WARNING: your brain may start to hurt from the blizzard of random thoughts
“You gotta believe in foolish miracles”
Rarely will one thought, one phrase, or one random line from a song remain so relevant throughout the many stages of a man’s life. Ozzy Osbourne made that immediate impression on me with his ‘81 solo album and one line in the song "I Don't Know". After playing it over and over again, I finally wore out my 8-track and had to get the vinyl. I eventually broke down and bought the tape, the CD, then ‘finally’ a digital re-mastered file. I've bought the album 5x over but it’s worth it just to hear that sweet reminder.
I've always believed in foolish miracles, echoing that belief in my graduations from high school and West Point.
I continued to remind myself to believe throughout various stages of my life and career. The mantra still reigns true today, in my ongoing battles with Multiple Sclerosis. Continuing to remind myself that I have to believe is sometimes the only way to face the unknown and all of its opportunities, challenges, dangers, and potential. 33 years later, I still play that song often to energize and motivate my spirit to drive on.
Music has always been a reminder for me; an inspiration when I need that extra motivation. Stories, flashbacks, and lessons learned flood my mind as soon as I start playing tracks. That’s perfect for me in the gym or riding on the road.
My need for motivation is paramount these days. It’s summertime and the push to get my legs strong is on again. There always seems to be a reason why the training push is tough, coming out of winters peppered with surgeries, broken bones, and other various MS hospitalizations. The ‘themes’ this year are my Secondary Progressive MS diagnosis and clinical trial enrollment; the effects of my MS were significant enough to revamp my whole treatment strategy. My body took a beating this winter but I've got to believe.
My training started in the gym, on the elliptical and stationary recumbent bike. 15 minutes was where I began to build my strength and endurance, upping the resistance and extending the workout as I improved. 20, 30, 45, finally 60 minutes in the gym. For that I need motivation. 16 songs is a good workout for me in the morning. 16 songs create a one-hour stretch that helps the time go by easier when I crank up the level.
Every song has a memory, every song has a story, and every song is a reason to keep pushing. Your brain may start to hurt from the blizzard of random thoughts, but at least you get to step away from this after a while! Let me take you through my songs and thoughts on today’s 1-hour workout:
• "The Man Without Fear" Drowning Pool f/ Rob Zombie
I like music, all kinds of music. Ever since I was a kid, though, my first choice has been hard rock and heavy metal. Nothing motivates quite like "The Man Without Fear" piercing through your headphones. Everything else fades as my thoughts focus on what I am doing right now. Like a 10-year old boy in a comic book store I slip into character as my hero. For now, all I can see is overcoming every limitation MS places on me. I AM the man without fear. This is all that I want to be, and the reason I am training hard again.
• “Paranoid” Black Sabbath
Hard rock power ballads are great, but in the gym my energy comes from the speed, driving guitar, and powerful vocals. Ozzy’s been doing that for me for as long as I can remember. Working out to “Paranoid” brings back some of the earliest memories I have. It has always been satisfying to listen to this song as I keep on pushing harder, saying to myself “at least I’m not that bad!”
• “Intergalactic” The Beastie Boys
They’re not hard rock, but they are still an old school favorite. I have 27 versions of this song; a lot of time passes during the song planning the remix I want to hear on the next workout (maybe the ‘Fuzzy Logic Remix’). Images from this song just swarm my mind, from chuckles over dining at the “Galactic Chicken” while on vacation in Chile (¡intergalactic-pollotary, pollotary-intergalactic!) to the grim reminder that it hasn’t only been my MS that wiped the innocent days of the kids from my generation (when ‘Ad-Rock’ died of cancer in 2012).
• “Whiplash” Metallica
There are dozens of songs from Metallica that I could add on any given workout, but for today I chose their first album. I’m not sure my body could survive a mosh pit these days! With this song, I can relive my hard core days growing up tough-as-nails in the Bronx (this is the point that I have to admit that my ‘hard core’ days were spent attending an all-boys’ Catholic high school; it’s the thought that counts).
