Many bodybuilders will claim that, without bodybuilding, they would be dead. This is because many of them were introduced to the activity as a way to cope with mental demons or serious emotional problems, and many credit bodybuilding or other athletics with helping them find relief from drug addiction or suicidal thoughts.

I would hope that all athletes would realize their athletic career will be short-lived, in relation to the rest of their lives. In an activity such as bodybuilding that depends more on appearance than function, it’s true that you can still be successful at 50, 60 or beyond…but hopefully during those decades you will have also done other things with your life.

If your life is worthless because you cannot compete in an event or look a certain way, you have a very sad life. I don’t think I could say I would prefer death to giving up bodybuilding. First of all, illness or disability is not a reason to quit. Even competitively, those who are paralyzed or missing limbs are able to compete in a fairly new class, the “Adaptive Division.” Wheelchair bodybuilding has also been around for several years. And, one does not have to compete to be a bodybuilder. Looking at pictures of people in wheelchairs doing pull-ups is a great reminder that there really are no excuses for laziness.

In the Adaptive Division, I have seen athletes missing legs and arms. So, if I lost a leg or an arm, I would not have to give up doing what I love. If I were in a wheelchair, I could still be fit. But I could never do with the loss of my hands.

I never really paid much attention to my hands before working in funeral service. I always considered them unremarkable and definitely not attractive. When my job required immaculate suits and shined shoes, I started to pay more attention to how my hands looked with my suits and dresses, and when pointing to caskets in catalogs. Who wants to look at a stubby finger with peeling skin and chipped nail polish? So I started getting manicures.

I had my first manicure at age 29, and I had no idea what it entailed. I didn’t know about acrylic nails; I was very frustrated trying to explain to the Korean lady that I wanted the nice square white tipped nails and what in the world was she gluing onto mine? She had nice nails; not glued-on pieces of plastic!

Then I figured it out, and started wearing nice watches to go with my nice hands so I could point to the nice caskets and describe why two nearly identical caskets differed in price by a thousand dollars, and I felt like I presented well. I belonged. I didn’t look like some hobo; maybe the families would think I really worked there or something.

Of course now what I have are surgeons’ hands. I can tell when I am holding an instrument that is not mine. I can tell when someone has messed with my tools. I can literally make an incision and dissect and isolate vessels and tie them off with my eyes shut. (Yes, I actually demonstrated it.) I can reach into a deep incision on an obese person and find – with a gloved hand – the artery I am seeking, operating only by touch. I know when I have punctured a lung vs punctured a heart. My hands are comfortable holding the tools of my trade. My hands twitch when I look at my instruments the way a junkie’s will twitch at the sight of a needle.

I would die without the use of my hands.

I am fortunate enough to have never been seriously injured in the gym or on the job. (I’ve actually never been injured on the job, which is why I lift in the first place.) I have never broken a bone. I have never had a medically necessary surgery. I still have my tonsils, my appendix and all the usual female body parts that some women my age don’t have.

Years of weightlifting has started to take its toll, and I have had to start seeing massage therapists and chiropractors on an occasional basis. Once I threw out a rib and had to wear a tight bandage for two weeks. Sometimes my elbows hurt, my knees hurt, my ankles hurt. Usually I just have to modify certain exercises or wear braces in the gym. Sometimes I need to sit with a heating pad. Recently I had to have a month of physical therapy on one shoulder. These little aches and pains were inconvenient, but they were just a minor annoyance. I just know that some days my ankle is going to hurt and some days it will be fine, and I do what I need to do.

Pain in my hands or wrists terrifies me. I would rather never walk again than never do my job again.

My left wrist has finally gotten to the point where I cannot bench press or do pushups. I can’t have a fixed surface pressing on my left hand. I can still lift dumbbells, because those allow the wrists to be mobile. That doesn’t bother me. As a female bodybuilder, the chest muscles are one area where I can afford to slack on, because of course we wear bikini tops on stage.

But the thought of not being able to use that hand on the job will have me running for every medical specialist I can find. I was on a waiting list with a neurologist for over a year to make sure it was not some nerve issue; the doctor put me through about five different arm movements and determined I did not have a neurological issue. So now I get to have an x-ray, and then physical therapy, and then an MRI if that does not help. If this pain were in a knee I would just ignore it. I cannot ignore what I have turned into my greatest asset and my main reason for living.

I never did get into that damn nail art, though.