode!” But I’m cool with walking now, no shame in it.

Set small goals.

I found the best way to regain my freedom was to make small attainable goals. “I want to ride up that hill at the end of this week, next month or sometime”, ” I want to walk up to the 3rd floor everyday for a week”,  I will ride alone (with a cell phone!).”  I would tell myself these things and visualize them as often as I could.

Making riding (working out) safer.

There are a few tricks I use or have used to help me on my rides.

• #1 rule – NEVER leave home without my cell phone, baby aspirin & nitro.

• Get into a cardiac rehab program. Most insurance companies will cover it. There you will go through a 3 phase, 12 week program that gradually builds up your fitness and confidence. It also very motivating, I have met so many people that had many more heart issues than me but were running on treadmills, pushing weights, spinning hard which helped me build confidence. While in the rehab program you will be monitored (heart rate + EKG) by experienced cardiac nurses for added benefit and safety.

• Another not so obvious one is to make sure a hospital, urgent care or fire station are always on or close to my routes.

• Allow yourself permission to stop, walk or call a friend to pick you up for any reason, don’t try to tough it out. This is hard to for those of us who don’t want to feel or believe we aren’t the man or woman we used to be…I do miss that little voice that would tell me to man up and get up that hill!

• Now I know this next one is taboo in many cliques….switch to a compact or even…a….a…yes, triple ring set up on your road bike. Knowing that you always have an easy gear has calmed my nerves more than I want to admit. I ride with a compact up front and a 12-28 cluster on my road bike. I went to a 32/20 on my SS. Yes it is not fun on the flats but I can make it up more hills.

• Take whatever lucky charm, photos of loved ones or item that makes you happy and feel good.

• Wear or take and ID item. I keep a old drivers license (with current info) in my pocket. For ID a great choice is also a Road ID

3 thoughts on “Fear and Freedom

  1. Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I have been scared to death to get back to exercising after being diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia. My docs gave me the clearance, but I’ve yet to gather enough courage to get out there. I’m going to heed your advice and take it a step at a time, setting small goals, then building up. Best wishes!
    – Frank

  2. Awesome Frank!!!!! Glad I could be of some encouragement to you. Please post back your progress and best of health to you!

  3. The information in your article is so true. Most people don’ realize what survivors have and are going through just trying to return to a normal life. And my experience has been that all of us do go through the fear stage in the year following the events. Thanks for these great words.

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