• “It Takes Two” Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
It wasn't until after high school that rap and hip-hop became part of my music palette. “It Takes Two” was probably the first so it brings back the most memories of club dancing and parties the few times we actually did get away from West Point for a day or two. My biggest regret: I never did learn how to do that cool ‘grab one foot and jump through with your other leg’ thing…
• “Rockstar” Nickleback
I’m a middle-aged man in the gym trying to keep in shape and fight the effects of….everything (MS, getting older, inactivity). How can I not love a song about a man reflecting how he wants nothing else but to be a rockstar? Apropos.
• “Manamanah” The Muppets
Because, really, who cannot read the line above and not start singing in your head (or aloud)! Manamanah, doo dooo de do do…
• “King of Rock” Run DMC
When I started to listen to rap, I quickly went old school. I guess that makes me an old soul! It’s been 25 years since I left the Bronx but Run DMC’s energy and music still remind me of growing up the 80’s in the Boogeydown. I’m halfway through my workout now. The words in the song and the pace readout on my bike are the only things on my mind.
• “The KB Style” Minister KB
I didn't get the nickname KB until after my first year in college. I guess when all your other West Point buddies have nicknames like “Dougie”, “Ho Ho”, and “Bo” they couldn't really associate themselves with just a “Kevin” or “Kev”. So, they rebranded me as KB. The fun part about the name is that you can add KB to just about any song (it really annoys my wife when I do that!), so when the song IS about KB you have to love it!
• “We Will Rock You” Five & Queen
Some songs have so many stories that you need to find as many versions as you can. The rock and the funk of this one make it a favorite to get me over that ‘no man’s land’ where I just want the workout to end before my leg quits. It helps.
• “Copacabana” Barry Manilow
My heart’s pumping hard at this point so my singing has long tapered off. When Barry Manilow is on a mix with Metallica and Run DMC, most people will shake their heads in confusion. Mine is just bopping along to the ‘Copa, Copacabana….’.
• “Whiskey in the Jar” Metallica
Take an old Irish folk song and add Metallica to it; my ability to sing along is revived again in the gym!
• “On Brave Old Army Team” USMA Glee Club
My Army days are long passed but not my Army spirit! I got more than a few strange looks during my chorus of “Rah! Rah! Rah! Boom!”
• ”Boom Shake the Room” DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
My mind is flooded with a bunch of stories and flashbacks when this comes on. Old school rap (that I can sing all the words to). Old school TV and movies that I can watch and quote whenever they are on TV; that’s the perfect mix as a finish line burst of energy starts to build in my legs.
• ”Live, Laugh, Love” Clay Walker
Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. It’s a great message, no matter what the reason is for sharing it may be. Clay Walker is two years older than me and has been battling MS for two year longer than I have. I see what he continues to do while fighting his MS; it is one of the many stories that give me hope. Every day I am at work, I look over at a framed picture my wife gave me. We’re at the National MS Society’s annual conference in Chicago a few years ago, arm in arm, looking into each other’s eyes, Clay Walker on stage in the background. One the picture frame is the reminder: Live Laugh Love. There are a lot of MS reminders that I get every day. Most are not welcome; this one makes me smile.
• “All I Do Is Win” DJ Khaled
I guess that until “Never Stop…Never Quit...” is made into a motivational anthem I will just have to cross the finish line to this…with my hands in the air.
By the end of an hour, my body and my brain are exhausted. Time to cool down with Ozzy & “I Don’t Know”. I never even got around to Areosmith, Coolio, Anthrax, Toby Keith, and so many others. Good thing I am back in the gym tomorrow!
There are times recently where it feels that all I have are foolish miracles. I remind myself how they’ve worked out for me so well in the past, so why not again? Even when the music stops, the foolish miracles continue to flood my mind… Active. Healthy. Running. Riding. Thriving. Family. Friends. Brie. Eleanor. Living. Growing Old. Never Stopping. Never Quitting.
My first foolish miracle for this summer was to revisit Angel’s Rest. It’s the gorgeous view of the Columbia Gorge that I will always think of when I need a strong target to train for. I believed, and I realized that miracle! Read about my great trip up Angel’s Rest last week.
It’s the end of July; I have one more week before I hit the road for BikeMS.
Yet again….I've got to believe in foolish miracles!
Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR