What John Wooden taught me about managing my osteoarthritis

John Wooden was a men’s college basketball coach at UCLA. During his tenure, from 1948 to 1975, UCLA won ten national championships in a 12-year period, including seven in a row. He is considered one of, if not the best, basketball coaches ever. At any level.

He was such an influential coach that his philosophy and approach to basketball have extended into other sports, business and life over the decades.

I had the opportunity to play basketball through college and a year professionally in Europe and was deeply influenced by Coach Wooden’s philosophy.

The above quote resonated with me when I was a basketball player and it has resurfaced as I learn to live with ankle osteoarthritis at the age of 38.

While I still try and live an active life, my osteoarthritis has taken away a lot of the activities I really enjoy, some more quickly than others. Playing basketball ended rather abruptly, while my backpacking trips have slowly become shorter in miles hiked and are less frequent.

Learning to accept that I can no longer do an activity as much as I would like because of my osteoarthritis has not been easy for me.

I’ve always been one to push myself and test my limits. I consider it a challenge to see how long I can continue doing an activity until my osteoarthritis puts an end to it. I don’t want to push my ankle too far and cause any more serious damage, but my mindset is “How far can I take my OA and still live an active lifestyle.”

I was recently telling a friend about a backpacking trip I’m planning to take this September, and his reaction was,

“Why do you choose to do that most challenging activity you can do?”

“That’s exactly why,” I said. “because it’s a challenge.”

Me on a recent backpacking trip in the Sierra Mountains in California. I have to wear an Arizona AFO brace to support my ankle.

While that determination worked for me in the past, it’s time for a change.

The way I use to overcome a shortcoming created by my osteoarthritis was to look at how I could continue doing that activity to challenge and test myself, while not making the OA worse.

That was my way of letting the osteoarthritis know that it cannot and will not win.

But when it comes to living with osteoarthritis, it’s not about winning. It’s learning to live with the condition as best I can, especially at only 38 years old. Maybe my mindset should be, as Coach Wooden suggested, is to look at what I can do versus what I can not, and test myself through those activities. That could mean becoming a better swimmer, writer, or even discovering a new activity I really enjoy.

This way, I’m opening myself up to new experiences and learning to continue living the type of life I want to live, while managing my osteoarthritis along the way.

Ryan Rankin writes at FromAthleticsToArthritis.com where he shares tips on living with osteoarthritis at a young(er) age while trying to live an active life. You can join his free newsletter for insights on how to better manage your osteoarthritis.

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