NO MOUNTAIN TOO HIGH Xia Boyu (69) recently climbed Everest after loosing both feet trying to reach the summit 43 years ago. (He had gotten frostbite after giving his sleeping bag to a sick teammate during a high-altitude storm).
It’s a slow old process, this evolution business. Or is it? When we talk about evolution, we tend to be discussing what’s known as phylogenic evolution: the evolution of a species. Something that takes thousands of years. There are, however, other types of evolution, the most obvious and fast moving being cultural. Cultural evolution has shaped the human experience far more in the last 10,000 years than anything else. The agricultural and industrial revolutions and the digital age we now live in are perfect examples.
Individually we are constantly changing, through what is known as ontogenic evolution: the evolution of the individual. We go from embryo, to foetus, baby, toddler, teenager, adult and, in a perfect world, reach a ripe old age and pass away. Within that time, there are various other changes that are forms of evolution. For an obvious example, have a look at your feet. If you have bunions or clawed toes, your feet have evolved (or de-evolved) to match the shape of the shoes you wear.
Most of you will have seen the horrific knee injury suffered by Mayo’s Tom Parsons in the match against Galway recently. According to reports he has had one operation, but faces more of them as the slow, painful process of rehabilitation gets underway. Several people have asked me whether I think he will play again and my best answer is maybe.
His knee won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play football. Because as well as strengthening muscles, learning to walk and run again and maybe adapting some movement patterns, Parsons could change the way he plays the game and his role in the team. He may not, and instead turn out to be a fine golfer or cyclist.
Parsons’ next 12 months would be a fascinating case study in ontogenic evolution, and we wish him well.
Similarly, a client who suffered a badly fractured pelvis a few years ago was told she’d never play tennis again and would need a hip replacement within four years. The same lady now walks with a barely perceptible limp and is hoping to get back on the court this summer.
The human body is incredibly adaptable. If it wasn’t, the Paralympics would be a waste of time. Instead, the Paralympics are all that is good about sport. The athletes have all had to overcome obstacles of some form to even be considered for inclusion, much less to win an event.
Then there is the story of Xia Boyu, the 69-year-old Chinese man who recently climbed Mount Everest. An incredible achievement in itself, but more amazing when you consider he had both legs amputated due to frostbite suffered on a previous attempt at climbing Everest over 40 years ago.
Evolve in your way
We all have our own physical limitations; that is true. I have come to accept that I may never be an Olympic gymnast, but that’s no reason not to do some stretching occasionally. It’s unlikely that anyone from the Covey Wheelers will ride this year’s Tour de France, but getting out for a ride every weekend is lowering their chances of developing diabetes or heart disease. Your child might not beat Michael Phelps’ record of 23 gold medals, but learning to swim could save his or her life.
Learning, adapting, changing, call it what you will. We are constantly evolving individually, ontogenically, and most of those changes are positive. If only more people would buy shoes that fit, I wouldn’t have to look at bunions anymore.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.